Revises Reality To Support a Deal She Spurned

No Longer Dormant, Mount Sherie Helstien Erupts, Spilling Venom On Main Street

Updated 34 weeks ago David Stone
Sherie Helstien in 2016 at Tram 40th Birthday Celebration
Sherie Helstien in 2016 at Tram 40th Birthday Celebration
File photo / © David Stone for The Daily

"Sherie is on a roll again..." began one of the emails I received after former RIRA Vice President Sherie Helstien came boiling out of months of much appreciated silence to attack an article we published about serious problems in Westview's affordability exit. "Very strange," another wrote, "that she would take the position as someone who historically has not been an advocate of the affordability plan." What was she up to?

Last we heard from Helstien on the issue, she stood up at the first RIOC Real Estate Development Advisory Committee meeting to consider the tenant approved affordability plan and raged against it. Although approved by 80% of her neighbors, she said the agreement was so bad, she was taking her protest directly to the Attorney General.

Her more constrained and rational husband, Matthew Katz, sat silent behind her, apparently the only other tenant out of hundreds who were not in ecstasy over getting the agreement approved.

After the Westview Task Force finally managed a deal agreeable to tenants, DHCR and the complex's sponsor, tenants anticipated a quick approval by RIOC and stability within an affordable housing environment.

Helstien not only hated the agreement but believed it to be legally flawed.

Also at the meeting was RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal and most public Board Members, at least one of whom openly expected the plan to fly through without a hitch.

Rosenthal may have been delighted to see this heated puncture in tenant support. Instead of deftly shepherding the agreement into contractual reality, she brought the process to a halt, contacting David Hirschhorn, who represents investors as Westview's sponsor, with a demand for ground lease cranked up so high, it was a "non starter."

Westview tenants might want to thank Helstien for her role in a year and a half of delays and what will certainly be higher rents and purchase prices, no matter which way the final deal goes.

But Helstien wasn't done.

After we reported on an impasse in achieving a final agreement between RIOC and Westview's sponsor, hoping to increase awareness of the critical situation in which tenants have been thrown, Helstien for reasons known only to her launched an attack intended to get tenants to back away from pressuring RIOC to reach a deal.

"Sherie Helstien," another tenant wrote, "has written to the Westview list to say that you got everything wrong in your Westview article.…no problem with current negotiations…no pulling out of deal. Apparently this comes from someone in Seawright’s office. Thought you might want to know."

Here's Helstien's post, errors and all, to the Westview list in full:

I have found out that David Stone has gotten the information sent to those of you via his blog subscription & Eileen, all wrong... there is no problem with the current negotiations. Generally, there was a question about the WV ground lease THIRTY YEARS from now... There was no pulling or cancelling of the current deal.

I've asked The WIRE to contact the person I've spoken to in Assemblymember Seawright's office, in order to get the corrected info and to (at this very late time, if at all possible) put something into this week's issue of The WIRE correcting the misinformation and to allay WV tenants' fears, stoked by Stone.

I would strongly suggest that everyone who receives his emails unsubscribe.

I'm unable to replicate it here, but she put "strongly" in red.

That "...there is no problem with the current negotiations" will come as a surprise to David Hirschhorn. As Westview's sponsor, with his own money as well other investors at risk, he thinks there is one, and it's serious.

Among other things, he's negotiated financing for the exit from Mitchell-Lama that expires in less than 60 days.

"Generally," Helstien explains, "there was a question about the WV ground lease THIRTY YEARS from now... There was no pulling or cancelling of the current deal."

It's important to understand that Helstien has not talked with anyone involved in the negotiations and is relying on her interpretation of something she heard from an unnamed contact in State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright's office. Neither Seawright nor her staff are a party to the negotiations, although they've been generous with support.

Since she has little experience in business, Helstien misunderstands contracts. It makes no difference what part of an agreement is in dispute. A deal breaker is a deal breaker. 

And this is not "a question," but a real and trust-bending conflict that's disabled the agreement brokered by DHRC that everyone thought was final, except by Rosenthal in what may be an afterthought.

After Rosenthal and RIOC Board Chair RuthAnne Visnauskas failed to sell the agreement to RIOC's REDAC, where approval was needed for moving it forward to the full Board, Rosenthal called a surprised Hirschhorn and overturned their agreement by demanding higher lease payments.

This unraveled the deal because, as with all contracts, each part depends on other parts of the agreement. Throwing out a key section unsettles everything else. To be fair, Rosenthal now says there was no agreement, but her claim is hard to square with the flow of events.

For one thing, if there was no agreement, what was the term sheet she and Visnauskas brought to the REDAC meeting for approval?

Neither Rosenthal nor Visnauskas, both Cuomo political appointees, are experts in real estate or community development, and what we're seeing may be nothing more than inept mishandling of negotiations by both.

We also might be seeing the downstream playing out of frustrations by a resident Board tired of being gamed to get dubious deals approved without sufficient review. We don't know. Nobody intimately involved is talking.

That's no obstacle for Helstien.

In the end, she might simply be revealing her actual motivation.

"I would strongly suggest that everyone who receives his emails unsubscribe," she writes.

Is she just back at her old tricks, trying to undermine competition with the Main Street WIRE? 

Readers, we are in regular contact with reliable sources and will get back to you as quickly as possible with new developments. You can count on it.

At present, RIOC is considering a counteroffer from the sponsor following the increased rent demand. It may form the basis of a new agreement, but as we've learned in watching this painful process unfold over many months, nothing's certain about what goes on behind closed doors at 591 Main Street, RIOC's headquarters.


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