Chuck Schumer is taking a real estate controversy on his home turf personally.
The Senate Majority Leader stopped by a rally in Park Slope Friday morning to lambast real estate firm Greenbrook Partners and its investors for an aggressive fix-and-flip strategy pursued at apartment buildings across Brooklyn during the pandemic.
“There is nothing more despicable, despicable, than these predatory real estate equity firms trying to make illegal, in my judgement, billions of dollars on the backs of tenants,” said Schumer, standing outside one of Greenbrook’s properties, a rental building at 70 Prospect Park West. He was surrounded by 30 tenants and housing advocates, including Housing Justice for All’s Cea Weaver, holding signs with slogans such as “People not profits” and “Stop Greedbrook.”
“They’re preying on people,” he said to the scrum of TV cameras and reporters. “They’re like blood suckers.”
Greenbrook’s strategy involves buying up predominantly market-rate apartment buildings, emptying them, then renovating and renting the units at significantly higher prices. Greenbrook, which also operates as McNam Management, has amassed over 100 multifamily buildings throughout the borough since late 2019, though the bulk of its acquisitions occurred in 2020 and 2021, according to records collected by local City Council member Brad Lander’s office, which has been organizing with tenants.
But tenants, politicians, housing advocates and even an industry landlord group have criticized Greenbrook’s tactics. In its residential buildings, the landlord has refused to renew market-rate leases during the pandemic and gave residential tenants a 90-day window to vacate their homes — a practice which, though legal, runs against the recommended pandemic policy of at least one landlord group.
There are also allegations of illegal attempts to vacate the buildings. Some tenants have accused Greenbrook of construction harassment and endangering their safety. Several free-market tenants have hired a lawyer to investigate whether their units are actually rent-stabilized, and at least one lawsuit alleging illegal deregulation has been filed against Greenbrook by five tenants at 70 Prospect Park West.
Housing advocates and state and city lawmakers at the rally said Greenbrook’s conduct is evidence of why New York needs a good cause eviction law guaranteeing lease renewals and limiting rent increases.
Other lawmakers who spoke at the rally included Lander, State Senators Brian Kavanagh, Jabari Brisport and Zellnor Myrie and Assembly members Robert Carroll and Jo Anne Simon.
“When we hear that a lot of these properties were bought during the pandemic just to turn around and tell people they’re going to turn around and be kicked out, that is disgusting,” said Brisport. “When we reconvene, we will pass good cause eviction. We are going to stop this.”
Local housing advocates and legislators aren’t the only ones concerned with Greenbrook’s management of its Brooklyn portfolio. Some of the real estate firm’s investors are also asking questions.
Greenbrook’s financial backers include London-based real estate investment firm NW1, which is led by David Boyle, former chief investment officer at Morgan Stanley’s Alternative Investment Partners Real Estate, and Brad Beanblossom, a Sam Zell protégé who oversaw the investment team at Equity International. In turn, NW1’s investors include the Texas Permanent School Fund, a sovereign wealth fund with a nearly $50 billion endowment.
Aicha Davis, a member of the board that oversees the Texas fund, traveled to New York in August to tour Greenbrook-owned properties and meet with tenants. Questions about the fund’s investment with NW1 — and by extension its local partner, Greenbrook — have been raised by board members in recent meetings. In an interview in August, Davis said she planned to work with Texas lawmakers on legislation that would force the fund to divest from NW1 and Greenbrook and prevent future investment in similar real estate strategies.
“I dare say that the thousands of teachers in Texas who put their money into pensions do not want their money given to kick out tenants,” said Schumer, who penned a letter to the fund’s board members earlier this year. “I can’t think of anything that’s more anti-New York.”
Requests for comment from Greenbrook and Greg Fournier, the company’s managing principal, were not answered.