The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: Lone Star Funds

“A Dream Foreclosed”: Our Take

homes

About two weeks ago, Laura Gottesdiener released her new book, “A Dream Foreclosed” about the widespread single-family foreclosure crisis throughout the countries, particularly in African American communities.  (There was a fabulous event sponsored by Housing is a Human Right, The Cornell West Theory, and Nomadic Wax simultaneously celebrating the book and the release of an international mixtape about housing rights. Check out the mixtape’s free download here.)

While I haven’t had the opportunity to read Gottesdiener’s book yet, I do want to highlight her reporting on some of the most important, creative, and successful activism taking place in our time: moving people back into foreclosed homes.  On August 1, 2013, Gottesdiener published a powerful article in The Nation about her work in communities with widespread foreclosure.  While she recognizes that people of all ages, races and income levels have been displaced by the foreclosure, she writes that:

At the height  of the rapacious lending book, nearly 50 percent of all loans given to African-American families were deemed ‘subprime. The New York Times deemed these contracts as a ‘financial time bomb.’

In addition, she writes:

[Wells Fargo mortgage brokers] received cash incentives to aggressively market subprime loans in minority communities…Between 2009 and 2012, African Americans lost just under $200 billion in wealth, bringing the gap between white and black wealth to a staggering 20:1 ratio.

It’s too easy, as Gottesdiner points out, to see this as a militarized displacement effort by the banks. Evictions are violent, in the middle of the night, sometimes at gunpoint, involving guards literally throwing all of one’s possessions on their lawns and forcing families into homelessness.  The impact of mass displacement has major effects on communities, cities, and states.  Schools, hospitals, and crucial city programs are closing all over the nation as a result of lowering property values and community abandonment.  In cities like my hometown, Chicago, there’s been increased violence and crime revolving around empty “bank-owned” homes which aren’t being maintained or secured.  (We see this increase in crime in partially vacant buildings where drug users break in and use vacant units to shoot up all night, understandably frightening current tenants.)  As the Furman Center recently discovered, there is also a link between high incidences of foreclosure and crime in New York State. According to Gottesdiner’s reporting, while vacant homes exist in both majority white communities and majority African American communities, vacant/foreclosed homes in communities of color are 80% more likely to have a broken or boarded up building, and 30% more likely to have a broken or boarded up window.

Investors are buying up scores of foreclosed single family homes all over the country making money by renting them out to families, often the very families who were displaced because of the crisis.  Sound familiar?  Investment companies here in New York City like Seryll LLC or Stabilis Capital are also buying up cheap multifamily homes in foreclosure with what we believe to be intentions of flipping the buildings for more money or displacing long-term tenants.

Groups are organizing throughout the country to shift that national consciousness and assert that rather be a commodity, housing should be recognized and treated as a human right.  With this framework, organizers are working to move homeless and displaced families back into vacant homes, fight evictions, and increase community engagement in “reclaiming” a neighborhood.  And they’re doing it successfully.

A few months ago, New York Times magazine published an incredible article  featuring J.R. Flemming and the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign.  This group of organizers is working with community support to rehabilitate homes and move families into them. Publicly.  Using a combination of legal strategy and action (what City Life/ Vida Urbana in Boston terms “the Shield and the Sword”), these groups are taking over abandoned homes.  Edward Voci, an attorney working in Chicago with Occupy our Homes and the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign argues that the

legal justification for the home takeovers comes not from adverse possession but from an exception in the Illinois trespass statute that exempts someone from prosecution if he or she enters an abandoned and unoccupied property and “beautifies” it. Voci admitted that his reading of the trespass law had never been tested in appellate court. But he said, “Putting a family in an abandoned building, ridding an area of blight, if that’s not beautifying, I don’t know what it is.”

In New York City, rent regulated tenants living in foreclosed multi-family buildings are supposed to be protected from displacement through laws such as always having the right to renew a lease and only having specific rent increases, no matter who buys the building.  However, in buildings across the city (and this is particularly true rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods like Crown Heights or Ridgewood) tenants are often displaced through less-than-legal means.  Predatory landlords and private equity companies by buildings for cheap with hopes of flipping the building or displacing residents to bring in higher paying ones.

We hope that we can contribute and learn from incredible housing organizers all over the country to ensure that housing is available and affordable for all.

Not Another Vantage!: Tenant Demands for the Next Landlord of Lone Star/ Vantage Portfolio

elsa gomez

The tenants living in the Lone Star/ Vantage buildings in Upper Manhattan are in preparation mode. As I’m sure you remember, 10 Vantage buildings fell into foreclosure in April 2012, and  Lone Star Funds, a private equity company, holds the debt on the buildings.  Together, Lone Star Funds, Vantage, and AREA Property have been trying to find a buyer for the portfolio. Rather than waiting idly by while Lone Star and Vantage make deals with buyers behind their backs, tenants have continued organizing and actively preparing for what’s to come!

While a new landlord hasn’t publicly stepped forward, tenants are demanding a landlord who will be responsible, work with them, make necessary repairs, and, above all, not be another Vantage! Tenants from several buildings in the portfolio have compiled the following letter, which lists demands for the new landlord. They have sent the letter en masse to Lone Star Funds.  With strong tenant associations and leadership, they plan to use these demands to hold a new buyer, whoever it may be, accountable.

For questions or copies of the letter as well as translation into Spanish, please contact us at thesurrealestate@gmail.com.

___________________________

Marc Lipshy

Lone Star Funds

888 7th Avenue, 11th Floor

New York, NY 10019

 

Dear Mr. Lipshy,

We are writing to you as concerned tenants of 9 Thayer Street, 566-570 W. 190th Street, 552-556 W. 188th Street, 90 Ellwood Street and 248 Sherman Avenue.  Lone Star Funds currently has our buildings in foreclosure and now the owner of the buildings has put them up for sale.  Presumably, this is an attempt to find a buyer who can pay Lone Star Funds a substantial amount of what is owed on the mortgage and bring an end to the foreclosure.  However, we have serious concerns about how a speculative sale will affect tenants.  Our buildings were overleveraged by Vantage, which led to deferred maintenance, harassment of tenants and now foreclosure.  We do not want our buildings to be flipped to yet another owner who has unrealistic expectations of what they are worth, who will starve the buildings of maintenance and seek to oust our long-time rent regulated tenants.

As the note holder in the foreclosure action, Lone Star Funds has a great deal of control over any prospective sale of the buildings.  We ask that you meet with us to discuss the possible sale of the buildings and be open with us about any potential new ownership, so that we have a chance to review their history and qualifications.  Ideally, we want to see our buildings sold to a developer on HPD’s list of approved developers.  These are individuals and organizations who have a proven ability to manage distressed and affordable housing.  We further ask that any proposed buyer be made aware of the following issues that are important to the tenants in our buildings and be ready to address these concerns upon taking ownership:

  • Comprehensive repairs: many tenants need repairs in their apartments and some have waited years.  We ask that any new owner repair all outstanding code violations in the buildings within six months of taking ownership.
  • MCI increases: the new owner should not seek to institute MCI increases until all code violations are addressed and all basic building systems (boiler, roof, security, etc) are in good working order.  Further, the new owner should hold meetings with our tenant associations prior to undertaking any MCI projects, so that tenants can be aware of any significant work that will be done in the buildings.
    • Communication with ownership and management: we ask that the new owner, or their management, meet with our tenant associations on a regular basis to address building-wide concerns that may arise.
    • Leases: due to the confusion that has resulted from the foreclosure process, some tenants still do not have renewal leases.  We ask that any new owner not institute any legal proceedings against tenants for two months, in order to provide time to clear up any issues with paperwork.
    • Lead paint: though some apartments have been tested for lead, in buildings as old as ours, it is likely that lead is still present in many apartments.  We ask that a new owner do comprehensive lead testing throughout the buildings.
    • Security: security could be improved in many of our buildings.  We ask that all front doors be secured and that the owner supply enough keys for every member of each household.  Some buildings also need repairs or replacement of the intercom systems.

    Obviously, we will address these issues directly to the eventual owner of our buildings.  However, as the plaintiff in the foreclosure process, Lone Star Funds is currently in the position to exercise control over the terms of a sale and thus we are calling on you to make our concerns known.

    Please contact Dan DeSloover of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board to arrange a meeting with representatives of our tenant associations.Sincerely,

    The Organized Tenants of 9 Thayer Street, 566-570 W. 190th Street, 552-556 W. 188th Street,

    90 Ellwood Street and 248 Sherman Avenue

    Contact for Dan DeSloover:

    120 Wall Street, 20th Floor

    New York, NY 10005

    212.479.3337

    desloover@uhab.org

Friday News Round-up!

With another week behind us, we enter the last month of the year. With the apocalypse potentially in sight (according to those who wrongly read the Mayan calendar and Britney Spears’s “Till the World Ends” video), I’d like to culminate the events of November.

  1. Under-appreciated fast-food workers are taking a stand! Yesterday, workers from major fast-food restaurants throughout New York, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Domino’s, went on strike. The workers have two demands: the right to unionize and higher, more sufficient pay.   Workers at the McDonald’s on Madison and 40th were the first to strike. 14 of the store’s 17 employees that were scheduled to work were found outside chanting, “Hey, hey, what do you say? We demand fair pay!”  This is the largest action against fast-food restaurants in American history.  At UHAB, we stand in solidarity with these workers and hope that their demands are met. Stay tuned for more on this as the fight continues to develop.
  2. For the past nine years, the “fellow grannies” have stood at the curb of Fifth Avenue every Wednesday protesting America’s seemingly never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this past Wednesday, they have put down their signs and discontinued their rallying… for now. The group of activists, comprised of women in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s, have only missed two Wednesday protests (one of which was the Wednesday after Hurricane Sandy). Now that the Iraq war has ended and the Afghanistan war is dwindling, the activists feel compelled to leave their Fifth Avenue post and engage in different campaigns.  The “fellow grannies” are a testament that if one can withstand the inevitable challenges and, in turn, disillusionments of activism, justice can be a lifelong pursuit.
  3. Not only has Sandy ruined the homes of thousands of New York and New Jersey residents, it has also exposed hazardous and expensive sewage issues.  Most of the region’s sewage plants are located in areas close to sea level, making them vulnerable to flooding. To safeguard against future storms, the plants must raise motor and electrical equipment above water levels, waterproof circuitry, and build more levees and dams. The storm also exposed the insufficient treatment of sewage, which was elucidated by feces spewing from burst pipes. Governor Cuomo estimated that more than $1.06B are needed to fix the problems. As New York and New Jersey continue recuperating from the onslaught of Sandy, we hope that the cities make structural (not band-aid) improvements to those entities that could have lessened the destruction of the storm.
  4. And, South Korea has continued pursuing legal action against our favorite predatory equity group, Lone Star Funds. The goverment accused Lone Star Funds of stock manipulation in 2003. While the Texas-baed company claims that they have been pursuing “an amicable resolution,” South Korea has resisted their offers, causing the corporation billions of euros.  After an eight year battle, Lone Star Funds has begun arbitration. Like the tenants living in buildings where Lone Star Funds holds the debt, we praise South Korea for holding their ground and not succumbing to the group’s manipulative tactics.

Good Friday, good weekend, and good week ahead!

Lone Star Funds Comes to Brooklyn, We Follow.

The tenants who live at 1507 St. Johns Place are mostly related by blood, and if they’re not related by blood, they call each other family anyway. Many of them have been living in the building for over thirty years; a grandmother rents an apartment above one of her sisters and across the hall from another. These three women have raised numerous children and grandchildren in the building (many of whom still live there). Now, they are all victims of a profiteering scheme by the same Texas-based private equity company that is foreclosing on the Vantage buildings in Northern Manhattan.

1507 St. Johns has been in foreclosure since 2010, but Lone Star Funds didn’t buy the mortgage until January, 2011. Almost immediately after buying the note, they sold it to Wells Fargo Bank — but retained servicing rights. Though we’re not privy to the specifics of this deal, we suspect that Lone Star Funds is making a profit twice: once off the sale to Wells Fargo, and once again by collecting fees for servicing the loan (which they do through a company called “Hudson Americas”).

The $2.3M mortgage, originated by Citibank, was betting on the gentrification of Crown Heights and, in turn, an increase in rents. While the bank and the landlord weren’t wrong about the fate of Crown Heights, they certainly weren’t counting on the tenacity of the tenants at 1507 St. Johns Place and their willingness to fight for their building.

While tenants’ long term goal is to fight for the preservation of their homes – via a discounted note sale to a responsible housing developer – there have been a number of small battles along the way. Currently, the extremely-litigious receiver has taken at least 10 of the 18 tenants to court over baseless non-payment claims. This is the last in a long line of harassment tactics the court-appointed agent has been experimenting with.

But tenants are up to the task. They hung “Don’t Buy Here” signs in their windows last week, and will be fighting – with the help of South Brooklyn Legal Services – in Housing Court AND Supreme Court in the coming month. With the help of their elected officials, they are planning on fighting Lone Star and Wells Fargo until the minute they win. They’re not backing down, and neither are we.

Video from Press Conference!

Before the pandemonium of Sandy and the chilling effects of Athena, there was a press conference. On October 22nd, tenants from the Vantage/Lone Star buildings in Inwoood and Washington Heights joined their elected officials for a press conference to save their homes! To watch the video, click here.

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