Iu New York, some things never change. If you die in a fire, it’s always your fault. When a fire broke out in a radiator and ravaged the hallway of an apartment building in December 1998, killing four people in an explosion of heat and smoke, city officials called the blaze a tragedy that could have been avoided if people had only remembered to close their doors. “People should close the door behind them when they leave a [burning] apartment, ”said then fire chief Daniel Nigro, now the city’s fire marshal.
“They would not have died if they had stayed in their apartments,” said the then mayor, the now infamous Rudolph Giuliani, thinking that it is “easier to blame the mechanisms rather than the beings. humans understand, do or do not do ”.
When a radiator torched a Bronx apartment building on January 9 and killed 17 people, making it the city’s deadliest fire in decades, New York City’s newest mayor Eric Adams knew exactly what to say : “Close the door, close the door”. Adams said Monday, the day after the fire. “Muscle memory is everything, and if we can break it through, we can save lives by closing doors, not just in the city but around the world. “
The owners run this town. They always have, and maybe always will. So it’s no surprise that one of Twin Parks’ investors, Rick Gropper, is part of the new mayor’s transition team – for housing, nothing less. Twin Parks is owned by a consortium of investors including LIHC Investment Group, Belveron Partners and Camber Property Group. Gropper co-founded Camber with Andrew Moelis, the son of one of New York’s top affordable housing developers; housing planners are calling Ron Moelis the “king of gentrification” of New York City.
The management of the building was not at fault, Adams told the nation on Good Morning America; the building only had “two violations which were pending over the past few years”.
Technically, the mayor was half right: on Sunday only two infractions remained unresolved with the city’s Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Department – out of a total of 13 infractions in the past year alone.
But a closer look at the city’s archives tells a different story. Over the past 11 months, Twin Parks North West has racked up a litany of complaints with the city’s complaints line: no heat at 6K; broken pipe; broken or missing radiator; no heat; broken or missing door; exposed electrical wiring; ventilation system missing; no heating or hot water in 6E; no heat at 18E; no heat in 6K; And the list continues.
Gropper and Moelis deserve to be blamed for their mismanagement of Twin Parks. But the real scandal is that in the New York real estate developer landscape, they’re not just bad. (After all, it was the world that brought us Giuliani’s current legal client and former U.S. President Donald Trump.)
The Right to Counsel Coalition, a group of tenants’ rights organizations, has compiled a list of the city’s top 20 evictors during the pandemic. Compared to the others, many of whom specialize in affordable housing, Camber didn’t even rate. And it is perhaps the most scathing indictment against the city’s affordable housing industry, which runs into millions of dollars. “What exists in New York, and what has been around New York for decades, is a culture of intentional neglect of low-rental housing,” said Luis Henríquez Carrero, director of litigation at New York City Legal Services , that every year deals with a thousand legal cases concerning the bad living conditions in the apartments.
Contrary to Giuliani’s musings in 1998, it is much easier to blame human beings than it is to blame the mechanisms. But the real culprit in Sunday’s fire is not the mayor, or even the owners. It’s something more abstract than a broken door, a radiator, or even a bad management company. The fuel for fires like the Bronx is money – in particular, the flood of investment money that is pouring into so-called affordable housing from investors around the world.
“There are very few asset classes with more proven resilience and endurance than affordable housing, and competition for offers in the five boroughs remains extremely high,” LIHC’s Andrew Gendron told The Real Deal Weekly. latest – announcing its acquisition, in partnership with Camber. , from a $ 68 million portfolio in East Harlem.
It is real estate because “there is gold in these hills”. The financialization of poverty – and more specifically, affordable housing – has created a gold rush. And when the money comes in, it changes neighborhoods in ways that don’t necessarily benefit the residents of buildings like Twin Parks. Follow the money and you’ll find a line from broken doors and heaters in buildings across town to big banks funding affordable housing deals.
“When you make the decision to stop directly financing housing for the poor and decide to involve private entities to do it for you, then you are bringing market forces into the process of providing affordable housing.” explains Henríquez. “And these market forces have caused many homeowners to neglect their properties for many decades, until which time we see things like the Twin Parks tragedy.”
The result of all this investment, As long-time Bronx resident Eileen Markey points out in a recent New Republic dispatch, it is because many buildings in the Bronx carry mortgages worth much more than net operating income (NOI ) buildings can produce. Landlords who “have bought buildings at speculative prices, betting on ever higher rents – and literally betting on the ability to crowd out low-income tenants – face declining buildings they can’t afford.” to nurture and the investors they are obligated to serve. “, she writes.
This is the heart of the matter. If housing vulnerable people is an asset class – not a social good or a human right – then generating returns for investors will always be in a zero-sum relationship with providing safe housing to these people. people. The owners will always be in the middle; and when they take sides, as they should in for-profit housing, investors will always win.
“When housing is a commodity and repairs are a cost – and like any cost, it must be minimized so that benefits can be maximized – no law changes this fundamental fact,” says Henríquez. “Providing safe and decent living conditions to your tenants is part of the cost of your balance sheet. And that is already creating an incentive to do as little as possible. To keep this cost as low as possible.