Volume 16 • Issue 39 | February 27 - March 4, 2004

Two weeks from deal or fight, says I.P.N. leader

By Albert Amateau

After a two-hour meeting on Tues. Feb. 24, negotiations between the Independence Plaza North Tenants Association and Laurence Gluck, owner of the 1,329-unit Tribeca complex, were about two weeks away from a make-or-break deadline.

Gluck, the principal of Stellar Management, is in the process of taking I.P.N. out of the Mitchell-Lama rental subsidy program at the end of June, when he will be able to raise rents as high as he wants but tenants are seeking an agreement that would allow them to remain in their homes.

“We made progress on some money issues but we haven’t resolved them sufficiently for me to be confident that we have a deal,” Neil Fabricant, president of the tenants association, said on Thursday. “And we’re drawing to a deadline,” he added.

Ethan Geto, a consultant for the association who has participated in negotiations, said, “We’re a short time away from both sides knowing whether we can resolve the many outstanding issues. I think in the next two weeks we’ll come to a conclusion and I’m cautiously optimistic that we can arrive at a mutually satisfactory agreement.”

If there is no agreement, “We’ll have to come up with other options and other strategies,” said Geto, who until recently ran Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in New York.

Fabricant said the association will hold a mass tenants meeting sometime between March 3 and March 8, with a definite time and place to be announced.

I.P.N. tenants are prepared to go to court to stop the landlord from leaving the Mitchell-Lama program, which keeps rents affordable. Moreover, I.P.N. tenants have joined a coalition of other associations to support a bill, re-introduced into the City Council by Speaker Gifford Miller on Feb. 4, that would make it difficult and expensive for owners to take Mitchell-Lama properties out of the middle-income program. Councilmember Alan Gerson, whose district includes I.P.N., is also a sponsor of the bill.

Gluck has said that all but about 300 I.P.N. tenants would be eligible for the federal enhanced voucher rent subsidy commonly known as “sticky vouchers.” According to Adam Glantz, spokesperson for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, enhanced vouchers are currently available to income-eligible tenants whose landlords buy out of the Mitchell-Lama program. The owners and agency administering the vouchers conduct independent studies and then agree on the market rent level. Eligible tenants earning 50 to 80 percent of the city median income would receive the vouchers and pay one third of their income in rent and HUD picks up the rest.

But the future of federal vouchers is uncertain because the Bush administration’s proposed new HUD budget would restructure the entire federal housing subsidy system, including enhanced vouchers and the Section 8 subsidies. Critics say the restructuring would reduce federal rent assistance by 40 percent by 2009.

But Glantz said the new programs would help as many families as the current programs. The restructuring is intended to promote efficiency and self-sufficiency, he added.

“I’ve been trying to tell I.P.N. tenants for three years that sticky vouchers could evaporate, especially in this political climate,” Fabricant said.

Currently, 1,200 families in the city receive sticky vouchers and 500 are in the process, Glantz said. Those numbers, however, do not include the estimated 900 tenants that Gluck said would be eligible when I.P.N. leaves the Mitchell-Lama program.

I.P.N. tenants had vainly sought to convert the complex into a non-eviction limited-equity co-op. The conversion would have preserved affordable rents and prevented residents selling out at market price. But the former owner, Duane St. Associates and its principal, Harold Cohn, last year dismissed a tenant approach and sold the complex to Gluck for what was reported to be “in excess of $100 million.” Gluck also rejected a tenant attempt to acquire the property.



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