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In 2006, Dan Bailey and Felicity Loughrey, with the financial backing of another couple, purchased an eight-unit residential building in Prospect Heights for $860,000.
Loughrey is the New York correspondent for Vogue Australia, and her clip file includes interviews with celebrities like Chloë Sevigny, Halle Berry, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Peter Sarsgaard. She's also written profiles for the upscale photography magazine Black + White. She's penned articles on finding your fashion personality, poked fun at a class called "How to Marry Rich," and weighed in on housework and feminism. Bailey, her husband, is an estimator for Structure Tone, a Manhattan-based construction company with offices around the world. A birth announcement in The New York Observer for their youngest son, now two years old, referred to Bailey and Loughrey as an "Australian-American" couple in their early thirties.
The other owners of the building, Deanne Cheuk and Andre Wiesmayr, are also a married couple in their thirties; they live in a co-op on the Lower East Side that they purchased for $490,000 last year. Cheuk, an Aussie like Loughrey, has worked as the art director for Tokion, an arty magazine created by two American expats in Japan. She's been commissioned to do portraits for Deborah Harry, illustrated notebooks for Target, and publishes a graphic 'zine whose profits go to charity. Wiesmayr, her husband, is a creative designer for a Tokyo-based company that produces ironic T-shirts making fun of airlines' seat-back safety instructions. Reportedly, Brad Pitt is a fan. Wiesmayr is also the creator of BumRocks.com, a music website with a selection of streamable songs by obscure music you wish you'd heard of first.
All four of these young building owners are people with enviable talent and taste, the sort of creative types you'd expect to find in Brooklyn. Bailey and Loughrey no doubt felt right at home when they moved into the building at 533 Bergen and joined the renters who'd been living there for years—and then began kicking them out.
Just as soon as Bailey and Loughrey can remove a few more of those tenants, the couple can move into the rest of the 20-room remodelled home they have planned for the building.
In May, The New York Times reported on a troubling sideshow in the endlessly inflating local real-estate market (which, financial crisis notwithstanding, shows little sign of abating): A real-estate executive named Alistair Economakis had purchased a building on the Lower East Side and was evicting all of its tenants to create one enormous, 11,000-square-foot residence for his family of four.
Bailey and Loughrey aren't entirely following the Economakis playbook in their smaller building: They only want to kick out the people paying low rents.
After the couple purchased the building (it remains unclear what their financial agreement is with Cheuk and Wiesmayr), they planned a $134,000, 3,500-square-foot renovation and began forcing out longtime residents. The only thing now standing between them and the realization of their dream home is one pesky rent-stabilized resident who won't leave. (They aren't chasing out the tenants in three higher-rent units.)
New York's rent regulations allow property owners to evict rent-stabilized tenants if the owners plan to move in. The landlord must live in a newly vacated apartment for at least three years or risk being penalized. But only in the past few years, affordable-housing advocates say, have landlords begun using that provision to clear out entire buildings. Some worry that's it's just the latest strategem of greed, that landlords taking advantage of the provision secretly plan to stay only for the three-year minimum before moving out and selling the property at a profit (and with no rent-stabilized units to hold the price down). But that doesn't appear to be the case at 533 Bergen. "These people are just hipsters who want their dream home," says Dave Powell, a tenant organizer at Brooklyn's Fifth Avenue Committee.
"Hipster landlords" is exactly what the couple has been labeled by activists and tenants who deride Bailey and Loughrey for their remodeling plans.
None of the four owners would speak for this article, but Bailey and Loughrey's lawyer, Jeffrey L. Goldman, says the two plan to do much of the renovating themselves—"sweat equity," he calls it—and believe that they're bettering the neighborhood. "Good people who do what they are doing, they shouldn't be the butt of the anger," Goldman says. "They are doing what is the American way. They came here, they work hard, they bought a piece of Brooklyn and are fixing it up—and they are the target of protests?" Goldman adds that what Bailey and Loughrey are doing with the building is "clearly not unethical, because it's legal."
Scott Miller, an attorney for two of the families who were forced out, sees it differently: "You're not cleaning up a drug-infested crack den. You're talking about working, middle-class people that came here and built a life for themselves. The Baileys—everybody, if they can afford to—should be able to live in a beautiful place. They obviously wanted more than they currently had—a bigger place—but at what expense? How can you justify the displacement of five families for one?"