City Seizes Multiple Properties as Real Estate Scandal Grows

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By Stephen Witt & Kelly Mena

Mr. McConnell Dorce, a house-owner in East New York received a foclosure notice on his paid-off property from the City’s Department of Housing and Preservation Development under a non-profit third-party program called Neighborhood Restore. (Photo by Tsubasa Berg)

In a growing and shocking scandal, Kings County Politics has learned the city has taken another fully paid property from a senior of color. A man who has worked his entire life and wants to leave his property to his four children and five grandchildren.

McConnell Dorce, 69, who bought his four-unit property at 373 Rockaway Parkway in East New York for $25,000 in 1975 and who has long paid off the mortgage on the property recently, was sent a notice stating the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is taking his property under the city’s Third-Party Transfer (TPT) program.

The program designates qualified sponsors as partners with HPD [the city] to purchase and rehabilitate distressed, vacant or occupied multifamily properties in order to improve and preserve housing affordable to low- to moderate-income households.

This was news to Dorce, who has always maintained his property, and has his son and grandson living in one of the units, and who now could face not only losing their inheritance but could also be facing homelessness. The property value of the building is about $1 million, according to Dorce.

Dorce’s situation is somewhat similar to that of Marlene Saunders, 74, who nearly lost her paid-off brownstone at 1217 Dean Street until KCP and City Council member Robert Cornegy Jr. (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights) intervened three days ago.

Like Saunders, Dorce was behind in his property taxes and like Saunders, he paid property tax bills that the city withdrew from his bank account but did not apply to any of his tax bills. After further inquiry, he was told to talk to HPD about any situation regarding the property.

After HPD put Dorce off for several months, he was told he lost his property through Lorraine Seabrook-Fisher, the HPD Foreclosure Acquisitions Analyst. A KCP search of Seabrook-Fisher found she formerly worked at the Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC), a nonprofit in which Mayor Bill de Blasio is very close.

Mr. McConnell and dozens of other homeowners in New York City received a notice stating that the ownership of their properties are being transferred to a nonprofit entity called Neighborhood Restore HDFC. (Photo by Tsubasa Berg)

De Blasio appointed former FAC Executive Director Michelle de la Uz as the city’s Planning Commissioner. FAC has real estate assets of over $100 million and a housing development pipeline of nearly 1000 units representing total development costs of more than $400 million, according to the Planning Commission website bio of de la Uz.

Additionally, as in the case of Saunders, Dorce only realized something was off when he received notice his property was already in a transfer process to Neighborhood Restore, a nonprofit third party working with the city through a court proceeding that now has control over his property. Dorce claims the lack of information has left him without the ability to attend or defend any court proceedings in defense of his property.

City Council member Alicka Ampry-Samuel (D-Brownsville, East New York, East Flatbush, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights), in whose district Dorce’s property is located, said she was only recently made aware of Dorce’s situation after he visited her office claiming he had lost his home to the city through the Third-Party Transfer program. Dorce claims that the city took his home from him and placed it into the program only after he was forced to endure an emergency repair job on his property from the city, involuntarily, that he eventually paid for.

At that point, Ampry-Samuel said she then read KCP’s recent story on Saunders and was shocked. The Councilwoman now believes there is clearly an issue with HPD. The city agency, in a bid to get their hands on these properties, told Council members there were a certain number of violations by absentee landlords and slumlords that needed a solution. A solution that included the city stepping in to help save and maintain the homes and a nonprofit to manage the property. They then went on to show the Council pictures of dilapidated properties to help make their case, according to Ampry-Samuel.

“Some of the information HPD provided to the Council seems false in so far as how the city can step in and take these homes. That’s what I’m looking into now and I want answers,” said Ampry-Samuel.

“To have two community residents have valuable property that’s paid off, in what world is it appropriate to take their homes away? I had a lien sale back in the spring to help families save their properties and did not see this man’s [Dorce] name on the lien sale list,” she added.

Ampry-Samuel said she is seeking an injunction on all Third-Party Transfers until HPD provides answers. She also wants to know how many of these properties were put into the TPT program that were owned by individuals from communities of color.

Meanwhile, attorney Yolande Nicholson, whose practice focuses on foreclosure work and who looked into Saunders case, said she is highly suspicious of the city bringing scores of foreclosure cases bundled before Kings County Supreme Court Judge Mark Partnow on Dec. 14, 2017, just two weeks before Christmas.

According to the court’s 23-page document, over 60 properties and scores of units spanning Central Brooklyn, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Kensington and Flatbush, have a foreclosure judgment on them for the same date. A proceeding Nicholson in her 30-plus years as a lawyer has never seen.

“The families and property owners were rendered nameless and left clueless by the court proceedings and the judgment. Looking at the court records, the foreclosures were done together. They were all done in one action. This family’s property was part of a pool presented by the city to Judge Partnow in a manner that is still extremely inexplicable,” said Nicholson.

Current New York City foreclosure proceedings require an initial summons and complaint process, a step Saunders and Dorce alongside Nicholson, claim never happened to them, leading to their homes being under city hands.

“I don’t know how they did it. They devised a letter, under Chapter 4, under Section 11 of the administrative code and it appears they were able to walk it in to the court. None of the normal procedures that would give the homeowner notice –an opportunity to redeem, an opportunity to respond–seems to have not been followed ” added Nicholson.

Nicholson worries that as more time goes by, the unlisted homeowners on the judgement will be less likely to gain back ownership of their property, or at best become aware they are no longer homeowners. She likens the judgement used for mass seizure by the city to feudalistic legalize, a time in medieval Europe in which relationships were derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.

“We have one of the few constitutions in the country, that states, ‘there will not be a taking without a due process of law’. This nearly brings me to tears,” said Nicholson.