The community is coming together, perhaps as never before, to fight the landlord of a Throggs Neck office building.
Members of the Throggs Neck Strong coalition have further mobilized homeowners, merchants and the building’s tenants to fight evictions of the commercial renters at 2800 Bruckner Boulevard.
Local elected officials have penned a letter to the two individuals that might be partners in the building’s new management and/or ownership: its longtime owner Michael D’Alessio and its purported new owner Michael Fernandes.
They are asking that D’Alessio and Fernandes submit to Community Board 10 a plan concerning the building’s future use.
Coalition leaders said they suspect that a proposed “wellness center” described on the Internet and by Fernandes will include some sort of substance abuse detox or rehabilitation, though Fernandes has been vague on this matter.
Residents at the building received a second round of eviction notices on Wednesday, August 9, even though many have leases. Building services have been stopped, several said.
The latest notices sent to tenants stated that even though 2800 Bruckner Boulevard was rented for 20 years to for-profit business, the building’s Certificate of Occupancy is for a ‘community facility’ that only allows non-profit, non-residential use.
“He is trying to use illegality as a weapon to evict tenants,” said Steven Kaufman, TNS chairman.
A NYC Department of Buildings Certificate of Occupancy sent with the latest eviction notices confirms that it is a community facility without sleeping accommodations, something tenants say they were not aware of when they signed leases.
About a dozen tenants still remain in the building.
After the latest round of eviction notices, on Thursday, August 10 the coalition’s chair and vice chair Bob Jaen, Congressman Joseph Crowley, Senator Jeff Klein, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj and Councilman James Vacca wrote to D’Alessio and Fernandes, citing a “vast amount of controversy regarding 2800 Bruckner” that they have failed to address.
Tenants received notices to vacate by Saturday, September 1 and the future use of the building has been surrounded by rumors, exacerbated by storing mattresses in the interior parking lot, contrary to the CofO, they said.
“In the wake of these abrupt notices, there were no concrete plans for the building’s future beyond evicting good tenants who were serving our constituencies,” the letter stated.
The letter cited inconsistent statements made to community organizations, local media and elected officials concerning the property’s future plans.
“This is not a manner in which to enter any community, regardless of your intentions,” their letter stated. “The lack of a clear understanding of what is going on and your lack of forthrightness has complicated this situation.”
The letter asks the owners to contact Matt Cruz, Community Board 10 district manager and appear before the appropriate CB 10 subcommittee to discuss the owners’ future intended uses for the building, presenting “a concrete proposal.”
Throggs Neck Strong continues to gather petition signatures opposing “any homeless shelters, half way houses and addiction treatment programs.”
Over 700 signatures have been gathered as of press time.
Kaufman said that the mobilization of the community around the issue has been fantastic.
Jaen drew a parallel between this fight and a successful 1980s effort called ‘Save Our Neck’ that many credited with blocking a homeless shelter from occupying a vacant nursing home at 707 Throgs Neck Expressway.
“We have not seen this level of community awareness and support for over 30 years,” said Jaen, adding “They picked the wrong neighborhood to fool around with.”
Fernandes’ company Steward Redevelopment is a known developer of transitional housing, and according to its website, appears to even sell small stakes in its converted buildings to individual investors for as little as $10,000.
The website section soliciting investments also includes a general interest video about REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts), a type of real estate investment vehicle that typically have specific rules as to taxes, minimum number of shareholders, and other functions.
Steward Redevelopment “guarantees” returns of 250% to 500% on its investments.
Yolanda Arce of The Arce Law Office PLLC, said that Fernandes first appeared at the building several weeks ago claiming to be the owner’s partner.
Arce said that since that time, she’s received letters calling for her firm to vacate even though they recently signed a five-year lease.
“We are rejecting this notice of eviction because by law you inherit occupants of a building who have a lease,” said Arce, adding she had never been told by either party that the building was classified a ‘community facility.’
She also said that some for-profit tenants have spent tens of thousands of dollars on office improvements.
The building’s maintenance has been neglected, said Arce.
“(Fernandes) does this for a living,” said Herbert Corzantes, a representative of another tenant. “He buys property in distress and tries to evict tenants.”
Corzantes believes the strategy is to make life so difficult for the tenants that they will voluntarily move elsewhere.
He added that services like cleaning bathrooms and removing trash have declined.
Community leader James McQuade named the coalition searching for answers Throggs Neck Strong, according to members.