Keeping Our Eye on The Prize

On our walk last night from Milbank building 1576 Taylor Avenue to the subway station, UHAB organizer Cea Weaver and I got to talking. We looked around. This neighborhood by the East 180th subway station in the Bronx is  as dilapidated as ever. Within a ten block radius of Taylor Avenue, all I have ever seen are closed restaurants, auto repair centers, and a gas station. The Bronx Zoo isn’t far – but it’s the only attraction nearby – and the building itself is about a 15 minute walk from the subway if you watch your step and avoid falling into the pebbled, unpaved sidewalk.

What on earth would draw an investor out here to overpay for this building? How could a near 30-Million dollar loan on the portfolio possibly work out? Who did the math on this deal?

This is not a neighborhood ripe for gentrification. The tenants have been promised that they will not owe rent arrears. The landlord, Finkelstein-Timberger, has put in writing that they will make substantial repairs in the buildings. How will this deal work? If the neighborhood doesn’t become more expensive, and the current tenants remain in their rent-regulated homes, and the landlord is obligated to spend a significant sum to repair the buildings – how will Finkelstein-Timberger avoid avoid a repetition of Milbank’s mistakes?

While tenants and advocates are satisfied that repairs have been promised and tenants will remain in their homes, there is a lingering discontent.  We cannot understand the premises of the NY distressed real estate market. While this may be the best outcome for tenants considering the numerous predators in the market, deals like this are not the answer to the problem of predatory equity. We must start to have an honest discussion about numbers. How landlords run theirs, and how their assumptions differ from tenants and advocates.

Without this, I know that I will remain bewildered, confused, and doubtful of success. These tenants  and many others in New York have been through too much for us to celebrate this  Finkelstein-Timberger deal without remaining vigilant and thoughtful about what real solutions look like.

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