Defawlty towers

If you want stop owning property, the best thing to do is to default on your mortgage. Particularly if it’s historic property that’s going to cost too much to keep up.

At least, that’s what Saperstein and Associates say. The Bingham Farms-based owners of the Alden Park Towers apartment buildings on Detroit’s waterfront, northeast of Belle Isle, have defaulted on their mortgage. Lee Saperstein is the managing partner.

Saperstein and Associates bought the place for $6.5 million in 1971, but only started heading toward default in December of last year, according to U.S. Housing and Urban Development spokeswoman Patricia Campbell. Its mortgage was HUD-insured, which means the department can auction off the property to cover the debt if the borrower comes up short.

Saperstein attorney Mort Noveck says the complex has not been paid off completely; it was bought with a 40-year mortgage. So far, some $3 million is still owed. Altogether, he says, the buildings will cost more than $20 million to fix up.

Noveck says Saperstein has been trying to figure how to fix the buildings since 2001. Their historical significance, he says, adds 30 percent to the total cost of the apartments.

Noveck says the 88-year-old buildings are starting to show their age. “Things wear out, and things have to be replaced,” he says.

Saperstein, the attorney says, is only involved with first-class properties, so when it became financially prohibitive, “they didn’t want to be involved anymore.”

So they decided to stop paying the mortgage? Noveck says the buildings’ owners spent four years trying to sell the buildings, while trying to muster up funds to make needed repairs, before deciding it was a lost cause.

First-class? Sounds more like “second rate.” Or maybe “bottom of the barrel.”

“The building is not economically viable at this point,” Noveck says.

That’s a fine explanation. News Hits makes a note of it, in case we decide to divest ourselves of pesky assets like houses and cars.

Residents of the complex aren’t surprised to learn Saperstein doesn’t consider it first-class.

One resident, who didn’t want to be named, says conditions there have been deteriorating for years.

Bricks dislodged from one of the towers during a windstorm more than a year ago haven’t been replaced, the resident says. But “minor things, leaks from like a radiator upstairs, they fix,” she adds. “They’ve milked the building for whatever it was worth without making a major investment.”

Campbell says she doesn’t know the particulars of the Alden Park Towers case. But Jerry Brown, a spokesman for HUD’s national office in Washington, D.C., says the agency will first work with the property owner to find a way to recover the mortgage. If not, he says “we take over the property — that’s it.”

We’d certainly hope so. Since HUD is a government agency, it’s taxpayer money that’s being used to insure the loan.

Campbell says backing mortgage loans to encourage development is one of HUD’s functions. She says there’s no way to know how much the department will be able to recoup at auction.

Saperstein says he doesn’t know the buildings’ true worth, but says the city of Detroit’s Web site lists the 2002 true cash value of the property at $3.2 million, and is probably right. That’s the most recent figure available.

There’s no minimum bid for the auction, Campbell says. A certain amount of earnest money will be required, but she couldn’t say what that figure would be. News Hits isn’t sure what the going rate for large, historic, riverfront apartment buildings is, but we’ll be sure to keep an eye out for the final sale price, i.e., how much of a hit taxpayers are taking.

Bid packets and information about the property will be posted on HUD’s Web site ( July 6, and the auction is scheduled for Aug. 18.

Alden Park Towers, built around 1920, has 388 units in four eight-story buildings. Rents range from $400 a month to $1,500, Noveck says, for units ranging from efficiencies to three-bedrooms.

The complex has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985. It’s said to be full of elegant architectural details like Pewabic tiles in the basement laundry room.

Noveck didn’t know how much of the buildings are occupied, but says he believes the vacancy rate is “substantial.” He adds that the sale of the buildings will be subject to a use agreement, requiring the new owners to maintain the existing use — and tenants — at Alden Park.

Campbell couldn’t confirm any terms of the upcoming auction, but HUD bid packets may include requirements of some kind.

Any low-income residents may qualify for a HUD-enforced two-year rent freeze, Campbell says, and HUD will contact them, if any exist.

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