It took a raging fire in a rundown, mixed-used homeless shelter to finally get it fixed.
But a local community board is still angry with the absentee landlord, suspected of trying to push regular tenants out to exploit a lucrative city contract.
Community Board 2 District Manager Rafael Salamanca Jr. is leading the charge to defend the tenants.
Salamanca pored over a mountain of paperwork to finally determine Nate Folman is the owner of the Longwood building.
“[Folman] may be harassing other rent paying tenants out of their apartments so he can lease them out,” said Salamanca, who’s demanding a sit-down between the landlord and the community board in April.
The property at 941 Intervale Ave., designated as cluster-site homeless housing by the city Department of Homeless Services, suffered a devastating fire in December that gutted several apartments, and forced tenants out of the building, where maintenance had long been lax.
“It was not nice,” recalled Carmen Torres, 40, one of six regular rent paying tenants remaining. She remembers a moldy apartment, vermin and cracked ceilings as a part of everyday life at her place. Forty homeless families also live there, under the DHS-sponsored cluster-site program.
Millions to house homeless
The agency, under a federal mandate, doles out millions to nonprofits to house homeless families, largely in apartment buildings with rent-paying tenants.
But housing advocates say the program has become a cash cow for landlords that is tightening the housing market, since they prefer the lucrative homeless over rent payers.
In the case of Intervale Ave., the nonprofit Aguila Inc. has managed the building since 2007, with DHS records showing Aguila receiving an $18 million city contract to house the 40 families there.
Aguila pays the landlord about $35,000 per family – “way above the market value,” charged Salamanca.
Aguila is ultimately responsible for repairs, but only to homeless tenants, often leaving needed repairs for rent payers like Torres undone.
It took a court order to get much needed repairs on her Section 8 apartment.
City Department of Housing Preservation and Development records show landlord Nate Folman as owner of the property under the 941 Intervale Realty LLC.
His attorney, Charles Wertman, who signed the mortgage papers, has a record of forcing rent-paying tenants out of a Norwood apartment building a few years ago in order to convert a cluster-site home into a full-fledged shelter.
He evicted the existing tenants by taking them to Housing Court for non-payment of back rent, even while they charged poor living conditions in the building.
Wertman is now a board member of the nonprofit Housing Solutions Inc., tied to Aguila through a 2012 merger.
The executive director for both nonprofits is Robert Hess, a former DHS commissioner under Mayor Bloomberg.
“He set his people strategically in DHS,” charged Salamanca, “so that now that he’s with Aguila, he has direct access to them to get these type of contracts.”
For now, Salamanca. intends to pressure DHS to bring the landlord before Board 2 to answer their questions.
“It just seems the landlord wants to kick all the others out, and have all the apartments for Aguila so he can make more money.”
David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383