On Feb 5, the management of the NYC's famed Chelsea Hotel evicted a 75-year old man from his apartment. The police were called and he was told to have his belongings out by four that afternoon. This was not a case of non-payment, as the tenant was paid up through the next week. The elderly gentleman's crime? Being in the way of the minority owners desire to turn the Chelsea, for over 100 years a permanent residency hotel offering affordable housing to people in the arts, into a boutique tourist hotel charging $500 per night.
As concerned neighbors scrambled to pack the man's things -- including hundreds of books -- police reacted with obvious disgust, asking incredulously, "You're evicting a 75-year-old man?!" In response, de-facto manager Arnold Tamasar cited, "Innkeepers prerogative!"
Those of you following the ongoing crisis at the Chelsea know that majority owner and longtime manager Stanley Bard was ousted in a hostile takeover by the minority shareholders Marlene Krauss and David Elder in July of 2007. Since that time we have had two changes of management: prestigious real estate firm BD Hotels, brought in after Bard's ouster, was in turn fired 10 months later by Krauss and Elder for, among other things, not moving fast enough with their program of evicting tenants (though BD turned out 17) and renovating the hotel. The next manager, Andrew Tilley, trying to step up the pace of this program, resigned last month under pressure soon after being caught engaging in illegal "construction" (he gutted the historic room once occupied by Bob Dylan) by the Department of Buildings. Residents of the Chelsea continue to call for the return of the Bard family.
Yesterday's NY Times featured an article about the community organizing group ACORN, which is calling for victims of the sub-prime mortgage lending scam to fight back by refusing to vacate their foreclosed homes. ACORN. Yes, little ACORN, whom, you might remember, the New York Post was recently at pains to paint as the culprit in the sub-prime crisis! Quite the troublemakers, these folks.
Well, a similar, though less well publicized, situation exists in rental buildings, as landlords are pulling out all the stops to end affordable housing in New York and other cities. As in the mortgage crisis, they are now going after not only the poor, but middle class renters as well, using various tricks to force them from their homes so they can rent their apartments at double or triple the rate, reaping a short term windfall at the expense of the long term stability of the housing market and the economy as a whole. (In the case of the Chelsea, the short term rewards are potentially even greater, as they can turn permanent housing into nightly rental units.)
I'm with ACORN in saying, enough is enough. The greed of the developers has wrecked the economy. Rents must come down, and warehousing (illegally holding housing units off the market to increase demand) must cease immediately. There must be a national moratorium on both foreclosures and eviction. And for those of you facing foreclosure or eviction, stay put. As the NY Times article, and my own experience, makes clear, the police, seeing the obvious injustice involved, are becoming increasingly reluctant to carry out these draconian vacate-orders.