Jewish Slumlords

"Antagonism to the 'Jewish landlord,'" wrote African-American scholar Kenneth Clark, "is so common as to become almost an integral part of the folk culture of the Northern urban Negro." [GLAZER, NEGRO, p.] Abraham Cahan, editor of the Jewish Forward, noted that at the turn of the century the Harlem area of New York City "usually swarmed with Yiddish-speaking real estate speculators." [SCHACHTMAN, p. 78] In 1979, Jesse Jackson came under heated attacked by Jewish groups for drawing public attention to "Jewish slumlords." STANFIELD, p. 184]

In Boston, for instance, "in 1965 Boston's CORE chapter published and distributed a list of largely Jewish property owners cited for state and city code violations." Seeing the list, the head of the local Anti-Defamation League, Sol Kolack, warned his national office that slum housing "loomed as a major cause of tension between the Boston Jewish and Negro community." [LEVINE/HARMON, p. 185] "The image of the Jewish slumlord was so strong," note Hillel Levine and Lawrence Harmon, "in fact, that it could not be even erased by the Jewish 'checkbook warriors' who contributed almost 75 percent of the operating expenses of CORE, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The issue of the Jewish slumlord was always close to the surface." [LEVINE/HARMON, p. 185]

"The biggest problem in Boston for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee civil rights group,"noted Jonathan Kaufman, "was that several Jews were the large landlords in the black ghetto of Roxbury and had a reputation for rent gouging and overcharging." [KAUFMAN, J., 1988, p. 79]

Such a Jewish "notorious slumlord" in the Boston area was Maurice Gordon. Among other prominent Jewish slumlords in Boston were Israel, Joseph, and Raphael Mindick. They "were among the largest property owners in the South End, where they managed 44 multifamily buildings with eight hundred tenants, mostly black and Hispanic." The Mindick family even named ten "shell companies" in shady business arrangements after names found in Psalms 19 of the Torah. [HILLEL/HARMON, p. 190] Black and Hispanic protesters planned to demonstrate at Israel Mindick's synagogue, Beth El, where he "held a leadership role," [LEVINE/HARMON, p. 184] until the local rabbi promised to demonstrate with the protesters, providing the rally was held elsewhere. The protesters, declared Mindick, "are a bunch of anti-Semites." [LEVINE/HARMON, p. 189]

And what of some of these Jewish real estate wheelers and dealers, still a great proportion of inner-city slumlords to this day? Among the most sensationally newsworthy in recent history include:

Alexander Spitzer, of Los Angeles. In 1989 the Los Angeles Times noted him to be the "financier behind some of Los Angeles' worst slums" and a "central figure in the city's landmark lawsuit this year against slumlords and their lenders ... The investors have included prominent Jewish professors, rabbis, and [Jewish] Soviet émigrés. Spitzer, a Holocaust survivor, has been a prominent member of the city's Jewish community for many years." [MCMILLAN, p. B1]

Samuel Rappoport, of Philadelphia. In 1993 a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial urged that the "Philadelphia government step up efforts to rid [the] city of slumlords like Samuel A. Rappoport." [INF BANK, PHL INQ, p. A22] In 1994 the New York Times noted that "Mr. Rappoport owned substantial amount of commercial real estate in downtown Philadelphia, becoming a multimillionaire by acquiring decaying center city properties when prices were low and reselling them at higher prices ... When the city wanted to build the Pennsylvania Convention Center, it had to buy property held by Mr. Rappoport ... The same was true when the city made plans for a new courthouse and detention center ... As a result of his generosity to Israel, Mr. Rappoport was honored by the Jewish National Fund for paying to reclaim five housing sites in the Negev desert for Jewish immigrants." [NEW YORK TIMES, 9-10-94, p. 26]

Sam Israel, of Seattle. "When Sam Israel died [in 1994]," noted the Seattle Times, "he owned more property in downtown Seattle -- and had done less with it -- than any other private landowner in the city ... Some of Israel's buildings housed artists and low-income tenants. They could afford cheap rents, although many complained about the crummy conditions and called him a slum lord." [KEENE, p. A1] Israel owned 40 prime parcels of downtown real estate as well as the entire west side of Soap Lake and 9,700 acres in Grant County. Israel's will, noted the Chicago Tribune, "left instructions to keep his empire together after his death ... [Worth $100-200 million], Israel's will leaves all to the Samis Foundation, which he established in 1987. The foundation supports Jewish education and various projects to benefit the nation of Israel." [NOGAKI, p. 9G] "Israel the man," noted the Seattle Times, "loved Israel the state." [KEENE,p. A1]

Jack, Harold and Dennis Topletz, of Dallas. In 1999, the Dallas Observer noted these men to be "among the most notorious slumlords" in the city. Their attorney said that over the past twenty years he had "been involved in contesting some 9,000 city code citations against their many slum properties." "Scores of ... the Topletzes' houses ... are on the most blighted streets of South Dallas, West Dallas, and Oak Cliff." "There is no doubt that the family has made a lot of money," noted the Observer, "They have donated millions to their temple, Congregation Shearith Israel, where an auditorium bears their name."[KOROSEC, T., 6-3-99]

Lou Wolf, of Chicago. In 1995, the Chicago Sun-Times cited Wolf as a "notorious slumlord and convicted arsonist."[SMITH, W., p. 45] Wolf, said the same paper the next year, "has been one of the city's most notorious real estate owners for three decades. He was dubbed 'Chicago's Worst Landlord' by Chicago Magazine in 1989." [NEUBAUER, p. 4] In 1992, Wolf's "associates" -- Melvin Glick and Gregory Berkowitz -- were defenders in a civil racketeering lawsuit against them filed by the city. [IHERJIRIKA, p. 4]

Vicki Reynolds and Murray Pepper. Reynolds, the mayor of opulent Beverly Hills in metropolitan Los Angeles, may or may not be Jewish. Her husband, Pepper, is. In 2000, the couple was publicly embarrassed when local news reports noted that they were part-owners of an interesting property in Arizona: "Phoenix's most notorious slum property," which had just been raided by police. Violations of housing laws, noted a police investigator, "could run into the hundreds." The couple's lawyer said his clients owned "less than 51 percent" of the 156-unit apartment complex. And it was Pepper "who gave Reynolds a 2.89% interest in Canyon Square Apartments as a gift." Pepper had earlier made the news in 1997 when he and another Jewish businessman set up the first Cotsen-Pepper Master Teacher Fellowship Award: $30,000 to a teacher to "focus public attention on the contributions of teachers in the Los Angeles-area Bureau of Jewish Education-affiliated religious schools." [VALERI, T., 7-27-97; POOL, B., 10-11-00, p. B1]

Charles Swibel, of Chicago. In 1990, upon his death, the Chicago Tribune noted that Swibel "was a favorite target of Chicago newspaper editorials because of his ownership of West Side slum and Madison Street Skid Row properties." [CHIC. TRIB., p. 1-20-90, p. C5] "This will be a loss to the Jewish community," noted a Chicago politician, "because he was a shining example of his heritage." [CHIC TRIB, 1-20-90, p. C5]

Mordechai Ben-Horin, of Los Angeles. In 1989 Ben-Horin and Dan Tepper were "the latest in a long, tangled strand of investors to own the Cameo, one of the city's worst slums ... Yet a third man, Rami Greenwald, is listed by the secretary of state's office as [their slum lord] firm's president." [WOOD, p. 1] The Los Angeles Times noted also that the "late Los Angeles philanthropist, Ben Weingart, ... made his fortune in Skid Row real estate." [WOOD, p. 1]

Barry Mankowitz, of Washington DC. Mankowitz, who was featured in a 1989 journal for "turning good," avowed that "his role was to 'bleed the property' in low-income housing owned by his employers in the inner city slums of Washington DC and Baltimore. 'We didn't keep the houses fixed up,' he says. 'Being on the profit side, it wasn't our philosophy to do it.' The idea was to 'sell and get out.'" [SCHRIENER, p. 32]

Marcus Lehmann and Morris Wolfson, of New York City. "Their tenants live in a dozen Manhattan tenements, mostly in Harlem," noted New York's Daily News in 1995, "that have been hit with some 5,000 housing violations in recent years." [MICHELINI, p. 2]

Arthur Schreiber, of Cincinnati. In 1996 the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Schreiber "is a slumlord who uses federal funds to make money while providing substandard housing for the poor." The slumlord was sued by the local Legal Aid Society twice. Sue Livensparger, an attorney for the rights organization, noted that Schreiber was "one of the most difficult landlords for us to deal with." In court proceedings, Schreiber declared his worth to be close to $3 million, including Israel bonds. [McWHIRTER, p. B1]

Mark Glass, of Brooklyn. Glass was tried in 1997 for plotting the murder of two of his tenants. Assistant District Attorney Francine James noted that Glass was "much more than a slumlord, but a very violent and unconscionable man, an individual who for years has systematically intimidated, threatened, and engaged in acts of arson, illegal eviction of tenants, and now the worst of all crimes -- the conspiracy to kill." [HURTADO, p. A37] Short of murder, "prosecutors say Glass was trying to get rid of tenants who complained about squalid conditions," noted the upstate Buffalo News, "then take advantage of recent changes in rent control laws to charge a higher rent." [DUBVIK, p. 6A]

Jeffrey Friedman, of Cleveland. Chairman and CEO of Associated Estates Realty Corporation, he and other members of the Milstein family own about 15 percent of the firm. AER owns or manages 35,000 apartments in 15 states with $143 million in revenue in 1998 alone. Many are federally subsidized low- income units. In 1999 Associated Estates repeatedly made headlines in Cleveland for three of its run-down, "lead- contaminated and pest-ridden" apartment complexes which housed 1,400 families. "End," headlined a Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial, "subsidized squalor." "While there are conditions of which we are not proud," announced AER vice-president and general counsel Martin Fishman, "they are not conditions which threaten the health of the tenants. We took our eye off the properties for a short time and for that suffered dramatic consequences." [AP, Problems] At least 67 children were contaminated by lead. Associated Estates also "falsely claimed that filthy apartments were ready to rent," [PLAIN DEALER, End, p. 10B] The company even charged the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (from which it had received $94 million over the years) $73,000 for everything from "pizza and cellular phone bills" to fees for a public relations firm, William Silverman & Co., and a consultant, George Engel, to "defend the property's reputation and image and to present the property in the best light to the public and the media." [O'MALLEY, p. 1A]

Abraham and Michael Slochowsky, of Brooklyn. The Village Voice noted that "in the mid 1980s ... Abraham Slochowsky ... made headlines for his role in the largest arson ring in the country -- a scheme that burned 37 buildings in three boroughs, injured 44 firefighters, and netted the enterprise more than half a million dollars in insurance money." In 1998, 570 housing violations still remained on their slum holdings. "In at least seven buildings across Brooklyn, tenants live for days without heat, months with rotten plumbing, and years without locks on their front doors." [LOBBIA, J., p. 34]

Alan Ross, of Berkeley, California. In 1999 the San Francisco Examiner noted that "Alan Ross, owner of the Aldrich Hotel Tenderloin district, was shocked to hear his building was on the list [of San Francisco's Ten Worst Residential Hotels]. Ross, a Berkeley professor, said he leased the hotel to an operator." [SULLIVAN, K., 1999, p. A1]

Baruch Singer, of New York. Singer owns over 50 buildings in poor neighborhoods in Manhattan, north of 96th Street. Five Harlem buildings alone have garnered nearly 2,000 housing code violations. In 1995, one of his slum buildings collapsed, killing three people. The technical landlord of the building, Marcus Lehman, has never even seen the building. He has also been known to use pit bulls "to expedite at least one illegal eviction." In 1999 City councilman Bill Perkins called Singer "the worst slumlord I have ever seen in Harlem." Singer's former partner, Leslie Westreich, is a disbarred lawyer. An official from HUD noted that the loss of his license to practice law was "definitely related to his conduct in real estate." Singer has friends in high places. New York State Assemblyman Sheldon Silver sponsored a bill "intended to benefit Singer only" in his attempts to acquire a building. Under heavy media fire for his help of the slumlord, Assemblyman Silver explained that "Baruch's father [Yitzhak Singer] is the rabbi of my synagogue. When your rabbi's son asks for assistance, you try to help." [NEWFIELD, J., 11-9- 99, p. 4; NEWFIELD/O'MAHONY, p. 6]

Gerald Schuster, of Boston/New York. In 1999 the Village Voice publicly wondered why Hillary Clinton attended a $500,000 fundraiser hosted by Schuster's wife, Elaine. "Real estate tycoon" Schuster inherited his Wingate Construction Company from his father-in-law, Bert Siegel. As early as 1977 a Boston newspaper has called Schuster one of that city's worst slumlords with 1,200 housing code violations in a two-year span. Schuster's company took over the management of the Beekman Housing Project in the South Bronx in 1996, a complex that has been since subject to “at Least” 1,600 housing violations. [VEST, J., 12-21-99, p. 31]

Milton Avol, of Los Angeles. Avol (nicknamed "the Rat Lord"), a Beverly Hills neurosurgeon, was sentenced in 1988 to serve 30 days "in one of his own run-down, vermin-infested buildings." [ASSOCIATED PRESS, p. C6] Avol was once called "the most recalcitrant slumlord in Los Angeles" by a city prosecutor. [AP, 8-31-88]

Aaron Kempe, also of Beverly Hills. In 1989 a judge ordered Kempe to spent 45 days in his own run-down hotel. Kempe was permitted, however, to leave the hotel an hour a day to "attend religious services at a Beverly Hills synagogue." [HARRIS, M., 1-27-89]

Morris Grass, of Brooklyn. In 1988 Grass -- like Avol and Kempe across the country -- was sentenced to be "under house arrest for 15 days in one of his own dilapidated buildings." [JETTER, p. 19]

The Metz family and Harvey Vengroff, of Long Island. These people were noted in a 1999 Long Island newspaper article as prominent slumlords in their region. "Since 1988," announced the Long Island Voice, "the village of Hempstead, the Nassau County district attorney's office and the state attorney general have sued and investigated the Metz family numerous times for an extremely varied report card of violations, including rent-gouges and harassing tenants, renting low-income state- assisted apartments to ineligible tenants, defrauding co-op buyers in Rockville Center, mishandling security deposits and accepting federal rehab funds without working on the properties." Patriarch James Metz's daughter, Katie, is a 1998 graduate Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism and a practicing journalist. Harvey Vengroff, aside from slum lording holdings, is the owner of the second-largest collection agency in America. He owns two Rolls Royces and five boats. [FRIEDMAN/HARKAVY, 5-19-99, p. 10]

Sam Menlo, of Los Angeles. "Case files bulge with the bureaucratic legacy of Sam Menlo's life as a landlord: code violations, thousands of them, at rental units beset with everything from vermin and mold to wretched plumbing. With a real-estate empire spanning Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange Counties, Menlo has a 30-year track record of skirmishes with city and state agencies, capped last fall with a sentence to live for a time in his own filthy Anaheim complex ... Some units were so moldy that mushrooms sprouted from the ceiling ... Menlo was no small-time landlord without the means to fix the place up. He was an extremely wealthy man -- and one continually in trouble with cities throughout the region ... Menlo, as owner and operator of the [Nursing homes], battled Los Angeles County and the state Department of Health services for eight years during the 1970s over more than 2,000 health code violations and 78 counts of alleged criminal neglect at his nursing homes. Investigators found patients lying in beds full of excrement and urine and one patient with bedsores infested by maggots ... ..... At synagogues and charities throughout the region, Menlo has an entirely different reputation: that of a Holocaust survivor of exceptional decency and philanthropy. In letters to the court in the Anaheim case asking for leniency, at least 10 rabbis or directors of of Southern California Jewish schools, synagogues or associations enumerated Menlo's generosity. 'He's a fine man. He's just a marvelous person," said Rabbi Yonason Denebeim of the Chabad of Palm Springs, where Menlo has donated thousands of dollars over the last 15 years. "I wish there were more folks like him." [Menlo is worth $154 million] [YOSHINO, Y., 12-30-01]

Stuart Kaplow, of Columbus, Ohio. "[Judge] Pfeiffer's warning came after E. 9th residents reported that Kaplow was not complying with a a May 29 order by the judge after the landlord pleaded guilty to four housing-code violations. Pfeiffer told Kaplow that he must live in one of his apartments until he fixes code violations in more than 20 of the 700 housing units he owns thoroughout Columbus. To comply with Pfeiffer's order, Kaplow was to move by midnight Monday from his $1.3 million home." [RUTH, R., 6-14-01]

Another version of the exploitation of American urban areas, in this case in the Hispanic community (and the "funnel profits to Israel theme"), is the case of Irving Moskowitz, controversial Miami-based gambling baron in the small metropolitan Los Angeles city of Hawaiian Gardens. Moskowitz has repeatedly made international news for his support of right-wing Jewish groups and their projects in Israel. In 1999, the Hawaiian Garden's city attorney, Julia Sylva, quit her position in outrage at Moskowitz's callous exploitation of the local community. She charged that over $58 million raised in Moskowitz's Hawaiian Gardens operations go to Israel each year "and the city gets zero."[ASSOCIATED PRESS, 3-24-99]
Moskowitz actually pays the city $200,000 a month. He owns a third of the town's commercial property. He is so powerful in this Hispanic community (he lives in Florida and Israel), that when he once stopped his monthly payments the city had to lay off all 21 members of its police force. [TUGEND, T., 7-16-2000]

Another such Jewish entrepreneur, in another ethnic community, was Paul Ziffren. "When Ziffren first came to L.A. during World War II," notes Dennis McDougal, "he demonstrated just how well [Jewish politician Jacob] Arvey had taught him the lessons of political exploitation, by organizing a consortium of investors who bought property vacated by Japanese-Americans during their wartime internment. Ziffren worked closely with attorney David Bazelon, yet another Arvey protégé, who had been appointed by [President] Truman to oversee 'alien' land sales. Bazelon did such a good job that President Truman rewarded him with a federal judgeship. Ziffren did such a good job that dozens of shady Chicago investors, including partner Alex Louis Greenberg, earned tidy profits from his real estate consortium." [MCDOUGAL, p. 141]

"We have to understand who our true enemies are," declared Sherry Brown, the African-American president of the Frederic Douglas Community Improvement Council in southeast Washington DC, in 1979, "Jews have historically profited as slumlords and merchants from the suffering of black people."[STANFIELD, p. 184] As Leona Fulani, head of the "black-led, women-led, multicultural, pro-gay" New Alliance Party once observed: "I do not believe it is insignificant that a slumlord is Jewish." [COHEN/BUDMAN, 2-21-92, p. 13]

Radical left-wing SDS activist Steven Simone Cohen explained in 1972 his personal abandonment of Zionist and Judeocentric activism: "After a while I began looking around and seeing that the ghetto merchants and landlords were all Jewish and were exploiting the blacks like mad. And all those self-righteous Jewish liberals openly spout the most incredible racism. That finally clinched it for me." [ADELSON, A., p. 126] "In America,"once noted Malcolm X, "the Jews sap the life-blood of the so-called Negroes to maintain the state of Israel, its armies, and its continued aggression against our brothers in the East. This every Black Man resents." [KAUFMAN, J., 1988, p. 135]


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