East Flatbush co-op embroiled in conflict still gets $11 million state loan
This story was originally published on Aug. 27 by THE CITY.
Residents of an affordable Brooklyn co-op complex scored a low-interest loan from the state this summer, reaping $11 million in aid to improve what some complain are dismal living conditions.
Now the shareholders of the Harry Silver Housing Company in East Flatbush just have to agree on who’s in charge, amid a storm of lawsuits and accusations that burst into public view at a raucous community board meeting and continue to roil the 288-apartment community.
“People are scared and intimidated,” said resident Marcella Coma, who in May sued the the co-op board and state housing officials in Kings County Supreme Court, charging irregularities in the process of electing board members and violations of co-op bylaws.
The co-op has not responded in court to that lawsuit.
Two of those board members are also plaintiffs in separate cases, accusing a third board member of damaging their reputations by circulating screeds accusing them of siphoning funds.
The defendant in those cases, Andrew Jackson, distributed a letter in February that compares fellow board members to “slave-masters” and accuses them of having a “hidden agenda” to seize control of shareholders’ dollars.
“How can you deal with people … who have ‘literally stolen’ your money over a 3 year period,” he wrote in the letter, according to the defamation suits.
Jackson has since been sued for libel by two fellow board members, Unella Rhone-Perry and Augustine Blackwell, who filed separate cases in April and May.
Rhone-Perry, who serves as president of the board and signed for the funds from the state Housing Finance Agency, did not respond to THE CITY’s multiple requests for comment.
Jackson did not respond to THE CITY’s requests for comment. In response to Rhone-Perry’s libel suit, which included allegations that he had defamed her at a public hearing, he stated: “Defendant is a board member with the ‘fiduciary duty’ to address ALL Shareholders concerns and grievances regarding the proposed maintenance increase/s and lack of Board representation.”
Opened in 1953 with the backing of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters, Harry Silver was named for a murdered butcher’s union organizer and housed workers at affordable rents.
More recently, labor unions came back into the picture with financial assistance, but residents say that didn’t succeed in stalling the aging buildings’s slide.
Jackson and other shareholders claimed the board of directors “disappeared” $8 million in mortgages granted by the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust in 2015, including $3 million designated for roof and façade repairs in the six-building complex.
A representative for Marion Scott Management Company, which oversees the complex, said the credit line was used for short-term repairs and shareholder abatements.
City building records show no permits for exterior repairs until June 2019, after a state board had already cleared the new $11 million loan from the state and the Community Preservation Corp. had committed to an additional $1.8 million construction loan. The new mortgages, for rehabilitation of the complex, replaced the AFL-CIO’s funds.
Flooding and mold
Roger Bell, who has lived in the complex for 20 years, told THE CITY his apartment floods every time it rains and that his mold-infested unit still hasn’t been fixed despite complaints.
“The board is asking us to be led like lambs to the slaughter,” Bell said. “What shareholders are asking for is for transparency of a whole operation here.”
Some residents bemoaned that although the state Homes and Community Renewal agency approved increases in maintenance fees, they seldom see results. City records show 447 open housing code violations among the apartments, including water leaks and mold.
At the March hearing on the most recent maintenance increase, of about $6 per month per room, one board member, Allyson LeDoux, said her support for the hike would be contingent on obtaining a forensic audit for the complex. “Just be transparent,” she pleaded, according to a transcript of the session.
“We gotta get to the bottom of this. This has been going on for quite some years,” resident Tamika Sept told THE CITY. “That money is going out of everyone else’s pockets.”
The matter has divided the residents, some of whom, including Jackson, assert that last year’s election results were invalid.
Following Coma’s lawsuit, Kings County Supreme Court Judge Leon Ruchelsman ordered the state housing agency to supervise and record this year’s board election, which took place on June 5. None of the board members were defeated.
Coma is due back in court on Sept. 25 and is hoping to compel another vote in the fall.
“This election was rigged,” Coma alleged. “I’m in court because they steal elections.”
She submitted affidavits from 73 residents demanding that ballots be placed in a locked and sealed box in view of a camera, and votes be counted in view of shareholders.
Homes and Community Renewal, which oversees Mitchell-Lama cooperatives like the Harry Silver Houses, declined to comment given pending litigation. But a spokesperson for the agency said that it believed the court-ordered oversight of the election in June was conducted properly.
Before that election meeting, which shareholders did not permit THE CITY to attend, some residents lamented the lack of unity in the board following the controversies.
“It’s so distressing, depressing, that we can’t work together as a people,” resident Nicole Andrews said.
This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
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