The corporate landlord of thousands of Queens tenants has announced a new community relations position to smooth its relationship with both renters and local groups, but the tenants union contends the official has been working with that same title for three months.
Vantage Properties, a private equity−backed company that owns approximately 80 apartment buildings in Astoria, Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Flushing, Hollis, Jackson Heights, Rego Park, Sunnyside and Woodside. said Elizabeth Holmes will serve as a liaison between Vantage, community groups and elected officials.
The announcement came Nov. 11, a month after the tenants union demonstrated in front of the Manhattan offices of Apollo Real Estate Advisors, a major investor in Vantage, to complain about poor maintenance and harassment tactics.
“We are excited about this important new position and very fortunate to have Elizabeth fill this role,” said Vantage President Neil Rubler in a statement. “As Vantage has grown, it has become increasingly important to have an experienced and dedicated professional whose sole responsibility is to meaningfully engage with residents and representatives of the local community to ensure that we are doing everything we can as owners and corporate citizens.”
But the Queens Vantage Tenants’ Council, the coalition of tenants groups from Vantage’s buildings, said Holmes is not a newcomer.
“She’s been the vice president of community relations since I spoke to her in August,” said Teresa Perez, president of the tenants’ council. “I don’t know why they’re coming out like this is a new position. It’s not.”
Holmes, who lives in Queens, confirmed she has been working as vice president since August.
“It’s just not something we had put out, and seeing as how I’m working with tenants, they should obviously know about my position,” she said.
Perez and Robert McCreanor, an attorney who helped the tenants organize, were worried that the community relations announcement was an attempt to distract attention from tenants’ problems in the building.
Perez said the council met with Rubler and members of Apollo Real Estate Advisors, a major investor in Vantage, Oct. 29 to present a list of demands and dates for implementation.
“They flat−out refused,” Perez said, noting Vantage did agree to consider compensating tenants for hours of work missed for scheduled maintenance appointments that are not completed.
Holmes said the meeting “came across as being more adversarial than it needed to be” and that Vantage was reviewing the tenants’ demands.
“We were given only 15 minutes to speak,” she said. Apollo is working to schedule a follow−up meeting, she said.
Vantage has been on a “public relations offensive” recently, issuing newsletters and showing up in buildings to speak with tenants, said McCreanor, who has filed a lawsuit against Vantage alleging illegal tenant harassment tactics. A hearing on the suit has been postponed probably until January.
“It’s funny in some ways and frustrating in others,” he said of Vantage’s increased presence. “Rather than spending all this money on a public relations person, why not just fix the problems?”
The tenants union has planned a meeting for Dec. 3 to rally support among tenants and elected officials.
“We’re going to have to try and put more pressure on them,” Perez said.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jwalsh@tim
©2008 Community News Group
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