The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Brooklyn Ink: “Empty Future: Why Vacant Buildings in Bed-Stuy Stay Unoccupied”

The Lefferts Hotel in Bedford-Stuyvesant was built as a pleasant place for guests to rest. There are no guests today, and it is hardly pleasant. The five story Lefferts building sits vacant and dreary, chains wrapped around its door handles.

The building’s history has been troubled in recent years. In 2006, the New York Sun reported that police were investigating prostitution there. The building owner, Moses Fried, told the newspaper at the time, “I’m a Jewish religious man. I would never permit to run prostitution there.”

No charges were filed and the hotel remained open, only to be closed in March 2010 by the Building Department because of unpaid building violations. According to department records, 127 Lefferts alone has accumulated $90,500 in unpaid fines since 2006. Most of the violations grow out of 125 and 127 Lefferts Place having been combined into one building “60 years ago,” Fried said, leaving insufficient “fire separation” under current codes.

And so it is that the neighborhood is now left with an empty building with signs on its roof and its side advertising for a hotel that is not taking in guests.

“It’s an eyesore now, the fact that it’s closed,” said three-year resident John Martinez, who lives on the same street as the closed building. “Ideally, [the building owner] would give up the home, and let someone fix it.”

The Lefferts is just one of scores of empty buildings in Bed-Stuy. Kendall Jackman, a homeless advocate involved in a citywide land-use study that is soon to be released,  said that the neighborhood “has the highest density per square mile of vacant property buildings and lots” in the city.

Such buildings are like a plague on a community. They run down surrounding property values by being unattractive and making the neighborhood feel dangerous.

Some are foreclosed homes awaiting buyers, a result of the ongoing real estate crisis. But others are the result of a more controversial practice called “warehousing,” in which the owners are merely sitting on the property, waiting, usually for years, for an opportunistic sale at a steep price when someone really needs or wants the property.

Fried said that that he is not warehousing the Lefferts Hotel. “I am trying to open the building as soon as possible,” he said. “I’m losing a lot of money to keep that building that way, but the city does not want to let me open it up. The city is still giving me violations worth thousands of dollars while the building is closed.”

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