News Last Updated: Jun 13th, 2007 - 14:13:33

By R.E. Management
Jul 7, 2006, 17:31

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To quote a recent article about Steven Kessner, ďGentrification is clearly the purpose and the immigrants living in Kessnerís buildings know it, but they are working to resist it.Ē The context is an article that accuses Steven Kessner and his R.E. Group of having a two-tier portfolio; beautiful buildings that house white, middle class tenants and violation ridden buildings that house immigrants. The article is quoting the purported leader of a tenant group. In actuality, Juan Haros is nothing more than a neighborhood strong man craving more attention than he gets from his herd of sheep. When he states that a hundred Kessner tenants are working with his movement which has led rent strikes and rallies against their landlord, he doesnít add that these hundred tenants all live in about ten apartments in two or three buildings. What they are really doing is illegally and dangerously overcrowding their apartments, without the consent of the landlord. What they are really trying to accomplish is to prevent Steven Kessner from being able to evict them. This so called tenant group, The Movement For Justice in El Barrio, is nothing more than a large group of squatters who are being victimized by their own people. It was other immigrants, not Steven Kessner, who first rented their apartments and then sublet illegally to 15-20 other people in each apartment. Who is making the money here? Steven Kessner gets one rent for his apartment and that is usually below the current market. The person who sublet the apartment is getting more than a dozen rents and they are being aided and abetted by churches and other non profit groups who are blinded to the possibility that the culprit is anyone other than the landlord. This situation is further fueled by city officials, who fear the collective power of these disparate groups and have turned a blind eye to the plight of the masses of immigrants being herded into tiny apartments. After all, if HPD issues violations for overcrowding, resulting in evictions of large numbers of immigrants, they will have to assume the responsibility for housing them, and they do not have the resources to do that.

What led up to this and is it caused by gentrification? Is Steven Kessner just looking to make a quick buck from his buildings, get rich and then leave the neighborhood? Hardly! Kessner has been in East Harlem for over two and a half decades and he still owns three buildings on East 103rd Street that he acquired in 1983. Almost all of the Kessner buildings were acquired in the 1980s and 1990s and every one of them was highly distressed; some mostly or fully empty; some were in foreclosure or owned by banks and all were missing essential building systems and services. Is it gentrification to buy slums and turn them into quality housing? In the late 80s and early 90s, Steven Kessner almost went down with his buildings when the real estate market crashed. He was forced to retrench in East Harlem and most of Kessnerís buildings were turned against the tide. Not one dime came from the city and almost every building was acquired and renovated without bank loans. It was done the hard way, with private funding. Until a few years ago, the rents came from Section 8 and welfare or from immigrants without credit histories. That was just the way it was, there was no other market. Only after years of persevering and working the buildings did things begin to change as working people discovered East Harlem and began moving there. There is no two tier portfolio. Steven Kessnerís buildings are rent stabilized with a smattering of rent control tenants. They all have a mix of tenants from those paying under $200 a month to those paying current market rents. They also have a large number of immigrants, many undocumented and, for the most part, they pay their rent and live side by side with other tenants. There are about 50 apartments, in about six buildings that are packed with immigrants being victimized by their own people. These are the buildings being referred to as Kessnerís second tier and, yes, he would like to evict them and re-rent the apartments to individuals who will respect the buildings and their apartments by not overcrowding them. Is that gentrification? Steven Kessner is not forcing out any tenants that pay their rent and take care of their home. These six buildings probably had over 6,000 violations when Steven Kessner purchased them. Today they have under 600 and only about 15% are real violations, most of them concentrated in the overcrowded apartments. As Kessner puts it, ďI fix it they break it, over and over again.Ē He would like to have buildings that are free of violations, perform routine maintenance in his buildings and collect rent from his tenants. 50 apartments stand in his way of that. Until they are emptied and re-rented, a handful of Kessnerís buildings will be distressed by overcrowding, the city will issue violations and newspapers will write articles about him. It sure seems like gentrification is the wrong terminology.

For more information on Steven Kessner and his company, look up his personal website or his company website