Knickerbocker Village Ordered to Stop Co-op/Condo Conversion Talks (Updated)

Knickerbocker Village.

Knickerbocker Village.

State regulators have slammed the owners of Knickerbocker Village for improperly holding meetings about a potential co-op or condo conversion of the historic Lower East Side affordable housing complex.

A letter dated Dec. 21 from New York State Homes & Community Renewal (DHCR) orders Knickerbocker Village, Inc. to, “cease and desist” from holding any future meetings. The letter was distributed to tenants this week by the Knickerbocker Village Tenants’ Association, which filed a complaint with DHCR about “meet and greet” sessions that have been held during the past few months.

While state officials were informed that the meetings would be taking place, Deputy DHCR Commissioner Mark Colon wrote, “certain aspects of where and how the meetings were organized, as well as the types of representations that may have been made, concern us.” According to the letter, some of the meetings took place in “off-site restaurants” and some of them, “occurred exclusively with tenants of Asian descent.”  Colon also noted that the tenant association wasn’t notified about later meetings at Knickerbocker Village.  He added, “We understand that tenants were told that the conversion process to cooperative or condominium ownership was imminent, and they were asked if they were interested in ownership.”

Colon stated, “We have previously informed you that, in view of prior litigation and DHCR’s mission to promote affordable housing, DHCR is unwilling to consider a conversion of more than 1,000 units of affordable rental housing in lower Manhattan to cooperative ownership.” He referred to past meetings with Knickerbocker Village ownership to, “discuss affordable rental preservation options which might be acceptable to all stakeholders.” Colon said the agency had consulted with the attorney general’s office about potential legal violations by the property owner.

Knickerbocker Village, completed in 1934, includes 1590 rental apartments. The 12-building complex is covered under a low-income housing program known as Article IV, which preceded the Mitchell-Lama program. In 2007, the tenant association successfully sued the state, which had approved ownership’s plan to exit the affordable housing program.

We have contacted Global Strategy Group, Knickerbocker Village’s communications firm, as well as DHCR and the tenant association. This story will be updated if we receive replies.

UPDATE 1:20 p.m. Here’s a statement from Knickerbocker Village, Inc. in response to DHCR’s letter. At the end of this post you can also read the full response to DHCR from Daniel Robinson of Cherry Green Property Corp. (KV’s owner).

We engage extensively with the Knickerbocker Village community to learn about residents’ concerns and address any issues they have. That includes regularly meeting with the KVTA. The opportunity to choose between home ownership or remaining a renter has long been an issue discussed at KV, but there is no current plan to move forward. We have responded in full to DHCR’s questions and will work to resolve any outstanding issues it may have.

UPDATE 2/8 Here’s a statement from the Knickerbocker Village Tenant’s Association (KVTA):

The KVTA is grateful for DHCR’s strong validation and support of the rights of a validly elected Tenant Association to represent the tenants. The KVTA has been working to find the co-op conversion plan for Knickerbocker Village since our election in 2015. We believe strongly that as tenants are the main stakeholders, their voices must be included in any possible co-op conversion discussion. In this effort, we have recently met with all parties involved in ownership’s proposal to privatize KV, including our elected officials, administrators from HCR, representatives of ownership, as well as their paid lobbyists. KVTA’s priorities continue to be providing protections for tenants that want to remain as renters under Article IV, for seniors, and for SCRIE/DRIE beneficiaries. The big picture here is that without the input of KV tenants, the fear that privatization at KV would ultimately lead to the displacement of several hundreds of families and a significant loss of affordable housing in Chinatown/Lower East Side, two Lower Manhattan neighborhoods that are currently experiencing rapid gentrification, displacement, and rising rents. HCR has determined that it’s not in the best interest of KV, or the neighborhood, to allow the privatization of the complex. We are committed to maintaining the long-term affordability of our homes. We have not, as of yet, received anything in writing from ownership detailing their plans for privatization. In good faith, the KVTA, along with our legal counsel at the Urban Justice Center, continues to meet with ownership and their consultants to discuss their plans in a transparent and honest manner.

DHCR Letter- Knickerbocker Village by The Lo-Down on Scribd

 

January 24, 2018

Mr. Mark Colón
President, Office of Housing Preservation
New York State Homes & Community Renewal 641 Lexington Ave
New York, New York 10022

Dear Mr. Colón,

RE: Knickerbocker Village

I am writing in response to your letter dated December 21, 2017, which brought to my attention complaints that you received from unspecified individuals regarding KV ownership’s ongoing engagement with the KV resident community.
Over the past year KV ownership has put forth substantial efforts to better understand the needs, priorities and concerns of KV families. One of our goals has been to break down barriers to trust that have historically existed between KV ownership and KV residents. We believe that KV residents have overwhelmingly valued and appreciated these efforts. Furthermore, our engagement has been consistent with our obligations pursuant to NYCRR 1725-2.3(b).

It should be noted that the input received from the KV resident community has led to constructive plans for the future, including but not limited to planned initiatives to address quality of life concerns expressed to us by residents, initiatives to expand and improve mental health and other supportive services to better meet the needs of residents, and ideas for improvements to KV’s underutilized common spaces to better serve the needs of KV families.

I regret that our efforts to build trust within the tenant community were evidently perceived as a threat by some. Furthermore, I wish to reassure you that the allegations conveyed in your letter are either factually incorrect, or are otherwise gross distortions of our ongoing dialogue with the KV community.

I am appreciative of your words of warning regarding the Martin Act. I am reassured by legal counsel, unconditionally and unequivocally, that I have not engaged in the marketing of real estate securities nor done anything that in any way approaches even a potential violation of the act.

In response to your requested clarifications I submit to you the following:

First, as a point of explanation, I held 12 ‘meet and greets’, one in each KV building entrance. Each event lasted approximately two hours. These were casual events where we took the opportunity to speak with individual residents, or depending on traffic, groups of residents. A notice for each meet and greet was posted in the lobby of each building prior to the event. As such, each KVTA building representative was invited to attend the meet and greet of his/her building. All other ‘meetings’ that you reference, including a gathering the fall of 2016 that I attended off-site at the request of a group of residents, was a component of our tenant engagement efforts. Note that I have also offered to engage residents jointly with the KVTA, through attendance of KVTA general tenant meetings, however the KVTA has thus far declined my offers.

Clarification #1: Contrary to what has been reported to you, I have not scheduled, nor has management scheduled, any meetings with groups of tenants regarding possible cooperative or condominium conversion, with the exception of meetings held on 11/21/17 and 12/11/17 with the KVTA and its legal counsel. We have no plans to schedule meetings on this subject, with the exception of continued discussions requested by KVTA.

Clarification #2: Not applicable. See above response.

Clarification #3: As mentioned above we have not been scheduling meetings with groups of tenants regarding possible cooperative or condominium conversion. Notwithstanding, many tenants have utilized our lobby meet and greets and various other points of interaction as an opportunity to raise the subject of possible future cooperative conversion. My standard response, when asked about this topic, is that any plan that includes affordable homeownership would require the broad support of KV’s resident community and of the State of New York, and would have to be a comprehensive plan that benefits not only tenants who have the desire and wherewithal to become homeowners, but also tenants who wish to remain renters.

Clarification #4A: I have not made a representation that the conversion process is imminent and I cannot fathom that anyone from management would have represented that the conversion process is imminent. I fully agree that any statements that the conversion process is imminent would constitute a misrepresentation of our ongoing discussions with DHCR.

Clarification #4B: I have not solicited interest in a possible cooperative conversion. As mentioned above many residents have broached the topic of a possible cooperative conversion in the course of our discussions. As you are aware, cooperative conversion has been of ongoing interest to KV residents, and a topic of conversation, for a number of years.

Clarification #5: We are compliant with the requirement of NYCRR 1727 – 6.3. KV management has met regularly with the KVTA to discuss housing company matters, and our property manager, Mr. Callagy, has previously communicated his ongoing availability to meet with KVTA. Furthermore, I met with the KVTA in July of this year to brief them on the feedback that I received from the lobby meet and greets. I thereafter attempted via email and letter to schedule additional meetings with the KVTA. Most recently, we met with the KVTA on two occasions at the office of their legal counsel. At no point have I declined a request from the KVTA to meet.

Supplemental clarification #1: We have never asked residents to sign a form indicating if they were interested in a cooperative conversion. We did maintain sign in sheets at our lobby meet and greets and requested that all attendees provide their name, apartment number, telephone an email address.

Supplemental clarification #2: We emphatically deny that we organized or participated in any discussions regarding the dissolution of the KVTA. We are aware that certain residents have raised the prospect of seeking the dissolution of the KVTA. When contacted by one of these residents, we replied that the KVTA is a tenant group and that matters pertaining to the KVTA bylaws are not under ownership’s purview.

We hope that this letter helps to clear the air so that we may continue the important discussions that we have been having with your agency and work toward a positive outcome for all parties. We are encouraged by your expressed desire to achieve the same, as well as your previously stated recognition of ownership’s financial interests.

Sincerely,
Daniel Robinson
Executive Director
Cherry Green Property Corp.

Five Years After Sandy, Knickerbocker Village Receives $33.5 Million For Resiliency Upgrades

City officials, elected representatives and Knickerbocker Village's owner gathered to celebrate the grant on Friday.

City officials, elected representatives and Knickerbocker Village’s owner gathered to celebrate the grant on Friday.

Almost five years after Hurricane Sandy swamped Knickerbocker Village, city officials announced on Friday the allocation of $33.5 million for storm-related upgrades at the historic Lower East Side affordable housing complex.

Maria Torres-Springer, commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development, announced the grant in a news conference in the courtyard at 150 Cherry St. She was joined by elected officials, residents and Daniel Robinson, executive director of the Cherry Green Property Corp. (Knickerbocker Village’s owner). The grant was made through the city’s Build it Back Multifamily Storm Recovery and Resiliency Program.

Following Hurricane Sandy, Knickerbocker Village’s 1,590 apartments lost heat and electricity for 17 days. Flood waters rushed through the boiler room and destroyed the electrical systems within the 12 residential buildings, which opened in 1934. The funding will allow the property owner to install four emergency generators, to add new electrical systems, to build new water-resistant doors and walls and to install new gas meters (a Con Ed requirement). Cherry Green Corp. will also be reimbursed for work already completed.

This is the second grant from the city for Sandy-related repairs at Knickerbocker Village. About $1.5 million was awarded in 2013 for elevator repairs.

IMG_7551

On Friday, several speakers referenced the disastrous situation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s response to the storm. “Our government must fulfill its most fundamental responsibility to take care of our people,” said Velazquez. “When you get elected to office,” she added, “you have to show up and do the work. Don’t spend your time with nonsensical stuff. Forget about athletes (a reference to Donald Trump’s preoccupation with NFL players’ protests). We lost seven days that were crucial.”  In spite of the current struggles in Washington, said Velaquez, “this brings so much joy to my heart to be able to come with you and celebrate this event where we can assure you that… you will be able to withstand any other natural disasters.”

Velazquez was joined by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council member Margaret Chin, State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou and (belatedly) State Assembly member Brian Kavanagh. Chin, in particular, emphasized the importance of preserving Knickerbocker as a source of affordable housing for years to come.

Knickerbocker Village.

Knickerbocker Village.

While residents looked on during the news conference, no leaders from the tenant association were present on Friday. So on Sunday, we returned to Knickerbocker Village to speak with tenant association co-chairs Shi Xing Yang and Christina Zhang. They were invited to the big announcement, but were unable to attend the midday event.

Yang said residents are grateful that the grant finally went through and that repairs are beginning. “It’s been a long process since Hurricane Sandy,” said Yang. “We want to thank everybody who worked on this grant. We are glad that the grant was received, but hope that affordability is paramount in the vision of the owners for Knickerbocker Village.” In referencing the “affordability” of the complex, Yang was hinting at the next major battle ahead at the state-supervised rental complex. Ownership has been meeting with tenants to build support for a long-simmering cooperative conversion scheme. The tenant association has been calling for greater transparency from the owners about their intentions. [We’ll have more about this issue in an upcoming story.]

In a brief interview following Friday’s news conference, Daniel Robinson of Cherry Green Property Corp. touched on Knickerbocker Village’s future. Asked whether he was confident it would continue to a bastion for low-income families, Robinson said, “Ownership and management are completely committed to assuring the long-term affordability of this community for its residents.” He did not volunteer any details about the potential co-op conversion.

On a separate matter, Robinson had nothing but praise for city officials who helped secure the resiliency grant, even though it took four years to lock down the funding. The Build it Back Program, which is federally funded, has been widely criticized as a bureaucratic failure. A spokesperson at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development said it took time to complete the grant application because there was an extensive design process and Buildings’ Department approvals were needed.  Torres-Springer noted that about 20,000 apartments have been renovated as part of the Build it Back program.

Vincent Callagy, Knickerbocker Village’s general manager, said construction began last week. Crews got started on building the four new electrical service areas. The first part of the project will take 2-3 months, he estimated. All of the upgrades are expected to be completed in two years.

Three Months Later, Knickerbocker Village is Still Waiting For Sandy Money (Updated)

14 Months After Sandy, Rent Rebates Coming to Knickerbocker Village

More than a year after promises were first made in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the residents of Knickerbocker Village are finally getting their rent rebates.

Knickerbocker Village Receives Hurricane Money; $5 Million More Needed For Storm-Proofing

Last night we reported that Knickerbocker Village, the affordable housing complex near the Manhattan Bridge, had been awarded $1.46 million in federal hurricane recovery funds.  More details were released a short time ago at a news conference on the Lower East Side.

Knickerbocker Village Will Receive $1.46 Million in Federal Recovery Money

Tomorrow -a day after the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy – city officials will finally announce that Knickerbocker Village has been awarded federal disaster aid.

Sandy Nearly One Year Later: A Plea For Help From Knickerbocker Village

Almost a year after Hurricane Sandy, the residents of Knickerbocker Village are still waiting for critical repairs to be made at the historic affordable housing complex — repairs that could help protect the apartments on Monroe Street from another catastrophic flood.

Knickerbocker Village Tenants Denied FEMA Benefits

Knickerbocker Village.

Knickerbocker Village, the historic affordable housing complex, was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, and some residents there are still struggling to bounce back from the devastating storm. This afternoon, local elected officials released a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) urging a reversal of its decision to deny aid to some Knickerbocker Village tenants.

Following the storm, electrical power, heat and other services were out for more than two weeks.  Today’s letter from State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, City Council member Margaret Chin and State Senator Dan Squadron stated:

In multiple meetings, as well as at a public forum we hosted for residents, representatives from FEMA told Knickerbocker residents they were eligible for reimbursement for their hotel expenses. Since that time, FEMA has rejected claims from several residents. We believe that these residents are in fact eligible under the guidelines that FEMA laid out and we ask that you re-evaluate all rejected claims from Knickerbocker Village. Some residents are also seeking reimbursement for property damage and medical expenses and we urge you to review those claims as well.

 

Knickerbocker Village Power Fully Restored, Rent Rebates Reiterated

Knickerbocker Village.

We’ve just received word from the management of Knickerbocker Village that electricity has been restored to all 12 buildings as of 4 p.m. today. Workers on-site are still in the process of transferring the electrical systems off the temporary generators and onto the grid, meaning some residents in the 1,600-unit complex may experience temporary and brief outages, but overall, the power issues are solved, according to a lengthy and detailed memo sent by the management company’s public relations firm a short while ago. Management also restated a promise made at Tuesday night’s information session that residents will not be charged rent for the two and a half weeks they endured without basic utilities.

Click through to read the letter in its entirety.

Knickerbocker Village Expects Full Power Today; Management Promises Rent Breaks

Knickerbocker Village residents gathered at P.S. 1.

The residents of Knickerbocker Village are no longer suffering in obscurity. Last night, they came in droves to P.S.1 on Henry Street for a meeting organized by State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was there, as were City Council member Margaret Chin, State Senator Daniel Squadron and several television stations. The star of the show, however, was James Simmons, an executive with Knickerbocker Village’s owner, AREA Property Partners.

After two weeks mostly without electricity, heat and hot water, Simmons told residents of the 1,600-apartment affordable housing complex what they wanted to hear. First, he said, engineers hope to have all electrical power back by tomorrow and heat and hot water by the end of the week.  Second, Simmons promised, “we will ensure that not a penny of rent is paid on days in which you did not have essential services.”

Knickerbocker Village Meeting Tonight; Powerless Apartments Down to 400

We mentioned this a couple of days ago but here’s a reminder. Tonight at 6 p.m., there will be an informational meeting for residents of Knickerbocker Village at P.S.1 regarding the continuing efforts to restore full electrical power, heat and hot water.   The school is located at 8 Henry Street.

A press release from management yesterday indicated that 900 out of 1600 apartments now have power.  An update sent around to elected officials and aid workers last night said that number is now up to 1200.  The note added, “7 out of the 12 buildings have elevator service and 2 boilers are up and running and are providing hot water.”

 

Knickerbocker Village Releases Another Statement

Here’s the latest press statement distributed by Great Link Communications regarding the ongoing efforts to restore power and heat at Knickerbocker Village:

The management of Knickerbocker Village is applying all of its resources, and doing everything within its power, to restore all utilities and other building services as quickly as humanly possible. The enormous challenges we face were described in our previous statement dated November 9.

Today we would like to share the following update on our progress:

  • Three generators were delivered over the weekend to supply temporary power.
  • Electricity has been restored to more than 50% of units (900 out of 1600 units).
  • Working with multiple teams of experts to resolve remaining electrical, heat, and hot water issues, including aggressive action to resolve persistent moisture issues that are slowing down the restoration of electricity. Our primary concern is the safety of residents at Knickerbocker Village and as such, power is being restored as cautiously and deliberately as possible.
  • Double-tracking efforts to supply heat (rebuilding boiler plant while contracting for temporary boilers).

Knickerbocker Village Update: Rent Strike Proposed

Knickerbocker Village residents held a rally on Cherry Street yesterday.

Here’s the latest on the situation at Knickerbocker Village, the 1590-unit apartment complex on Monroe Street that remains mostly without power and heat this morning.   Yesterday, exasperated residents gathered on the basketball courts across from the historic affordable housing buildings to begin laying the groundwork for a potential rent strike and/or class action lawsuit (more on that in a moment).

  • Building management reported last night that two generators are in the process of being connected to Knickerbocker Village’s “internal grid,” a slow process which is being conducted with “safety (being) the primary concern.”  A third generator is expected to be delivered today.  According to management, power was restored to around 250 apartments last night. The plan was to light “quadrants” of the buildings in phases.
  • In the same update, managers indicated the boilers are being taken apart and rebuilt.  It’s also a very slow process, and could take some time.  As we reported Friday, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development offered to have its contractor replace the boilers.  It’s unclear whether Knickerbocker Village is still entertaining the offer.
  • Meanwhile efforts to provide food and other assistance to residents have been stepped up. Last night,  the Red Cross served around 1600 meals at the Hamilton Madison House warming center at 50 Madison Street.   State Sen. Daniel Squadron says he arranged for a 24-hour heated FEMA comfort tent, now set up on a playground on Cherry Street.  It’s supposed to be operational today. Knickerbocker Village management reports it knocked on most doors last night, checking on residents.  They’re also getting ready to provide space heaters (presumably to those apartments that have regained electrical power).

Knickerbocker Village Electrical Power Could Be Restored This Week

Knickerbocker Village.

It looks like there might soon be relief for the residents of Knickerbocker Village, most of whom have been without electricity and heat in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  In the past couple of days, elected officials and the heads of two non-profit organizations have been working intensively with the city and building management to accelerate the repair timetable. Now it looks like some electrical service could be restored over the weekend, with full restoration to all 12 buildings sometime next week.

Knickerbocker Village’s owner, AREA Property Partners, is replacing electrical components in several equipment rooms. One room has already been repaired, which explains why some apartments now have electricity. Another room, swamped by flood waters, has not sufficiently dried out.  An electrical fire that occurred several days ago was apparently the result of damp conditions in this area.  There are hopes that some buildings can be brought back online tomorrow.  A building manager told residents today that he expected full electrical power by the middle of next week.

Knickerbocker Village in the Dark

We have been keeping a close eye this week on Knickerbocker Village, the nearly 1600 unit affordable housing complex that’s still mostly without power and heat in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Yesterday we spent a couple of hours visiting with residents, checking out a warming center set up by Hamilton Madison House and trying to determine just how much longer the repairs on the development’s decimated electrical systems are likely to take.

The complex, which spans two city blocks on Monroe Street between Catherine and Market, includes around 700 tenants over the age of 60. There are a couple dozen home-bound seniors who require daily attention. On Tuesday, a 101-year old woman, Pao Chu Hsieh, died in a fifth floor apartment after experiencing trouble breathing. Hsieh, who did not live at Knickerbocker Village but was staying with her son, died of natural causes, according to the Medical Examiner.  But news of her death has caused many at Knickerbocker Village to focus on the risks to the elderly population, living for an extended period with no heat.