Tenants in Soon-to-Be-Demolished LES Building Demand Answers From City

By Serena Solomon on December 12, 2013 1:09pm | Updated on December 13, 2013 11:46am

LOWER EAST SIDE — The last six tenants in a soon-to-be-demolished building on Grand Street are fighting for answers about what will happen to them when they're forced to leave their homes. 

The tenants live in 400 Grand St., a city-owned affordable housing tenement that is set to be torn down to make way for the massive Essex Crossing development in the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.

Although developers are set to break ground on the multi-billion-dollar project in less than 18 months, tenants at 400 Grand St. say they've been given scant information from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. 

While the agency promised last month to relocate them, those who live in the building say there's been no update on when they will have to leave their apartments or where they will have to go.

"I just want a place to call home," said Oscar Caro, 44, a 400 Grand St. tenant who has lived on the Lower East Side his whole life. "I'm sick of being tossed around."

Caro and other tenants slammed the city at a Community Board 3 meeting Wednesday night, prompting the board's land use and housing committee to pass a resolution demanding that HPD provide answers.

HPD representatives at the meeting said they did not have any information about what would happen to the tenants, but an HPD spokesman told DNAinfo New York on Thursday that the department is aware of tenants' concerns.

"It's our job to help guide each household through the transition process, to help them understand their rights and benefits, and to ensure that they are aware of the available options," said HPD spokesman Eric Bederman.

The department estimates tenants will need to leave the building in the summer of 2014 so that in can be demolished that fall.

The Grand Street building sits on Site 5, one of the 10 plots that will be incorporated into the mixed-use Essex Crossing development. Site 5, which also includes a parking lot and a mostly vacant three-story building, is set to house 102 affordable apartments, 104 market-rate apartments, commercial space and possibly community facilities.

Taconic Investment Partners and the other developers plan to break ground on Site 5 in the spring of 2015 and finish the new building by the summer of 2018.

In a Nov. 14 letter to the tenants of 400 Grand St., HPD promised to help them find new apartments comparable to their current ones and would also offer help with moving costs, they said. But the letter left many questions unanswered, including where the new apartments will be, tenants said.

"When can we move? What's the process? And they just say 'I don't know,'" said Ricardo Rosario, 45, another 400 Grand St. tenant. "They [HPD] play games and they lie."

Tenants also have not heard from HPD about whether they will receive priority in lotteries for the new affordable housing units in Essex Crossing, which will ultimately offer 500 affordable apartments. Household income requirements for the units will range from $31,700 to $133,000 per year.

HPD moved many of the remaining tenants into 400 Grand St. more than a decade ago, after another HPD-owned building, at 199 Orchard St., became uninhabitable.

At the time, the agency promised to let the tenants buy their apartments at below-market rates through the city's low-income Tenant Interim Lease program, tenants and advocates said.

"They approached us with the offer. We never approached them," Rosario said.

But HPD has since yanked that offer, tenants and advocates said.

"The city was preparing tenants for the [Tenant Interim Lease] program, but then the city woke up when they realized SPURA [Essex Crossing] was happening," said Rosalind Black, an attorney representing 400 Grand St. tenants through Manhattan Legal Services.

HPD said there was never a formal agreement for 400 Grand St. to be in the Tenant Interim Lease program.

"A tenants association was not formalized and we did not enter into a net lease arrangement with the tenants — as is the required process for TIL," Bederman said.

The Grand Street building also currently houses the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, a group dedicated to preserving the neighborhood's history. Lauire Tobias Cohen, the organization's executive director, said she, too, has heard nothing from the city about being included in the 1.65 million-square-foot development.

"No one has contacted us at all," Tobias Cohen said.

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