"I was so excited when I got an envelope!" says Barbara Leone, an attorney who applied to the wait list of Peter Cooper Village several years ago. "I thought my number had finally come up." It was an urban tradition: New Yorkers on the list for Peter Cooper and its sister development, Stuyvesant Town, waited the better part of a decade for an eternal cheap deal. But 5,000 people like Leone got a different letter recently. "It said there would be no more regulated apartments," she said. New leases start at over $2,000. "I asked for my application money back," she recalls. "If I could pay market rate, why would I want to live on Avenue C?"
The closing of the list is just one of many changes. Opened in 1947 by Metropolitan Life, Stuy Town was home to civil servants -- teachers, firefighters, cops. Now MetLife and its managers, the Insignia Residential Group, are upgrading and renovating, allowing vacant apartments (under a 1997 law) to be deregulated. "It looks like MetLife is moving out of the life-insurance business and into the real-estate business," says Rose Del Castillo, a 28-year-old TV producer who has gone to court to renew her lease. "They want to get as many of us out as possible." Tenants'-association president Al Doyle says he hears of a new challenge to renewal or succession rights -- that is, trying to end a lease that might go to an heir -- every two weeks, eight times more often than before. The group's lawyer, Jack Lester, adds that he's representing five times as many tenants. Proving such a case can cost $20,000, so it may not even be worth winning. (MetLife refused to comment for this story.)
And the new tenants are different from the old. "I've already noticed the changes," says Del Castillo, adding that it's becoming "a building for people who have no connection to the place. My bicycle was stolen, and now there's graffiti in the building."
"They destroyed neighborhoods to build this place, but they promised decent housing," says SUNY professor Barbara Joseph, who's lived in Stuy Town for 35 years. "I'll be forced to leave if the rents keep increasing. My pension isn't." Others are even less accepting. "There's no way I'm handing my apartment over to some rich man's kid," says nine-year resident David Cohen. "There's a new deregulated tenant moving in on my floor, and if she's some fat cat I may have to trip her on her way off the elevator."