by TALISE D. MOORER Special to the Amsterdam News
Originally posted 5/18/2006
For the first time in the history of Central Harlem, Community Boards 9, 10 and 12 came together to host a joint hearing (chaired by Jordi Reyes-Mont Blanc) aimed at ending dubious practices by greedy landlords that displace longtime villagers, and ending the reign of the Pinnacle Group LLC in particular, whose tenants describe as a slumlord who fattens its burse by operating sub-par to poor housing accommodations.Stepping to the microphone one after another, angry tenants detailed their disgust and frustrations over documented complaints they’ve made concerning poor living conditions within their apartments, owned and operated by Joel Weiner, principal of the Pinnacle Group LLC, the real estate company that has filed an astonishing number of eviction proceedings since 2004 against tenants who live in its nearly 20,000 Apartments.Purportedly, those cases were suddenly dropped within hours after at Pinnacle got wind of media inquiries.Weiner has been under fire lately from housing advocates who say his company harasses rent-stabilized tenants, in order to vacate apartments and sharply increase rents.Weiner claims all his actions are above board.One tenant from Amsterdam Avenue testified that one-week after Weiner took over property from previous the owner, called “Singer,” a notorious slumlord among the city’s Top Ten, the property went up in flames in what investigators allegedly label a “suspicious fire.” Another said she was offered to buy her apartment - which currently has 20 active violations - for $500,000, astronomical she says, considering her struggle to pay the current $600 per month. And Michael Drake of the Lombard Tenants Association said that more times than not, Pinnacle uses unskilled and unlicensed laborers to “fix” things, further compounded by use of inferior materials.Congressman Charles B. Rangel roused the capacity crowd who parked on the edge of their seats at Riverbanks’ Civic Center with an announcement that the Community Service Society has agreed to scrutinize every proceeding or summons brought to housing court by the Pinnacle Group. “You are the wind beneath our political wings,” said Rangel while expressing how moved and proud he is that the community has taken an organized stand. He added, “What we’re doing here is stopping a broader conspiracy to take our community away from us - by stealing away affordable housing,” stated Rangel.Rangel told the audience that they have also earned the appreciation of lawyers working on their behalf - knowing that there is unity in the community. Rangel noted the burden of proof in court in this instance, “should not be on the back of the single mother struggling to care for her family; not the senior citizen; nor any of us.”Activists including candidate for state senator, Bill Perkins, claim that the Pinnacle Group is a front and vanguard of devious efforts that allows landlords to hide their interests while the larger company gobbles up the housing stock for luxury condos, driving up prices beyond the reach of current tenants.Popular opinion among elected officials is that this type of practice in Harlem can conceivably be the dangerous prototype for break out groups elsewhere who will work to displace tenants, particularly in the remaining boroughs.Over the last decade The Pinnacle Group has purchased many buildings and hundreds of units within Manhattan, “many of which have already been converted to luxury housing and others remaining empty, possible evidence of warehousing for profit.”In response to an outcry from constituents, community organizations and leaders in greater Harlem and Northern Manhattan, namely Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright (D-Harlem), mobilized a rally outside Pinnacle headquarters to send a message that unfair tactics and the harassment and unnecessary evictions of tenants located uptown would not be tolerated.“We have been in a long-term battle against gentrification practices and slumlords in Harlem; and, we are well acquainted with Baruch Singer-the notorious slumlord of the Dunbar Houses and five other buildings who reportedly sold his properties to The Pinnacle Group,” said Wright. He added, “In the last few years we have seen a population and development growth never before seen in Harlem. Unfortunately, some of the growth has been at the expense of our current residents, who at the hands of a select number of questionable developers are being pushed out of the neighborhoods they helped form. That is unacceptable and intolerable and must cease and desist.”Representatives of the Pinnacle Group declined an interview with the AmNews, but released a written statement defending their business dealings stating, “It is unfortunate that there are a number of baseless and simply erroneous charges circulating among tenants, public officials and within the community,” writes Robert Barletta, spokesperson for the Pinnacle Group.Pinnacle previously told the AmNews that their employees, “comprise a diverse and dedicated group that work together to provide residents of Pinnacle buildings with the services that all residents deserve.” And, to facilitate home ownership, Pinnacle admits having filed plans to convert certain of its rental properties to condominiums.