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Stuy Town Tenants Association preps bid to purchase historic development

Residents of Stuyvesant Town?Peter Cooper Village are attempting to wrest control of their destiny.

Two tumultuous years after Tishman Speyer Properties relinquished control of the complex of 25,000 residents, the Stuyvesant Town?Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is working with Brookfield Asset Management to put together a bid to purchase the 60-year-old housing community.

"Our community has been through a lot over the past five years, and we continue to live in a state of limbo, with the future ownership of the property unclear. We simply cannot and will not sit idly by and wait for our future to be determined for us," read a letter sent by the Tenants Association on Nov. 30, 2011.

"We believe that the time is now right to put forth a conversion proposal that will give residents the opportunity to buy their apartments at a reasonable price while also allowing rent-stabilized tenants to continue renting without fear of harassment should they decide not to buy."

Stuy Town, as it's commonly referred to, stretches on an 80-acre tract from 14th to 20th Street along First Avenue and the East River. It comprises more than 11,000 apartments. Since its inception in the late 1940s, Stuy Town has stood as a model of affordable housing for the middle class.

In 2006, Tishman Speyer Properties purchased the complex from MetLife in a move that was widely lauded within the real estate community. Four years later, Tishman Speyer walked away from the site rather than let it go into bankruptcy.

Back when the site was first put up for sale, the Tenants Association tried to put together a bid but was outgunned by Tishman Speyer.

The group is hoping for a different outcome this time around.

East Side Council Member Dan Garodnick was raised and still lives in Stuy Town and has been instrumental in trying to help the Tenants Association in their quest to purchase the complex.

"It would be a historic win for the tenants to take control of our future," he said. "It's important to make sure that this will continue to be a stable place for people to live and raise their families."

Garodnick said that without the protection of the Tenants Association conversion proposal, another real estate company could come in and create the same havoc and upheaval that happened five years ago.

To prep for the upcoming bid, the Tenants Association held the first of a series of house parties last week. At the parties, a group of residents, numbering no more than 20, discusses the bid proposal.

"We're trying to solicit feedback and find out what's a reasonable price that people would pay for their apartments," said Al Doyle, president of the Tenants Association. They also hosted a recent telephone town hall where more than 2,000 people dialed in to hear about the conversion process. The Tenants Association hopes to have a bid plan together by the end of April.

Doyle said that so far, the feedback from residents has overwhelmingly been positive. "There's a lot to work out still, but most of the residents seem excited about being able to purchase their apartments," he said.

Part of the purpose of the meetings is also to clear up any misinformation about what might happen during the conversion process. Some of the complex's more elderly residents fear that the process might endanger their rent-stabilized apartments.

"They have a fear because of what happened with Tishman Speyer, tossing out as many people as they could," Doyle said. "A lot of the older residents have lived here 50-60 years and they've never owned property, so it makes them nervous."

"If residents don't want to take part in the process or purchase their apartments, they don't have to and nothing will happen to them," Garodnick said.

Part of the reason for making a bid, according to Doyle and Garodnick, is that it would actually protect these vulnerable rent-controlled residents, something an outside company might not feel obligated to do.

Joan Hamilton, a longtime Stuy Town resident, is leaning toward supporting the Tenants Association's bid, though she doesn't know if she will purchase her own apartment.

"We would be more in charge of our own destiny," she said. "It would certainly be better than the rent going up every 10 minutes like it seems to do now."

Tenants Association board member John J. Sheehy said that the group is striving to return the community to the stability of solid ownership.

"It removes the fear of what happen if rent stabilization were removed in Albany and creates a sense of comfort," he said.

At the end of the day, Doyle said the residents have to do something.

"One way or another, we have to gain control of the property," Doyle said. "We can't wait for another Tishman Speyer."

- With additional reporting by Sean Creamer

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