Brooklyn, NY – July 23, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Assembly Member Walter Mosley and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board stood with tenants from 363 Grand Avenue today as they and Legal Services NYC’s Brooklyn program announced a lawsuit to compel the City and the current and past owners of the building to live up to regulatory agreements that would provide long-term, affordable housing. (Above: LSNYC Staff Attorney Maura McHugh Mills with Assemblymember Walter Mosley and tenants in front of the Vendome)
363 Grand Avenue, also known as “The Vendome,” is landmarked as part of the Clinton Hill Historic District. A plaque on the side of the building recounts its history: “The Vendome…was erected in 1887 as the first multi-family apartment in Brooklyn. Threatened with destruction in 1987, the Vendome was saved from the wrecker’s ball.” The salvation of this building came from a preservation plan put in place by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to physically rehab the building. These agreements included a plan to maintain the Vendome’s status as an affordable rental building for 15 years, after which the tenants would have the option of purchasing their units as affordable coops or condos.
Unfortunately, in 2008, rather than being presented with options of ownership as promised, tenants learned that their building was in foreclosure. For the last seven years, tenants have faced deteriorating conditions. Currently the building has 177 HPD housing code violations, as tenants are suffering from leaks, collapsing ceilings, mold, broken and faulty windows, holes in the walls, electrical issues and more. Even more troubling, Azad Ali, a real estate investor who specializes in flipping historic buildings, purchased the Vendome in 2011 and has allowed it to linger in the purgatory of foreclosure.
Tenants, their elected representatives, and advocates are calling on HPD and its sister state agencies to step in and enforce the agreements that would give them a voice in the future of their homes. Tenants fear that once the owner resolves the foreclosure and takes control of the building, he will try to displace the current working class residents in order to capitalize on the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. “
This building was saved by our community in 1989, and was meant to provide affordable housing for members of our community, not line the pockets of a real estate speculator” said Nina Garland, a tenant at 363 Grand Avenue. “This is my home, I’ve lived here since it re-opened in 1992, my neighbors and I deserve a decent, affordable place to live, and we’re asking HPD to enforce the agreements and give us the building we were promised.”
In exchange for subsidized loans and other government funding, the landlord signed agreements guaranteeing the tenants the right to buy their building and convert it to affordable coops or condos. The City and the State, however, fell asleep at the wheel while the owner illegally sold the building to a for-profit developer who will likely seek to displace the tenants and take advantage of the soaring rents in this gentrifying neighborhood. The City and State have also sat by passively while the building slipped into foreclosure and disrepair. The tenants at 363 Grand therefore have no choice but ask the courts to enforce their rights under the regulatory agreements and protect them from displacement and homelessness.
“Today I stand with the tenants of 363 Grand Avenue because HPD is refusing to enforce a land use agreement on this historical landmarked site” said New York State Assembly Member Walter Mosley. “Years ago, this city agency along with state government were involved in preserving the building and promised it would be maintained as affordable housing for members of the community and we must keep that promise especially in the face of an affordable housing crisis here in the city.”
“The City cannot possibly achieve its goal of preserving affordable housing when even buildings supposedly protected by regulatory agreements continue to be lost due to lax enforcement,” said Maura McHugh Mills, attorney at Legal Services NYC’s Brooklyn Program. “We call on the City and State to step up and protect the tenants at 363 Grand Avenue and in numerous similar buildings in the five boroughs.”
“Any premise of an affordable housing plan must be based on the assumption that future administrations will uphold the promises of the past,” said Kerri White, Director of Organizing and Policy at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. “If we are to effectively address the problems that plague affordable housing, we have to start here at 363 Grand Avenue where the City and State hold regulatory agreements that promised these tenants and this community the building would remain an asset of affordable housing. We cannot allow a building that was preserved with tax dollars to lost to speculation and gentrification, we cannot allow this cycle of broken promises to taint our City as we discuss creating and preserving more affordable housing.”