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While (probably) no one was under the impression that people buy, sell, and rent out New York real estate just out of the goodness of their hearts, this is still pretty disheartening: New York Magazine scored an interview with a startlingly honest—and racist!—Brooklyn landlord and developer, and well, it's bad.
Aside from run-of-the-mill shady property tricks (buying deeds from over-mortgaged owners and renting out their properties while they await foreclosure), 26-year-old "Ephraim" also laid out his flagrantly racist tactics for buying black residents out of gentrifying neighborhoods and swapping them in for white "yuppies" at twice the price. It's the kind of mustache-twirling scheme many of us suspected was lurking behind a lot of gentrification trends, but never actually heard anyone say outright. Well, until now. Below, a few highlights (or rather, lowlights).
On why some Brooklyn residents are skeptical of Jewish landlords (Ephraim himself is Hasidic):
"Some Jewish people, they’re going to come in and they’re going to try to rip off the black tenants — and the tenants know it, there’s word of mouth. So it’s like, “Oh, a Jewish guy again?” There’s a lot of Jewish guys moving around. Like a lot, a lot, a lot of investors who are either Hasidic Jews or a little bit less, but they’re Jewish. They’re holding Bed-Stuy like this — he squeezes at the air in front of him, strangling it. So sometimes it’s like, “Hello, this was our neighborhood. What are you doing here?”
On his lowball approach to buyouts:
"We’re small, so we look into places that haven’t caught on — we just did a place on Nostrand Avenue. People are not even there yet. We put in $600,000 and everyone was laughing at us. “It’s crazy, you’re over there. A building for yuppies, white people? It’s not going to work.” The building was full of tenants — $1,300, $1,400 tenants. We paid every tenant the average of twelve, thirteen thousand dollars to leave. I actually went to meet them — lawyers are not going to help you. And we got them out of the building and now we have tenants paying $2,700, $2,800, and they’re all white. So this is what we do.
My saying is — again, I’m not racist — every black person has a price. The average price for a black person here in Bed-Stuy is $30,000 dollars. Up over there in East New York, it’s $10,000 dollars. Everyone wants them to leave, not because we don’t like them, it’s just they’re messing up — they bring everything down. Not all of them."
And the (supposed) reason for said buyout approach:
"If there’s a black tenant in the house—in every building we have, I put in white tenants. They want to know if black people are going to be living there. So sometimes we have ten apartments and everything is white, and then all of the sudden one tenant comes in with one black roommate, and they don’t like it. They see black people and get all riled up, they call me: “We’re not paying that much money to have black people live in the building.”
Along the way, Ephraim also notes that other, even less ethical developers will offer buyouts that never actually end up getting paid. (The lesson: Get your cash before you vacate.) There are a lot of depressing takeaways here — particularly regarding the apparent limitations of landlord oversight, fair housing, and tenants rights laws — but one of the points that stuck out to us most was the one about the buyouts.
Tenants' rights groups have been warning Brooklyn residents against predatory buyout offers for a while now, given that in the current market, even tens of thousands of dollars might not make up for the loss of a rent-stabilized apartment. If a landlord does want to buy you out — and you actually might consider leaving — don't just jump at the first offer, but take some time to figure out what your lease is really worth. (We've got tips here.) Chances are, your place is worth a whole lot more than what they're offering.