By Katie Honan, THE CITY
Mayor Eric Adams’ anticipated pick to head the city’s economic development arm signed on to help an investor battling housing agencies for control of an ailing Astoria affordable housing development — a war officials contend has delayed desperately needed repairs.
New York Building Congress CEO Carlo Scissura, as part of a 2018 contract with Brooklyn-based real estate player Tim Ziss, agreed to provide “assistance with NYC HPD/ hdc for Bridgeview III” in connection with a $6,000-a-month consulting fee — using shorthand for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Housing Development Corporation.
It’s part of the same deal that paid Scissura to persuade local officials to support the development of a former Nathan’s Famous outlet in Dyker Heights and other Brooklyn properties. THE CITY last week reported that the hot dog site sold to the city schools system in 2019 for twice as much as Ziss paid for it months earlier — and that Scissura did not register his advocacy with the city or state lobbying agencies.
Bridgeview III is a 171-apartment, eight-story complex on 27th Avenue, near Astoria Park, built in 1974 and operated under the city version of the Mitchell-Lama program — the same program as the state-sponsored Twin Parks tower where 17 recently died in a fire.
The consulting contract promised Scissura a $100,000 “performance bonus” if he successfully secured a deal with the HPD to run Bridgeview III.
Through a spokesperson, Scissura said he did not end up working on the project after signing the contract.
“Soon after taking on this consultancy and some initial examination, I advised that I could not assist in the Astoria matter and did not collect the bonus related to it as a result,” he said.
City housing officials who’ve crossed paths with Ziss have done everything they can to keep him away from the project out of concern for the tenants — and have been fighting to sell the property to a different owner.
Seeking his board’s approval for a $15 million loan to fund repairs and stabilize finances in November 2019, HDC president Eric Enderlin cited “ongoing litigation brought by an individual with a purported economic interest in the housing company” as obstructing a sale and refinancing that would bring a new boiler, new windows and elevators, facade repairs and solvency.
“Consequently, Bridgeview has continued to fall into an increasing state of disrepair and has been unable to pay its bills,” including mortgage payments to HDC.
Ziss-associated entities have filed multiple lawsuits starting in 2017 claiming to represent a faction of Bridgeview III owners, losing claims in a city tribunal and state Supreme Court, with one case still pending — all the while objecting to HPD’s efforts to sell the building.
Monart Renaud, 80, a 45-year resident of the building who lives on the top floor, said that when it rains water seeps through the windows, while her home doesn’t get much heat in the winter.
“My apartment is falling apart,” he told THE CITY.
‘My Grandparents Are Up There Shivering’
Renaud and other tenants described issues with the elevators, leaking windows, and problems with the heat.
A 2020 work order from HPD shows that the city had to send an emergency crew in to fix a second-flood door that failed to self-close, charging Bridgeview $300 — the same malfunction that fire officials say allowed smoke from the Twin Parks fire to fatally spread.
Anthony Calderas, 24, has lived in a 7th floor apartment in the building for most of his life.
“Sometimes it can get pretty cold,” he said. “There’s days when my grandparents are up there shivering.”
The elevator will often stop working, and the floor in his bedroom needs repairs. He’s put tape on the floor to avoid getting splinters, he said.
“If it’s something that [the management company] has to replace they won’t do it,” he said. “They say there’s no money and that’s about it.”
The property currently has two open building code violations for failure to file a report on the condition of its exterior wall for the last two years, as well as violations for critical safety issues with its elevator, according to the Department of Buildings.
There are also 150 open violations at the building registered with HPD, including eight with “immediately hazardous” status. Issues cited include mold, rat and roach infestations, leaks, heating problems, and defective floors.
Bridgeview’s property manager referred questions to Multifamily Management Services, which is affiliated with T.U.C. Management Company, Inc. A representative did not respond to a request for comment.
Since at least 2015, HPD has been working with longtime owners and their estates to sell the property to a responsible new owner and preserve it as well-maintained affordable housing, court records show, soliciting proposals and selecting a firm called Lemle & Wolf as the new owner.
But before Scissura signed the agreement to step in, Ziss entities filed suit to stop the sale, arguing that HPD was excluding investors he represented.
After HPD filed a separate case in late 2019 seeking to take control of the building’s vacant board of directors, alleging failures to make mortgage payments or maintain the property, Ziss again filed a legal objection.
In a January 2020 filing to the city Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, Ziss’ corporation’s attorney wrote:
“Mr. Ziss has attempted, over the past three years, to settle with the representatives of the deceased general partners and take control of the Property…. Mr. Ziss has fought for the opportunity to: work with HPD, recapitalize the Property, repay the debt, address the immediate repairs, install over 14 million dollars in modernization, rehabilitation and capital improvements, provide active management, and maintain and extend affordability for the next 30 years.”
But in the same filing, the Ziss attorney objected to HPD’s plans to have the project borrow money to pay for repairs and upgrades, arguing that the debts and lost tax benefits would “materially adversely affect” the investors he claimed to work with.
HPD declined to answer questions from THE CITY.
In 2017, an HPD official in charge of Mitchell-Lama buildings, Julie Walpert, submitted an affidavit in one of the suits, saying HPD did not recognize a Ziss corporation’s claim as a project general partner and objected to his proposal to sell Bridgeview III.
The judge in the case ruled against the Ziss LLC, declining to recognize it as a general partner with a say in the property’s sale. Another case, against the owners who teamed up with HPD to sell the building, is still pending in state Supreme Court.
‘Advice for a Friend’
Tenant advocates say Mitchell-Lama projects like Bridgeview III and Twin Parks, with government subsidies and ultimately the potential for deregulation to rent for market rate, make the aging buildings magnets for investors, even as they have growing maintenance needs.
“The thing about affordable housing in general is that it’s just a pretty profitable industry,” said Cea Weaver, a campaign coordinator at the tenants-rights group Housing Justice for All.
Lobbying experts who spoke with THE CITY said the scope of activities described in Scissura’s pact with Ziss — from working with HPD to secure a contract to meeting with elected officials to help develop other properties — would likely constitute lobbying under city and state rules and require registration.
Scissura is not registered as a lobbyist.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Ziss referred any questions to his lawyer, Rashel Mehlman, of Sweeney, Reich, and Bolz — a Queens law firm with deep ties to the borough’s Democratic party. Mehlman did not respond to multiple calls and emails seeking comment.
Meanwhile, the legal team that originally filed the still-pending Sept. 2017 lawsuit against the other owners on behalf of a Ziss-linked LLC was led by Frank Seddio, the former head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party and Howard Fensterman, a law partner of ex-Seddio partner Frank Carone, who is now Adams’ chief of staff.
Calls to Seddio and Fensterman were also not returned.
This story was originally published on [January 17, 2022] by THE CITY.”