Tenants fighting the private equity-backed landlord on a buying spree across Brooklyn gained a powerful new ally last week when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer signaled his support.
The most powerful man in the United States Senate joined tenants just a few blocks from his own apartment on Oct. 15 to blast the real estate company, which now owns over 100 buildings in the borough, for its “predatory” practices.
“There is nothing more despicable than these predatory real estate equity firms trying to make billions of dollars on the backs of tenants,” he said. “This is a horrible thing.”
Schumer accused the firm of exploiting the pandemic and pushing New Yorkers out of their homes to turn a profit.
“They’re like bloodsuckers,” he said. “They have a crisis, and they stick their teeth into it and suck the lifeblood out of so many communities, so many neighborhoods, so many tenants”
70 Prospect Park West is among the 107-and-counting buildings recently acquired by Greenbrook Partners, who took advantage of the distressed real estate market during the pandemic. Following a pattern that played out in other buildings Greenbrook has purchased, residents in market-rate rentals received notice that their leases would not be renewed, and that they would have to vacate their homes. Vacated units are then gut-renovated and put back on the market as luxury units, often for more than double or triple their previous rent.
Tenants at 70 Prospect Park West sparked an organizing movement that spread to other affected buildings, where they’ve not only found market-rate tenants being forced out, but also rent-controlled tenants being made to watch their buildings turned into dusty construction sites with loud work going on every day — a tactic known to tenant advocates as construction harassment.
“They make the conditions in the building worse and worse and worse,” Schumer said. “What’s the goal? To have tenants who might be paying a reasonable rent leave so they can just raise the rent.”
An investigation into Greenbrook by the state Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force has found over 800 safety violations in just 33 of Greenbrooks properties, and is continuing to investigate more buildings, according to Councilmember Brad Lander’s office.
Greenbrook, led by real estate bigwig Greg Fournier, was able to go on its pandemic buying spree thanks in large part to a $100 million investment from the London real estate investment firm NW1. The firm, which promotes itself as “forging a new path in real estate investment management,” is partially financed by a stake from the Texas Permanent School Fund, a fund set up to benefit the Texas public education system controlled by the Texas Board of Education.
Local elected officials have led a divestment campaign to pressure the board to abandon its stake in NW1, arguing that their business practices are harmful, and have recruited progressive legislators and school board members from Texas to lobby for their cause.
Schumer said Friday he would also exercise his influence.
“I will use whatever clout I have as majority leader to stop this predatory practice,” he said.
The use of funds from the Texas Permanent School Fund was particularly hard to grapple with for 70 Prospect Park West tenant and former Texas public school teacher Cassie Newsom, who has received notices to vacate along with her neighbors.
“Learning that the Texas PS fund was investing in an endeavor that was trying to displace my family, as well as many other Brooklyn families, in order to fund Texas public school children made me sick to my stomach,” Newsom said at Friday’s rally.
Greenbrook Partners and the Texas Board of Education did not respond to requests for comment.