By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — A Harlem developer looking to purchase a piece of city-owned land to build a 175-unit, 12-story addition to his Lexington Gardens complex was criticized by his tenants at other properties for failing to provide adequate maintenance, heat and hot water.
Joseph Tahl, of Tahl Propp Equities, wants East Harlem's Community Board 11 to write a letter of recommendation so that he can begin negotiations with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to purchase a piece of city-owned land adjacent to land he owns at 127 East 107th Street. With 3,000 apartment across the city, Tahl is already one of Harlem's biggest landlords.
But despite the fact that Tahl has promised that "the entire square block would be devoted to 100 percent affordable housing," residents from some of Tahl's existing Harlem properties urged the community board not to approve the request.
In addition to failing to make proper repairs, they accuse Tahl Propp Equities of being a "predatory" landlord who purchases affordable housing units and then pushes tenants out in an effort to raise rents, a charge Tahl denies.
Tahl Propp Equities was in court last month with HPD over complaints from tenants at 1890 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard that they failed to provide heat and hot water, according to several reports. In July, the company also settled a lawsuit at the Normandie, a condo conversion at 100 West 119th St., for $3 million because residents complained about defects in construction such as exposed pipes and structural beams.
"As a member of this community I urge you to seriously look into Tahl Propp," said Rashidah Abu Bakr, a resident at at a Tahl Propp building on 113th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard who says her home was flooded because of improper construction being done in the building.
"I would hate to see the community board give you the right to build a new project. With your record, you didn't earn it and you don't deserve it," Abu Bakr added.
Members of the Harlem Tenants Against Tahl Propp also showed up at the community board to voice their disapproval.
"We do not feel respected," said Anna Martins, a member of the group.
Alvin Johnson, the chair of Community Board 11's Housing committee, is a resident at a Tahl-Propp building. He has recused himself from voting on the matter, but said the organization's owner has a history of trying to get out of long-term housing affordability programs such as Section 8.
"His record is horrible," said Johnson.
Of the 3,000 apartments he owns, Tahl admitted that there are about 1,400 HPD violations. But he said his company has spent millions of dollars over the last few years to make repairs to properties.
He said he does not force tenants out, responds to tenant complaints and had recently hired a community liaison, Jaritza Taveras, a former staffer in Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's office. Taveras was formerly the liason to Community Board's 11 and 12 for Stringer's office.
"It's a challenge but we try to do everything we can to run our buildings the right way," Tahl said after the meeting. "We are proud of our record."
Tahl added that 85 percent of his 3,000 apartments citywide are considered affordable — including all of the 905 apartments located inside East Harlem.
The community board has agreed to meet with tenants of Tahl's buildings to hear their concerns about living conditions.
While the board's vote will be considered, the city traditionally defers to the area's City Council person when it comes to approving a project such as this one.
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito said she has serious concerns about Tahl Propp's record. She has met with the company and some of the company's tenants and is currently not in support of the project.
One of her major concerns is that when Tahl Propp renewed its participation in housing affordability programs such as Section 8, the company opted to renew for the shortest length of time available.
"I don't believe they have been able to make the case that they really are about the preservation of affordable housing or about promoting affordable housing," said Mark-Viverito.
"There are currently a lot of outstanding issues with tenants in their buildings which have continued in the length of time they have owned the building. That is a cause of concern for me."