This past October my co-worker and I started organizing at 1055 Grand Concourse in the Bronx. This building is situated on a thoroughfare modeled after glamorous Parisian boulevards, behind the new Yankee Stadium, across the street from the Bronx Art Museum, and down the block from a beautiful urban park. The building might as well have a sign plastered on its forehead that reads: “Gentrify Me!”
When we first visited the building, it was in foreclosure and in a horrendous state of disrepair. During tenant meetings in the lobby, we averted our eyes as giant rats emerged out of holes in the floor and scurried behind piles of trash, or into an eerie looking vacant apartment. As we tracked the progress of the foreclosure, we watched the mortgage note change hands four times until the building was purchased by Steve Finkelstein and Rich Timberger of Finkelstein-Timberger Real Estate (FTRE) in November 2010. At a meeting between tenants and the new landlords in December, lofty promises were made to forgive rent arrears and conduct a massive building rehab within a couple of months.
Fast forward to May. Tenants in 1055 Grand Concourse have yet to see these promises come true. They are not deceived by the prevalence of construction workers and the shiny new windows that have been installed throughout the building. Windows that don’t fit the frame and leave gaping holes in the wall are no substitute for substantial repairs.
It seems that when Finkelstein and Timberger promised immediate repairs they were referring only to the vacant units, which they hoped would attract a higher paying tenancy. Furthermore, many tenants continually receive illegitimate rent demands stating that they owe thousands of dollars in back-rent. Other tenants have been unnecessarily taken to court for eviction proceedings simply to deal with a book-keeping confusion that could have been cleared up through a phone call. But Finkelstein and Timberger prefer to give tenants the run-around, or the cold shoulder if they are Spanish-speaking tenants (which is the majority of the building).
These are the same guys that last week stood next to Mayor Bloomberg at a press conference that heralded them as the heroes of the Bronx. Finkelstein-Timberger Real Estate recently purchased the infamous Milbank buildings and, again, made similar promises regarding rent arrears and rehabilitation.
Recently, the construction workers at 1055 Grand Concourse have started renovating bathrooms in a few occupied units. However, most tenants are still waiting in their leaky, moldy, infested apartments. We have yet to see whether or not the Milbank buildings finally get the relief they deserve, but if the story unfolds according to the pattern at 1055 Grand Concourse, then the Milbank tenants and allies shouldn’t pop their champagne bottles just yet.