07/16/14 11:30am

apartments-malcolm-x-071614

Rents are high all over Brooklyn, and the price gap between “prime” and “emerging” neighborhoods is narrowing.

Average rents increased 6.82 percent since June 2013, with rents in Crown Heights increasing the most of any Brooklyn neighborhood in the last year, according to a report out from MNS. Average rents in Brooklyn are now $2,741 a month, up from $2,566 a month in June 2013. (more…)

07/14/14 9:00am

grand-army-plaza-meier-071414

Brooklyn past and present are coexisting nicely, found a 44-year resident of the borough when he stayed overnight at the Wythe Hotel and wrote about the memories it prompted for The New York Times travel section over the weekend.

The forces behind the changes of the last 44 years are, of course, complex. Many have lost out, been pushed out, as others have thrived; not everyone from Brooklyn has benefited from the new Brooklyn. But coming here on vacation allows you to marvel at what the place has become, even as the forces behind it linger beneath the surface. When I visit a foreign city, my greatest joy is to just walk around. Park Slope is the perfect place for that, with its spectacular collection of 1880s neo-Grec rowhouses. The Plaza Hotel is now a fancy condominium, beautifully done; Prospect Park, a finely groomed sylvan escape rather than a netherworld of foreboding. This is a neighborhood where physical urban beauty is as easy to appreciate as it is in Paris or Edinburgh. Much remains as it was, even if there are an awful lot of bank branches and real estate offices. The sycamore trees on St. Johns Place still provide a cooling canopy in summer, three churches still stand sentry at the top of the block. The faux-oriental plastic letters of the San Toy Laundry on Seventh Avenue are as unintentionally comic today as they were then. The girls whom my 14-year-old son hangs around with look and dress almost exactly like the girls with whom I sat on stoops 30 years ago. They even listen to the same bands.

Other conclusions: The real estate prices are crazy, of course, but one can hear good music everywhere, and the borough is perhaps somewhat more racially harmonious and accepting than it once was. There are still murders and muggings. Do you think it’s a fair portrait?

My Brooklyn, Then and Now [NY Times]
Impressions of Brooklyn [NY Times]

monuments-broadway-junction-081913

Once again, East New York is in the news as the ground zero for Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan. If we read this article in Crain’s correctly, the formula seems to be: Rezone Atlantic Avenue from Euclid Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue. Inject public and private dollars into developing office, retail and manufacturing space around the Broadway Junction transit hub. This, the thinking goes, will spur development of 50-30-20 high-rise housing in East New York, which will help assuage the city’s affordability problem. (more…)

07/07/14 10:00am

eastern parkway townhouses crown heights

A story in The New York Times over the weekend described the rapid gentrification and changes happening in Crown Heights, as longtime residents and businesses move out and are replaced by newcomers. Many businesses have moved to Flatbush, and residents typically move to Flatbush, East New York and Brownsville, according to the story.

Developers such as Realty Within Reach, Hello Living and Brookland Capital, of course, discovered the neighborhood a few years ago, and “more than 1,250 units in about two dozen residential projects” are in the works, mostly west of Nostrand and north of Eastern Parkway, according to the story. While very few are “affordable,” Brookland Capital’s Boaz Gilad explains the appeal of a condo:

“Most of our buyers are people in their late 20s and early 30s who live in the neighborhood already, paying, say, $2,400 a month in a free-market building,” he told the Times. “With an F.H.A. loan or some help from parents or money they’ve saved, the cost of buying the apartment will be maybe $2,600 or $2,700 a month. So there will be no change in monthly costs, but they’re going to own an asset.” (more…)

06/30/14 10:45am

22-arlington-place-k-063014

As prices of brownstones in “emerging” areas push past the $2,000,000 mark, some flippers are changing how they do business. Out are the low-end, Home Depot-style renovations with 12-inch tan floor tile, country-style wood cabinets, and fake granite counters. In are $30,000 appliance packages, rear walls of windows, and central air.

“As the market changed, the clientele changed. Everything demanded a much higher grade rehab, higher grade finishes, and higher grade bells and whistles. If you’re dealing with $2,000,000 houses, it’s gotta look like $2,000,000 house,” said developer Adam Cohen of Stuyvesant Group. His company has about 20 projects in various stages, including rehabs in Brooklyn and rentals in Harlem.

It was Stuyvesant Group that renovated the narrow but detailed Amzi Hill house at 22 Arlington that reset the record for a townhouse sale in Bed Stuy when it closed at $2,250,000 earlier this month. As noted, the buyer was Australian investment firm Dixon.

One of the agents on the deal, Ban Leow of Halstead, said he expects prices in the area to climb even higher soon, because a group of bigger and renovated properties are about to come on the market. This was a premium house in terms of its details and renovation, but was less than 16 feet wide. Other houses that have recently closed at high prices for what they were in Bed Stuy and Crown Heights were full size with tremendous details but unrenovated. Three of those properties were also purchased by Dixon, as reported.

In Fort Greene, where renovated townhouses generally fetch $3,000,000 and up, Stuyvesant Group is renovating a brownstone to standards more typically seen in high-end custom renovations, including radiant heat on all floors that can be controlled from an iPad, a high-efficiency boiler, and replacing the back wall with glass and steel.

In Bed Stuy or Crown Heights, that renovation would be too expensive, but developers are still taking a high end approach vs. several years ago. “We never did the cheap stuff, it was always custom cabinets, better tile and hardwood flooring,” said Cohen. “We used to give a standard package of stainless steel appliances, and maybe now it’s [a more expensive] appliance package. It used to be quartz counters, now it’s Carrara marble.”

At 22 Arlington, for example, a new kitchen in the rear of the parlor floor, pictured above, has an Italian marble backsplash and center island, Sub Zero refrigerator, Wolf range and vent hood, Bosch dishwasher, a microwave in a drawer and custom made radiator covers. Wall-mounted split A/C units were chosen instead of central air conditioning to avoid unsightly ductwork in the detail-laden house, though Stuyvesant Group does install central air in the houses it gut renovates, said Cohen.

They also repaired all the plasterwork that could be fixed. The arch above where the stove now sits “was cracked into nine different pieces, and we fixed it,” said Cohen. The interior doors are original to the house, but not necessarily in the same places, since the layout was reconfigured. In Fort Greene, there was nothing to save, since the house had a fire so it was a full gut job, but they purchased three vintage pier mirrors and restored the front door (since the house is landmarked). “We try to give it that brownstone look, we don’t want it to have that condo look,” as Cohen put it. “I feel like in this market, if you give buyers something good, they are happy to pay for it. They don’t want to pay for garbage.” 

Stuyvesant Group is already in contract on two other nearly finished houses it never even put on the market but struck a deal with buyers who were among the bidders at 22 Arlington, he said. 

Buyers are “looking for well-configured homes,” said Leow. A triplex over a garden rental is ideal. They don’t like small galley kitchens but prefer a “very nice open space with lots of countertops where a family can actually enjoy their home and cook for friends.” As for gut jobs vs. preserving original detail, “every buyer who buys a brownstone wants a house full of period details,” said Leow. “If there are details, it would be shameful if someone comes in and rips everything out and throws it in a Dumpster. But sometimes investors buy a shell and there is nothing to salvage.” In that case, buyers “would rather see a high end renovation that will work” for a family, he said.

Problem properties that developers were picking up for $250,000 to $350,000 at the height of the bust and selling for $500,000 to $625,000 once they were renovated are now about $800,000 just for a shell — maybe 5 percent more if they are close to Nostrand Avenue. “Today we would buy them for more than what we sold them for even after rehab,” said Cohen. Another thing that has changed is buyers were highly leveraged before and now they are putting down at least 50 percent cash if not 100 percent. (more…)

06/24/14 4:00pm

brooklyn aerial shot

Brooklyn author and journalist Neil deMause has launched a survey asking Brooklynites what drew them to the borough and why they’ve stayed despite rapidly rising housing costs. The questionnaire is part of deMause’s research for an upcoming crowdfunded book, “Brooklyn Wars,” about Brooklyn’s gentrification and redevelopment boom.

The idea came to him while he was wondering why rents have increased even as local poverty rates have risen. ”I was discussing this with a housing economist friend, and while we both had theories, none of them were convincing,” he said in a press release. ”While web surveys are inherently anecdotal and unscientific, even a self-selected sample should give some hints as to how Brooklynites view their reasons for remaining in a borough that charges $3,000 a month to live in a closet an hour’s subway ride from their job.”

So far, leading early responses include ”it’s cheaper than Manhattan,” “diversity” and “boyfriend.”

Photo by Juni Safont

06/23/14 9:00am

corcoran-panel-1-062314

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams called for 50-30-20 buildings or senior housing along an upzoned Broadway running from Williamsburg to East New York, where 30 percent of the apartments would be aimed at the middle class, at a Corcoran-sponsored event, “Future Opportunities in the New Bedford Stuyvesant,” held at a Bed Stuy church Saturday morning.

“We need housing for middle class people in Brooklyn,” he said. “That 30 percent is the anchor of the community.” He gave an example of a program that enables police officers to purchase houses in Brooklyn and said it has helped stabilize neighborhoods because drug dealers stop dealing on blocks where the officers live.

“We can be creative in our upzoning,” he continued. “Broadway can be upzoned without destroying inner communities,” he said, referring to the upzoning of 4th Avenue as a good example to emulate. In exchange for upzoning on 4th Avenue, height limits on interior blocks were preserved — although not the blocks that touch 4th Avenue — and most of buildings on 4th Avenue are market rate. “I’m an investor over there,” he said, meaning Broadway, “because I know that area is going to change and be a place of beauty.”

Adams first floated the idea of upzoning to 10 stories on Broadway in exchange for 50-30-20 buildings in a memo about The Henry Apartments affordable housing development on Decatur and Broadway in Ocean Hill in May.

Adams also called for bank fines for misdeeds leading to the fiscal crisis to be earmarked for affordable housing and tenant protection. Churches should sell unused lands and air rights for affordable and senior housing, he said, and his team is mapping those potential development sites.

Several hundred people attended the event Saturday morning at Nazarene Congregational Church at MacDonough and Patchen. (Above, Corcoran agent Al Florant speaks.) Author and professor Lance Freeman gave an overview of the gentrification process, and panelists spoke of the need for community service and to support small business.

As the event was wrapping up, a young man in the back of the auditorium shouted out criticism of the event for being profit oriented and sponsored by Corcoran, but he was quickly ejected. Outside, he carried a sign that said “Community, Not Capital,” and spoke with attendees. A six-year-resident of Bed Stuy, he said he plans to hold protests outside “Brokeland Capital’s” headquarters on Malcolm X through the summer. “In 10 years, Bed Stuy is going to be just like Park Slope,” he said.

In the part of Bed Stuy where the event took place, housing prices have doubled in two years, from about $600,000 to about $1,200,000 for a renovated house with details. (more…)

06/13/14 9:30am

williamsburg-skyscrapers-kent-avenue-061314

Moon River Chattel closed Monday, and today the Wall Street Journal has a story saying that Williamsburg is in the middle of the same transition as SoHo decades ago, “going from bohemian wonderland to high-end mall encased in gloss.”

The story ticks off some recent and forthcoming arrivals: Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters, J.Crew, Dunkin’ Donuts, the Level Hotel. There’s nothing here readers haven’t heard before but having it all summed up on the heels of Moon River Chattel closing feels a little sad.

The new residents are richer and younger than their predecessors: “on average 25 to 35 years old with per capita income of $108,000 a year,” according to real estate firm SCG Retail quoted by the Journal. “It fits the profile of the Upper West Side, Chelsea and the East Village,” said an SCG agent. 

The story tries to find consensus on the “next” Williamsburg but fails. (The Catskills and Queens are among the contenders.) Perhaps it’s just as well. Last year the Wythe Hotel’s Andrew Tarlow said his next venture might be dairy farming upstate. Wonder how that’s coming along.

Like Earlier Hot Spots, Williamsburg Adds Gloss [WSJ]

06/10/14 4:00pm

hancock-street-stoops-110413

This week we have received notice of not one but two panels on gentrification and real estate in Brooklyn. After a year of rapid price escalation in Brooklyn, “housing matters are on the minds of all Brooklyn residents,” said the Rev. John E. Denaro, Rector of St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church, which is hosting one of the events. “We are pleased to explore this urgent topic with guests who are asking the hard questions about the future of our beloved borough.”

The first event, hosted by two Corcoran agents, is specifically focused on Bed Stuy and has some very heavy hitters planned for the lineup. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will speak. Columbia professor of Urban Planning Lance Freeman will keynote. If you have read anything about gentrification, you will know Freeman has published what may be the definitive work on the topic, “There Goes the Hood: Views of Gentrification from the Ground Up,” an ethnographic study of gentrification in Clinton Hill and Harlem that outlines the good and the bad effects of gentrification through interviews with long-term residents of both neighborhoods. He is most famous for a study that showed people move in and out of poor neighborhoods as often as they do in gentrifying ones.

Panelists include President and CEO of Bridge Street Development Corp. Emilio Dorcely, Community Board 3 Chair Tremaine Wright, Council Member Robert Cornegy, Richard Flateau of Flateau Realty Corp. and Brownstoners of Bedford-Stuyvesant President Ava Barnett. The event will “explore current trends and future growth possibilities” in Bed Stuy “and how the public can benefit from these new opportunities,” said the email.

It will take place Saturday, June 21, from 9 am to noon at the Nazarene Congregational Church at 506 MacDonough Street. Breakfast will be served. Seating is limited so please RSVP to 718-765-3732 or aflorant@corcoran.com before June 19.

The second panel, “Brooklyn Housing Matters: Tackling Affordability,” is billed as a “public forum on housing issues, initiatives and prospects.” Hosted by The Forum @ St. Ann’s, the panel will be moderated by New York Public Radio urban policy reporter Cindy Rodriguez. Panelists include Council Member Stephen Levin; Caitlyn Brazil, VP of Strategic Partnerships of CAMBA, a housing nonprofit; and Aaron Koffman, Director of Affordable Housing for developer Hudson Companies.

The panel will explore how Brooklyn “can preserve the qualities and diversity that make it distinct, as the borough develops as an epicenter of world culture,” said the email we received. “Brooklyn’s special character, cultural vibrancy, and quality of life have attracted global attention. With it has come dramatic and rapid change. Residents are seeing their neighborhoods change so fast that they hardly recognize their surroundings, often cannot benefit from improvements and feel shut out or alienated on their own turf. What are we losing in the process? The key to it all is housing. As New York’s new mayor and developers pursue common ground on conflicting housing priorities, retaining the rich flavor and uniqueness of Brooklyn will be challenging.”

Panelists will cover “the definition of affordability…the housing needs and prospects of those who are evicted, foreclosed, displaced, unemployed, elderly or disabled, how to honor the character of neighborhoods marked for development, and how to retain community cohesion while gentrification significantly alters the traditional resident profile.”

The community forum takes place Thursday, June 24 at 7 pm at St. Ann’s the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn Heights. For more information, check out St. Ann’s event page.

1059-union-street-052814

Tenants in Crown Heights and Bed Stuy are being pressured to move and landlords are offering buyouts, but many tenants are refusing to take them. The buyouts, in the four and five figures, would not be enough to assure a long-term place in the same neighborhood, according to a story in the Brooklyn Bureau.

BCB Realty, a management company that has recently invested in several buildings in Crown Heights, has been offering buyouts to tenants. One of its buildings, 1059 Union Street, pictured above, has caught the attention of HPD for its numerous violations, said the story. One tenant of the building interviewed by Brooklyn Bureau said she refused a buyout despite problems with heat, hot water and doorbells.

A tenant in another building with a different owner refused a buyout of $45,000 for her apartment, where she pays less than $1,000 a month. Owner ZT Realty moved her to a different apartment in the same building to make repairs when a ceiling collapsed, then changed the locks and refused to let her back in.

“I can’t move anywhere with that money,” she said. At 870 Bedford Avenue, the landlord offered a tenant only $5,000 to move, which she refused. Landlords try to get long-time, rent stabilized tenants to move so they can renovate the apartments and decontrol them, then rent at much higher market rates for thousands of dollars more. The practice has been particularly common lately in Crown Heights where there are lots of rent regulated buildings and rents are rising quickly.

Do you know any buildings in your neighborhood where this is happening?

Pressured to Move, Low-Income Tenants Resist Buyouts [Brooklyn Bureau]
Photo by Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark

05/02/14 4:00pm

eastern parkway townhouses crown heights

Hunter College Urban Affairs and Planning professor Lisa Schreibman and longtime Crown Heights resident and Brooklynian contributor Michael Fagan will lead a tour focusing on development and retail change in Crown Heights. As the tour copy describes it:

Walk along two commercial corridors and contemplate what the current change means, who is winning, who is losing, what people are saying about the change, what policy makers are doing to encourage and discourage it.  Policy wonks, historians and people with opinions are encouraged to join the conversation.

“Crown Heights: Where Change Is Happening” will take place Sunday at noon. It is part of a Municipal Arts Society event this weekend called Jane’s Walk NYC in honor of Jane Jacobs. There will also be tours of Wallabout, Red Hook and other areas in Brooklyn as well as other parts of New York City. For the full list of walks, go to the Jane’s Walk page.