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Inside the Housing Crisis and the Demise of the Greatest Real Estate Deal Ever Made

by Charles Bagli

Pub Date: April 4th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-525-95265-7
Publisher: Dutton

A detailed recounting of a gigantic affordable-housing failure in New York City amid the international economic collapse beginning in 2008.

New York Times reporter Bagli documents what happened to Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, from its post–World War II birth to its spectacularly expensive sale to a new owner in 2006 to its descent into bankruptcy four years later. The complex, meant to provide affordable rental apartments to thousands of residents, had been built and managed primarily by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Although the MetLife reign had been filled with controversy, a large percentage of tenants continued to remain fiercely loyal to the owner. When MetLife decided to sell, the deal became the priciest real estate transaction in New York City history. The effective cost to the winning bidder, Tishman Speyer Properties, topped $6 billion. The institutional investors roped in to contribute to the purchase price meant Tishman Speyer made the purchase using other people's money. The author focuses on Rob Speyer, the second-generation scion of the real estate firm. The account of the failure is bracing from a variety of perspectives, including those of the tenants, the politicians, the investors and various levels of government. Bagli is less successful when he tries to place the disastrous investment within the context of the worldwide financial crisis. His attempt to describe the crisis in a relatively small number of pages fails to resonate in the same way that full-length books about the financial mess have resonated.

Despite some flaws, Bagli's sourcing is impressive, and readers will welcome his ability to make arcane investment dealings comprehensible.