In 2003, Emmanuel Ku sparked an uproar when he purchased Pueblo de Mayaguez, a subsidized 75-unit South Bronx apartment complex, at a HUD auction. Tenants complained he was a slumlord, pointing to more than 1,400 violations in 11 buildings he already owned.
Now, it seems, Queens-based Ku is spreading his wings. He recently purchased a second HUD property in Alabama, and was the highest bidder on a third in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
Parkview Apartments, the Michigan property, is a dilapidated 144-unit complex with a HUD-subsidized mortgage. It went into foreclosure last year when its board failed to pay the building’s water, sewage and tax bills. Before auctioning it off, HUD offered the property to the city of Ypsilanti, a working class town just east of Ann Arbor. But the city and its housing commission wrestled over it, finally submitting a complicated last-minute proposal.
HUD rejected their plan, arguing in a May 26 letter that it had “inadequate time to fully understand the impact of the agreement.” The auction was back on. Held at the county courthouse, it attracted nearly a dozen bidders. The winner, offering $2.6 million, was New York’s very own Emmanuel Ku.
At first, that seemed like a good thing, recalls Krista Nordberg, then staff attorney at Legal Services of South Central Michigan, who represents the tenants. “He assured me that he had experience doing this and he was very attentive to repairs so I thought, hallelujah, somebody good,” she said. “But right away people started doing checks on the guy and I don’t think it took very long to figure out who he was.”
Ku did not respond to emailed questions by press time, but referred our call to George Arzt, a well-known political consultant. “Mr. Ku pays top dollar and still protects affordable and low-income housing,” he said. “He should be credited for that.”
Ku’s lawyer, Richard Price, was more specific in a July 21 letter to Nordberg. He suggests that the code violations in Ku’s New York City buildings predate his ownership. “It takes HPD [the Department of Housing Preservation and Development] a significant processing time to confirm that the current owner has cleared matters,” he wrote. “Mr. Ku has been successful with such pre-existing conditions and believes his company can be successful here [with Parkview] if given the chance.”
Price states that the number of violations at Pueblo was “reduced to 4.” But a review of city records reveals that Pueblo was last inspected in June and still has 180 violations, including 19 class C violations, which are considered immediately hazardous. Fifteen new class A and B violations were issued last year, under Ku’s watch.
Last year, HUD introduced a new regulation restricting auction sales to landlords with clean records. But it isn’t clear whether that rule is meant to cross state lines. “It’s hard for me to see, if we have over 300 municipalities, what the system would be to track that,” said Adam Glantz, a HUD spokesperson in the New York City office.
For now, Nordberg and the Parkview tenants are left holding their breath–a bankruptcy claim by the building’s former owner has delayed Ku’s closing. In the meantime, Nordberg has asked HUD to disqualify Ku and reconsider the housing commission’s proposal. “It’s up in the air,” she said. “We’re all waiting to see what HUD does.”