The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: Washington Heights

Organized Tenants Meet with Alma Realty Corp

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Hilda Davis of 9 Thayer Street tells Nick Conway of Alma Realty Corp about her concerns in the building

Last week, a large group of organized tenant associations in the Vantage/Lone Star buildings met with their new landlord, Alma Realty Corp, for the first time. (With both Vantage and Lone Star out of the picture, I guess the tenant associations will have to decide whether they want to rename the coalition!) Alma Realty Corp is a large scale New York City area landlord, and this is not the first time they’ve purchased buildings in foreclosure from Vantage Properties. They came to last week’s meeting hoping to impress upon tenants that, despite their similar address (Vantage and Alma operate out of the same office building in Long Island City, on different floors), they are NOT Vantage and they are not the same kind of landlord. Vantage’s bad blood with New York City tenants and elected officials is well known, and Alma made it clear that they will not be repeating Vantage’s policies of harassing and illegally evicting tenants with the intention of increasing revenue.

The meeting was a major victory for tenant associations who have been fighting for years for a healthy relationship with their landlord.  We believe that Alma presented themselves as willing to work with tenants- even offering up their cellphone numbers- because for the past year, tenants have demonstrated their power through organizing, emphasizing that “We Don’t Want Another Vantage.”  As a result of tenants’ hard work engaging elected officials, talking to press, protesting outside Lone Star’s office, and regularly meeting as tenant associations, Alma appears to be willing and ready to work with tenants, and allow tenants to have a say in how their building functions. 

During the meeting, tenants had the opportunity to ask burning questions for their new landlord.  Representatives from Alma also had the chance to present their plans for the building, and their policies for working with tenants.  In addition to behaving better than Vantage once did, Alma made a host of promises to the gathered tenants, including:

  • No MCIs in the foreseeable future
  • Increased security, including a better door, working intercoms, and keys for every member of the household
  • Maintenance to the roof (to prevent future leaks)
  • No immediate evictions resulting from the confusion of taking over the building from Barberry Rose Management — tenants will have opportunity to meet and discuss with Alma any outstanding rental concerns
  • Availability to meet with tenants, at the office or at the building, at tenants’ requests
  • Posting correct contact information in the hallways
  • Supplying all tenants with rent statements and return envelopes, enclosed in envelopes
  • Provide tenants in each building with their plans for repairs/work going forward

Tenant leaders are hopeful about their relationship with Alma, though they intend to stay vigilant.  After all, words are just words and we hope to see Alma back up what they promised with real action. As we move into the next few months, we hope that Alma will continue meeting with tenant associations, and demonstrating their commitment to being good, responsible landlords for the current residents of the buildings.

A Look Inside Tenants’ Protest at Lone Star Funds

On September 27, 2012 tenants from Inwood and Washington Heights visited the New York offices of predatory equity company Lone Star Funds. Check out this great video of tenants fighting for their homes!



To join tenants in this important fight, click here and sign our petition to Lone Star Funds. Please share this video and this petition with your friends. It is vital that Lone Star Funds hear tenant concerns and stop speculating on affordable housing in Northern Manhattan.

Washington Heights and Inwood Tenants Protest Lone Star Funds!

There are plenty of reasons to protest Lone Star Funds. If you’re from Oregon, you may be pissed that their risky investment practices are putting your retirement in jeopardy.  Or if you’re from Korea, you may be upset that they bought a massive amount of Korean Exchange Bank stocks, only to make a short sale and triple their profit on the backs of union workers. (And even if you’re not from either of these places you may still be mad!)

If you’re a New Yorker, you should be pissed that Lone Star Funds has a habit of buying up loans on distressed buildings, filing for foreclosure and then selling for a massive profit. They do this regardless of real rents, building conditions, or tenant concerns. But this morning, tenants from the Washington Heights and Inwood neighborhoods of Manhattan are telling Lone Star Funds they have had ENOUGH. Tenants from 16 buildings in Northern Manhattan will be marching on the New York offices of the Texas-based private equity company, armed with signs that read, “Don’t Mess With Tenants!” They are protesting the firm’s predatory investment practices and demanding a role in discussions about the future of their buildings.

As frequent readers of our blog know, tenants from these buildings in Washington Heights and Inwood have lived for years under a harassing and negligent landlord, Vantage Properties. Now, tenants are concerned that the actions of Lone Star Funds will allow their homes to be re-overleveraged and sent into disrepair once again. These buildings are home to 826 families – over 2,000 New Yorkers.

Washington Heights and Inwood are, in realtor parlance, “up and coming neighborhoods.” That’s code for gentrification. Join tenants this morning to fight to keep Northern Manhattan affordable!!

Queremos Preservación, No Mas Especulación!

What: Protest again private equity company Lone Star Funds

When: Thursday, September 27th at 11:30 AM

Where: 888 7th Avenue, New York, NY

Friday News Roundup

Happy Friday, from UHAB Organizers. It was an eventful week for us, with tenant meetings at two of the Vantage buildings in foreclosure and a couple other buildings in foreclosure with Flushing Savings Bank in Brooklyn. Thanks to Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez and Speaker Christine Quinn for their support at meetings this week.

Today we’re giving you something of a “news roundup.” Things that happened this week that we liked, things that made us angry, and some things we just found interesting. Enjoy!

  1. The New York Times released a short documentary, “The Scars of Stop-and-Frisk,” that focuses Tyquen Brehon of Brooklyn, who relates his experiences of being stopped more than 60 times before the age of 18. The film is interwoven with facts and figures about the controversial stop-and-frisk program. This is the perfect documentary to watch to get you fired up for Sunday’s march against the controversial program. The march will begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 17 at 110th Street between 5th Avenue and Lenox Avenue, and from there will travel south to 5th and 79th.
  2. In Brooklyn, a landlord was charged with manslaughter in the deaths of five tenants due to fire. Though the building was set aflame as a result of arson, courts determined the landlord shared responsibility in the deaths because “he owned, maintained and made money from a building with illegal subdivisions that blocked tenants’ ability to escape in a deadly fire.”
  3. There are about 1,000 articles on the web right now about President Obama’s announcement on immigration policy, which allows young undocumented people with no criminal record to be eligible for deferred action and potentially work visas. This is a big step forward in terms of creating opportunities for undocumented people and allowing migrants to live with freedom from fear. We still have a long way to go. You can read the press release from the White House at CNN.
  4. This week, Nona Willis Aronowitz published “How the Recession Made Me a Gentrifier in My Home Town” at The Atlantic Cities. Her article is a somewhat personal piece about growing up in Park Slope and Greenwich Village and being pushed out of those neighborhoods to where she now lives, in Harlem, as a white woman. She writes, “Am I a gentrifier of Harlem if it’s one of the few New York neighborhoods I can afford? It’s not as if I can move back to my old stomping grounds, now populated by six- and seven-figure earners. Yet in my current location, I’m still pushing out even lower-income residents.”
  5. Word-Up Bookstore in Washington Heights is seeking $10G in the next 10 days (now 5 days!) in order to keep its doors open, the New York Daily News reports. We discovered this great community bookstore while surveying the Vantage/Lone-Star buildings in foreclosure. Until earlier this year, Word-Up enjoyed the generosity of their landlord, a major benefactor to the project who allowed them to stay in their storefront rent free for an extended period of time. (That period of time is now over.) Their landlord is Vantage Properties. To us, their sponsorship is disingenuous – an halfhearted jab a catering favor with communities they have consistently attempted to displace. But, it seems clear that without Vantage, Word-Up would have shuttered their doors long ago. This story, like Tahl-Propp for Kids, is symbolic of the ways that lines are easily blurred in large scale community development. Or it’s symbolic of the ways in which bad landlords attempt to manipulate communities into welcoming them in. Your choice. In the end, does this excuse their behavior towards their residents? We don’t think so.

UHAB Organizers Embark on Vantage/Lone Star Foreclosure Campaign

In March, the Real Deal reported that Vantage Property’s Normandy-Vantage Washington Heights portfolio fell into foreclosure, after Anglo-Irish Bank folded and Lone Star Funds took over the loans. Vantage Property, notorious for harassing tenants, owed $42.2 million on the four rent-regulated properties, which– as you may imagine – are highly over-leveraged.

At the same time, Lone Star has also opened three other foreclosure suits against Vantage Properties.  These foreclosures include a 10 building portfolio in Inwood where Vantage owes Lone Star $44.4 million, and at 730 Riverside Drive and 344 Fort Washington Avenue where Vantage racked up nearly $22 million in debt, according to ACRIS.

On top of that, Vantage is in hot water with a third upper Manhattan portfolio where debts total to $70 million, and has been in foreclosure since October 2011. The eight buildings in this portfolio are securitized and we believe are serviced by Torchlight Loan Services.

If you haven’t been doing the math as you read this, no worries! We did it for you: Vantage has been taken to foreclosure court by various lenders for owing at least $178.6 million dollars. And it appears there’s even more to come.  In case  Facebook’s $16 billion IPO is still fresh on your mind, we would like to remind you that $178.6 million is a lot of money.

When it comes to Vantage Properties, we believe that the phrase “all your chickens coming home to roost” applies. Five years ago, Vantage made the wrong bet. They highly overleveraged these buildings, which directly led to tenant harassment: Vantage thought they could evict without justification, reduce services until people got fed up and left, and unlawfully raise rents until their loans made sense. They weren’t counting on New York City tenants and their unflagging capacity for fighting back; they weren’t counting on New York State Attorney General (now Governor Andrew Cuomo) taking them to task for their wrong-doing. Now their buildings are in foreclosure.

We spent much of the past week doing outreach in Vantage Property foreclosures where Lone Star has bought or inherited the mortgage, particularly in the Washington Heights and Inwood portfolios.  Until we begin to work with tenants and reach out to Lone Star to discover its plan for these properties, we are left with many questions. Does Lone Star plan to keep these buildings and become a landlord, or will they foreclose and sell them to the highest bidder? As of now, all we can tell you is that: 1. Lone Star is on a shopping spree. 2.  Vantage portfolios are embarking on their second round of predatory equity. 3. We are very suspicious.

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