Three Hills

Legendary Real Estate: Stuyvesant Town

Return to Home

During my twelve years as a member of the New York City Council, I had the occasion to represent 160,000 Manhattanites at City Hall, to engage residents of all corners of New York City as a candidate for Speaker of the Council in 2013, and to explore substantive areas that ranged from tenants rights to consumer protections and police reforms. But no issue or challenge quite compared to the battle that we fought to save Stuyvesant Town.

But no issue or challenge quite compared to the battle that we fought to save Stuyvesant Town.

Built by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as housing for veterans returning from World War II, Stuyvesant Town, and Peter Cooper Village is the largest rental community in the United States and home to about 30,000 mostly middle-class people on the East Side of Manhattan. For nearly sixty years it had stood as a beacon for middle-income New Yorkers, a place to enjoy a stable and affordable life in the heart of Manhattan. Under the care of “Mother Met,” as Met Life was known to tenants, with stable and affordable rents, it was a quiet enclave designed to resemble suburban living, where people could safely raise their kids.  

Then, in July 2006, at the height of the real estate boom, Met Life announced that it would put it all up for sale. Their marketing materials emphasized the opportunity for a new owner to transform the drab and nondescript buildings into a luxury enclave. In October 2006, bidders from across the globe participated in a white-hot auction that bid the property over $5 billion dollars, billions more than what experts had been predicting. When the dust settled in October 2006, Tishman Speyer Properties and BlackRock emerged as the winners, paying a record-shattering $5.4 billion in a deal that would go down in the books as the largest residential real estate transaction in American history. 

Unfortunately, a sale of this magnitude could only be justified with a business plan that would seek to drive up rents and drive out existing tenants. Almost immediately, our fears were confirmed. Tishman Speyer had borrowed $4.4 billion to buy Stuy Town and had to find a way to generate more revenue from the property to pay back their enormous debts. In short, this deal did not pencil out unless they got the people who paid the lowest rents out of their units, and fast. 

Almost immediately, our fears were confirmed. 

Over the course of a decade, the newly-energized Tenants Association and I used every ounce of leverage that we could find. We assembled our own competitive bid to buy the property on behalf of the tenants themselves—and did it twice. We defended the interests of residents who found themselves subject to legal claims, we litigated and won the biggest tenant victory in the New York Court of Appeals in a generation, and we were courted by nearly all of the major real estate players across the globe. Ultimately we put ourselves in a position to strike a deal that would preserve thousands of units as affordable housing for the next generation.  

How did the tenants of Stuy Town get from a place where tenants were being threatened with eviction to a place where the largest real estate entities in the world were fighting to join forces with us? This is the story of a community with a history of activism banding together to fight back against corporate greed and excess, and how the real estate world concluded that working with the tenants would yield a better outcome than fighting with them. The negotiations played out both in public and in private over many years, and the process was often choppy and sometimes bitterly contentious. The result was an extraordinary outcome for middle-class New Yorkers.

Featured Image: Daniel R. Garodnick speaking to the press. Credit: Daniel R. Garodnick.

Book cover of Saving Stuyvesant Town.
Read more.

Daniel R. Garodnick is the former New York City Council Member representing the East Side of Manhattan. He now serves as President & CEO of Riverside Park Conservancy. Follow him on Twitter @dangarodnick.

Book Finder