Foes Take Long View On Longacre

Foes Take Long View On Longacre
Will Tenants Be Forced Out?
Chelsea Clinton News, October 5, 1995
by Al Amateau

Neighborhood and housing advocates are keeping a wary eye on the Longacre Hotel, long plagued by drug dealing and prostitution, where new management took over last month under a court-appointed receiver.

An important factor in the fate of the troubled West 45th Street residence is the state-sponsored redevelopment of 42nd Street, where Walt Disney and other major entertainment enterprises are moving in, according to housing advocates.

The new manager of the Longacre is Ray Cline, a Clinton resident and neighborhood activist who took over on Sept. 20 despite an effort by Tran Dinh Truong, the former operator, to retain control after defaulting on an $800,000 mortgage.

Truong, who operated the drug-ridden Kenmore Hotel on East 23rd Street until last year when the federal government took control of it, now owns the Carter Hotel on West 43rd Street. He could still regain control of the Longacre if he pays the mortgage.

Cline, a former member of the McManus Midtown Democratic Club and a member of Community Board 5 — appointed by East Side City Councilmember Antonio Pagan — acknowledges he has an uphill struggle. The contradiction of keeping drug dealers and prostitutes out while being prohibited by law from arbitrarily denying hotel accommodations is complicating Cline’s problems at the Longacre.

A Genteel Beginning

Neighbors and housing advocates, however, are concerned about the long-range future of the hotel, which has declined from a genteel Theater District women’s residence to a place where hookers and drug pushers have made life hell for hotel tenants and other residents of the block between Eighth and Ninth avenues.

“The real estate pressures on the Longacre coming from Disney on 42nd Street will be immense,” said John Fisher, a member of the West 45th Street Block Association and a tenant advocate.

The 160-unit Longacre, across the street from the Martin Beck Theater, has been a problem for 12 years, Fisher said. He blames Truong for “trying to destroy SRO [single-room-occupancy] housing for years.” The block association should be involved in decisions about the long-term future of the building, he added.

Terry Poe of the West Side SRO Law Project, which advocates for low-income tenants, agrees that the redevelopment of 42nd Street between Times Square and Eighth Avenue will affect the Longacre. “This is prime real estate, and developers are surely casting speculative eyes all around here. We’re seeing signs of displacement pressure as far north at 50th Street, where tenants in the Amsterdam Court are under tremendous pressure to move out,” said Poe.

Cline, who describes himself as a manager of troubled buildings, was hired by Dartmoor Realty, the management firm retained by Harry S. Malakoff, who was appointed receiver of the property in July. Cline said he could not set foot in the Longacre for several weeks because Truong withheld vital insurance documents.

On Sept. 18, Cline took over the management after the insurance problem was solved. “But on the 19th, Truong had me removed, saying I wasn’t authorized. The next day, on the 20th, I came back, escorted by police from Midtown North, and I took over,” said Cline.

Truong’s daughter-in-law, Tina Chu, who managed the Longacre, was forced to yield, but she left administrative records with big gaps, according to Cline. “We didn’t even have a list of all the employees,” he said. Chu still lives in the building, and Cline thinks her presence undermines his authority as a manager.

Although Cline insists that conditions in the Longacre have improved over the past two weeks, one longtime tenant disagrees. “This is a dangerous building,” said Shirley Peck. “It’s worse than it ever was. He [Cline] is renting to people with no luggage and he has a 20-year-old girl behind the desk from four to midnight. Those signs don’t mean a thing,” she said referring to signs restricting visitors. “At least Mr. Truong kicked asses out of here.”

Cline has taken steps to build bridges with longtime critics: representatives of the block association, housing advocates and the Mayor’s Office of Midtown Enforcement, the multi-agency city office which a few years ago filed a civil suit demanding that Truong not allow the hotel to be used by drug dealers and prostitutes. Cline says he intends to hire security people to patrol the halls and will try to evict residents who break the law.

Poe conceded that Cline’s goals are justifiable, but he had reservations. “Getting rid of drug dealers and prostitutes is one thing, but getting rid of low-income tenants who have been there for a long time is quite another thing,” said Poe.

Of the 160 units in the hotel, 15 to 20 are rented to elderly women who have lived in the Longacre 12 years or more, ever since it was a residence solely for single women. About 80 tenants are Senegalese, many of them cab drivers or peddlers. Cline says he does not intend to evict any legitimate tenant. Bob Kalin, an organizer with Housing Conservation Coordinators (HCC), another tenant advocacy group which has worked with Longacre residents, is hoping for the best. “Cline should have a chance to try end turn the building around. I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude.”