Tensions erupt as residents confront pols over city housing program

September 11, 2019 Kelly Mena
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Outrage against an embattled city-run program that seizes properties to collect on unpaid debt erupted Tuesday night, as longtime Central Brooklyn property owners grilled local officials over their plans for its future.

Residents at the meeting accused their representatives — including City Council member Robert Cornegy Jr., State Sen. Velamanette Montgomery and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams — of not taking strong enough action against the city’s Third Party Transfer program.

“I’ve been to a few of these meetings, and there’s no solutions,” said Van Walker, a Bedford-Stuyvesant resident. “Listen, in order to get a solution, we need to figure out who’s winning and who’s losing — and people of color are losing.”

Under the TPT program, which is run by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the city designates “distressed” properties to be transferred to qualified sponsors (nonprofit or for-profit developers) that can purchase and rehabilitate both vacant and occupied multi-family properties. These transfers are known as in rem foreclosures.

There were initially 192 properties targeted in Brooklyn alone in the most recent round of TPT foreclosures — the highest number in all five boroughs. Out of the 11 neighborhoods where buildings were most often identified for potential transfer into the program, six were in Brooklyn.

Cornegy, who represents a large swath of black property owners across Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, attempted to quell the anger in the room by noting his role in the program’s shortfalls while also promising swift reform.

Van Walker, standing. Eagle photo by Kelly Mena

“We had a hearing that determined how actually racially divisive the program is and how it is targeting black and brown families. That conclusion came out of a six-hour hearing,” Cornegy said at the meeting.

“So where the city is culpable in that, we are dismantling that as we speak … That’s an agency [HPD] that actually lied to councilmembers about the criteria about the homes that were in the Third Party Transfer program — and I’m not embarrassed about saying that.”

Cornegy has helped develop a package of bills to address the problems with TPT, which are set to be introduced into the City Council this fall. At Tuesday night’s meeting, he announced two more measures being added to the package: one meant to narrow the definition of a “distressed” building (currently a broad classification for transferable properties), and another to require clear and current building violation data on properties deemed eligible for the program.

Borough President Adams took the opportunity to renew his call for a moratorium on TPT entirely, and called for an independent federal investigation.

“All of this should stop until we find out exactly what is taking place around black homeownership. We not only need a moratorium — but we need the Southern District to come in and do a criminal investigation,” Adams said.

“Let’s find out who was talking to who. There is more here. If you just let the dots stay disconnected, you won’t see the true picture of what is happening right now.”

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