Today’s news:

Even closer to coming home - Four-year saga for residents of 202 Franklin Street drawing to an end

After being displaced from their Greenpoint apartment building for nearly four years, tenants could soon be moving back to 202 Franklin Street, as attorneys neared a settlement in housing court this week.

“We are in the process of negotiating and hopefully this yields a positive result,” said Alison Cordero, deputy director for Community Preservation at St. Nicholas.

Attorneys from Brooklyn Legal Services (BLS), St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corps and several local elected officials have been lobbying the Department of Housing and Preservation Development (HPD) and the building’s most recent landlord to make the necessary repairs so the tenants to come home. Tenants were vacated from the three-story rent-stabilized building after a fire in 2004. Many are currently paying nearly double or triple the rents they paid while living on Franklin Street.

“One tenant who works at a laundry and a bakery is trying to make ends meet while she is out of her apartment,” Cordero said. “She’s paying three times the amount she was paying before. That’s the whole reason they’re fighting to go back to their apartments.”

While the details of the negotiation are still being worked out and have not been made public, it is likely that the landlord, Toolcham Singh, will pay for HPD to complete renovations that will ensure that the building is safe and livable.

The building currently has 104 violations with HPD, including 15 Class A, 65 Class B and 23 Class C, some of which date back to 1984. Since the fire four years ago, the building has changed ownership several times and each of the owners have failed to make court-ordered repairs to the building while acknowledging their legal responsibility to do so. Singh was unable to be reached for comment.

While Brooklyn Legal Services attorneys Joanne Koslofsky and Vance Gathing, who have been leading the negotiations over the case, and their colleagues are optimistic that both sides will come to agreement by their next court appearance on August 1, BLS Chief Counsel Martin Needelman said they must monitor the situation very carefully.

“Accidents do happen, like buildings burning down or collapsing during the course of renovations,” Needelman said. “Even though some of these things are criminal, some of these things do happen.”

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, who has been working with HPD on his constituents’ relocation efforts since 2004, noted that the increase in property values for buildings near the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront was leading to a rise in unscrupulous practices from owners.

“I think we’re going to see more of this, and it’s going to require more concerted action because of the housing boom,” Lentol said. “It’s a lot easier to pull a scam or use a subterfuge to get tenants out even if they are rent regulated.”

BLS attorneys hope to get their clients relocated to their apartments by February 2008. For tenants like Efrain Martinez, who lives with his parents in another apartment in Greenpoint, news of progress in the negotiations is a welcome sign.

“I think it took long enough,” Martinez said. “It was a hard fight. I’m glad things are looking better and I hope we’ll be home soon.”

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