Volume 16 • Issue 21 | October 21 - 27, 2003



I.P.N. owner says he is kinder and gentler

By Albert Amateau

Laurence Gluck, the new owner of Independence Plaza North, faced a crowd of anxious tenants last week and presented a mild manner but not much new information about their future in Tribeca after he takes the 1,340-unit complex out of the Mitchell-Lama program.

“I was advised not to come here because I don’t have a package plan to present to you tonight,” he said at the Oct. 16 meeting. “But there is so much fear and uncertainty that I came even though I know I’m going to get barbecued.”

The new owner, the principal in Stellar Management, received a grilling from many of the 300 tenants at the meeting who were anxious about the increase to market rate – at least double their present rent – that many of them will have to pay when I.P.N. leaves the state-and federally-sponsored Mitchell-Lama program next year.

Most of the tenants pay between $900 to $1400 a month in rent, although some pay more based on income.

While Gluck promised to negotiate rent increases and phase them in gradually, he turned down tenants’ pleas to sell I.P.N. to tenants to allow its conversion into a limited-equity co-op. He refused also to continue operating the complex as a Mitchell-Lama project.

But the developer declared he would “not throw tenants into the cold water of fair market rate in a brutal fashion – like they want to do at West Village Houses and at 20 Henry St. [in Brooklyn],” referring to two developments where owners have begun the process of leaving the Mitchell-Lama program.

Gluck repeated previous estimates that two-thirds of the tenants would be eligible for federal enhanced vouchers – commonly known as “sticky” vouchers – that subsidize middle and low-income tenants by paying the landlord the difference between market-rate and the subsidized rents.

And for those whose incomes are too high to be eligible for the vouchers, Gluck said he would negotiate with tenants and with whatever government agency that administers the voucher program to determine the amount of the increase and how long the increases would be phased-in.

But in response to questions pressed by Neil Fabricant, I.P.N. Tenants Association president, Gluck said he could not guaranteed that two-thirds, or even one half of I.P.N. tenants would be eligible for the vouchers.

“It’s an unfair question,” Gluck said. The number of tenants who would be eligible, he said, would be determined by the government agency that administers the program, the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Moreover, market rate itself will be also be determined by the housing agency after submissions by Stellar Management and tenants, Gluck added.

“You told us you’d have a number by September. What’s the number?” Fabricant demanded.

Gluck replied that Stellar is currently engaged in an appraisal and will submit a market-rate estimate to H.P.D. in about two weeks. “The more money I can get from government [for vouchers], the more generous I can be with the other one-third of the tenants,” he said.

“After H.P.D. is done, I will discuss what the increase will be. I’ll tell you what it should be and you’ll tell me what you think it should be,” Gluck said. However, he was not able to say when the process would begin. He promised, however, that he would keep I.P.N. in the enhanced voucher program as long as it was available.

Gluck said he came from humble beginnings and gave I.P.N. tenants a brief personal history. “I was born in the South Bronx and went to CUNY, graduated from Queens College and St. John’s Law School,” he said.

At another point, Gluck said: “I’m a businessman and I don’t have to apologize for it. I work hard and I’ve done well for myself but I don’t have to make every single dollar out of every deal. That’s not my business plan. There are competing equities here and this is not our last meeting.”

Before Gluck and four associates appeared at the meeting, Fabricant reported that the developer had refused to meet with assembled tenants until they threatened to hold a protest demonstration in front of his Manhattan apartment. And after Gluck left, Fabricant asked how many tenants felt they earned anything new; few raised their hands.

Fabricant urged tenants to turn out in force on Oct. 29 when the City Council considers legislation that would make it more difficult for owners to leave the Mitchell-Lama program. He acknowledged, however, that tenants could not force Gluck to sell them the property.

Gluck and the Real Estate Board of New York last summer said that the proposed legislation, sponsored by Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Councilmembers Alan Gerson, Christine Quinn and 30 other Councilmembers, was illegal and would not survive a court challenge.

At the meeting Hy Wolfe, an I.P.N. resident for more than 20 years, challenged Gluck to explain why state housing officials cited owners for tenant harassment a Park West Village, a large apartment complex on the Upper West Side where Gluck is a partner.

Gluck said he was a minor investor in the project with Joseph Chetrit and did not have any management control of the buildings. “They had a management company named Stellar PWV Management and we made them change the name,” Gluck said.

Elisa Kraus disputed Gluck’s assertion that he has not issued any eviction notices to I.P.N. tenants since he acquired the development from Harold Cohn earlier this year. Kraus noted that 28 eviction notes were processed recently with no notice to tenants. Gluck said those notices were initiated by the Cohn management. H acknowledged, however, that the notices were processed “insensitively,” and apologized, although he did not say he would rescind them.

The association was also concerned because the voucher program includes requirements that single tenants in two-bedroom apartments may be required to move to smaller apartments. Gluck could not guarantee that all tenants required to move out of an “oversized” apartment would be able to find a suitable smaller apartment in the complex.

“I’m one of the 400 who will not be protected by sticky vouchers and I have two children in local school,” said one worried I.P.N. tenant. “Do I have any hope in finishing out the school year? I need to know if I can afford to live here before I register my children for school next year,” she went on.

“We don’t have a specific plan right now for non-voucher tenants,” said Gluck. “But we’re not going to take all 400 to market rent right away. We’re going to implement the increases in negotiations with tenants and the appropriate government office. We can balance competing interests, so please don’t leave,” he said.

Albert@DowntownExpress.com


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