Crown Heights family fights real estate mogul to keep the home they owned for more than 60 years

Crown Heights
Family and community members came together to fight the eviction in Crown Heights.
Photo by Adrian Childress

For 70 years, three generations of the Robinson-Torain family have called a brownstone in Crown Heights their home. They may not be there much longer.

The family is enduring a third forced eviction attempt from the real estate company that now owns the brownstone, Mandy Management, which claims the family owes six year’s worth of rent. The family had owned the Park Place home from 1951 until 2015, when they claim they were victims of fraud and lost their deed.

Now dozens of their neighbors, members of the Crown Heights Tenants Union and the Brooklyn Eviction Defense are rallying to prevent another try of eviction, and keep a 24-hour watching outside their home, as the NYPD does the same to keep the situation under control. The family is facing the real estate company in court.

It’s just one of the many eviction battles facing New York State — the state with the highest share of renters in the country — after its eviction moratorium expired on Jan. 15. State officials enacted the Tenant Safe Harbor Act as the COVID-19 pandemic left many unemployed or unable to pay their rent, and repeatedly extended it.

The expiration of the mandate allowed the courts to reopen housing disputes and resume evictions. So far, there have been at least three known evictions in Crown Heights.

The Robinsons were the first Black family on the block when they moved to what used to be a predominant white and Jewish neighborhood in 1951.

In May 2021, the first effort to evict Sherease Torain, 42, and her mother, 68, and grandmother, 98, was met with support from their neighbors who protested on their stoop. Soon after, the eviction moratorium took place giving the family a break.

Anti-eviction signs adorn the Park Place residence.Photo by Adrian Childress

After years of looking for legal help and reaching out to local representatives, “no one helped us,” said Torain. “This community are the only ones who helped us.”

As such, Torain and her mother led a blockade of supporters, preventing “hired goons” and the police from entering the building, she said. But, the NYPD and media presence has drawn the ire of some neighbors, which the Robinson-Torain family alleges has even led to physical confrontations.

“Sherease has been through hell for the last six years and she has been through extreme hell for the last six days,” said Joe Feingold, co-founder of the Crown Heights Tenants Union, through a livestream from the disputed house Wednesday night.

Feingold added that Torain is the first active Crown Heights Tenants Union member to be evicted from their residence.

Mandy Management controls thousands of low-income and luxury apartments in New York, New Haven, Georgia and Florida. Menachem Gurevitch, head of the company, has faced charges in criminal housing court in New Haven for alleged violations of the city’s housing code.

A company representative refused to comment on the situation at Park Place.

Sherease Torain, center, with her mother sitting to her right, along with members of the Crown Heights Tenants Union.Photo by Adrian Childress

“We are fighting more and more evictions every day,” said one of Crown Heights Tenants Union’s leaders, Esteban Giron, at a press conference at 964 Park Place on Tuesday, Feb. 15.

A Feb. 12 rally drew over 40 community members, and since then, state Sen. Jabari Brisport and Councilmember Chi Ossé have visited the home to show support for the family.

Torain hopes to receive a court order to restore her family’s possession, and to see a criminal investigation into Mandy Management’s actions.

“We are hoping the judge realizes this is an injustice,” said Crown Heights Tenant Union member Rhohit Chandan.

Until the situation is resolved, dozens of local tenants and neighbors have signed up for watch shifts to keep the Torain-Robinson household from further harassment.

“We want a holistic approach to solve this,” said Torain’s mother. “We have never intended for this to turn violent.”