Last week, the manager of an East New York housing development mired in controversy offered to help fund the tenants’ building association, give temporary residents leases and bow down to a number of the tenants’ other requests, provided they drop a lawsuit against him.
If only the buildings’ owner hadn’t forced him out of the complex.
In January, tenants of Noble Drew Ali Plaza, a 385-unit complex, sued Zvi “Steve” Kaufman of Eshel Management and owner Abdur Rahman Farrakhan for allegedly evicting residents in order to free up apartments for homeless families paid for by the city at about $90 a night.
Last Monday, after months of battling with the tenants in Brooklyn Supreme Court, the owner of the development, Abdur Rahman Farrakhan, president of the Oceanhill Brownsville Tenants Association, spontaneously terminated his contract with Eshel, ending a deal that would have made the management company owner of the property. Last year, Farrakhan inked a deal for Eshel to manage the complex and to buy it for $7.5 million.
Claiming he was unaware of Kaufman’s plans to move homeless clients into the buildings, Farrakhan explained of his decision, “We just have different styles. [Kaufman’s] style is to do whatever he wants.”
Aside from inviting a legal challenge from Eshel for breaking the contract — which Kaufman says is already in the works — Farrakhan has also spurred tremendous resentment among the tenants. When they saw him and a number of “thugs,” as many put it, coming to remove Eshel employees from the property Monday morning, a near riot broke out.
“Under Farrahkan we had nothing except rats as big as cats,” said tenant Wilbur Mouzow. “Eshel has tried to fix it up some,” though, he added, “they’ve got a long way to go.”
The end result: Police arrested Farrakhan that day for allegedly assaulting an elderly tenant — and officers ordered Kaufman off the premises. On Farrakhan’s first night in control, the lights and power in the complex suddenly went off, tenants said, and many stood around with kitchen knives to protect themselves from looters.
Last Wednesday, in an impromptu settlement meeting with the tenant association, Kaufman offered to terminate his lease with shelter entrepreneur David Somerstein, who had arranged for a portion of the property to be used to house the city’s homeless clients, and to give Somerstein’s portion of the profit — about $50,000 a month — to the tenant association to use as they see fit, for basketball hoops, day care centers, etc.
“I’m trying to create a situation where everyone wins,” Kaufman said.
He’s also trying to create a situation where, after claiming to pump $5 million into the property, his contract of sale might be spared. This Tuesday, the state Attorney General’s charity division — which must approve all sales by nonprofits to for-profits — is expected to ask the judge handling the case to reconsider the sale, provided tenants can’t come to an agreement before hand.
But residents say they are not ready to bite yet. “We’re waiting for all the cards to be put on the table and for the courts to handle this,” said tenant leader Paulette Forbes. The Legal Aid attorney representing the tenants, Mimi Rosenberg, blasted Kaufman for meeting with the tenants without lawyers, calling his proposal a “wild gesticulation” and the $50,000 a month offer “offensive, corrupt and perverse.” Legal Aid plans to continue its case and is seeking an independent community organization to assume control of Noble Drew.
“There is no honor amongst thieves,” Rosenberg said. “This is a fight over a dubious partnership suddenly gone astray and unfortunately, the tenants are stuck in the middle.”