By Lou Cespedes
In 2017, at a Community Board 17 Land Use meeting, I made a presentation to explain a simple concept. It went a little something like this:
“If you own a townhouse in East Flatbush, you have a glass of water 1/3 full. You can fill your glass if you choose under current zoning. But if you downzone, you are giving away 2/3 of your glass and the ability to pour more water into your glass. “
The “ability to pour more water” has an inherent potential value. It is “YOUR RIGHT” to build on your property to the maximum allowed amount- (and fill your glass). This is commonly known as “air rights.” Most buildings in our community are 2 floors. You can build up to six floors on most lots without any special permits or variances. Most people never build the additional allowed floors on their property (and never fill their glass).
Most black homeowners don’t understand that the “air rights” they own (the invisible unbuilt 2/3 above their home) is worth more than the house they live in. Simply put, the downzoning Community Board 17 is proposing along a large swath of East Flatbush is a multibillion-dollar theft of wealth from black homeowners in our community.
Let me be clear; house rich / cash poor homeowners in East Flatbush, living in a wood frame or 2 family townhouses, have more aggregate value and assets on the properties they currently own than our neighbors in Ditmas and Midwood combined. In other words, when you sell your home to a developer, you may unknowingly be selling your property for pennies on the dollar. To add insult to injury, you are selling your property to developers that live in Midwood, and you are enriching their community.
You may think that “downzoning” or “landmarking” your block is a good idea to stop development. It is not. What you are actually doing is facilitating a fleecing of black homeowner wealth by eliminating their asset value by 2/3 and giving that value away for nothing in return. No affordable housing, no property tax reduction, and no community infrastructure making it exponentially more difficult for cash-poor homeowners to “maintain and retain” their property. Over time this allows for the accelerated “GENTRIFICATION” of our community.
Why does this matter? Because currently, black and Caribbean people make up the bulk of Flatbush’s homeowner base. Collectively, we have more money in the assets we now own than most “gentrified” communities. Again, we are a wealthier community than most communities you think have wealth, but our political leaders are banking on your ignorance to plunder your treasure.
Our elected officials and Community Board 17 have made “a deal” to sell our community to developers. They want to take your air-rights away from you and transfer those air rights to developers by allowing them to build higher and bigger buildings on Church Avenue, Rogers Avenue, Nostrand Avenue, Utica Avenue, and Flatbush Avenue.
If they succeed, you will soon see buildings towering over Flatbush Junction and major intersections in our community towering 13 floors or higher. Those buildings will not have affordable apartments or shops. Once these buildings are completed, they WILL NOT PAY ANY PROPERTY TAX for 15-25 years. You, the longtime homeowner in our community, will see your property tax spike as a result, and renters will be priced out.
More than anything we can do TODAY to keep and leverage our wealth IS TO STOP THE REZONING OF FLATBUSH, which is designed to siphon value and financial security from OUR community and make it harder for us to buy and retain homes. We must learn to become property literate and work collectively to invest our potential asset value (the 2/3) into our own community and remain stakeholders.
To do this, we need political leaders that understand how to steer and manage our wealth and work with black and brown professionals, financial advisors, brokers, appraisers so we can pour more water into our own glass.
FLATBUSH, drink of your own glass, and thirst not! YOUR BLACK MONEY MATTERS!
Genesis, Chapter 25. v. 29-34