“HPD, stop the greed,” shouted a group of angry Brooklyn senior residents who gathered on Wednesday in front of the Department of Housing and Preservation (HPD) in Manhattan to protest the city’s Third Party Transfer (TPT) program.
Under the TPT, the city forecloses on properties for unpaid real estate taxes and transfers ownership to nonprofit developers — without notifying the homeowners, Gideon’s Army for Black Senior Homeowners, the group behind the rally, claims.
The protest was organized in support of East New York homeowner McConnell Dorce, whose house currently is undergoing such a transfer, despite his attempts to pay his property taxes since June.
“Even though I was able to pay, the Department of Finance did not accept my full payment without first receiving a payment approval letter from the HPD,” Dorce said.
HPD refused his request for a letter, he said, unless he would agree to a house inspection. He complied.
After an inspection on August 31, the agency informed him that his home would be transferred to HPD on the premise that he did not provide full access to the house, and based on old and new violations that were accrued on the day of the inspection.
James E. Caldwell, president of the 77th Precinct Community Council and longtime Crown Heights activist, calls it a sham.
“When the city started the program, it was to hold slumlords accountable who didn’t pay their heat or water bills,” said Caldwell. “But the city then expanded the program to people who don’t have any mortgages on the houses anymore. That way, whoever takes over the house doesn’t have to go the bank to pay it off, because it’s already free and clear. They’re stealing from hardworking black folks!”
The problem with TPT, Caldwell explained, is that the homeowners receive no warning when this transfer occurs.
“According to a new law, the homeowners don’t need to be notified anymore,” Caldwell said. “They find out, once the third party takes over their house and sends them a notification requesting rent. This is highway robbery. The city puts the house into foreclosure based on an unpaid water bill or something like that. That makes no sense.”
And there are at least 60 other black senior homeowners in Brooklyn who have experienced similar scenarios, Caldwell stated.
Like Marlene Saunders, a Crown Heights homeowner of more than 30 years who attended the rally in support of Dorce. She became alert after receiving a letter from a nonprofit developer requesting rent.
“We followed up with various city agencies to make sure that our taxes were paid and requested to be taken out of that TPT program,” said Saunders. “The money was taken out of our bank account. Then we discovered that it was never credited to our property tax account. HPD had put our payment on hold, explaining that our house has been in foreclosure since 2014. But they never notified us!”
As she found out, the foreclosure proceeding was triggered by a mix-up with old bills, Saunders explained, an issue that has since been rectified. Fortunately for her and her family, the process has been reversed. Why their house was placed into the program, is still a mystery to her.
HPD did not address the protestors on Wednesday.
Still, the group hopes that also Dorce’s foreclosure process will be reversed. Next, they will bring their fight to City Hall, hoping that local elected officials will hear and support them.