Owner of 128 Hester Will Appeal Decison Ordering Payments to Displaced Tenants

The attorney representing Chinatown developer William H. Su says he will appeal a decision from the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal ordering payments to the displaced tenants of 128 Hester. As we reported yesterday, the decision requires Su to compensate nine families who were forced to move out of the crumbling tenement building, which was later demolished on orders from the Department of Buildings.

The attorney, Stuart Klein, said the findings are “totally false.” In a phone interview a short time ago, he strongly disputed the conclusion by a housing administrator that construction of an 18-story hotel next to 128 Hester and the alleged failure to maintain the building led to unsafe conditions. Su owns both properties.

Klein said Su bought 128 Hester, at an inflated price,  in 2007 because the former owner had refused to make needed repairs. Su spent $100,000 to reinforce the foundation, he said.  The lingering problems with the building, Klein added, were not caused by the hotel construction but by properties to the east and south of 128 Hester, which are not owned by Su.

Klein said Su wants to reconstruct the building (same size, retail stores on the ground floor, apartments above) but the Buildings Department rejected the request, saying the project would violate current zoning restrictions. He indicated Su would be seeking a variance, and wanted the support of local elected officials.

“To be accused of endangering lives”  is “deeply obscene,” Klein asserted.  Referring to Asian Americans for Equality, the housing advocacy organization representing the tenants, he said “we have been repeatedly threatened by AAFE.”  Klein said Su pledged to return all of the residents to the rebuilt building and asked AAFE to accommodate them in housing it owns in the neighborhood. He claimed AAFE had not responded.

Chris Kui, AAFE’s executive director, called these allegations false. He said there were no conversations with Su about rebuilding, allowing the residents to return or about providing them with interim housing. Kui said his only concern is that the nine families (perhaps as many as 60 people) be compensated for the loss of their homes. Kui said AAFE would support any effort to return the residents to a new building at 128 Hester, as long as they’re paying the same rent.

The tenement was a rent stabilized building. The state’s ruling requires Su to pay each family somewhere between $80,000-$150,000.

We have a call into the Department of Buildings for a response. We’ll let you know what we hear.