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Over the last several years, during the housing boom, NYC saw the rapid development of luxury condominiums; many in neighborhoods where low-income people live.  Oftentimes, this type of development has led to gentrification and displacement of low-income people that have lived in these communities for years.  Due to the current economic crisis, many of these luxury condominiums are now vacant, while others are stalled in construction. Despite all of this new construction, the number of units that are affordable for low- to middle-income families has decreased precipitously. From 2002 to 2005, the city lost more than 205,000 units affordable to the typical household.   Accordingly, NYC is left with many vacant units of housing but these units are not available or affordable to those most in need of housing.

The Condo Count
Right to the City-NYC (RTTC-NYC) organizations have been walking the streets of 298 census tracts located in 9 different Community Districts to document the true extent of the problem posed by empty condos and stalled construction in low-income communities. RTTC-NYC organizations are actively working with the communities in which we are canvassing. All the Community Districts are located in the following areas: Downtown Brooklyn, Bushwick, the Lower East Side, the West Village, Harlem and the South Bronx.

To help RTTC-NYC members locate new construction sites that potentially met our criteria, RTTC-NYC worked closely with the Furman Center to map out the location of every building that has received a building permit between the years of 2004-2008 within our target neighborhoods. In addition to the sites that had received a building permit, RTTC-NYC members documented any building that was:
•    Residential and;
•    Newly constructed; or
•    Newly renovated; or
•    Fully built but did not appear to be lived in; or
•    Not fully constructed and construction seems to have stopped.

RTTC-NYC, with support from the Furman Center, is also collecting the following information about the buildings found through our canvass:
•    Owner of building
•    Developer of building
•    Building type
•    Tax class
•    Total number of units/total number of vacant units
•    Total number of bedrooms
•    Price of units on the market
•    Number of days listed on the market

Field Findings: By walking the streets in our target neighborhoods, RTTC-NYC has been able to identify vacant condos and stalled construction sites that have not been accounted for by the city, the media, or by other means.
A More Complete Picture: In additional to our field findings and secondary research, RTTC-NYC has conducted a comprehensive review of existing data on vacant and stalled condominiums in NYC.  We have found that the information available to be very incomplete.  For example, our research has uncovered dozens of potentially stalled or abandoned construction projects that are not included on the official list made available by NYC’s Department of Buildings. Likewise, no thorough review has been done to determine where vacant condos are located in the city and how many there are.
Impact on Low-Income Communities: Our research is specifically targeting low-income neighborhoods to determine how these vacant condos and stalled construction sites are affecting these communities.  After completing this research, we hope to work with the city to convert many of these empty condos into truly affordable housing for the low-income communities in which they’re located.

Bushwick Brooklyn is a traditionally low-income community made up primarily by people of color. However, over the past several years, the neighborhood has seen a large increase in luxury development that is contributing to the gentrification of the area. This process may ultimately displace many of the people who have lived in this neighborhood for generations.

Bushwick: A Snapshot
•    Median Household Income is $31,531
•    32% of residents make under $18,302
•    8% of residents are unemployed
•    Median Monthly Rent for a Bushwick Resident is $795
•    Notice of Foreclosure Rate is 57.8%, which has nearly tripled since 2000.
•    Total number of foreclosures in Bushwick in 2008 was 379
•    Highest rate of serious housing code violations in the city
•    Poverty Rate of 32%

RTTC NYC members canvassed 36 census tracts in Community District 204 in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Through this canvass, we identified 108 residential buildings that appeared to contain a significant amount of empty units (60 buildings), or appeared to be stalled in construction (48 buildings).

Empty Condos: (60 Buildings Identified)
To identify buildings with empty units, canvassers looked for evidence of people living in the units, for sale signs, and spoke with neighbors and building personnel. Using these criteria, we identified 60 buildings in Bushwick that appeared to contain empty units. Through our secondary research, we uncovered the following additionally information about these and other units currently on the market in Bushwick:

Average price: $405,959
Average days on market:  216 days
Total number of units: 40 units
Total number of bedrooms: 75 bedrooms

Multifamily Houses:
Average Price:  $565,795
Average days on market: 158 days
Total number of units:  81 units
Total number of bedrooms: 599 bedrooms

Below are two examples of some of the buildings we found:

979 Willoughby Street
Total units: 15
Total units available: 14
Average days on market: 382
Average price (unit): $507,750
326 Melrose Street
Total Units:  10
Total units available: 9
Average days on market: 125
Average price (unit):  $325,000

Stalled Construction: (48 Buildings Identified)
Through our canvassing efforts, we looked for the following evidence of a stalled construction site: an expired DOB permit, boarded up windows, locked doors, lack of ongoing construction, and conversations with neighbors. Using these criteria, we identified 48 buildings that appeared to be in various stages of stalled construction. However, the DOB has only 4 developments on its list of “stalled construction sites” within Bushwick.