Last month, housing advocates rallied outside City Hall calling for de Blasio administration housing officials to pressure the mortgage lender to rebuff an effort by the pool's owners to refinance their debt, and instead sell the parcels to a "preservation owner"--an entity skilled at rehabilitating crisis properties with a mandate to serve, rather than force out, low- and moderate-income tenants.
This week came news that the mortgage lender had, in fact, refinanced the note for some of the original owners. At the same time, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reached an agreement with those owners to compensate tenants for poor service, make repairs, forego rent increase to cover that work and refrain from harassing residents.
How do the advocates who wanted a preservation owner feel about the deal?
"We feel optimistic," responds Kerri White, the director of organizing and policy at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. "In our experience the main problem with overleveraging of multifamily buildings is that owners try and to make their profits by raising rents through harassment or unwarranted increases and decreasing building maintenance. This agreement restricts that kind of predatory behavior by forcing the landlord to maintain the building according to the housing maintenance code and to follow the rules under the rent regulation guidelines."
Margaret Groarke, a board member of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, said in an email, "The Attorney General has crafted a strong agreement with the property owners, that includes some serious commitments that should help the tenants. Better management is welcome, but it remains to be seen how sustainable this level of debt is."
Indeed, one of the elements of the Scneiderman deal is that the pool's owners must "Provide the Attorney General’s office with a financial underwriting analysis that demonstrates a capacity to adequately repair and maintain the portfolio without additional rent increases."
The owners will also be required to make regular reports to the AG. And advocates say they'll also continue to be vigilant.
"As organizers there is still much to do with this campaign," writes White in an email. "We know that these types of agreements can be hard to monitor so we are working with the tenants to understand what the agreement promises them and to be organized so they can report if the deal is not being held up by the new owners."