Washington Heights Fights to Protect Rent at Foreclosed Buildings

Written By Brittany Tenpenny | October 25, 2012
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The affordable housing market in Manhattan took another hit on Tuesday when it was announced that a cluster of 10 Washington Heights and Inwood buildings are up for foreclosure. Poor living conditions and a rising price tag are threatening the affordability for tenants.

DNAinfo.com reported that the 10 buildings are being bundled together by the private-equity investment group Lone Star Funds and Vantage Properties in a foreclosure deal. The $50.75 million price tag overshoots the buildings’ existing mortgage debt by $6 million. Ironically, the real estate company Brookfield Financial released marketing material that portrayed the 10 uptown buildings as affordable options for homeowners disenchanted with the cost of living in Manhattan, saying that, “Washington Heights and Inwood have quickly become gentrified as an increasing number of professionals with higher incomes have sought more affordable housing in less centralized areas of Manhattan.”

Many residents are afraid that the high price will cause their future landlord to raise rent prices to fund much needed repairs rather than paying out of pocket. Combined, the buildings have amassed 1,281 outstanding violations. This is a problem that can not be ignored.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn along with fellow council members Robert Jackson and Ydanis Rodriguez, Assemblywoman-elect Gabriella Rosa, Senator Adriano Espaillat and 50 demonstrators, convened outside the Lone Star building on 570 West 190th Street near St. Nicholas Avenue. Quinn was passionate about keeping the cost low for tenants. “It’s outrageous that Vantage and Lone Star would jeopardize the stable housing of hundreds of New Yorkers to turn a quick buck. If these buildings are sold with millions of dollars more in unsustainable debt, the tenants will be the ones who pay the price when the new owners can’t make mortgage payments or repairs.”

Council Speaker Quinn was not the only New Yorker to voice their outrage. A resident of 570 West 190th Street, Kenny Ramkisson, 32, was uncertain about the building’s future. “If the new landlord takes over, most likely they will jack up the rent. This is an underprivileged neighborhood. People will be out on the street.”

Indeed, if protesters are angry over their uncertain future, they could seek out Manhattan Legal Services. Daniel Anisfeld, the firm’s housing-unit director, spoke out about the conflict. “What is unique about this situation is we don’t have a typical landlord. It’s a scenario where you have a mortgage holding company that is treating the building like any other asset that can be bought and sold and not factoring in that there are human beings living inside those walls who deserve to live in safe and sanitary conditions.”

The fate of the 10 Uptown buildings is up in the air until the council deliberates on the matter or the bundle is sold. No matter what happens however, council member Rodriguez promises to keep fighting. “We are looking to continue working with our elected officials and HPD to be sure that we keep the more than 700 apartments in preservation.” This move by the council may be the only hope Washington Heights and Inwood residents have left.

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