From Slumlords to Millionaires: The Podolsky Brothers’ Reign of Poverty

poverty slumlord podolsky brothers

The article exposes the nefarious tactics of the Podolsky brothers, notorious slumlords who have exploited poverty in NYC for decades, from converting vintage flophouses into squalid shelters to profiting millions from housing homeless people. Despite city officials’ attempts to curb their influence, the Podolskys continue to thrive, emblematic of the systemic poverty and homelessness perpetuated by unchecked greed.


How the Podolsky Brothers Have Profited from and Contributed to New York City’s Homelessness Crisis for Decades

Without warning, they rounded us up in a repurposed school bus. It was move-out day. I’d been staying at a shelter processing center in Queens for a little less than six months.

“Where are you going?” I handed the bus driver a piece of paper with our destination.

“Damn. Parkview. I’m sorry, y’all.” Why, I wondered. My stomach dropped. I knew it had to be pretty bad if even the bus driver thought it was bad. When the others on the bus overheard, they shook their heads and frowned. I was scared.

“Is it bad?” I asked.

“Well, it’s not good…but…but you’ll be alright.”

I wasn’t feeling very confident, and no one around me sounded confident either.

I thought the worst of it was over. If only I’d known it was about to get that much worse. 

Immediately, I pulled out my phone and opened Google. I searched “Parkview Shelter” and found a news article about a recent stabbing. The man beside me said, “Don’t look – it’ll just make it worse.” I could tell everyone else on that bus felt bad for those being dropped off there. That whole ride, I just tried not to cry. 

The following year was probably the worst year of my life—several years of therapy bad. I am on long-term psychiatric medication now bad. So bad, I still can’t talk about it without an elevated heart rate. I can count more traumatic events that occurred in that shelter than I have fingers. You get the idea.

The Podolsky Brothers: Architects of Misery

Fast-forward another year, and I was on another school bus on my way to my first apartment. I made it—just barely, but I made it. It wasn’t until I was out of there that I decided to do more research. That is when I discovered I’d been staying at one of the several famous Podolsky properties.

The Podolsky brothers were notorious for their slums – cheap and poorly managed housing for people experiencing poverty. These were vintage flophouses, cheap, dirty single-room occupancy hostels that were once everywhere in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

While many landlords attempted to push low-income, rent-controlled tenants from their properties, none did so with the same kind of ruthlessness as the Podolsky men.

These hostels had rooms rented for as low as $50/night and were popular with anyone needing a cheap bed for the night. They were also frequented by drunks, vagrants, and drugs. It often smelled of urine and vomit and was infested with bed bugs.

In the late 80’s, the Podolsky brothers pleaded guilty to dozens of felonies for hiring and installing prostitution and drug deals within 3 of their buildings in an attempt to push out low-income, rent-controlled tenants.

However, there was a strategy to this chaos. Slumlords purposely maintain these conditions with hopes it will eventually be too intolerable of a living situation, and low-income, rent-controlled tenants will finally leave.

The Business of Homelessness: Profiting off Poverty

It wasn’t long before they found an even more profitable angle: homeless people. In 2011, a non-profit called Housing Solutions USA was incorporated, and quickly, their slums were converted into shelters.

In the article, “Why Run a Slum If You Can Make More Money Housing The Homeless”, we learned that the city pays $3,600 a month for each cubicle-size room to the Podolskys. Now, the low-income, rent-controlled tenants find themselves living in a shelter, and the Podolskys have managed to steadily create homelessness while profiting off of homeless people.

Where are the Podolskys now? They’re still at it, unfortunately.

In recent years, the Podolsky brothers are still collecting millions to house homeless people. In the article, “Famous slumlords collected almost $200 million to house homeless”, I saw a photo of Park View. There it was, exactly how I left it. According to the New York Post:

“The notorious Podolsky brothers are still collecting millions to house the homeless after selling 21 buildings to the city for $173.5 million. Even after unloading the 21 properties at a premium price, they still own seven others in a second program for the homeless that rakes in millions.”

In the above article, city officials stated they planned to pull the plug on the entire operation by the end of 2020. But then COVID happened.

During the city’s emergency relocation from crowded shelters to individual hotel rooms, the Podolskys sheltered homeless New Yorkers in The Bentley, one of their many hotels on the Upper East Side. The Bently was one of 60 hotels the Department of Homeless Services hired in a $78 million contract to provide private rooms for homeless people during the pandemic.

Confronting Systemic Injustice

As the homeless epidemic continues to drown poor and low-income New Yorkers, the Podolsky brothers seem to always be right around the corner, ready to lease one of their poorly maintained buildings to the city. With homeless families on the rise and over 190,000 migrants passing through the city’s shelter system since the spring of 2022, the city once again turns to the Podolskys.

The Podolskys are a prime example of how, systematically, we’ve created the rampant poverty and homelessness we see today.

Not only have we created it, but we’ve also maintained it. We have maintained it and given it power – too much power. We’ve put and kept the Podolskys on pedestals, where they’ve been for the last 40 years.

From the very beginning, the Podolskys have made a fortune off poverty. That’s nearly two generations. From flophouses to slums, to displacing low-income New Yorkers at any means necessary, to eventually converting their slums to homeless shelters, they have made hundreds of millions of dollars off poverty. They created the homelessness they later profited from and continued to profit from it from all angles.

The Podolsky’s millions are our tax dollars. When the City of New York shares a new budget, millions of that is paid to an empire that has deliberately harmed poor and homeless people – purposely taken advantage of, profited from, and allowed to live in squalor for decades.

That is where all of our money has gone – to fund class warfare on our most vulnerable neighbors.

When will we say, no, that’s enough? When will we say, no, I will no longer accept this? We owe it to ourselves and all our neighbors, family, and friends to speak up against the Podolskys and those like them.


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Jocelyn Figueroa

     

Jocelyn Figueroa studied Creative Non-Fiction at The New School and is a blogger and freelance writer based out of New York City. Formerly homeless, she launched her own blog discussing shelter life in New York City. Today, Jocelyn is on a mission to build connections through storytelling and creative writing. Check out her book about homelessness at https://ko-fi.com/scartissueproject

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