Faulty towers? Tenants say condo plan at Cobble Hill building is gentrification

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A historic Cobble Hill apartment complex built a century ago to house the working class is now on the fast track to luxury.

The state attorney general’s office has approved the Hudson Companies’ plan to convert the Cobble Hill Towers — built as an experiment in philanthropy by Alfred T. White in 1879 — into condominiums, a plan that calls for any vacated apartments to be sold at market prices.

Tenants in the landmark building will be offered the chance to buy their apartments at insiders price such as $230,000 for a studio and $595,000 for a three-bedroom apartment. Owners would then be free to set their own re-sale prices, though residents in the rent-stabilized apartments will not see any changes if they want to go on renting.

Still, the plan will result in the building’s transformation from moderate-income rentals to luxury condos. As a result, it has frightened residents, who are unsure whether they’ll be able to buy, even at the insider prices.

“It’s ridiculous,” said longtime resident Cindy Nurullah. “Some people are going to have to pay more money [to buy their place].”

Hudson Companies’ Principal David Kramer called the concerns misguided, as there is no plan to evict any tenants.

“I think change can be scary to a lot of people,” he said. “We are giving people the best deal in town.”

The six-story buildings comprise a nine-structure complex with 188 units facing Warren, Baltic and Hicks Streets.

The buildings were constructed as part of a social experiment by White, who aimed to demonstrate that private developers could build decent housing for the working class and still make a profit, according to Francis Morrone, an architectural historian.

Given that history, the towers’ path toward gentrification is “heavily ironic,” Marrone said.

“But it’s not something that hasn’t been done numerous times before,” he said, pointing to the Cherokee Apartments on the Upper East Side, once known as the Vanderbilt Model Tenements, a complex built to house families with at least one member ill with tuberculosis. A multi-million-dollar renovation was completed in 2002, and the units were ultimately converted to co-ops.

“We live in a city of ironies,” Morrone observed.

Kramer disagreed with Morrone’s wry assessment, saying that his firm was merely continuing White’s legacy of urban idealism.

“Alfred White was designing affordable housing stock, and what we’re doing is offering affordable for-sale housing stock,” he said.

Resident Sean Hastings has lived in a rent-stabilized apartment for 20 years and said the deal is not so sweet, particularly since the apartments themselves haven’t been renovated in two decades.

“It’s way overpriced,” he said.

Hudson got involved in the historic building in 2008, when it partnered with owner Frank Farella, and said it would to convert the complex to condos.

Since that time, Kramer said, Hudson renovated the property, adding gates and an intercom system, fixing lights and patching rooftops, and launching a design competition to upgrade every lobby.

But resident Nina Rogoff said she’d only consider buying her apartment if the price is lowered and her building is fully renovated.

At a recent meeting, tenants discussed advocating a bulk buying rate, and perhaps organizing in order to better negotiate.

“I’m looking to spend $200,000, maybe [as high as] $280,0000,” Rogoff said.

— with Tony Cella

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Reader Feedback

NP from Cobble Hill says:
Actually, one of the things that has probably scared tenants at Cobble Hill Towers is stories of exorbitant rent increases. Sometimes those increases have come because a specific apartment has been deregulated due to breaking through the $2000 rent stabilization ceiling. However, there have also been times when the exorbitant rent increases were incorrect and illegal. Some tenants in rent stabilized apartments with "preferential rents" have received increases 300-400% ABOVE what they were expecting, given the allowed percentage increase voted on by the NYC Rent Guidelines Board. This incorrect increase came about because Hudson based the increase on the full "legal regulated rent" as opposed to "preferential rent" rate. If a tenant happens to have the phrase "the preferential rent shall be offered for the entire term of the tenancy" on their original lease, the rate should be based on the preferential rate and not the full legal limit. If a tenant is in a stabilized apartment with preferential rent, they need to check their original lease to see if the above phrase is in it.

If this overcharge happens to a tenant they should request a new lease with the correct increase in place. If this has already happened to a tenant and they have been unwittingly paying the higher, incorrect amount they should 1. request a new lease, and 2. Look into getting reimbursed for their overpayment. The agency best able to help a tenant figure out their personal situation is the NYS Division of Housing & Community Renewal. Their phone number is: 718-739-6400

Also, there is a snarky, but informative, blog with links relevant to this issue:
April 27, 2010, 12:54 pm
Eazy D from Sheepshead Bay says:
sounds like a job for Norm and Danny Boy
April 27, 2010, 9:28 pm
Anon from Brooklyn Heights says:
David Kramer, the real estate developer of this project.... Isn't this the guy who is celebrating housing inside Brooklyn Bridge Park as the head of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy? Isn't he also the guy who wanted to build on the Gowanus Canal so poor and old folk would have a chance to live on one of the most polluted sites in all the world? Is this the best our borough can offer? Talk about ironies. Jeeze.
April 28, 2010, 9:21 pm
Jake from Carroll Gardens says:
The best deal in town, says Kramer. However, I've seen the relevant paperwork and for market rate apartments in the complex, Hudson is raising rents by 30-40% in a transparent attempt to force out the renters they legally can and sell their apartments. Ask those tenants if they think they're getting a good deal.

Meanwhile, Hudson is making cosmetic improvements but the 150-yr old buildings have spotty hot water service and cracks in the walls, and the apartments that were renovated were done so cheaply. Hudson has not been an honest broker throughout -- last year they were bringing in new renters days before the condo plan was released, without letting them know. So now people are supposed to trust them in a much more complicated transaction with much higher stakes?
April 29, 2010, 1:53 pm
Kandisha from Da hood says:
what a biatch - keep you gentry out of my hood my neeegggaas!
This is the truth - keep it serious y'all.
We don't need no rich cougars up in this biitch!
May 3, 2010, 3:01 pm
Kevin Schaefer from Cobble Hill says:
We lived in this apartment complex before it was sold and loved our apartment. We were one of 4 units that was just above the rent stabilization cap at $2000. We had lived there for 3 years prior to Hudson taking over. My son was born in the apartment. When they took over, Hudson told us that our rent would be going up but they "work with us" because we had been good tenants. They also had to do a walk through the apartment to get a better idea of the layout. When they came in to do the appraisal they walked through and talked to me. Asking me questions and what not. They asked me if I liked the apartment and I told them that I loved it and would love to be able to stay for a long time. One of appraisers then turned to me and told me that" if You wanted to live in a place for a while, You should just buy a place." I would love to do that but some of us don't have money to buy which is why we rent.
When the lease renewal came they asked for $3600 a full 80 percent increase. When we asked if they could work with us they quickly said sure how about $3400. In the three years prior, I think that our rent only went up about $75. Hudson Properties ruined a good thing.
Sept. 23, 2010, 3:28 pm
Brooklyn-in-my-heart from Near D.C says:
We have developers eyeing our Northern Virginia, VA neigborhood. They are using fancy terms like, Form-Based Code, neighborhood revitilization, green-living....we are a neighborhood of 1930's, solidly constructed homes whose inhabitants are ethnically and economically diverse. I had hoped the Cobble Hill Towers model (in its orginal form and intent) would help keep new construction free from over gentrification and homogenous infiltraton. I am saddened to see what has happenend in Coble Hill Towers; it was actually a neighborhood my teacher took us to learn about socially engineered housing that addressed the needs of the hard-working , socially responsible people of limited means. I hope some that character will remain.
Jan. 20, 2011, 3:23 pm
Gerry from Brooklyn Heights says:
I suspect that many of these tenats will not be able to afford to buy these apartments. If a tenant is rent stabilized they would be nuts to buy the apt there is nothing more valuable than a rent stabilized apartment in this city. Regretfully rent stabiliztion laws are bing weakend as time goes by. I hope the rent stabilzed tenants hold onto their leases stay here as renters.
March 14, 2011, 1:24 pm

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