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The Boston Brokerage Behind the Flip-Off Photo Responds

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The above photo, of someone at the Brighton offices of brokerage City Realty Group flipping off protesters demonstrating against what they allege are predatory practices, caused quite a stir when the Metro newspaper published it Wednesday.

In an email exchange forwarded to Curbed Boston on Friday, the managing partner of City Realty, Fred Starikov, explained the cause of the infamous photo to Morgan Rousseau, the reporter of the Metro piece that accompanied the photo. The following excerpts have been edited only for punctuation and the odd missing letter on a word to improve clarity:

I am the person holding the camera and I was videoing Mr. Steve Meacham, who runs the organization City Life. Mr. Meacham is the only paid protester. He receives a salary for doing this, and I think you should focus on this. Essentially his job is to stir up controversy and to misinform his followers. Starikov went on to explain City Realty's efforts to alleviate Boston's housing shortage:

We purchase distressed properties that are in need of major renovations and we invest in to low-income neighborhoods and provide affordable housing. ... I believe we provide a much needed service and I believe we are doing positive things despite what a few organizations may believe. Starikov alleged that the leaders of City Life "are bullies" who encourage "good people to act badly and irrationally, and, in most cases, not pay any rent at all." Rents on some rehabbed properties, he wrote, have not been raised in 15 years: "[City Life's] model is simply not sustainable for us..."

Now, to the photo itself:

I would also like to point out that the picture of the broker in the office giving them the middle finger was spurred by one of the protesters calling him an "Uncle Tom," which, in my view, is totally unacceptable. I am not saying that he was right to do what he did, but, in fairness to him and to your reporting, it should be brought to light that it was in response to racist comments being made by the angry protesters. One of which we were in court with 2 weeks ago for non-payment of rent. That's right, NON-Payment. By the way, she called the judge an A-Hole and was escorted out of the courtroom. She has lived in this unit for several years for free while the bank owned it. Now we own it, and we demand that she either pay rent or move out. She is a cheater of the system. She is dishonest and a menace. She would not let us in to her unit to fix it up; then she called the City of Boston and claimed that we were ignoring requests from her to fix the unit up. It's a common game that opportunists play called the "free rent" game. They are essentially nothing more than scam artists. Starikov ended his email to Rousseau with an explanation of the market dynamics his firm faces in dealing in distressed housing:

In response to the rent increases, I think it should be noted that the rents we charge are heavily discounted. All leases that we offer to non-Section 8 tenants are at least 15-20% below what the market rents are. City Life doesn't understand this and the notion that rent increases are "unfair" is absolutely ridiculous. ... City life also doesn't understand how much time, money and effort goes in to fixing properties up. Instead they teach tenants how to "work the system" and avoid paying rent. Then, when we are forced to evict non-paying tenants, they picket and spin the story and say that we are kicking them out, but they don't say why. We don't set the market rates. Economics, and supply and demand, set the market rates. ...

When you say we are "preying" on foreclosures, I think you are wrong. We merely buy foreclosed properties and fix them up. The last time I checked, that is not illegal. If anything, I believe it to be admirable. We take a lot of financial risk when we buy a property and fix it up. We take on a lot of liability when he hold these properties for rental. We have to manage them with care and we have to maintain them and keep them up to par and keep the people inside them safe. It is not easy. We have maintenance emergencies to deal with on a daily basis. We have a hard job. We all work very diligently to attain our goals. There are not many people willing to work as hard as us. Therefore, if we decide to sell one of our properties and we happen to make a profit, then good for us; that is what is great about this country. People that take risks and work hard succeed all the time. They also have the chance to fail and fall flat on their face and lose all their money and time; and that has definitely happened to a lot of people and will continue to happen from time to time. Failure is a part of capitalism. When people fail, they have the ability to come back and try again. Without failure you can't achieve excellence. Most importantly, in this country we have the opportunity to try. In a follow-up email to Rousseau, Starikov suggested a solution for investors dealing with similar headaches: "I think an interesting segment would be about how opportunists use free rent tricks and about a rent escrow law that should be enacted to protect the rights of both landlords and tenants. You would be shocked to find out how the Suffolk housing court works."
· Man at Brighton Realty Office Flips the Bird to Tenants Protesting High Rent [Metro]
· Here's Someone At a Boston Brokerage Flipping Off Tenants [Curbed Boston]
· Our Rent Check archive [Curbed Boston]