Volume 76, Number 18 | September 20 - 26, 2006

MetLife: Tenants ‘not qualified’ to buy Stuy Town

By Gerard Flynn

“Let us bid! Let us bid!” residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village chanted on the steps of City Hall Wednesday, following news from their landlord, Metropolitan Life, that “the tenants do not qualify” as serious bidders in the sale of the East Side middle-income housing complex.

Members of the City Council, who came in support of the residents, struggled at times to be heard above the crowd of more than 50 residents assembled immediately behind them, who carried placards that raised the question on many minds: “What’s wrong with the color of our money?”

Residents’ hopes had been high in recent weeks since fellow tenant and councilmember for the district, Dan Garodnick, announced he was putting together a consortium of private real estate and union interests to purchase the property, which is reportedly on the bidding block for $5 billion.

On Aug. 30, Garodnick sent a letter to MetLife executives informing them of the formation of the consortium and requested that the insurer allow them access to the bidding books, which hold information on the income of the property and its potential net worth to investors.

However, Garodnick said at the press conference that on Tuesday a reply arrived in his office from MetLife executives, who informed him that the tenants-backed consortium was “not qualified” to make a bid and would not be allowed to view the books. MetLife did not give reasons for its decision, he said.

Garodnick told the crowd that he remains puzzled by MetLife’s decision to “keep us out of the game,” and accused the landlord of not considering the tenants-backed offer, “even if we come to the table as the highest bidder.”

“MetLife, we have a message to you: Slow the process down and allow the tenants to bid. You owe that to the tenants and to the city of New York,” Garodnick said, to a volley of chants and impassioned applause from assembled tenants.

Before the press conference began, some residents shared their fears about the future of the 11,200-apartment property, which was built after World War II to provide affordable housing to returning veterans and which has been home to residents with a mix of incomes ever since.

Irmgard Taylor, a Stuyvesant Town resident for 15 years, called MetLife’s decision “disturbing” and said it undermines residents’ confidence in the insurance giant.

“It creates a lot of uncertainty. No one knows how it will end,” she said. Taylor said the news comes on top of extensive landscaping around the 110-building complex, which she said residents feel is part of MetLife’s plan to make Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village more attractive — to an outside bidder.

“The gardens look beautiful, but we know their motive, which is to sell it better,” she said.

Although all 11,200 apartments in the housing complex were once rent stabilized, since 2001, when MetLife announced that it would no longer be offering rent-stabilized units, more than 30 percent of the apartments have seen their rent protections removed.

Susan Steinberg, vice president of the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, told the crowd that media coverage of the sale, which has attracted powerful real estate interests, missed the point of what the sprawling space home to 25,000 residents really represents.

“I see us described in the media as 110 buildings, 11,200 apartments with nice landscaping, but we are more than that. We are a community and we are the backbone of New York City,” she said.

Christine Quinn, speaker of the City Council, described Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village as symbolizing “New York’s version of the American dream” and urged MetLife to reconsider. She also added some strong words for MetLife.

“We are not saying that you cannot make a buck, but we are saying that we are going to make sure that we will keep the dream alive not just for current tenants but for all those who come in the future.”

Afterwards, Garodnick said that although it was too early to decide on a specific course of action, the City Council would pursue every legislative option open to them to ensure that residents get a chance to bid for their own homes.

A MetLife spokesperson, Chris Breslin, declined to provide details about MetLife’s decision or interested potential buyers. He did, however, reiterate a statement from a brief press release announcing that MetLife is “committed to an orderly process” and that this “includes providing confidential information contained in ‘bid books’ to all potential buyers who reasonably demonstrate the financial ability to participate in a transaction within our expected timeframe. We remain open to inquiries from all interested parties,” he said.

The imminent sale of apartments at Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village has spurred Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, who represents Manhattan’s East Side and Queens, to call for congressional hearings to look into the sale, as well as the loss of affordable housing occurring all over the city.

“Affordable housing in our nation’s cities is becoming more of a rarity, and it is a topic that deserves discussion and examination,” Maloney said. “Nowhere is this truer than in New York and Manhattan.” On Friday, Maloney requested a meeting with MetLife C.E.O. C. Robert Henrikson to discuss the impending sale of the complex.

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