The Hyde Park–Kenwood Community Conference held an open forum at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club Tuesday to allow local residents to converse with Eli Ungar, founder and president of Antheus Capital and its affiliate MAC Property Management, one of the principal real estate management companies in Hyde Park.
George Rumsey, president of the conference, introduced Ungar to an audience of mostly non-student community members and asked that individuals refrain from posing questions or complaints about individual issues in lieu of asking broader questions. Ungar, however, welcomed any and all nitty-gritty concerns, offering to stay for as many hours into the night as necessary and vowing to answer all questions in precise detail.
“If there are things wrong, we need to know about them, and they need to be fixed,” he said. “Our investments are only going to make sense if Hyde Park thrives…. We learned a lot from buying 43 buildings in one day,” he said, referring to MAC’s purchase of Hyde Park properties from K&G Management last spring. “We need to do it better.”
Mary Rose Shaughnessy, who wrote a letter to the Hyde Park Herald in July posing the question of whether Ungar’s purchase of the 43 apartment buildings constituted a monopoly on Hyde Park real estate, began the forum with a comment.
“They own so much of Hyde Park. [Ungar] has a huge stake in our community, but he doesn’t work for us,” she said. “What if [MAC] raises rents? They could drive out old-time residents.”
In response, one man said, “Remember, [Ungar] is stuck here as much as we are stuck with him. We have an advantage in that he has a profit-based interest in our community.”
Nonetheless, Shaughnessy’s comment reflected two of the major concerns voiced during the forum: first, whether MAC’s renovation and refurbishment of Hyde Park real estate would actually improve existing properties; and secondly, how MAC’s renovations would impact rent increases and the ability of long-time residents to afford living in the neighborhood.
One woman spoke about rumored mismanagement of asbestos abatement in the Algonquin Apartments. Ungar responded that MAC had purchased the Algonquin from a building owner who had failed in trying to convert the building into a condo. MAC was left with a property in very poor condition with renovation constrained by inherited and highly restrictive electricity and plumbing permits, he said.
Ungar openly admitted that certain contractors began renovating without regard to asbestos midway through construction. “I take full responsibility for the mistakes,” he said. “It was expensive, embarrassing, and it was my fault.” Ungar hired a contractor that specialized in asbestos abatement to fix the mistakes and subsequently allowed the city to run tests on the building to make sure it was up to code.
Another woman also said that the rent increase due to the Algonquin’s renovation threatened her ability to remain there as a senior citizen. She now has to spend half her income on rent, she said.
It was a concern Ungar responded to repeatedly throughout the evening.
“I don’t want to pretend higher rents are not an issue,” he said.
Ungar said he was interested in preserving Hyde Park real estate, emphasizing that condominium conversion has drastically depleted rental stock. Ungar claimed that no new apartment construction has taken place in the neighborhood in almost 20 years, citing one statistic stating that 22,000 rental units available in the neighborhood in 2002 had decreased to 17,000 due to condo conversion.
In addition to discussing MAC Property’s resistance to condo conversion as a future prospect in Hyde Park, Ungar said that “just not raising rents is not ultimately going to succeed,” but suggested that discussion and cooperation between “an admittedly for-profit organization such as MAC and the community allows for the potential for a productive collaboration for both parties.”
Ungar contrasted the pragmatic view of MAC Property’s real estate investment with a more altruistic explanation of how his company has attempted to invest in the community’s future. Ungar spoke of sponsoring scholarships at Kenwood Academy named after teachers at the school and described how he was motivated by a conversation with the Academy’s principal about fundraising setbacks to donate $80,000 in order to replace seats in the school’s auditorium.
“So far, we have been biased towards giving to education,” Ungar said. “In order for a neighborhood to be great, its schools have to be great.”
Ungar concluded by stressing that MAC Property was interested in staying in Hyde Park for the long haul.
“My goal is be here 20 years from now, slightly thinner,” he grinned.