The Park51 mosque and community center near Ground Zero is not Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s first venture into real estate development. As The Record reports, beginning in the late 1970s, Rauf acquired five apartment buildings in Union City, North Bergen, and Palisades Park, all urban areas along the New Jersey bank of the Hudson River.
He developed the properties with the help a series of government grants and loans totaling in the millions — including $384,000 in 1989 endorsed by Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), then mayor of Union City, and $1,295,000 underwritten by then Hudson County executive Robert C. Janiszewski, who would later serve time in federal prison on corruption charges.
But the government funds weren’t enough to keep lenders from initiating foreclosure proceedings against Rauf on over $2 million in loans connected to the properties, or from being sued for misrepresentation in 2008 by a former business associate in connection with one of the Union City buildings (both matters were settled out of court).
Nor was Rauf a very good landlord. Both The Record and the the New York Post report a litany of complaints at Rauf’s buildings dating back decades and continuing to this day: heaps of garbage, overgrown grass, lack of heat and hot water; rat, cockroach, and bedbug infestations; and general filth.
On Tuesday, National Review Online visited one of the apartment buildings identified by the Post as being owned by Rauf, and spoke with several of the tenants. The building, in a working class neighborhood of the predominantly-Hispanic Union City, steps from the Lincoln Tunnel, is in poor shape. Its exterior is festooned with empty malt liquor cans, broken glass, and other refuse, and its interior is marked by mold, moisture, and decay.
The tenants are uniformly unhappy with what they describe as persistently poor–even dangerous–living conditions, and management they describe as uncaring and unresponsive. Two tenants agreed to be filmed. Only one, 26-year-old Yonaira, who has lived in the building for 16 years and is raising two small children there, gave her name and her story:
Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, has responded to new questions about maintenance at the properties by saying that all tenant complaints are addressed as they come up, and that the Imam’s business dealings have “no relevance to the Park51 project.”
“The Imam does not get paid for his spiritual work or work as an Imam,” Khan wrote to The Record. “He invests in real estate, much as someone would invest in stocks, bonds or other assets to secure one’s future and provide an income stream. He has dedicated his life to helping others working as an Imam.”