One evening every week, a dozen or so hipsters in their 20’s and early 30’s file into a second-floor office above a deli on Delancey Street. They are aspiring musicians and actors. They work at Trader Joe’s or some do-gooder nonprofit. They are studying fashion design or maybe they just graduated, and like everybody else trying to make it in New York, they want a cheap place to live.
They end up on Delancey Street because that’s where an ad on Craigslist has led them. It is a recently redone office with burgundy-stained wood and bright brass fixtures, and the hipsters hang around and whisper and shuffle through papers. They can’t just hand over their checks to their broker and get their keys the way other people get apartments in New York. These people have to meet their landlord.
Their landlord is Baruch Singer.
To these hipsters, that name might not mean much; but, to any New Yorker who has been around for a while and has a knack for remembering names, that one may sound familiar. It is sometimes preceded in newspapers by the word “notorious,” sometimes by “slumlord,” and sometimes even by “notorious slumlord.”
A few minutes behind schedule on one of those recent evenings, Mr. Singer bounded into the room, said hello to a couple of his brokers, and whispered to his staff. He was tall, thin and wore a rumpled, navy blue pinstripe suit that had the look of having been to the far reaches of the city and back in a single day. His beard was scraggly. Atop his gray hair was a simple black yarmulke. He looked a bit like a philosophy professor as he leaned against the doorframe, clapped his hands together and started his spiel.
“We are very different than any other landlord in New York,” he said. “Our strength is to tell people the truth. I tell you pretty much every reason not to move in, and then, if you still want to move in, we give you a lease.”
He went around the circle, asking what each person did for a living, and then he launched into little bits of colorful history about the buildings they were moving into.
“You are moving into a drug-infested building. You have at least 10 drug dealers in there.”
“The super in your building is brain-dead. The reason I keep him on is because he does excellent work.”
A young man moving to a Clinton Hill building gets a story about a Pratt student who was murdered nearby right around the time Mr. Singer first bought the building 15 years ago. “Unfortunately, we had the murderers in the building.”
He said he buys buildings that the city considers to be “junk.” Most are in Harlem, Hamilton Heights and Washington Heights. He renovates the apartments one at a time as apartments become vacant. Once he gets through the whole building, he redoes the hallways and common spaces. He says he needs tenants to be his eyes and ears against crime and vandalism.
“Everybody we put in are professional people,” he said. “Very nice professional people. We have had people in Cirque de Soleil, Urinetown, Beauty and the Beast. We are a good-luck charm for people.”
One woman who was moving into Manhattan Valley—the pocket just west of the northern end of Central Park—remarked that she was pleasantly surprised that a Starbucks just opened nearby.
“What has happened there is because of what we have done,” Mr. Singer said.
The message, whether he intends it or not: Baruch Singer is not a slumlord. He is a gentrifier.