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Brooklyn, NY - Young Charedi Real Estate Mogul Praised For Revitalizing Living Condtions In Apt. Complex

Published on: November 7, 2008 10:04 AM
By: NY Daily News
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J.J. Bistricer, of Flatbush Gardens owner Clipper Equity who made headlines news in the past for bidding $ 1.2 Billion for Starret CityBrooklyn, NY - Most developments don’t have a director of operations who’s a former decorated New York City detective. They don’t have a suit-and-tie dressed security force of active New York law enforcement officials who circle its pathways in twos and threes like beat cops who walked the streets of New York decades ago.

Most developments aren’t Flatbush Gardens, a 59-building, 2,496-unit rental complex on Foster Ave. near Newkirk and Nostrand Aves. in East Flatbush, New York. Reborn after years as Vanderveer Estates, one of the city’s worst-run federal housing complexes where drug dealing and daily beat-downs were as common as trips to the corner deli, Flatbush Gardens has been attempting to draw a new slew of renters to its very affordable units for two-plus years now.

Twenty-five people moved in Nov. 1. Fifteen more are due on Nov. 15.

“We knew this was going to be a huge challenge,” says J.J. Bistricer, of Flatbush Gardens owner Clipper Equity, a three-generation Brooklyn-based company that developed land near the George Washington Bridge 21 years ago and put together a $1.3 billion bid for Starrett City. “Any time you have to make a neighborhood into a safe and happy environment to attract new residents, there are going to be problems. This place was a shooting gallery 10 years ago. Now it’s a solid place to live.”


The security force helps. Director of operation Rafael Garcia runs a tight ship that could become a model for turning around crime-ridden housing complexes as fringe neighborhoods become the only affordable areas left to live in the most expensive real estate city in the world. Rents in Flatbush Gardens range from $875 for a studio apartment to $1,025 for a one-bedroom to $1,200 for a two-bedroom apartment.

On a recent Sunday, a twentysomething married couple from Bed-Stuy toured its one-bedroom units.

“Of all the places we’ve seen, this is by far the most spacious,” says Jamal Dorville, 24, dressed in a jacket and tie after attending church. Adjani, his wife, saw an ad for the complex on television. “New appliances and a new bathroom are strong draws at this price.”

Rich Zak, an artist, toured models with his mother. He recently started a job at the Brooklyn Marriott.

‘It’s nice and clean,” says Zak’s mom. “I’d prefer him to live next-door, but this feels safe and easy.”

After spending over $17 million for new boilers, repairing roof damage, replacing elevators, adding porters for each building, refurbishing apartments, installing security cameras, improving entryways and landscaping, Clipper Equity listened to older and new tenants’ needs, and constantly kept an eye on price.
Flatbush Gardens
“We are charging under what rent-stabilized laws allow us to charge,” says Nora Gross, director of leasing at the complex. “For better or worse, gentrification has not yet happened here. There are no $4 cups of coffee, no organic health food stores. This is for pioneers, working-class people who want to stay close to where they were born and where they work. The riffraff is gone. What’s left are people who want a community.”

Last Saturday at 8 p.m., children ate Halloween candy on quiet stairwells, some filled with African art, flowers and curtains put there by residents. Small groups of teens relaxed on benches. Caribbean music streamed through a fourth-floor window. A security guard eyed a pair of adults smoking cigarettes in a hallway.

“It’s the weekend,” he tells me, mentioning that at this hour during a weekday he might ask them to move inside. “You have to give some leeway. Mr. Garcia understands how people are people. He taught us how to communicate first and act second.”

After working 20 years on the New York City police force as a decorated homicide detective in the Bronx, Garcia knows every nook and cranny of Flatbush Gardens, every person who lives or regularly visits people living on the 30-acre property. His unit combines real estate property management with quality of life control, handling all complaints.

Personally, he selected each member of his on-site security force, seeking a calm demeanor and community care. All wear jackets and ties, looking more like professional athletes than peacekeepers. Taught to communicate with residents, the security force has learned to be a part of the redevelopment process rather than cause tension.“If I see kids acting in a certain way,” says Garcia, “my first instinct is to get them jobs in the community at athletic centers, working in the trades, or somewhere they can learn a skill. You have to involve them in the process of neighborhood change.”

With six courtyards, asphalt and stone stairs leading to elevated building entrances, maneuvering the complex can be complicated.

“Ultimately, the property improves from Rafael’s ability to understand security and property management,” says Bistricer, whose company paid $140 million for the property in 2005. “He takes his job personally and understands how he as an individual impacts community.”

Two weeks before, an on-site Flatbush Gardens security officer prevented a rooftop assault of a young woman after a camera surveillance system picked up a male perpetrator dragging her into an elevator. The response time was less than 3 minutes. The assailant detained by the Flatbush Gardens security officer was arrested immediately by a police officer from the 67th Precinct.
The secuirty team at flatsbuh gardens
New renter Katherine Brecka lived in Washington Heights 14 years ago and Prospet Heights for the past 12 before moving into Flatbush Gardens. “It’s hard to explain,” says Brecka, a single woman. “I have never loved a neighborhood more. I feel I’m part of something. It doesn’t matter what people look like here. Everyone is just friendly, hardworking and gracious.”

Currently, Bistricer and his team focus on maintenance. “The biggest challenge is dealing with tenant needs in a speedy and professional manner,” says Bistricer. “Old tenants are used to things being so bad for so long. We’ll try to change that.”

On a Sunday in late October, Gross becomes incensed when problems with new windows prevent a tenant from moving in.

Garcia quells a misunderstanding over garbage pickup.

Up the street on Nostrand Ave., after dark, Desmond from Guyana hawks reggae CDs for $3, while a Caribbean woman sell boiled peanuts. A 10-minute walk from Brooklyn College and a 20-minute subway ride to downtown Brooklyn, the area around the Gardens breathes with life as kids play basketball under lit courts.

“People in and out of the neighborhood know how far we’ve come since we took this over,” says Bistricer. “We’re not ashamed of the grit. We’re trying to draw solid people who respect their surroundings, who have an open mind and want to be a good citizen. We hope we can give that MTA worker, hospital employee, the best home their money can get them.”




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Read Comments (20)  —  Post Yours »


 Nov 07, 2008 at 10:22 AM Anonymous Says:

It is gratifying to finally see an article in the press that doesn't illustrate the misdeeds of members of our community- A breadth of fresh air-


 Nov 07, 2008 at 10:30 AM DizzyIzzy Says:

Yashrus you can believe in.


 Nov 07, 2008 at 10:41 AM Anonymous Says:

He did not bid for starrit! it was his father!


 Nov 07, 2008 at 10:42 AM lefkowitz boy Says:

Way to go J.J.


 Nov 07, 2008 at 11:03 AM Yesodei Hatorah Says:

What a nachas!


 Nov 07, 2008 at 11:03 AM Anonymous Says:

To all slumlords, look this group is making money & a kidush hashem try the same buissness approach you might succseed


 Nov 07, 2008 at 11:01 AM Anonymous Says:

But all those politicians that tried to stop them from buying starett city for there political future so to the ppl you put up a good fight but you lost you still live in a housing project run by the govt. Service sucks crime is high if these guys would run it you would see improvment in all aspects but your reliance on the govt. Blinded you so reap what you sow


 Nov 07, 2008 at 11:10 AM john Says:

very inspiring


 Nov 07, 2008 at 11:25 AM HISTORIAN Says:

This complex, formorly known as Vandaveer Estates was built on the site of the Flatbush Water Works which supplied water to Flatbush homes through the 1940's, before Flatbush had City water. These apartment builiding were built in 1950.

It's been a violence plagued complex for the last 30 years, and I wish this young man luck in turning it around.


 Nov 07, 2008 at 11:14 AM Watcher Says:

Clearly, the management team at Flatbush Gardens is doing an excellent job.


 Nov 07, 2008 at 11:44 AM Deepthinker Says:

This proves, once again, that there is no substitute for skilled, hands-on management.


 Nov 07, 2008 at 11:56 AM Anonymous Says:

kol hakavod!


 Nov 07, 2008 at 12:19 PM Avrohom Abba Says:

Boruch Hashem!
This great article gives me much nachas to know that he didn't just help himself, he also helped the tenants by improving their living conditions!
Kol Hakavod!


 Nov 07, 2008 at 01:10 PM Anonymous Says:

where is senator schumer now. just reminding everyone how he shouted about bad management by the bistritzcer family and he especially mentioned flatbush gardens even though at the time they had only owned it for a few months what a kiddush hashem


 Nov 07, 2008 at 03:53 PM bigwheeel Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

It is gratifying to finally see an article in the press that doesn't illustrate the misdeeds of members of our community- A breadth of fresh air-

Hello, Yanky! I'm glad you have something nice to say! A Gitten Shabbos!!!


 Nov 08, 2008 at 08:57 PM yunky Says:

Finally a kiddush hashem! Lets make a kiddush!


 Nov 08, 2008 at 11:01 PM Anonymous Says:

I don't know... the recent posts on apartment review message boards and blogs have very little good to say about this place, and that is coming from residents, not management. This very article mentions an assault, and there was recently an execution-style murder on one a building roof top (about 3 months ago?). Sounds like they have their hands full. I've visited the grounds during the day and it looked okay, but as a single female I am hesitant to move into an area where crime is so rampant. And not just burglaries, but shootings-- there have been at least 5 in the immediate, 10-block radius in the recent past according to spotcrime.com. The fact that they might catch the perp after he abducts me does little good! Not to mention the many complaints I've heard the maintenance crews all but disappearing after move in day, the rodent problems, etc. Maybe a few new tenant interviews, and not by the people in the paid advertisement on the website, might have been helpful in this article for a bit of perspective. I hope things improve here soon, though, because NY needs more affordable housing in convenient locations like this. I just wish there was a lower risk of getting shot while walking home from the subway.


 Nov 12, 2008 at 04:13 PM Anonymous Says:

two thumbs up j.j. From your "odd couple" roomate.


 May 07, 2009 at 07:34 AM Anonymous Says:

J.J. Way to go!!!!!!!!!


 Apr 27, 2010 at 10:04 PM Mattis Says:

It is such a shame that so many my fellow Jews commenting here have poor spelling and grammar. Have pride! We are the chosen!!


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