What does the Bea Arthur Residence, which provides transitionary supportive housing to homeless LGBT youth, have in common with Jonathan Rose Companies, a for-profit developer? Both, it turns out, have purchased land from the city of New York for a mere $1.
The details of those transactions, as well as many like them, are the subject of a new map from 596 Acres, a group that advocates for public access to public spaces (which Next City has previously covered here).
“Since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office on Jan. 1st, 2014, the City of New York has sold 202 city-owned lots of land to housing developers for $1.00 each,” the One Dollar Lots website states. “Some of this land has gone to organizations doing valuable and necessary work for the city — developing permanent homes for the extremely-low income, establishing shelters for LGBT youth. Some of this land has also gone to for-profit housing developers building market-rate apartments or ‘affordable’ units too expensive for locals to live in.”
Jonathan Rose Companies, the developer linked in group’s reference to for-profit developers, announced that the building in question would include a total of 123 units — 73 would rent at market rate, 25 would be reserved for residents earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income, and 24 would be available to tenants earning up to 130 percent of area median income, New York Daily News reported in 2015.
Regardless, the map showcases a wide variety of buyers taking advantage of the city’s $1 properties thanks to data from the City Records database and New York City Economic Development Corporation board meeting minutes, among others. Properties are color-coded according to whether they’ve gone to a for-profit developer, nonprofit developer or for- or nonprofit group. Click on one of the colored dots, and you can see information like housing restrictions (and restriction period), and obtain links to City Record notice and deed. In at least 40 cases, final sale is still pending.
Selling properties for $1 is a long-standing tradition for New York, as Untapped Cities wrote in 2016. The deals occur at a number of levels — between federal and cities, states or and private citizens; and between city and private developers or nonprofit organizations. New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development alone sold 700 buildings for the token amount between 2002 and 2006, but the pace of such deals has reportedly decreased over the decade following.
For 596 Acres, which helps residents fight blight by turning vacant, public land into community gathering spaces and gardens, the land being sold off for such low prices is actually a “priceless resource.”
“These vacant city-owned lots that have been sold for $1 are vacant due to decades of institutionally racist land use policies including settler colonialism, redlining, and Urban Renewal Area clearance,” the map’s website states. “Many of these lots languish in the middle of active blocks primarily in low-income neighborhoods of color, and they exist for years fenced off by the government but otherwise not maintained. Fast forward to 2014, and the city is selling them without input from the people who have long dealt with the real life impact of abandoned land in their lives. This squanders potential opportunities for transforming historical violence and for creating lasting, adaptive public benefit.”
Check out the map here.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.