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West Village Houses tenants claim Cuomo played foul in development’s co-op conversion

A group of tenants are urging the Attorney General to investigate the conversion of the West Village Houses from the Mitchell-Lama program into market-rate housing

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More than two dozen tenants of the West Village Houses are accusing Governor Andrew Cuomo of misleading them about the affordability of their homes while he allegedly engaged in “pay-to-play” politics in 2006. The group is calling upon Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate the conversion of the West Village Houses from the Mitchell-Lama program into market-rate housing, reports Real Estate Weekly.

According to the complaint, Cuomo misled tenants back when he worked as the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The complaint also pins blame on former property owner Andrew Farkas, who tenants say engaged in an arrangement that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.

Here’s the story, according to REW:

The saga began in 1997 when HUD, under Cuomo’s watch, partnered with the Justice Department to prosecute a city landlord for taking kickbacks from Farkas’s Insignia Group. The following year, the parties settled for $7.4 million, a sum D’Angelo and others have deemed “a slap on the wrist.” Farkas sold his commercial real estate company for $910 million later in 1998.

After leaving HUD in 2001, Cuomo was hired as a vice president of Farkas’ new endeavor, Island Capital, where he reportedly collected more than $2 million in salary along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, filling his coffers as he ran for governor in 2002 and attorney general in 2006.

Tenants were given the option to purchase their apartment when the complex was converted into co-ops in 2006 but many couldn’t afford to do so. Tenants were assured that the 99 apartments that weren’t purchased would be kept affordable for the following 12 years.

Attorney Massimo D’Angelo, who is representing the group of tenants, says that his clients have a solid argument for keeping their homes affordable. First, is the potential to expose any underlying corruption on Cuomo’s part and the second is that the West Village Houses used a J-51 tax abatement, which has stipulations that require developments to remain affordable.