New York Values #37 - AOC and Real Estate Greed

I love doing real estate. I’ve wanted to do it for years, and I’ve never been as excited about a career or felt more confident that this is what I will be doing long term. However, I have had my moments of cognitive dissonance where I feel out of step with the brokerage community. Compass is a breath of fresh air, as being empathetic and humble and collaborating without ego are requirements for working here. But I also think this should extend outside of simply how you engage in a transaction to cover how you feel about and engage with the world as a whole. But, as agents, we are generally taught not to engage at all unless it is with the uppermost echelons of society. 

In both of my real estate trainings I have been told not to pay attention to the news. This would distract me from my mission and take me out of my “peak state” by distracting me with unfortunate information. Shockingly, I would never consider doing this. I don’t watch the news, but I read it, follow it, and am generally aware of what is going on around me.  I understand the theory behind it, because you want to stay positive in a career that has so many ups and downs. But I think it’s crazy how many agents are disconnected, or, by getting their news only from real estate publications, have a very warped view of what is actually happening.

This really came up with the Amazon debacle. If you spoke to the real estate industry, it was totally unexpected and shortsighted because no one should be mad about Amazon coming in and boosting condo prices in LIC. If it seemed out of the blue to you, it’s because you only follow what developers and high-powered agents are saying about it. Anyone reading the NY Times or speaking to people outside of the highest tax brackets was aware of the pushback against Amazon. The deal was terrible for most New Yorkers and would have exacerbated our existing housing and transit crises. I will never stop being happy that they aren’t coming here. Bye. Please stop harassing me about it. 

So especially in the wake of Amazon, seeing this article by the Real Deal this morning pissed me off. It’s not very long and doesn’t say much, but the overall message ties into one very familiar to me in real estate: how dare these new people come in and stop us from making all the money we are used to making as easily as we have always made it.  

Since it’s still renters’ month, I’m going to focus on large-scale landlords (as you know, generally not my favorite people) and developers. These are the same groups complaining about the LIC Amazon pullout, but who didn’t do anything to assuage the fears of the people actually living in LIC. Raising prices 20% overnight and loudly speculating about how much more money you were going to make did you no favors. You have no one to blame but yourselves and the lawmakers who were not transparent about the deal. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives have vowed not to take money from lobbyists, including those in the real estate industry in NYC. And developers/major landlords are FURIOUS. Because, like I’ve said before, these people have enormous power in the city right now and hate the idea of losing any of it. But if they hadn’t been so predatory for DECADES, they wouldn’t find themselves in this situation. Again, they have no one to blame but themselves for this pushback. 

A PR guy for the Durst Organization called it “scapegoating” to include real estate with tobacco and guns and refuse to take money from lobbyists. First of all, hilarious coming from a company with Durst in the name. Please, tell me more about how unfair it is that a 29 year old is standing up for herself and refusing to take your money. Second, at least in NYC, these lobbyists absolutely deserve to be lumped in with those for tobacco and firearms. We are talking about people’s homes, not a bottom line. It is this inability or unwillingness to remember that although for a landlord or developer it’s financial, this is the place someone lives and potentially raises children, celebrates important life events, and comes home to after a long day of work, that cause friction and abuse of tenants. Coming home to a place without heat or with water pouring through your ceiling is stressful. Coming home to those things and having no recourse because it’s not in your landlord’s budget to fix it is even worse. After all, it’s just business, and you’re being a problem tenant by being so needy (note: a lot of landlords are not like this, and they have all my love forever). And same with developers: there are amazing projects that take the neighborhoods and future owners into account, and there are others that are shortsighted and cut corners, leaving some owners I’ve spoken to brokenhearted that their once gorgeous apartment is falling apart five years into ownership.

Landlords and developers are also terrified of the rent reforms being proposed in the state Senate. Again, it’s described as a “financial blow” to them rather than as a victory for the people who live in these cities. It’s a complete disconnection from the reality that those of us outside the 1% face every day. And again, it’s part of why I get so annoyed when I’m told in real estate to elevate myself and only listen to/pay attention to the highest end and aspirational  I plan on making a lot of money, but I know that my moral compass won’t ever let me stop caring about what’s happening to those less fortunate; it’s literally in my blood on all sides (thanks, fam, for making me totally insane). I talk to people every day who are affected by inappropriate rent increases, landlords who won’t fix problems in their apartments, illegally occupied buildings, leases with clauses that try to circumvent the law and are both illegal and unenforceable. The system is a mess, and it needs to change. 

I’ll address just ONE thing that these reforms are trying to change, which I’ve written about but want to make crystal clear. Currently, if your landlord is refusing to do his legal duty to maintain your apartment to the required standards, YOU CANNOT TAKE HIM TO HOUSING COURT. You must withhold rent until he sues you and then file a counterclaim. But what this does is put your name on a tenant blacklist AND your stint in housing court will also show up on any on-site credit report we run when you’re applying to a new apartment. It prohibits you from moving because you will be rejected from most rentals as a “problem tenant,” even if YOU WERE IN THE RIGHT. Landlords will sometimes file fake charges in housing court, or file them based on incorrect info, but it is still the tenants who suffer. Nobody can say this system is fair or makes sense. Well, people do, because they don’t understand what it’s like to live in a place with black mold and a collapsing ceiling but being unable to move due to both financial and housing-court-related reasons. 

While I think some of the reforms need to be better fleshed out (how will you actually hold predatory landlords accountable?) or miss the mark (why wouldn’t you make landlords pay broker fees on rentals?), I welcome the initiative. And I’m disappointed that coverage in the real estate community is so negative, painting it as tragic we will make less money.

I made the mistake of looking at the comment sections and want to point out these absolute gems, to explain why I am so outspoken about my opinions. I sincerely want to change the way real estate agents and the real estate industry as a whole are viewed, but this is what the average layman thinks we believe.

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Oh, 6SJ7, go back to /pol/. Yeah, that’s exactly what we want, a whole world of housing projects. Which is why Jane Jacobs championed building these massive housing projects that…OH WAIT, no, that was Robert Moses. Because it’s how he thought you could make the most money. And then they became hellholes full of crime. Because Jane was right. (Everyone should see the doc and/or read The Death and Life of Great American Cities). Also, she saved Washington Square Park and the West Village, which Moses wanted turned into a project and a highway. Really awesome foresight. Please learn history.


I honestly cannot understand what this headless man (name removed for privacy) is trying to say here. Does he know that Ayn Rand is the champion of Paul Ryan and the Libertarians, NOT a socialist? Or is he literally saying that AOC and the Democrats are the villains in Atlas Shrugged? Based on his comments about other things, it seems like he’s probably calling us dystopian villains. I don’t know; I didn’t read more than 10 pages of Atlas Shrugged because it was long and seemed boring. Also Ayn Rand was on welfare and died in public housing. I don’t really like hypocrites.

So this is why we need reform, and this is why I get sensitive when people call me overly opinionated or tell me to stay in my lane. I’m sorry to anyone I snapped at recently when they were just trying to make a joke, but I take this really seriously. I may not know everything about every luxury building or new development project, but I know this city, and I know social advocacy. So this is my bread and butter, and I won’t stop talking about it. 

And the New York Value here is that AOC is from the Bronx (UPTOWN REPRESENT) and that the city is FINALLY pushing back on some of the incredible, unacceptable power that landlords and developers hold. Please stop saying the whole industry is against it; we’re not.

Til next time…



New York Values #29 - Confederate Flags

I spent this week in my hometown, and while I love many things about it, I’m also saddened by how backwards it sometimes feels. The area where I’m from has a complicated history due to its changing hands 72 times during the Civil War. Confederate flags have always flown proudly on people’s driveways and huge decals plaster the back windows of many pickups (can you guys see through those?). Plenty of people who live there are against this, but those who aren’t feel comfortable showcasing their “pride” using these symbols because they can claim it’s tied to their/the area’s history (but only part of its history because IT KEPT CHANGING HANDS; my family has been there longer and none of us fly it; Robert E. Lee was against flying the flag after the war; shut. up.).

Obviously I have problems with seeing so many of these flags in VA. Far weirder, however, is how many I see in places North of the Mason-Dixon line. People have this idea that the South is super backwards and racist, but in our current climate it’s more rural versus urban than North versus South. A lot of Southern states happen to have more land mass with fewer major cities, but their large cities are generally liberal. I’m in no way denying there are parts of the deep South where racism is more ferocious than in, say, rural Maine, but Maine DOES have a truly terrible Republican Senator named Susan Collins, so let’s not act all high and mighty here. 

But I digress…

I’ve seen Confederate flags upstate. I’ve seen them in every state I drive through to get home: Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia (despite the fact that ALL of these were in the Union). But I have never, ever seen a Confederate flag anywhere in NYC. In six years, I’ve seen all kinds of flags and signs posted in people’s windows, but never that one. I know there must be some around; it actually became AP news in 2017 when a LES resident decided to fly one from his apartment window. But if you don’t want a protest outside your residence, you just don’t do it. Because you know what it stands for and what you’re doing, and will be called out on it in a way you won’t outside of the city. 

NYC isn’t perfect. There is certainly racial tension, perceived or otherwise, between black and Latin communities and the police. There is gang violence, some along racial lines. Gentrification is a major issue, predominantly pushing people of color out of neighborhoods as more affluent whites move in. But as small a thing as a lack of this flag may seem, it’s big to me. It IS a symbol of hate, treason, and failure (guys, they lost), and no one, especially no one with African American ancestry, should be forced to see it flown proudly in their daily life. 

Since, let’s not kid ourselves, this flag is used today as a symbol of white supremacy (come at me with that states’ rights bullshit), I decided to look up the specifics of when black New Yorkers were able to vote, when slavery was abolished here, and the history of black property ownership. This led to my discovery of Philip A. Payton, Jr, “father of Harlem,” and the Afro-American Realty Company, the city’s first brokerage committed to securing housing for its black residents, who were often rejected by white landlords/owners for the color of their skin (ohh, life before equal housing laws).

Technically, slavery was abolished in New York in 1827, and NYC became one of the biggest pre-Civil War concentrations of free blacks. But whiteys gonna white, and they used language in the 1777 constitution to restrict voting to those who owned a certain amount of property. Naturally, because of institutionalized barriers to land ownership for free black men, and the illegality of owning property as a slave, far more white men qualified under these conditions. (And, lest we forget, no women of any race were allowed to vote.) Non-white men did not get their equal voting rights until 1870 due to the Fifteenth Amendment (see how the North isn’t reaaaaaalllllllyyyyy so different and everyone is awful and racist?). 

During this same period, extreme violence in the Jim Crow-era South led to a mass migration North. By 1900, NYC had become a major destination for those persecuted in the Southern states. Philip A. Payton, Jr., who had moved from MA to NYC to seek his fortune, was working in a real estate office as a janitor. He must have been crazy, like me, because he saw the way the business worked and thought “Yeah, that’s what I want to do.” Unfortunately, his first firm, Brown and Payton, founded in 1900, was unsuccessful, and his business partner jumped ship in 1901. He kept going despite losing both a cat and a dog to hunger (actually) and being evicted with his wife from an apartment when they couldn’t make rent. But he kept plugging along, and eventually started to earn thousands of dollars a month. Although accounts vary, this big break seems to be due to his working for tenement landlords, filling their buildings (mostly with black tenants) and earning their trust. 

By 1904 he was a wealthy man, and with 8 other affluent black businessmen he founded the Afro-American Realty Company. Their first order of business was to buy up two tenement buildings in Harlem, evict the white residents, and replace them with the black residents who had just been evicted from the neighboring white-owned tenements. Eventually the three tenement buildings that had evicted said black tenants were also purchased by the AARC, and this whole incident brought more clout and notoriety to his company, which soon grew to have a rent roll of $120,000/yr and was valued at over a million dollars.

In 1908, after a lawsuit shuttered that business, Payton continued to buy and manage Harlem real estate for black tenants, founding the Philip A. Payton Company. In 1917 he completed his biggest sales transaction, purchasing six apartments for black New Yorkers in an area that, two decades before, had been entirely white. He died later that year from liver cancer, but the company survived him until 1922, and his legacy turning Harlem into a major hub of African American culture exists to this day.

See? I managed to turn this into something interesting and relevant to NYC real estate AND bitch about racism AND defend the American South. Hope you enjoy it half as much as I enjoyed writing it!