Housing / News

Faile Street tenants fight on

Joe Hirsch

Tenants of 836 Faile Street joined their counterparts on Jackson Avenue in Melrose to protest conditions under property owner Stabilis Management.

Owner should pay for repairs, they say

Residents of a Hunts Point apartment building who waged a successful fight to wrest control of their building from the landlord who allowed it to sink into disrepair are back in court.

Tenants of 836 Faile Street say the administrator appointed by the court to run their building isn’t making needed repairs. They want a judge to order the landlord, the wealthy private equity firm Stabilis Capital Management to pay for the work.

Stabilis specializes in acquiring run-down properties, and housing advocates say it milks buildings for profit without regard to their tenants. The people who live in the buildings “aren’t even in the equation,” said Harry DeRienzo, president of the Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, who said that private equity firms buy the bad debt on buildings to turn a profit for investors, with no concern for living conditions.

For years, Faile Street tenant Joanna Paulino said, she and her children have contended with “rat infestations, mold contamination, water leaks and spotty heat and hot water.”

But life in the building has not improved under the administrator, she said.  The administrator has not been cashing rent checks or returning calls for repairs.

“At first he seemed interested, but after two weeks he started ignoring calls,” said Paulino, who thinks the administrator didn’t anticipate the depth of the problem when the judge appointed him.

In a press release, Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, who represents Hunts Point, called on Stabilis to “allow a preservation developer to take over as soon as possible and complete much needed repairs,” and wrote that “no individual or corporation’s financial interest should depend on the suffering of children and families in our community.”

Paulino was among several Faile Street tenants who joined a rally outside another Stablis-owned building on Dec. 3. Along with elected officials and housing advocates, they toured 755 Jackson Ave. in Melrose and demanded that Stabilis sell the 11-apartment building to a responsible landlord or face consequences in court.

“The whole year’s been pure torture,” said Angelica Rosado, a tenant in her 20s who moved to the third floor of the Jackson Avenue building with her husband and disabled daughter a year ago. She showed her apartment to Public Advocate-elect Letitia James and a representative from City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo’s office, who had come in response to tenants’ complaints.

Rosado’s apartment is infested with rats and roaches, she told them.  In addition, the fire escape is rusted and unsteady and her father was injured falling through a hole in the stairwell while visiting, she said.

Strangers and homeless people often enter the building, even though the management company, Dafnonas Estates Ltd., replaced the front door in May when Rosado filed a claim in housing court. Rosado says the company threatened to have her evicted whenever she called to request repairs.

Tenants say that after Stabilis bought the mortgage in June, a manager at Dafnonas has told those calling for repairs that his company is no longer responsible.

But according to Kerri White, an organizer for the advocacy group Urban Homesteaders Assistance Board, which is working with the residents, Stabilis officials maintain that Dafnonas is still managing the building.

The city Department of Housing Preservation and Development has found more than 200 violations in the Melrose building, which is on both that agency’s and the Public Advocate’s list of the city’s 200 worst buildings.

Stabilis did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Tomika Anderson, 28, has lived in the building for two years with her husband and three children. She showed visitors a 4×4 hole in her ceiling covered up with cardboard and tape.

Anderson said she and her husband have paid for repairs on the ceiling and floors on their own because the landlord and management company ignored them.

Two workers were painting the entrance and hallways shortly before the elected officials arrived. Two other men hastily emptied three bins overflowing with trash bags in front of the building.

Anderson sneered at what she said was Stabilis’ cynical attempt to fool visitors.

Stabilis has earned a notorious reputation in poor neighborhoods in other cities as well, said White.

At the rally, she read a letter sent by a tenant in a Chicago building owned by the firm, who wrote that after Stabilis bought the mortgage it removed the hot water pipes, then offered tenants $100 each to move out.

Stabilis later evicted the tenants illegally, she added.

“People are seeing the pattern,” White said.

Stabilis, which has a portfolio of about $500 million in investments, is a subsidiary of TRB Advisors, an investment firm based in midtown. According to its website, it invests “primarily with the capital of its Chairman and Founder, Timothy R. Barakett,” and specializes in “distressed commercial real estate loans” and “secured commercial loans acquired principally from banks” and “other financial institutions.”

Barakett founded the hedge fund Atticus Capital in 1995, and served as that firm’s chairman and CEO until it crashed in 2009. Before its demise, Atticus had become one of the world’s largest hedge funds, with over $20 billion in assets.

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