Brad Malsin of Beam Development is a SLUM LORD
Brad Malsin came from New York to Portland to make a fortune off the backs of poor people, and City Hall has been helping him to do it. It's time to end the corruption, exploitation and greed.
You might not have heard of Beam Development, but this firm has sucked millions of dollars from public coffers and is changing the face of your city.The Burnside Bridge head contract was awarded to Beam, for instance, in a mysterious turn-around by the city. (Initially,the contract was denied him, but after some behind-the-scenes wining and dining and rumored bribery, Malsin is now at the head of the project after all.For some background on Malsin's penchant for corruption,see for example: http://bojack.org/2011/08/cottage_geez.html.)
In fact, Malsin's cozy inroads into Portland power circles has handed his organization a lot of perks, mostly in the form of stellar deals on lucrative properties and a blind eye turned on health, safety, and permit violations.
Malsin makes much of an alleged commitment to Portland buzz words like "affordability" and "sustainability" and "accessibility." But a glance through his actual footprints across the city quickly confirms that he's simply made a mockery of those terms. Abusive toward staff and tenants alike, Malsin has made a career out of leveraging political contacts (often through corruption), cutting corners, and going to war with his own tenants. He preys predominantly on low income people, as he's found a niche in exploiting Portland's lip service toward providing "affordable" housing.
Let's look at one stunning example. Some years back, Malsin entered into a cozy relationship with Portland city hall under the auspices of then-mayor Sam Adams. Adams,to his credit, was interested in finding ways to alleviate the city's growing housing crisis, where low income people were (and are) being driven to the streets by exorbitant housing costs. Perennially the optimist, Adams was also interested in being recognized as someone who supports the arts. At the same time, a speculative trend was sweeping the nation where wealthy developers discovered that they could transform a blighted and unpopular tract of land into a lucrative and sought-after neighborhood just by moving artists in for awhile. It was an uneasy symbiosis in which starving artists were given cheap housing in (often otherwise condemned) buildings no one else wanted. The artists, whose labor is mostly unpaid yet vital to the landscape, would jump at the low rent, and would use their uncompensated creative drive to transform the area into something funky, cool, and sought-after.
It would seem like a win -win, but in general the relationship between developers and artists has been one of tension and exploitation with artists being subjected to unsafe and unhealthy living conditions just long enough to exploit their neighborhood-transforming talents, then rents would get jacked up and the artists would find themselves homeless again - gentrified out by their own talent.
Malsin quickly became king of the slum lords through the use of this tactic. But he is a good salesman and pitches himself well. So he convinced the city to hand him a parcel of property along blighted 82nd Avenue with a compound of buildings that were once a nursing home.
Malsin and Adams promised the city a "community of creatives," a tract of land that was to transform the area and the tax base by courting artists. This was to become Milepost 5. It promised live-work space to low income artists, who would be given rooms to live and work, gallery spaces, and even a community garden.
Sam Adams even cut the ribbon to open the buildings for tenants. And the tenants came. Artists initially came from all over the county to live there. A few invested in condos at "The Lofts," one of two buildings on the property. Most moved into the other building, "The Studios," with rents initially as low as $250 per month for a tiny room without kitchen or bathroom.
It sounded very utopian. And, as is the way with Utopias, it quickly went wrong.
Malsin's promises were all just window dressing. Like the building itself, his shiny words and grandfatherly demeanor were just a facade. He callously used the artists who came to live there as a career stepping-stone without ever even bothering to keep any of the promises he'd made to them. Malsin knew that the buildings were infested with unsafe levels of mold, that the pipes were all soldered with hazardous lead, that a century of lead-based paint was chipping all over the grounds, and possibly most hazardous of all, that the place was brimming with chipping asbestos.
Rather than having any of these threats safely abated, Malsin simply ignored or covered them up. In one very memorable incident, Malsin forced several of his maintenance staff people to, in the words of one of them, "chip out asbestos with a hammer. No covering, no protective gear, not even a respirator." Said the former staff person, "He didn't give a shit about our safety or about tenants. There's so much asbestos floating around that building because of that, it's never gonna be safe." The same worker noted, "It only takes one fiber of asbestos to cause lung cancer. And that place is so filled with it you can see it drifting through the air."
That problem wasn't immediately apparent to tenants, however. It was a danger lurking unseen and under the surface. More immediately apparent were a host of other problems: dirty brown mud coming from taps; no heat; no hot water; power outages; smelly air quality; a lack of promised amenities, and for awhile, no water at all.
The building was so unlivable and the situation so intolerable that tenants actually banded together to fight this slum lord. Because of the embarrassing involvement of city hall, the city actually sent a mediator to negotiate a compromise. However, Malsin is a bully of a man who courts his own ego to the exclusion of all else. Rather than just abide by agreements to make necessary repairs and keep promises made to people he'd lured there, Malsin went to war with his own tenants. A rash of threats, harassment, and evictions followed. Some repairs were made, but for the most part the building remained a dirty, dingy, slum festering with lead and mold and asbestos and without safe or habitable infrastructure.
Malsin made it very clear that anyone who insisted upon safe and healthy living space would be thrown out. Anyone who complained would be punished.
Many tenants left or were evicted, and a culture of low-level despair crept into the "community." The people who remained were trapped : the city doesn't have much housing for people with very low incomes, and to our national shame, artists traditionally have very low incomes. People became afraid to speak up. They just had to live with the constant threats to their health and safety. They had to walk past a big sign in front of the building promising low rent and amenities that never materialized. And tensions grew.
Even while artists were making this formerly derided tract of 82nd Avenue a "hip" place to be, Malsin began relentlessly raising their rents. After making virtually no improvements to the property, he was increasing rents by hundreds of dollars per month.
Two years later, after more problems with water, after people began to get sick from the mold, and after relentless rent increases, tenants again banded together and approached Malsin for redress of their grievances. Malsin's response was AGAIN go to war with his own tenants.
Against the wishes of everyone who lived there, Malsin hired men with guns to prowl the halls, frightening and intimidating residents. At the same time, anyone who had taken part in tenant organizing was systematically punished. They suddenly saw their rent increased substantially and without notice. Some literally saw their rent doubled. Leases for those involved in organizing were not renewed. Those who had already signed leases were suddenly attacked with spates of mysteriously anonymous complaints - unsubstantiated by any of their neighbors - leading to eviction.
Former property manager Samantha Meyers initially seemed to bask in the glow of abusive minion for this man - gossiping and playing residents against each other, grinning as she affixed knowingly false and anonymous complaints to their doors, literally screaming at tenants for alleged infractions, hounding people with eviction threats, banning guests from the building, even telling people who they could or could not date. (In one case, threatening a resident with eviction unless she stopped allowing her boyfriend to visit.)
But the relationship eventually went south, with Meyers being unceremoniously dumped from the fold. After leaving, she confirmed the rumors of mold and asbestos in the building and said that Malsin encouraged her to be abusive toward residents in order to keep them on their toes.
A new manager was brought in, then another, then another. Still, the building festers in blight. The only noticeable change: Virtually all of the artists have left the building like rats leaving a sinking ship. In their place, tenants who are not artists but just want a cheap room. The art that once graced the walls, and the funky atmosphere that once promised to transform the neighborhood have disappeared into the ether, and Milepost 5 has become just another slum along 82nd.
Earlier this year, a complaint from a resident led to the discovery that Malsin was given an even sweeter deal by the city than was initially recognized: He was allowed to skirt all permits and to blatantly violate safe housing regulations for two years as part of the deal. The two year window closed years ago, but Malsin never bothered to come into compliance at all, even after being handed such an unheard-of period of time to do it while collecting rents. (See, for example, http://m.portlandmercury.com/portland/milepost-5-years-later/Content?oid=13333787.)
Brad Malsin and Beam Development are criminals. They are preying on low income tenants who have nowhere else to go. The city is helping. It's time for this to end. Don't let a corrupt developer get away with this just by wining and dining city officials who don't have to live in his buildings.
Please let this thug know what Portland thinks of crooked, predatory slum lords. Here is how to contact him:
phone: (503) 595-0140
And tell the city to stop handing him our community resources to help him prey on people. Here's how to contact city hall:
GENERAL INFORMATION: 503-823-4000
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