The Giuliani administration’s practice of selling off distressed real estate to private owners instead of developing it into new housing has now sent one Harlem property to the biggest auction block of them all. A vacant lot at 1970 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard–until this spring owned by a pair of the city’s most infamous landlords–is currently for sale on eBay, the online auction site, at a minimum bid of $150,100.
Local real estate brokers say that’s a fair asking price, but no one has yet to place a bid. There’s still time, though. Anyone itching to own the 2,500-square-foot space, sandwiched between a barbershop and a phone card store, has until Wednesday at 9 a.m. to make an offer.
But first, here’s some history not available in the online listing for the empty lot, now littered with car parts, head-high weeds and a dilapidated baby stroller. Once home to an apartment building, it was bought in 1986 by Grossinger House Holding, a company whose partners include Baruch Singer and Leslie Westreich. Singer’s long record of neglect and tenant harassment includes the collapse of a derelict Harlem building that killed three tenants in 1995. Westreich, a lawyer disbarred 10 years ago for “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, misrepresentation and deceit” during a real estate transaction, has also been accused of neglecting tenants [See “HUD’s Up,” Apr. 2, 2001].
Having failed to pay city tax bills–by 1996, Grossinger accumulated nearly $24,000 in tax debt and thousands in fines for environmental hazards–they were forced to relinquish the property to the city, which then sold the debt to a private trust as part of its tax lien sales program. After Westreich and Singer subsequently failed to repay the debt to JER Revenue Services, the trust’s collection agency, the trust auctioned off the lot on April 24, according to a representative at JER. The state then shut Grossinger down for failing to pay its annual corporate franchise fee.
Nearly four months later, the property’s ownership situation remains muddled. City records name Grossinger as the owner, and the eBay seller, who’s also auctioning off hundreds of rare coins, could only be identified as “buymenowonsale.” It was not clear how much the seller paid for the lot.
How successful the property sale will be is unclear, and at least one real estate broker is skeptical. “My phone’s ringing off the hook for brownstones,” said Robin Prescod of Harlem Homes. “But it’s not exactly ringing off the hook for vacant lots.”