Ex-Buildings boss schemed to empty fire victim shelter to get a luxury condo, Manhattan DA says

The Gothamist, David Brand, September 15, 2023

As New York City stared down an unprecedented rise in homelessness last year, its buildings commissioner was allegedly scheming with a deep-pocketed developer to clear fire victims from a Rockaway Park emergency shelter in exchange for a discounted luxury condo nearby, Manhattan prosecutors charged Wednesday.

Eric Ulrich, the former commissioner of the Department of Buildings, faces 16 counts of bribery and conspiracy stemming from an array of alleged pay-to-play schemes benefiting associates with business before the city.

In indictments unsealed on Wednesday, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg accused Ulrich, a Republican former councilmember whom Mayor Eric Adams appointed to lead the city’s buildings department, of trading favors like rezoning approvals and expedited permits in Queens for a luxury apartment discount, Mets season tickets and a tailored suit, among other expensive gifts.

Amid the influence-peddling allegations, one indictment accuses Ulrich of attempting to orchestrate the eviction of men and women from 52 single-room occupancy apartments on Beach 116th Street, while simultaneously negotiating with developer Mark Caller for a steep discount on a condo across the street, court records show. Ulrich also allegedly helped Caller win approval for a rezoning on the block. The failed removal effort took place shortly before Adams appointed Ulrich, a political ally and adviser with no management or buildings experience, to lead the Department of Buildings.

The unsealed indictment details pieces of an ongoing conversation between Ulrich and Caller as they attempted to oust the residents in the early spring of 2022.

Both Caller and Ulrich maintain they did nothing wrong.

Ulrich neither responded to a voicemail nor answered the intercom when Gothamist buzzed his unit on Thursday. A neighbor exiting the condo complex said he had not seen Ulrich for around two weeks.

The two Rockaway Park buildings face each other in a stark “Tale of Two Cities” contrast. On one side of the street, the weathered four-story residence features shared bathrooms and microwaves located in the hallways. The luxury condo complex across the way — where Ulrich allegedly leased a condo for half the going rate with an option to count the rent toward a discounted down payment — rises eight stories and features patios, a penthouse and a ground-floor gym.

While residents pay up to $1.5 million for condos in the building known as One Sixteen, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development rents rooms across the street to house people displaced by fires, floods and vacate orders issued by the DOB — the agency Ulrich once led.

Jaime Valle, 77, said he moved into a unit in the building two weeks ago after the DOB ordered him out of an illegally converted basement apartment that he rented in Kensington. Valle said the Red Cross put up in a hotel for a few weeks before HPD transferred him to the Rockaway Park building.

Read More: The Gothamist