The landlord is declaring bankruptcy, but the tenants are declaring it moral bankruptcy.
The operators of an imperiled Williamsburg senior and day-care center say they were days from settling a years-long legal battle over the ownership of their building last Friday, when the landlord unexpectedly filed Chapter 11 papers — a blatant attempt to buy more time so he can sell to developer instead, the center’s supporters claim.
“They want to delay out of greed, to build condos,” said Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D–Greenpoint), who has been working with other local officials and activists to save the 42-year-old Swinging Sixties Senior Center and Small World Day Care on Ainslie Street.
The community groups that run the center have been trying to buy the building since late 2013, when the previous owner instead sold to property mogul Harry Einhorn, who then slapped the tenants with eviction notices that Christmas Eve.
It has since kept the ouster tied up in court — where it is arguing Einhorn’s purchase was a sham, because the previous owner had agreed to offer it and the city first dibs on any sale — while local pols worked to negotiate a way to buy it back.
And a Swinging Sixties supporter says the landlord seemed to be finally coming the table a few weeks ago, when the various parties met at City Hall and offered Einhorn $8.8 million for the building — almost twice the $4.5 million he paid for it.
But instead of an answer, he responded with the bankruptcy papers, which reject the city and community groups’ claim to the property and state that they are intended to establish ownership once and for all.
The bankruptcy also puts a stay on the case until it is resolved, which Swinging Sixties supporters claim is really a last-ditch effort to keep control of the building.
“This is clearly a delaying tactic,” said Jan Peterson, a member of the Conselyea Street Block Association, which operates the center’s programs alongside housing advocacy group St. Nick’s Alliance.
Einhorn’s lawyer did not return this paper’s requests for comment, but told Crain’s — which first reported on the bankruptcy — that the city has been “bullying” his client into selling a building that is really worth $14 million, and that he is being unfairly vilified over the previous landlord’s actions.
The community groups’ lawyers will now try to get the stay removed so the case can continue.
In the meantime, Lentol is also trying to force Einhorn to sell via eminent domain, on the grounds that the property was built with a substantial injection of taxpayer funds with the specific goal of serving the public, so the government has a responsibility to save it.