A Greenville landlord is calling it quits, fed up by crime, official indifference, and pandemic policies that forced her to evict tenants who had fallen years behind on rent.
Rhea Stathatos, a managing partner at York Funding, which owns rental properties in New York and New Jersey, isn’t your stereotypical landlord.
In June 2021, as crime surged on a Greenville block where she owns three buildings, Stathatos sent an email to anyone who would listen, including Mayor Fulop, pleading for help.
“My tenants at 137 Wilkinson Avenue, Jersey City, NJ are scared to come out, we have scatters [sic] on the 3rd floor dealing drugs, shooting, robbing, the neighborhood. The gangs are in the middle of the block controlling it. The police are on opposite ends but we need help. They are threatening people in the neighborhood and everyone is scared to speak. Please could someone help us we can’t take the crime anymore people are calling me and crying.”
She followed up with calls. “I called the mayor multiple times, I called the D.A.’s office. No one is doing anything” she said in recent conversation.
Now her three buildings on Wilkinson Avenue are up for sale. She says her company is “done” with Jersey City.
A week before Stathatos’s 2021 email, the Jersey City Times had reported that a band of 30 to 40 young men had been terrorizing residents. Gunfights and killings had residents — many, senior citizens — hiding inside their houses, ducking for cover. The police said they were limited in what they could do because of orders from above to stay at their “fixed posts” on Martin Luther King Drive and Ocean Avenue, at either end of the long block.
Stathatos says her buildings have been in the red since 2020. Covid-19 rent moratoriums were, in her view, misguided if well intentioned. “If a middle-class person who lives week to week on their paycheck…if they’re behind three months, there’s no way they’re going to catch up.”
“I had people who didn’t pay rent for two years. Meanwhile I still had to pay taxes.” There were also the repairs. “I got sick of people breaking in the front door.” Each time an apartment became vacant, squatters would break in and ultimately destroy the apartment, she said.
But Stathatos saved her harshest criticism for Mayor Fulop. “He didn’t take care of this situation years ago when he should have…I’ve called his office enough times.”
“I had a tenant who they shot through the building…and the mayor doesn’t think that’s important enough to address it.”
“I finally said, ‘You know if the mayor does not care to do anything, I can’t’…maybe he should have invested in the local police getting them what they needed to clean out the street and investing in programs to get these kids off the street.”
“I have no issue with the police. They came. They were frustrated. One police officer said, ‘We tried with the mayor to get more help. There’s nothing we could do.'”
And, indeed, crime continues to be a problem on the street. In the early morning hours of June 5, 15-year-old Tyshawn Smith was shot in front of 124 Wilkinson Ave., continuing a string of killings on the block. A 14-year-old young man has been charged in the case. In October 2022, police shut down the street to search a house on Wilkinson Avenue after a shootout on the block.
On the morning that Tyshawn Smith was gunned down, locals were divided on whether the block’s crime problem had improved. An older woman named Haddie said she was roused out of her sleep by the gunshots that took Tyshawn Smith’s life. “We still got problems. They slowed down but they [the kids] still come around…making noise…Right now the kids are still in school. We don’t know what will happen when they get out.”
Another woman, who declined to give her name, said the street had “calmed down a lot.” But a woman who pulled up with a car filled with groceries, disagreed. “I don’t go out. It was nice for a while…it was quiet but then I don’t know..it’s gunshots.”
If the crime problem is slightly improved, Stathatos doesn’t give the city credit. “That’s just because people are coming in and buying buildings and renovating them.” To Stathatos, City Hall’s indifference is intentional, a strategy of fighting crime through displacement and gentrification.
“All the money spent on Journal Square, downtown… Greenville… we’re just leaving it alone and we’re letting the investors take care of it. How are they taking care of it? They’re taking care of it by getting all the locals out, pricing the rents high, and that’s how they get rid of the hoodlums.”
“Let’s make Journal Square beautiful, shiny, and let’s get rid of the locals from Greenville and eventually the situation will get gentrified and fix itself.”
Indeed, down the block from where Tyshawn Smith was gunned down sit two new residential condo buildings. According to real estate broker Jamie Moreng, one of them, a two family house at 92 Wilkinson Ave., recently sold for $1,150,000. Next door at 94 Wilkinson Ave., a condominium sold for $684,000, a record, he said, for Greenville.
For long-time residents, Stathatos doesn’t see a future. “The good families who stayed behind are going to be priced out very soon.”