By Bernice Elizabeth Green
Elaine Greene is tired of “real estate thieves stealing properties” and she wants the community to join her “fight back” campaign.
At the Monday, April 4 Community Board 3 public meeting, Ms. Greene invited everyone present to sign petitions on behalf of Rita Gray, her former landlord who “lost” one of Central Brooklyn’s prime corner properties, a huge structure on the northwest corner of Bedford & Fulton, across from the El-Taqwa Mosque.
The story of a possible property scam was first reported in Our Time Press last fall. Successive stories have appeared over the course of the winter. Ms. Gray’s tenants hired a lawyer to stop evictions by the new owner, and Ms. Gray took it to the Kings County DA’s Office. Until a few weeks ago, Ms. Greene held on to hope that Ms. Gray would pull through it all, and with the help of her devoted tenants, win back her building. Ms. Gray and the tenants were fighting an uphill battle allegedly against the odds of statute-of-limitations laws, among other matters and unfortunately they were forced to vacate the building by February 29.
But it’s a story that is top-of-mind in neighborhood consciousness, and it’s not going away. Ms. Greene’s petitions are getting around, and her voice is being heard by members of one of New York State’s biggest armed forces – the women in white, men in white gloves: the ushers who march down the aisles of churches city and statewide every Sunday. Ms. Greene is one of the largest retailers of uniforms and regalia for church ushers (Church Ushers Association of Brooklyn and L.I., United Ushers Benevolent League, Eastern Baptist Ushers Association and so on), plus the Orders of Eastern Star and Masonic Temples in Central Brooklyn. Her Med Couture, Med Couture Gold and Peaches products include full-length slip gloves, stockings, shoes for all ages.
Her tiny business is now relocated from 1258 Bedford along an arm of the corner property to a small space on 482 Tompkins Avenue, where women and men stop in weekdays 5:30-7:30pm, or Saturdays all day starting at 9:00am. Her customers purchase, engage in talk and testimony, and more often than not, round everything off locking hands in prayer. At least that is what we observed on Tuesday.
So why would an active small businesswoman who holds onto a full-time job at Interfaith Hospital (37 years), and has a full-time life which includes ushering at her home church at Brown Memorial in Clinton Hill, want to add a huge mission to her overloaded plate? It has a lot to do with Ms. Gray, an elder and an immigrant being taken advantage of.
“And enough is enough,” she told us.
“It’s a criminal act, and they have been doing this for years and years and years and getting away with it. Ms. Gray is elderly, an immigrant. Justice was not in her favor. The decision to let the complainant, Robert Thomas, have the building was not based on the facts.”
Ms. Greene, too, is disheartened by this ‘passive generation’.”
“There’s no sense of struggle and fight.” But she has started a movement to send a message to greedy developers. “We’re not giving up.”
Ms. Greene actually went back to the building on Saturday evening. She had been told that the tenants who occupied the second floor were still there.
While the ground floor – minus the six or so small, diversely owned businesses–was gated and closed, the second floor was lit. She could tell that people were going about their business upstairs; there also was a message for FedEx taped outside the building. She noticed something else: an open box attached to the building with bundled loose wires appears to signal a safety hazard condition.
Ms. Greene rang the bell, and a man came down. When Ms. Greene inquired that she thought all residents were asked to vacate the building, he replied by hiding behind the door, “We have different leases.”
Ms. Greene cited another double standard: “Funny, how the man who owns the building now never gave Ms. Gray a dime for it. So what was the sale price if you say you had the option to buy it? There was no sale price ever mentioned in the court. There was no closing, no kind of negotiation considered.
“And these kinds of scams going on with our seniors is linked to homelessness in this country. It should be probed not just here in Brooklyn, but in California, all over. Those people on the second floor were there before February 29th and they are still there.”
Ms. Greene said she and the other tenants appeared at a town hall meeting sponsored by Robert Cornegy in January at Restoration. She was inspired to do research and learn more about the situation.
Mr. Thomas, through court records, says he acquired the property through an agreement with one of Rita Gray’s family members. But Ms. Greene’s research reveals that Thomas has a history of securing properties through a similar fashion. “And they are mostly owned by people of color, the elderly. It adds up to millions of dollars stolen, not to mention the tax dollars people who scam the community get away with not paying.”
Ms. Greene will provide to Our Time Press updates on her journey throughout the year.