At first glance, people often assume that the weekly Town & Village comes directly from the ownership of Stuyvesant Town and Cooper Village, Tishman Speyer, or from the complex’s management, Rose Associates Inc. Both firms are owned by well-known New York real-estate clans that could easily afford a weekly rag.
But then people get to the recent headlines:
“Met won’t recognize tenants as bidder.”
“Attorney: Met knowingly took tax breaks in fair-market push.”
“More tenants getting notices of nonrenewal.”
Clearly, this is no P.R. tool for the landlord.
Delivered every Thursday morning to roughly 8,000 subscribers, the independent community newspaper has chronicled life in and around the massive Manhattan apartment complex ever since its post–World War II construction by Metropolitan Life Insurance. According to some readers, Town & Village has become as much of a neighborhood institution as the historic affordable-housing development itself.
Founded in 1947 by a former Army public-information officer turned newspaperman, Charles Hagedorn, Town & Village has long striven to present local news with a small-town sensibility, as evidenced by its relentless coverage of little-league baseball, flea markets and the abundant squirrel population, which overruns the complex’s common areas and which might offer a tasty snack, according to a recent, rather fuzzy front-page story (“Mmmm … squirrel? Now that’s yummy!”).
Town & Village’s torchbearers insist that the paper never shies away from more contentious issues, reporting extensively on neighborhood crime as well as the frequent landlord-tenant disputes that inevitably arise at any rental property, particularly one so enormous.
Lately, though, the landlord-tenant stuff has taken up an awful lot of column inches.
IN THE MONTHS BEFORE AND AFTER OCTOBER’S whopping $5.4 billion sale of the property by MetLife, the paper has been chock-full of angry tenant rhetoric about rent hikes, nonrenewals and costly facility upgrades. Yet it’s had little in response from ownership—generally, no comment.
Rob Speyer, a principal with his family’s real-estate conglomerate who worked closely on the historic deal with MetLife, did not, in keeping with tradition, respond to interview requests for this story.
“They try to tell it like it is—much to management’s chagrin,” said one employee of Stuy Town and Cooper Village, who asked to remain anonymous.
Some readers have described Town & Village’s aggressive coverage as striking an almost “threatening” or “militant” tone.
Current Town & Village publisher Christopher Hagedorn, the founder’s son, who now owns the eponymous publishing company that backs the paper, has heard it all before.
“My father was called a communist,” he said, harking back to Papa Hagedorn’s contentious coverage of Stuy Town’s segregationist policies during the 1950’s.
The paper has long thrived despite a precarious relationship with the property’s owners, Mr. Hagedorn said, recalling that when his father was editor, “MetLife hired a P.R. firm to deal with Charles Hagedorn.”
For a period in the late 80’s, he added, MetLife refused to talk to Town & Village reporters altogether—a situation that might have contributed to some readers’ slanted view of its editorial mission.
“The paper has a fine line to tread,” said Mr. Hagedorn, 62. “You have tenants who have very legitimate gripes and problems—and, as a newspaper, the tenants have to be represented. By the same token, in fairness, we have to represent the views of the landlord.
“Over the years, it’s been very misunderstood, I think, from both sides,” he added.
The tradition continues with Mr. Hagedorn’s current batch of muckrakers, whose recent coverage has dared to toe, yet not quite cross, the landlord-bashing line.
“I don’t think it’s us,” said executive editor Sabina Mollot, one of two full-time Town & Village staffers, who also serves as a reporter, photographer and page designer. “The paper reflects the mood and the attitude of the people here. I think a lot of people are bitter about the way the community is changing.”
CHANGE, AFTER ALL, CAN BE FRIGHTENING.
A longtime haven for military veterans and middle-class families—many of whom have lived there for decades—Stuy Town and Cooper Village’s ongoing transition from affordable to market-rate rents has taken on Orwellian implications of late, including the new owner’s reported hiring of a private investigator to root out illegal subletters taking advantage of rent-stabilized units.
Perhaps the most controversial move by Big Brother has involved management’s ongoing implementation of an electronic key-card system to enter the development’s 110 buildings, an issue that Ms. Mollot has been covering for the past three years. And counting.
“For a while, it was all we wrote about—it was that controversial.”
Ms. Mollot, 28, can speak to the controversy from both sides, as a matter of security for ownership and as a privacy issue for residents.
In her relentless reporting, she even came up with an angle that few others would have thought of, drawing connections between the key-card installation at Cooper Village and declining attendance at a local Orthodox temple, whose members are prohibited from using electronics on the Sabbath.
“Because,” explained Ms. Mollot, who previously worked as a reporter for the Orthodox Jewish Press, “these people didn’t want to have to stand around in the cold and wait to be let back in by security after services.”
As a non–Stuy Town or Cooper Village resident, Ms. Mollot can claim at least some degree of objectivity in her reporting, though even her explanation seemed to betray some personal leanings.
“If my rent got raised 20 percent, it would be hard to appear unbiased,” she confessed during a recent stroll through the complex.
“There are some people that just expect us to beat up on management, just because they’re angry about their rents going up,” said Ms. Mollot. “But, at the same time, of course we’re going to print management’s point of view and the landlord’s point of view.”
If, that is, she can get it.
While the complex’s current managers, the Rose family’s Rose Associates, have been quick to respond to crime reports and maintenance issues, ownership has remained mum on the far more anxious issues of rent hikes and nonrenewals.
Tishman Speyer’s long-term plans for the property also remain a mystery, Ms. Mollot said.
For longtime residents, the future has seemed frighteningly murky ever since the disappearance of plaques once posted in the common areas, which spoke of the complex’s original aim: to provide a place where “families of moderate means might live in health, comfort and dignity in park-like communities.”
“When the complex went to free-market, the plaques were taken out by MetLife,” Ms. Mollot said. “People are always asking me, ‘Why did they rip out those plaques?’ So I’m always asking, ‘People wanna know: Why did you rip out the plaques?’ No comment, no comment, no comment.”