East Harlem real estate buy angers tenants; U.K. firm denies planning big rent hikes


NEW YORK — In its first foray into the American real estate market, a British corporate giant that is spending more than $200 million for dozens of buildings in Harlem encountered a storm of protest Tuesday — from immigrant tenants in the neighborhood.

"They have a plan to gentrify East Harlem. And that means rent increases," said Juan Haro, head of the Movement for Justice in El Barrio.

Protesting tenants pasted a giant letter onto the front door of a building where they send their checks, urging the new landlord not to increase rents.

"Bienvenidos a El Barrio," said signs that the residents hoisted to "welcome" their British landlord, for whom they had also left flowers and fruits on the sidewalk. "Aqui estamos y no nos vamos," said the signs, meaning "We are here to stay and we won't go away."

The tenants were responding to last week's news that the London-based investment bank Dawnay, Day Group was paying $225 million for the 47 buildings in East Harlem and seven condominium units in the East Village.

In London, the director of Dawnay, Day, Ian Blakeley, has stated that the company will not displace tenants or increase rents above the legal regular increases.

The Harlem buildings include more than 1,000 apartments and 55 commercial properties just north of Central Park.

With Manhattan real estate prices skyrocketing, East Harlem has been a last refuge for many people seeking affordable housing. The neighborhood has welcomed people from around the country and world for the past century, but in recent years has drawn developers looking for the last low-cost patches of Manhattan.

The changes in East Harlem are only the latest in a spate of New York real estate deals pitting working-class tenants against corporate forces.

Late last year, the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village complex of 11,000 apartments in Manhattan was sold for $5.4 billion, amid boisterous protests.

Earlier this year, a developer tried to buy the country's largest federally subsidized housing complex, Brooklyn's Starrett City. The $1.3 billion deal was blocked by the federal government, which said the prospective buyer had not demonstrated he could preserve the complex as affordable housing.

Many of the tenants in the affected buildings in Harlem are working-class immigrants from Mexico and Ecuador who are paying about $1,000 a month for one- and two-bedroom rent-stabilized apartments, Haro said.

Ana Laura Merino, from Puebla, Mexico, lives on 116th Street with her 7-year-old daughter and husband, who works in a bakery. "We won't go. The landlord is powerful, but we want to stay and fight for our rights," she said in Spanish.

On Tuesday in another part of East Harlem — on Fifth Avenue at the edge of Central Park — residents there were also up in arms over a development project.

A community garden they've tended for almost 20 years was bulldozed on Tuesday to make way for luxury condominiums adjoining the new Museum for African Art that is to open in 2009.

Last edited on Sat, 2011-06-25 03:48