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Nix the Knickerbocker Village sale, protesters cry

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | At the end of last month, opponents of the plan to sell Knickerbocker Village to L&M Development protested in the bitter cold outside where a rent hearing for the complex would be held later that evening.

The historic Depression-era development with 1,600 apartments — which falls under a rare affordable housing program called Article IV — is located in the Lower East Side’s Two Bridges neighborhood, an area currently under tremendous development pressure.

Former Councilmember Kathryn Freed, right, and activist Grace Lee, center, were among the protesters. Both are seeking elected office. (Photo by Bill Weinberg)
(Photo by Bill Weinberg)

The protesters included members of the Concerned Tenants of Knickerbocker Village, notably Isabel Reyna Torres, a former member of the complex’s tenants association. Also standing with them were some current candidates for political office, including Grace Lee, who is running for state Assembly, and former Councilmember Kathryn Freed, running for Democratic State Committee versus longtime incumbent, Jenny Low.

In an interview afterward with The Village Sun, Freed said she doesn’t doubt that the Knickerbocker Village Tenants Association was well intentioned and tried to win the best deal possible for the complex. But she said she’s leery of these particular buyers and also concerned that the T.A. felt they had no other choice but to accept the deal that was on the table.

“I get why they’re upset at L&M, because they have a horrible record,” Freed said of the Concerned Tenants group. “And they seem to be assembling a lot of development in Lower Manhattan, so that gives me concern. The folks at L&M seem to be glomming onto a huge chunk.”

(Photo by Bill Weinberg)
(Photo by Bill Weinberg)

Freed said she’s concerned that state Homes and Community Renewal, the state agency that oversees the complex, and L&M were warning the tenants that they faced rent increases of up to 13 percent each of the next two years unless the sale to L&M went through. Under the developer’s plan, money from project-based vouchers would be used to make sorely needed repairs to Knickerbocker Village’s 12 buildings, which date from the 1930s.

(Photo by Bill Weinberg)
Activist Jennifer Chiao, a Knickerbocker Village native, spoke out against the sale to L&M Development. (Photo by Bill Weinberg)

However, Freed said, “I don’t know why they can’t find some money to make the repairs, instead of [dangling] a threat over their head to force the sale. It doesn’t seem like anyone has looked into revenue sources or any other way instead of selling. I don’t understand why, right after COVID, that there aren’t pots of money for them to tap into, so the tenants don’t wind up with huge increases.”

Also Freed wondered, “If they want to sell, why are L&M the only ones they’re considering?”

Knickerbocker Village is currently owned by Cherry Green.

(Photo by Bill Weinberg)

“A lot of what’s been happening to Lower Manhattan, people are saying, ‘Take this or that will happen to you,'” she noted. The East Side Coastal Resiliency project and the destruction of East River Park is “exactly” a point in case, she said.

“I think the tenants association is trying to do their best,” she conceded, “but they’re certainly not in a power position.”

(Photo by Bill Weinberg)

L&M is currently also planning on developing two megatowers nearby north of the Manhattan Bridge. What their motives are at Knickerbocker Village — whether simply to skim off a profit or maybe hope that the Article IV designation will someday go away, opening up development possibilities — is anyone’s guess, according to Freed.

“I’m assuming,” she said, “they’re playing the long game.”

On Feb. 14, a spokesperson for L&M told The Village Sun, “A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was negotiated and executed by the duly elected members of the Knickerbocker Village Tenants Association, L+M and New York State Homes and Community Renewal.”

As for concerns about the complex’s future affordability, he said, “L+M is bound by the terms of the MOU and will meet its obligations to preserve affordability at Knickerbocker Village and perform $50 million of needed repairs.

“L+M cannot deregulate the property,” the spokesperson added. “Knickerbocker Village will be permanently subject to Article IV regulation and will be subject to additional tenant protections under the regulatory agreement at least until 2069. Those protections could be extended permanently if the tax exemption and the Department of Housing and Urban Development contracts are renewed, which all parties are bound to pursue. It would not be possible to build anything on the site, and there are no plans to do so anyway.”

9 Comments

  1. LES3025 LES3025 April 7, 2022

    So the same day you ran the KVTA position you thought it was necessary to also run a word-for-word interview with Kathryn Freed casting vague aspersions on the sale? Come on what is this?

    Like I asked before, are the things L+M is saying about permanent Article IV protections and regulatory agreements true or not? Don’t you owe it to the readers, and as a matter of journalistic ethics, to evaluate what side of this issue is telling the truth?

    • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | April 7, 2022

      The responsibility is to try to report the news, in a way that looks at a story from various viewpoints, so as to try to present a full picture. These were news articles — not news analyses or opinion pieces or editorials. At this point, the idea has been to give everyone their say on what is a pretty complicated housing / real estate story.

      • LES3025 LES3025 April 7, 2022

        I’m sorry, but there’s no way you’re this naive. This isn’t reporting the news. Maybe the initial protest was news, but the balance of this article is just Kathryn Freed saying unsubstantiated things to make the sale look bad. And even the protest seems to have been more than a week ago (the news article doesn’t say when it actually was). It is reasonable to think that this anti-sale article was purposefully published shortly after the pro-sale article (which was a response to a prior anti-sale article) to create a particular impression about the issue.

        I agree that this is a very complicated issue. I consider myself pretty well informed about housing issues and I have a limited understanding about how Article IV works. “Giving everyone their say” doesn’t help anyone understand these complicated issues. It matters if some of the people are correct and some of them aren’t.

        Even putting that aside, you aren’t giving everyone an equal say because you are giving more coverage to the anti-sale side, which promotes that side of the issue.

        • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | April 7, 2022

          Trying to follow you. Your “reasonable to assume” assumptions are fine for you to assume, but they just aren’t reflective of reality. The Village Sun has run three articles now on the KV sale situation. The first article had plenty by the Concerned Tenants, plus a spokesperson for L&M, the buyer. The second article was a long piece in which the co-chairpersons of the T.A. had their say. They had not been included in the first article due to a communications problem (an “anti-spam filter” had sent their e-mails to The Village Sun into a spam folder). The third article reported on a protest that occurred on March 28. It was newsworthy, it was freezing, but protesters were out there, airing their objections. Kathryn Freed seems to have some good points, and the things she is quoted saying are not so out of left field, but reflect what others in the neighborhood feel, as well. The last article was not meant to make the article about the T.A. members somehow “look bad.” Is it OK for you that there might be articles on a certain issue that come at it from different angles and that reflect varied viewpoints?

    • ------ m ------ m April 7, 2022

      you are so obviously a real estate troll…..
      fooling no one

  2. LES3025 LES3025 April 7, 2022

    A lot to take on here, but let’s try to keep it focused. How can you say that what Freed has “some good points” and what she is saying is “not so out of left field” when you haven’t done any analysis to assess whether what she said (or what L+M said for that matter) has any basis in reality? She could be preaching the housing equivalent of astrology.

    • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | April 7, 2022

      Umm, Kathryn Freed is a lawyer, a former city councilmember, a longtime Downtown resident and a former judge… umm, not an astrologer, though. Nope.

    • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | April 7, 2022

      Let’s “unpack” what Kathryn Freed is saying. 1) She wonders if there are untapped revenue sources that could be used to help KV, especially post-COVID. 2) She wonders if L&M was the only possible buyer. 3) She says people are concerned about large projects that are being foisted on the community, like East Side Coastal Resiliency project, that are being presented as ultimatums. 4) She wonders if L&M might be “playing the long game.” Those are all legitimate questions. As for who is interested in buying what, it’s NYC real estate, so things are always in flux. But not all of the things she’s saying can be “analyzed.”

      • LES3025 LES3025 April 7, 2022

        Right, these are vague aspersions, which is what I said initially, which makes some of them difficult to analyze. But, if the things L+M is saying are true, most of them just don’t matter. If the property is permanently subject to Article IV protections, the rent increase caps are as stated, and absent a sale rents would go up, what does the rest of it really matter? Isn’t the point to preserve affordable housing? Or should people’s rents go up massively for a few years until Kathryn Freed finds a buyer she likes?

        And just because what she says is vague doesn’t mean it can’t be analyzed. Existence of alternate funding sources can be analyzed. Whether L+M is “playing the long game,” could be analyzed if we can figure out what it even means. Just printing her anti-sale comments without context makes people less informed, not more.

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