Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rough financial times for historic Jewish houses in Van Cortlandt Village

Thursday, May 19th 2011, 4:00 AM

'The foreclosure is bad,' said Roberta Strugger, 56, of Shalom Aleichem Houses tenant association in Van Cortlandt Village.
Viorel Florescu for News

'The foreclosure is bad,' said Roberta Strugger, 56, of Shalom Aleichem Houses tenant association in Van Cortlandt Village.

All is not peaceful at the Shalom Aleichem Houses.

The real estate crash has come home to roost at the historic Van Cortlandt Village community, a Neo-Tudor fortress built by socialist Yiddish speakers in the 1920s.

The 15-building complex has racked up hundreds of housing code violations for broken sinks, leaks, rodents and lead paint, and is in foreclosure.

Meeting for the first time in 20 years, the complex's tenants association is mulling a rent strike.

"You feel sad to see it this way," said Angelo Droz, 67, a tenant for 30 years.

Meanwhile, New York Community Bank has sold the complex's mortgage without consulting the city, angering city housing officials and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who called such deals a "disgrace."

The community, named for the legendary Yiddish author Shalom Aleichem, was founded as one of the country's first housing cooperatives. It failed during the Great Depression and became a rental complex.

But the close-knit community produced a generation of successful scientists and artists, and Bess Myerson, the first Jew to win the Miss America Pageant.

"It was a shtetl, (town)" said tenant Esther Nelson Sokolsky, whose parents helped found Shalom Aleichem. "There were Jewish poets, Jewish writers. It was unique."

Shalom Aleichem's garden courtyard is still lush and beautiful, tended by its diverse, working class tenants.

But the complex's brick walls have begun to crack and many of the 236 elegant apartments have water damage.

"We have no cameras - the buildings here aren't secure," said tenant association member Jose Acevedo, 52. "There was a shooting in my building."

The complex has seen hard times before, with landlords going bust in the 1970s and 1990s. It survived partly thanks to the Padernacht family.

Daniel Padernacht's grandfather was superintendent and his father managed the complex for years. Now Padernacht, a lawyer, is advising the resurgent tenants association.

"I loved growing up here," he said. "But the place is difficult to manage."

Van Cortlandt Village LLC, which bought the complex in 2007, recently fell behind on its payments to New York Community Bank. Last month, the Bronx Supreme Court appointed a temporary receiver to collect rent and make repairs there.

The receiver, Albert Sontag, said he has 35 workers fixing the complex, using more than $100,000 from the bank.

The bank said it offloads notes to "reduce nonperforming assets," and objected to demands that it offer steep discounts to city-backed community groups.

Now that Shalom Aleichem has a new note holder, who sources said is Bronx-based Chestnut Holdings, Acevedo fears his family could be put out. But tenant association member Roberta Strugger is hopeful.

"The foreclosure is bad," said Strugger, 56. "But at least it has brought us together."

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