Harlem Tenants Vow to Fight Developer's Expansion Plan

By Jeff Mays on April 4, 2011 4:19pm 

Joseph Tahl, co-owner of Tahl Propp, makes a presentation before Community Board 11's Housing committee.
Joseph Tahl, co-owner of Tahl Propp, makes a presentation before Community Board 11's Housing committee.
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DNAInfo/Jeff Mays

By Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — An East Harlem developer wants permission from Community Board 11 to launch a plan to construct a 12-story addition to one of his local housing complexes.

But Joseph Tahl, of Tahl Propp Equities, could get an icy reception at a Tuesday meeting on the letter of approval he wants from the board to begin negotiating with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to purchase a piece of vacant land next to his Lexington Gardens complex at 127 E. 107th St. so that he can add more units to it.

Residents of some of his 900 other apartment in Harlem say his company has not treated them well, refuses to make repairs and in some instances failing to provide heat and hot water. They also accuse Tahl of buying affordable properties and then pushing tenants out to raise the rents.

"I am absolutely opposed to this," said Alvin Johnson, the chair of Community Board 11's Housing committee and a resident at a Tahl-Propp building.

Johnson has recused himself from voting on the matter but has called Tahl Propp a "predatory developer."

"Tahl Propp has shown no willingness to enter into long term affordability agreements," said Johnson.

The company has denied the charges against it. They say 85 percent of their 3,000 apartments citywide are considered affordable — including all of the 905 apartments located in East Harlem.

"We are primarily an affordable housing owner and operator," Tahl said. "Almost 100 percent of our apartments in Community Board 11 are affordable and reserved for low-income residents. We are deeply committed to owning, operating and preserving affordable housing."

The company would like a letter of support so that it can enter into negotiations with HPD to purchase the vacant land. The board's support is only advisory, but HPD often solicits their advice on such issues. City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents the area, has said she was currently unable to support the proposed expansion because the company has only opted to enter housing affordability programs such as Section 8 for the shortest length of time available.

Residents of one of Tahl Propp's buildings on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard that is being converted to condominiums post signs in their windows.
Residents of one of Tahl Propp's buildings on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard that is being converted to condominiums post signs in their windows.
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DNAInfo/Jeff Mays
Tahl said he understands those concerns but feels that choosing the short-term contracts are the only bargaining leverage they have with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"Shorter term contracts give you some negotiating position. The only leverage we have to get them to treat us fairly is the short-term contract. We can say to HUD: 'We want to stay in the program but please be fair with us on rents," Tahl said. "We have no intention of taking these buildings out of affordable housing."

Tahl also said he has reduced the level of violations in his property portfolio to about 1,400 violations for 3,000 apartments, which brings down the number significantly in many buildings. 

Eric Alugas, a member of Harlem Tenants Against Tahl Propp, lives in the same building on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard where Tahl lives with his family. Alugas said the coalition has no interest in meeting because the company has not kept its word after promising to address issues at individual buildings.

"We have not taken up their offer because we don't believe them," said Alugas. "I'm not interested in wasting my time because I have been  disappointed with them time and time again."

Ana Martins, another member of the coalition, said the group's image does not correspond with its actions.

"[T]he promise of affordability comes in stark contradiction with their systematic attempt to convert buildings to condominiums, with the 'just under the radar' harassment of tenants," said Martins.

Tahl said that is not the case.

"I think we are doing a conscientious job. We don't think the facts justify what they are saying," he said.

The board will hear from tenants at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Community Board 11 headquarters, 1664 Park Ave., between East 117th and East 118th streets.

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