Wall Street Takes Dead Aim at Affordable Housing in New York City

A new investment scheme is turning bankers into your ugly landlord

"How many Jose Fuentes are there in the country?" asked McCreanor. His lawsuit claims that such deceptive practices have become a Vantage trademark and should be barred under consumer-protection statutes.

Vantage's CEO, a real-estate veteran named Neil Rubler, didn't return calls. But the company has gone top-shelf in search of spokesmen and lobbyists, and Rubler's office directed callers to Bud Perrone, of Howard Rubenstein Associates. "The suggestion that Vantage brings baseless legal cases is 100 percent false," said Perrone in a statement.

On the political front, the company also recently engaged the city's top lobbyist, Suri Kasirer. It has done so, Perrone stated, because "at present, there is a great deal of misinformation going around about our business practices, and it is important that we seek every opportunity to set the record straight."

Most alarmingly, some of that alleged misinformation is being repeated by local elected officials who have condemned the company and its practices. "This is an outrage," says State Senator John Sabini, who joined a recent demonstration outside one of Vantage's banks, Credit Suisse. "They're just taking people with foreign-sounding names and claiming their leases are somehow wrong, hoping they'll leave." In recent days, Kasirer's office has contacted other politicians who have criticized the company, including Assemblyman Jose Peralta and City Councilman Eric Gioia.

Gioia has pledged to hold hearings on the impact of the new investment firms on the affordable-housing stock.

"When I look at their business plan and I see it is predicated on a 20 percent turnover, the only way you can do that is to have an orchestrated plan to force people out," said Gioia. "There's no other way to figure it."

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