Newark moves to revoke tax break for rat-infested housing complex
Newark officials on Wednesday moved to repeal a property tax break up an affordable condominium complex plagued by a recent rat infestation and long-standing problems, and hand the complex over to a receiver who would accept tenants rental payments and use the money for repairs.
The city council at its meeting on Wednesday voted unanimously to authorize the mailing of a court order to the owner of the Georgia King Village apartment complex and informed the company that had it failed to meet the terms of the 30-year rent reduction agreement, which includes maintaining livable conditions for tenants.
Sending the notification does not remove the tax benefit, the so-called reduction, granted to save the owner, L+M Development Partners of Larchmont, NY, millions of dollars in property taxes to offset spending on improvements to the 47-year-old complex it acquired in 2016.
Instead, the notice gives L+M 60 days to rid the complex of a rodent population that had surged after construction began on a new building on the site last year. Officials also want the company to clean up mold, repair water damage from leaky pipes and other substandard conditions that existed before the rat infestation. If those things are done, officials say the city may not be able to reverse the cut.
“We will monitor their actions to ensure they fulfill the promises they made to us,” Council member Carlos Gonzalez, chair of the council’s mitigation committee, said at the meeting.
L+M is committed to this.
“Our on-site management team is working around the clock to resolve any issues on behalf of residents, including the implementation of an aggressive rodent eradication strategy,” the company said in a statement following Wednesday’s vote. “We’ve also recently added staff to the complex to oversee any repairs, and have assigned three new exterminators to the property over the past week to troubleshoot problems.”
But the company added, “While we agree that the recently identified rodent conditions were unacceptable and do not meet our standards, we do not believe receivership is the right course of action.”
L+M said it has spent $40 million on improvements to individual residences, common areas, open spaces, building systems and security for Georgia King Village since the acquisition.
During Wednesday’s session, residents erupted in applause after the unanimous vote.
“We’ve been waiting for this for years. The City of Newark hears our voice!” said Gee Cureton, a 30-year-old resident and spokesman for the Georgia King Village Tenants Association. “Not only hear, but act.”
After Attorneys for the city and L+M appeared before Superior Court Judge Joseph Passamano for a hearing on the city’s motion to place Georgia King Village in receivership.
The judge delayed his action until March 1, when he said he would review L+M’s progress.
Local residents said rats began infesting their high-rise buildings and townhouses last fall after construction began on a new building that L+M is developing on the site in partnership with the university hospital. The five-story building will include a ground-level community health center and 78 affordable housing, including 16 for chronically homeless families and individuals who will have on-site support services.
Local residents say the work drove rats from their underground burrows into the existing dwellings, an explanation the company has not ruled out.
Last month, several residents welcomed NJ Advance Media into their apartments and townhouses, pointing out holes in walls recently filled with insulating foam, severed electrical cords, mouse droppings, photos of dead rats on sticky traps, and mouse carcasses awaiting the transport.
There was mold on walls and ceilings, chipped and peeling paint in apartments and common areas, missing moldings, a fire door from the outside without a lock, etc
non-working external elevator and other substandard conditions.
The city ordered L+M officials to do this a Wednesday morning meeting of the council’s mitigation committee, just before the full council met for a regular session. It was after Georgia King Village residents emotionally pleaded for help during a Jan. 18 council meeting.
L+M has become a household name in Newark, with projects including the restoration and reuse of the Broad Street site of Hahne’s department store as a whole foods supermarket and the conversion of a Rutgers high-rise parking garage into off-the-shelf, affordable housing.
The company plans further activities in Newark. But during the committee meeting, Gonzalez told L+M officials that her record at the Georgia King Village could affect bids for other projects.
L+M chief executive Jonathan Cortell offered a mia culpa for allowing conditions at the complex to deteriorate, which he attributed to poor communications and a focus on new construction. Herminio Torres, senior vice president at C+C Management, an L+M subsidiary that manages the property, told committee members, “We didn’t come here to offer an apology. There is no excuse.”
Company officials agreed to work with the city to ensure housing inspectors have access to homes to address conditions that local residents may not be reporting. Stewart suggested the company develop a proactive program to systematically inspect and repair each unit in the complex and respond to individual complaints.
Company representatives also offered to meet weekly with city officials to increase transparency and improve communication. But Council President Lamonica McIver, West Ward Councilman Dupre Kelly and Councilman Patrick Council told the company they were excited for results.
When the city’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Allison Ladd, said the city council was ready to vote on the notice period this afternoon, Cortell and other company officials seemed surprised. The city’s attorney suggested a vote be postponed until after a Feb. 13 meeting with tenants. But Ladd and other officials dismissed the idea.
“This isn’t a trial,” Ladd said.
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Steve Strunsky can be reached at [email protected]