Townhouse Management on Buying Spree of Flushing Bank Mortgages

About two years ago, we began organizing an eight building portfolio connected to the notorious wrong-doer Frank Palazzolo. At the time, these buildings, including 1221 & 1225 Sheridan, 735 Bryant and 3212 Cruger, were in foreclosure and suffering from severe neglect. Tenants were living alongside rats, roaches, mold, lead paint, crumbling ceilings and leaky faucets without heat or hot water.

After fighting for a preservation deal for nearly a year, these buildings were sold against tenants’ wishes to a group called Townhouse Management. This happened in early Spring 2011, though it took the group until August 2012 to secure the deeds to the properties. Tenants were cautiously optimistic about a Townhouse landlord, and initially the building saw a rapid decline in dangerous code violations. But, as we’ve been saying for quite some time, code violations do not tell the whole story.

Last week, we went out to these buildings to check in on repairs. These are some of the things we saw:

735 Bryant
735 Bryant
1221-1225 Sheridan Ave
1221-1225 Sheridan Avenue

1221 & 1225 Sheridan Avenue had experienced a fire in the boiler room the very morning we arrived.  When the fire erupted, the fire alarm did not go off, and tenants were understandably scared and frustrated. Other tenant responses about Townhouse Management was also not stellar. Many people feel neglected and abused. Tenants also feel that conditions have not improved, and management quality has not changed.

Meanwhile, Townhouse Management is on a buying spree. They are purchasing mortgages on buildings in foreclosure all over the Bronx and Brooklyn. Notably, they are buying a significant portion of Flushing Savings Bank’s distressed portfolio. Various LLCs associated with Townhouse Management have bought the mortgages on at least 15 properties in foreclosure from Flushing Savings Bank over the past year.

Nearly half of Flushing Bank’s foreclosure portfolio is in the Alternative Enforcement Program. On these highly distressed buildings, it is essential that the bank not do business with groups like Townhouse Management. Townhouse Management has proven themselves incapable of providing the rehabilitation that these properties need. This kind of cooperation between a lender and a negligent, predatory landlord is exactly the kind of behavior that led us to a foreclosure crisis in 2008, and it cannot be allowed to continue here.

We are working with tenants in many of the buildings that are in foreclosure with Flushing Savings Bank, and fighting alongside them for a safer, more affordable, more habitable future. We will fight to prevent the sale of future mortgages to Townhouse Management, or any buyer not on HPD’s approved developer list.  Stay tuned.

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Goodybe 2011: A year in Review

For those of you new to this blog or trying to get a handle on Predatory Equity in New York City – here’s your down-and-dirty year in review.

Highlights, Lowlights, and the Stuff in Between:

1. Lowlight: In April 2011, New York Affordable Housing Associates sold eight  distressed buildings to Bronx VIII LLC (Townhouse Management). While we still don’t know how much Townhouse paid for the buildings, the disappointing transaction was facilitated by New York Community Bank – who explicitly sold the debt to a developer the tenants did not endorse.

2. Somewhere In Between: In May of 2011, Finkelstein Timberger Real Estate bought the infamous ten building Milbank portfolio for the giant sum of $30 Million dollars. This transaction, which still reeks of over leveraging, was made through financing with Signature Bank. Fortunately for tenants, their advocacy throughout the process meant that all of the tenants are protected by an agreement to ensure repairs, eliminate the quest for back-rent, and cap the amount for potential MCI’s in the next two years. Additionally, six of the buildings entered the city’s Alternative Enforcement Program, ensuring further protection from the horrible conditions these tenants suffered for years.

3.  Highlight: In May 2011, after two years in foreclosure, the tenants at Borinquen Court in the Bronx had their building purchased by the non-profit organization West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing. It was a a hard earned victory and the tenants are looking forward to living in a building with the owner they chose!

4. Somewhere-In-Between: Rent regulation was extended in June 2011! The “grand compromise” however has many complaining about the fact that  rent-regulated affordable housing has not been permanently preserved due to the fact that vacancy decontrol is still in effect.

5. Lowlight: In September 2011, The Bluestone Group sold a group of six dilapidated Bronx buildings to Anthony Gazivoda for a whopping $17 Million dollars. This made for the fourth over leveraging of this severely distressed portfolio.

6. Highlight: In September 2011, 1520 Sedgewick (AKA the “Birthplace of Hip Hop”) was saved! With tenant endorsement, Winn Residential and Workforce Housing Advisors purchased the building with an extensive rehab scope and permanent affordability plan to accompany the acquisition!

It was a busy year fighting for decent conditions and permanent affordability in New York City housing. UHAB organizers, tenants, and allies are still actively fighting to against over leveraging, bad conditions, negligent landlords, and against the banking industry’s bottom-line, top-dollar mentality. As Predatory Equity becomes a clearer and more understood trend,  we sincerely hope that our 2012 year in review will hold fewer lowlights and many more highlights as we continue to develop new tools to fight this rapacious phenomenon.

See you in 2012! We have a feeling it will be a great year!

“Group asks FDIC to help 34 Bronx buildings”: Crain’s New York Business

As published in Crain’s New York Business by Daniel Massey

Housing advocates, tenants and some of New York’s most powerful elected officials Thursday called on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to force New York Community Bank to evaluate the finances and living conditions at 34 rundown Bronx buildings in foreclosure, and then disclose information on building repairs that are needed.

The move to pressure the FDIC to get involved is the latest salvo in a three-year campaign by officials and advocates to hold banks responsible for loans they made on multi-family properties that ended up falling into a state of disrepair. An amendment inserted into last year’s Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act by two New York politicians, Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Nydia Velazquez, gives the FDIC the power to intervene.

“We’re asking the FDIC to investigate the practices and actions of NYCB and force NYCB to make documents public so we can actually see whether there is enough money at the table to make these buildings livable,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “There are 800 units and 800 families at risk.”

An FDIC spokesman did not immediately have a response to the statement from the officials and advocates, made at a press conference Thursday at a Bronx building that was recently sold. Tenants in the Bryant Avenue building, where the morning event was held, are contending with dangerous conditions, officials said. Problems include a broken elevator, toxic mold and a carbon monoxide leak from the boiler.

New York Community Bank officials did not respond to a call seeking comment.

The bank last month sold the debt on eight dilapidated Bronx buildings to Bronx 8 LLC, a joint venture led by Townhouse Management Co., at what is believed to be a small discount on the mortgage’s $16 million face value. The city had backed a nonprofit developer, the Mutual Housing Association, and had been working on putting a financing package together for the group, which had offered $8 million.

Townhouse President Mitchel Maidman said the receiver on the buildings has been working diligently to make repairs and remove violations. “I don’t get this question of whether we paid the right price or the wrong price,” he said, declining to provide the specific figure, but saying it was less than a rumored $14 million. “We paid a fair price and if we get title, we will preserve the assets and make them very nice housing and an asset to the community.”

NYCB has a large portfolio of distressed multi-family loans. Those include mortgages on 328 buildings—housing more than 6,000 families—with more than three outstanding code violations per unit that pose serious health and safety risks. Of those buildings, 34 are in foreclosure, with a total of 800 apartments. Advocates worry they will be sold to the highest bidder without vetting the buyers’ ability or willingness to rehabilitate the deteriorating properties.

“NYCB’s irresponsible lending practices helped to create one of the most distressed housing portfolios in New York City,” said Dina Levy, organizing and policy director for the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. “Their response has been to dump troubled loans for maximum profit, leaving tenants living in squalor and taxpayers to clean up their mess.”

Mr. Schumer, Ms. Quinn, Rep. Jose Serrano and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. were among the officials who called on the FDIC to compel New York Community Bank to examine the conditions at the 34 buildings.

In addition, a half-dozen housing groups have written to the FDIC asking the agency to consider the physical distress of the housing that is in the bank’s portfolio, as well as the bank’s practices related to disposition of troubled loans as part of its ongoing Community Reinvestment Act evaluation.

By pressuring the bank to disclose financial and living conditions, officials and advocates hope to create a level of transparency so potential buyers will understand the true value of the buildings and the amount of money needed to make repairs.

“New York Community Bank is currently the most active provider of multi-family loans in New York City, and this makes their actions important to the health of our city’s housing stock,” said Benjamin Dulchin, executive director at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.