tv Earth Focus LINKTV November 28, 2013 6:00pm-6:31pm PST
>> today on "earth focus"... the film "faile street" looks at the foreclosure crisis and how it affects the lives and health of low income renters in new york city. coming up, on "earth focus." >> people can't pay 150% of their income in rent. deals are going bad because, um, owners thought the ceiling was higher than it is. >> these groups were coming into the bronx with just huge amounts of money, you know?
and there was this perception that real estate in new york was never going to go bust. >> there were certainly many people that were buying the building site unseen. there's no doubt about that. they were buying a building in new york city, and, for them, that was park avenue and 79th street. many of these people had never been to the bronx, so they had no idea what park avenue and 179th street looked like. >> the environment i'm living in is, for my health, and not only for my health but for my kids, is not healthy. if i had the money, i would not be living here, but then again, being that i don't have the money, i'm willing to fight for what i have. this is what i have, and this is what i'm going to go for.
>> the housing foreclosure crisis 5 years ago was one of the first signs that something was going very wrong with america's economy. >> good evening, we have news tonight about houses and foreclosures in america, and it's not the news any of us wanted to hear. >> but foreclosure also affects those who don't own their homes, renters, often time lower income renters. between 2007 and 2012, over 2,500 new york city buildings went through foreclosure. the residents of these buildings are plagued by more than just financial woes. foreclosure is causing the environment around them to deteriorate. >> my name is joanna paulino. i am 33 years old, and right now i'm a stay-at-home mom. august first, i'll be 4 years living in this apartment. i moved here august, 2008. i was in the shelter system, so it was really first come...first
thing i picked was the first thing i saw, i had no choice. >> joanna paulino lives at 836 faile street, a building that entered foreclosure in the summer of 2011. the building was in poor condition then, but since entering into foreclosure, the environment has gotten far worse. >> this is my boys' room. hbd had come and told them that my whole entire apartment has to be tiled. he hasn't done anything. and my doors is already messed up. >> whoo! >> baby, stop. and then my mold. it's, like, nasty. i'm tired of cleaning it. the rubber keeps coming off, and then, besides that, are my kids driving me crazy all the time. >> apartment buildings often fall into foreclosure because landlords don't have enough money to pay their mortgages. that means they also don't have enough money to maintain the building or make repairs. for tenants, the environment
within deteriorating buildings can have serious consequences for their health. at the national level, apartment foreclosure has followed the same trend as single-family home foreclosure. both increased dramatically after the housing bubble burst in 2007. but while the single-family crisis has tapered off, owners of apartment buildings have continued to default on their mortgages at an unprecedented rate. the apartment foreclosure crisis has hit new york particularly hard. paulino lives in hunts point, a neighborhood in the south bronx that has the highest concentration of foreclosures in the entire city. hunts point is already well known for its poor urban environment. it's straddled by 3 highways and experiences heavy truck traffic from the nearby market. residents face some of the highest asthma rates in the country, and experts say foreclosure is making them worse. >> where is my medicine? >> i think it's in one of the small ones. >> in the two small ones?
>> i think, i don't know, one of them. >> my asthma is crazy. i'm on so many medications. i always keep it plugged in, so i don't have to go through the trouble of plugging it in, because i use the machine even 3 times in one day, myself. i have been changed of medication to symbicort because my medication hasn't helped me. come. then i just put the medicine... turn it on, and put it on him, or put it on me, or my oldest child, which is 16, he's going to be 17. >> hi, my name is evan. >> [laughing] >> the mold in the bathroom. it's a lot of things, little things like that that are like...the garbage in the backyard is ridiculous. the dirt and--and the mices, and i think the roaches.
it doesn't really help. >> there's a well-documented connection between poor housing conditions and poor health. most recently, the citizens committee for the children of new york found that neighborhoods where children were hospitalized for asthma attacks were the same neighborhoods in which residents said their homes were in need of repairs. the worst housing conditions and the worst asthma were found in the south bronx, harlem, and central brooklyn. there's a common misconception that the urban environmental crisis is separate from the financial crisis, but data like this suggests that the failing financial system can have dire consequences for environmental health in urban communities. in fact, doctors who work with tenants who are living in poor housing conditions say that asthma is the number one problem they see. >> more than 50% of the tenants that we interviewed had asthma or had someone in the apartment living with asthma, and most of them were children and the elderly. these patients have frequent
e.r. visits, constantly coming back to the hospital with acute asthma exacerbation, because they're living in the trigger. >> the trigger that dr. thomas is referring to is the lack of upkeep on foreclosed buildings. owners of these buildings are often strapped for cash, unable to make mortgage payments, let alone pay for repairs. this is exactly what happened at 836 faile street. in 2004, a man named asher newman purchased the building for just under $2 million. but the city appraised the building as being worth only $223,000. many landlords invested in buildings like this one, thinking their investment would pay off. they believed that new tenants would move in and pay the higher rents. so newman kept taking out mortgages for the building. by 2011, he had taken out about $3 1/2 million in loans. as his debt increased, so did his monthly payment on the loans, and soon, newman wasn't putting any money back into the
building for things like repairs. >> so the real problem here was not the owner's buying, it was the lenders being willing to lend at rates that were simply not supported by the revenue and expenses of the building. >> they really thought that every area in the entire city was going to be boom and the whole city was going to be gentrified. and they made the wrong bets in some neighborhoods where those neighborhoods are still a long way from being gentrified. >> paulino's neighbor, kim moore, is also struggling to maintain an apartment at faile street. >> i came into this apartment from a shelter. when i seen this building, i freaked out. i was like, "oh, no." just from seeing the outside and the area, i thought of the worst. when it rains, all the water comes in here and in my bedroom.
and look over here. i had termites. critters, you can see them. all the kind of crap that was crawling in. just to give you an idea what i have to go through cleaning up. it's gone on two years now i haven't had a fridge. i put the food in the refrigerator and a couple days later, i guess, since the refrigerator wasn't working, everything went bad. and i woke up one day and there were all type of black, wiggly wormies coming from out of the refrigerator, crawling all through my house. terrible. i have to go to the store, get my breakfast, get my lunch, get my dinner. and it's--it's not good for my health either, you know, because
i'm eating more junk food than anything. >> moore is a diabetic and needs access to a working fridge. this is the kind of environmental neglect by the landlord that has placed the health of the tenants at faile street in serious jeopardy. >> 911, do you need fire, medical, or police? >> it was, like, a monday, 4:00 in the morning, i smelled burnt rubber, and when i come to the hallway, the ceiling is catching on fire and i had to call the fire department. they left me with exposed wires for, like, 4 weeks. >> while the unexpected fire was scary, what really frightened paulino was the lead paint on the walls. >> when hpd came, to all the apartments, they did a lead test reading. and they requested my son to get lead tested. it did come out with a little bit, and they had to remove some of the lead, which i'm pretty sure they still have more lead, but...i mean, i was very concerned, because as--as far as i know, lead poisoning could cause, um, learning disability,
could cause a lot of brain issues and problems. i already have a child with adhd, and i don't want to go through it again. um, it's just, like, my major concern is that in the future, it might affect him. and from what i heard, lead tastes good to kids, i don't know. i've never tried it, but that's what they say. >> lead paint in general is an issue in the south bronx. every year, we find children with elevated lead levels. if the lead level is elevated in your blood, it can cross over into the brain and cause brain damage, especially in children. >> when it comes to my house, i try to keep it clean, i try to dust, and i try to do this. try to do what i could do. the rest that i cannot do, i cannot do.
like, for example, there's a hole under the floor. i have a dresser on top of it so my little one won't get to that hole. right now we're in limbo. we basically don't know where we're standing. it's not good, because right now, in case of an emergency, we have nobody to call. so, if we have a leakage we have to, like, deal with it. um, and i'm all out in everything. i'm willing to go to every meeting and everything that is possible to do to get it to where i want it to get it. >> frustrated by the lack of repairs, the tenants at faile street turned to a nonprofit tenant advocacy group, the "urban homesteading assistance board," or uhab. >> we just got uhab to direct us where we should go far as
getting everybody together, you know, and forming a really strong tenant committee. but, um, it's hard trying to bring everybody together. >> one of uhab's main tasks is helping tenants in over mortgaged or foreclosed buildings to organize. >> some of the buildings we're coming to are in foreclosure. um, some of them have already gone through foreclosure. some of them are distressed, but not in foreclosure. so faile street was one of the buildings where i remember immediately walking in and thinking, "yeah, this is--this is probably going to be pretty bad." the landlord, you know, says all kinds of things about what he wants to do with the building, but he never delivers. it may be that the loan that he took out was more than the building could support. and so, now, after years of, you know, just barely being able to make his mortgage payments and, you know, so he was probably scrimping on doing repairs. and now it's in foreclosure, because he couldn't even make the mortgage payments. >> while the single-family
foreclosure crisis has tapered off, apartments, especially in new york city, continue to enter foreclosure at an alarming rate. this is, in part, because of a dangerous new trend in investing by private equity firms. asher newman, that's faile street's current landlord, took out millions of dollars in mortgages from astoria federal, a bank based on long island, to invest in his building. but he had trouble paying astoria federal back, so the bank started to foreclose. that would have put the bank in charge of auctioning off the building. but before they finished the foreclosure, a new player entered the story, a private equity group called stabilis capital management. they bought the landlord's debt from the bank and paid off some money he still owed to the previous owner of the building. that means that now asher newman still controls the building, but he owes money to stabilis instead of astoria federal. it also means that stabilis is in a place to foreclose and gain control of the building if they choose to.
housing advocates are often wary of wealthy investors taking control of distressed buildings like faile street without first familiarizing themselves with the building, because they are less likely to make the repairs that the tenants so desperately need. but this variety of investing has been happening more frequently. it's part of a new trend that advocates call predatory equity. >> a predatory equity guy would come in, say, "okay, i'm going to, you know, i'll buy this from you." they buy it, they know that they are spending too much on it, but they know if they just sit there, and they don't put any money back into the property, and they just take out any excess money that there is instead of putting money back into the maintenance and operation of the building, they pocket it, they will get a very high return quickly. and that's predatory equity. >> in the private equity world, they have a specialized language that they use to describe what they do, you know. they buy underperforming assets and they, um, uh, make them
perform better. >> their goal is to turn big profits on distressed real estate. um, and, you know... [laughs] i think, from our perspective, we think that's, you know, it may not be illegal, but we think it's unethical. >> one building here or there may not seem like such a big deal, but one building can cause the environment of an entire neighborhood to deteriorate. for organizers who have been working in new york city real estate for decades, a lot is at stake in the wake of the recent housing bubble. the boom in new york city real estate grew out of a time in the 1970s and 1980s when the city lost nearly a million residents, and large portions of the city were deserted. >> so what it looked like in the 70s and 80s was that you could stand on some corners in the south bronx or the west bronx, uh, turn around, and not see an occupied, multi family
building. see for basically blocks and blocks, buildings that had been vacant and abandoned. >> shultz worries that the mistakes of the past could be repeated during the new recession. >> one or two bad buildings can have a very bad effect on surrounding buildings and on a neighborhood. you don't want to have all the investment that's been made by both the city and private entities to improve many of these neighborhoods to, in effect, be wasted because people did stupid things like over mortgaging their buildings. >> predatory equity deals aren't inevitable. when the bank forecloses, the court sometimes appoints a receiver who is supposed to collect rent money and use it to make repairs on the building until someone new buys it. sometimes, receivers make a big difference. other times, they don't. >> we receive a paper from, uh, the receiver. a court decision. it said that the building is in
foreclosure. i was surprised because, uh, no one said anything. but when we received the paper we, uh, just called the landlord. >> adama and his family also live in a foreclosed apartment building. >> [speaking english] you know, sometimes the building is dirty. before, you know, we can do, like, a two weeks, no one mop, the building is tanking. i have to go and mop all the
building by myself. >> at one point, adama and his neighbors faced over 285 housing violations on only 18 apartment units, including lead paint. >> the lead paint. yes, they just painted. you just come, you know, the wall is new now, because they just fixed--we called 911, we complained and they sent them to fix that. everything was terrible. and, uh, we keep calling, no one doing nothing. >> because you have children, too. >> yeah, yeah, my children. yeah, they was, uh, you know, taking the peeled paint and put in their mouth, something like this. and i have to send them to the doctor to do check up. and thanks god, uh, he's okay for now. [indistinct] >> huh? >> did you put the sound? all the kid bedroom, they was living here. everything was infected with,
you see? they have to fix all 4 walls and the kids were living here, like, for 5 years. they were living--the first one got, you know, 7 years. so, she born in 2003 and... >> when asked why they don't simply move out of the deteriorating buildings, adama and his neighbor, boukary, both immigrants from the african nation of burkina faso, say that it's just not that easy. >> for people who are middle or low income, you know, families, it's not easy to move out right away. we are african communities, and we live together. and, uh, it's not easy to just break out and, uh, and go. we fear to move to other places where we will be strangers, you're not going to get, uh, the same care. so, basically, it's a kind of
conservatism. we prefer to stay in the same place other than, you know, try and taking some risk. >> do you still have a lot of mold issues? >> yeah, uh, the mold, i think the last time that you came, you took some pictures. >> yeah. >> he came and he fixed it. >> oh, my god, that was so terrible. >> yeah, yeah, i can show you. so, he fixed it with, uh, some new glue. >> after receiving some financial attention, the environment of the building started to improve. the repairs are being made, in part, because uhab was able to help the tenants organize to engage with the bank and the court-appointed receiver. now, they have a say in their building's future. >> it's, like, really great that the mold in buoukary's apartment is getting fixed and, like, the lead paint is getting fixed. but what we see a lot of times is, like, the quick fixes and people just paint over mold and just, like, i guess they painted over the lead paint. or, like, you know, just did whatever they could to clear the
violation, but not actually fix the problem. so the health code, the--like the health concerns are still in place. >> at faile street, conditions continued to get worse. uhab set up a meeting with the bronx borough president to try and influence the future of the building. >> you know, for this building we--we'd like to have the borough president reaching out to, uh, stabilis capital, the new lender, and basically, you know, asking what the plan is here. um, do they intend to be owners? and, if so, what's, you know, the rehab scope for the building? and if they're not, if they just intend to flip it, then, you know, can we--what can we do to influence, you know, who the next owner of this building is? so that it doesn't go to just someone who's, you know, another slumlord, so... >> a taxi will get you there. >> oh, okay. >> okay... >> so, i think, basically, you know, we're going to give them
the background. i already talked to them a little bit about what's been going on, but they'll want to hear it from you, too. one thing we were thinking to ask the borough president to do is, uh, to--to reach out to stabilis and find, you know, see if they can find out what stabilis's plans are for the building. >> how do you think it went? tell each other. >> it actually went over well. it went over well. so now he wants us to send him the pictures with the conditions of the buildings and stuff. >> he, um, he asked for just a little more information that they can just have. as they go forward, he's going to talk with their head of constituent services and he, you know, he was, like, i think it definitely, we can...reaching out to stabilis, finding out what's going on, getting some information out of them. like, that's, you know, we can definitely work on that. and we'll just, you know, see
where it takes us. >> but nothing came of the meeting. since then, stabilis has purchased a portfolio of new foreclosed buildings across new york city. >> some of the challenges at organizing at faile, which occur in many buildings, is that, you know, tenants in some of these buildings, the conditions have been so bad for so long that it's hard for people to have a sense that things can get better, you know, even if they organize. and sometimes there have been previous organizations in buildings, and people felt like it did--wasn't successful. um, so, that can sort of make people feel like there's not really any point to it, so... and i think at faile there had been previous, you know, organizing, you know, attempts and, you know, look at the state of the building. so people are like, "why should we do this again?" >> wait, i want to see my car. >> after months of waiting for something to happen, paulino finally received word that stabilis capital was seeking buyers for faile street.
she doesn't know who will purchase her building, but she's hopeful that whoever does will be willing to invest the capital necessary to make some serious repairs. >> i would like to be living better. i would like to be able to have some place to call and get your repairs done, and get them done on time. then that would be good. that would be great. >> okay. [indistinct chatter]
>> hello, and welcome to global 3000, your weekly take on the issues that affect us all. today we begin with the food we all put on our table. there is what is coming up. >> fishy business, how salmon farms are at risk to wild stocks in canada. why it is so tricky to ensure clean drinking water in parts of europe, and downward spiral, how serious debt is driving indian farmers to suicide.