Milbank: Where We Are Now

A ceiling at 1576 Taylor in September 2011

Recently, a reader asked us to give an update about what is happening in the 10 Milbank buildings, now owned by Finkelstein-Timberger Real Estate (FTRE). Here’s what’s going on, from our perspective and from the perspective of tenants in the building. In short, it’s a mixed bag:

  • The buildings are being repaired. In January 2011, 6 of the 10 Milbank buildings were put into the Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP). We are happy to announce that all 6 have been discharged and have a seen a drastic decrease in code violations. Then-HPD commission Rafael Cestero and Mayor Michael Bloomberg called these 10 buildings the “worst in the city,” in early 2011. We’re happy to report that they are slowly becoming livable.
  • Many things are being ignored. The 4 buildings that did not enter AEP have received repairs at a much slower rate than the other 6. Further, tenants are concerned that FTRE is doing the bare minimum. FTRE is definitely sticking to a pre-determined repair plan which seems, to tenants, to be set in stone. Things that are not on this list do not get addressed. This is unacceptable for obvious reasons.
  • Tenants will keep fighting if they need to. The Milbank 10 coalition still meets, thanks to a determined tenant leader in one of the buildings. We hope that this coalition will continue to be a valuable resource for those who live in these buildings for years to come.
  • Stay tuned as the agreement expires. The Milbank Tenants signed a ground-breaking agreement with FTRE when the group purchased the 10 buildings. The agreement limits the amount the landlord can charge for Major Capital Improvements. MCI caps will expire in less than a year. Tenants predict to know more about what kind of landlord FTRE is once this agreement expires.
  • “Milbank” is still breaking ground. The Milbank tenants fought long and hard for their buildings and are still setting the tone for preservation campaigns across the city. Using innovative legal strategy, tenants were able to force the lender on their buildings to cough up money for much needed repairs during the foreclosure. In what we call the “Milbank Suit,” we have brought this same case against lenders in at least 14 other buildings. We believe that we have turned a corner in making lenders culpable for bad conditions. Read more from South Brooklyn Legal Services.
  • A long way to go. The Milbank buildings continue to inspire us to think critically about the problems that face the affordable housing community and what we can do to fix them. As some may know, City Council is working on legislation to reform the housing code. A reformed housing code would drastically help tenants in the 10 Milbank buildings. For example, tenants in 1576 Taylor frequently suffer from a lack of heat, particularly at nighttime. Currently, FTRE keeps the heat at 55 degrees – the bare minimum required by HPD for rent-regulated housing. This is quite low, and allows landlords to skirt by without providing real services. Further: when tenants negotiated an agreement with FTRE in early 2011, we could not agree on the right amount to spend on repairs: FTRE’s estimate was about half of ours. A housing code that requires landlords to go behind the walls to fix violations would certainly force landlords to come closer to a real number in situations like this one.

Stay tuned!

 

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