Constant calls on your cell phone, knocks on your door and daily fliers from investors making cash offers on your home — you don’t need to be at risk of foreclosure to be a target.
But the harassment most often happens to longtime low-income Black and Brown homeowners. The aggressors: house “flippers” who buy homes for a fraction of what they’re worth, often with quick-cash offers cash-strapped New Yorkers find hard to turn down. The flippers then resell the houses for triple or quadruple what they paid. Local buyers and tenants in the area suffer the ensuing surge in real estate prices, property taxes and rent.
The house-flippers’ strategies, including targeting heirs of multi-family homes and rushing to evict tenants in gentrifying neighborhoods, have only gotten more egregious.
“With our seniors, they’ve been trying to mislead them, as if they are familiar with them, as if they are a family member — even such things as trying to go after their deed or change the name on their deed,” said Jessica Franco, who’s on the steering committee for the Coalition of Community Advancement. The advocacy group promotes affordable housing in Cypress Hills and East New York (the latter is among those neighborhoods hardest hit by home flipping).
Meanwhile, the response from harassed homeowners, concerned neighbors and housing justice advocates is also growing louder.
What’s the latest on the anti-flipping fight?
The Coalition for Community Advancement is rallying neighbors to take a walk on the “flipped” side on Saturday, Feb. 3, hosting a “toxic home-flipping” walking tour of Jamaica, Queens and Cypress Hills to educate on the effects of rampant speculation.
It’s also looking to rev up support for an “anti-flip” tax, a bill co-sponsored by Queens Assembly member Catalina Cruz and State Senator Julia Salazar, who represents East New York. If passed, it would mean hefty taxes on property owners who sell one- to three-family homes within two years of buying them (with some exceptions).
While the bill is still a ways away from a vote on the state senate floor, Epicenter spoke with two coalition members to find out how neighbors can combat toxic home-flipping: the Coalition of Community Advancement’s Jessica Franco. Excerpts from the interview are below, lightly edited for clarity.
Epicenter: How does this issue affect people who are not directly targeted by house- flippers?
Franco: This is something that [the coalition] has noticed for many years. I personally see it every single time my property taxes go up. We know that property taxes are based on market-value rents — and every time a property is flipped, it forces the property value to go up. I’ve lived in New York City pretty much all my life. I grew up in Bushwick and I remember when [rent for] a two-bedroom apartment was $1200, or $850. I remember when I used to live on Knickerbocker [Avenue] and it was a three-bedroom apartment and the asking rent was only $350. How do we go from $350 to $3,000?
One of my biggest worries is, where are my kids going to live? The reality is that even having a career is no longer enough to be able to save and actually have the possibility of ever buying a property. There is no way that we can compete with these out-of-country LLCs that are betting at all-cash.
Epicenter: What do you say to homeowners who might be tempted to sell their homes to some of these potential flippers?
Franco: There’s this [thinking] among homeowners, that ‘if I sell my house, I’m gonna be able to get a million dollars or a million and a half,’ and that sounds really great. But I think it’s really important for New Yorkers to have the larger picture: housing is extremely unaffordable. What happens next? Where do you go next? Are you going to be a tenant or are you going to sell your property to then get yourself into another property and into a larger debt?
Because what we’re seeing is that a lot of folks who fell into this idea of selling their property are finding themselves really with nowhere to go. They’re back in square zero, trying to find or purchase something else and can no longer afford it because that money is gone really fast and property values are very high.
Epicenter: What are good resources for homeowners accosted by LLCs and lawyers about selling their house?
Franco: The Center for NYC Neighborhoods is a really good community organization that brings out good resources to small homeowners and really anyone who’s looking for housing support. Cypress Hills LDC also has a homeowners help desk. I would also suggest NHS Brooklyn.
Also, as a result of all this real estate speculation, the Coalition has worked with Senator Salazar to create a cease-and-desist zone [that covers parts of Cypress Hills and East New York, “to protect individuals from unwanted, intense and repeated solicitations.” What it does is allow homeowners who are in the zone to register in a no-solicitation list, and if a realtor or a developer reaches out to a homeowner who does not want to be solicited, the homeowner can actually follow up with the state of New York and make a formal complaint. And in that case, the state of New York would do an investigation and fine the realty company [which could result in loss of real estate licenses].
Epicenter: This currently only applies to that particular area in Brooklyn, right?
Franco: Correct. Though I do think it should be extended to all of Brooklyn and even all of New York City. Some of the practices that we’ve seen in terms of the speculation and the harassment are really just absurd and disgusting. We need more protections like cease-and-desist zones, and this bill can certainly be one of those solutions but clearly there’s a lot of more work to do.
Other ways to protect yourself and your community:
Epicenter also spoke with Maliha Jahangiri of the Cypress Hills LDC about other ways for homeowners to protect themselves from harassment and their communities from home-flipping. Here are a few of her tips:
- Educate yourself about the issue firsthand
Join the Coalition for Community Advancement on a neighborhood walking tour on Saturday, Feb. 3 at 11 a.m. focused on toxic flipping
Meeting spot: Jamaica Ave and 153rd Street, SE Corner of Rufus King Park (RSVP Required)
RSVP here: firstname.lastname@example.org; (646) 783-9130
- Join the coalition for a rally against toxic home-flipping at Highland Park in Brooklyn on Saturday, Feb. 3 at 12:30 p.m.
Meeting spot: Elton St and Jamaica Ave
To help make signs: 9 a.m. at 2966 Fulton St
- Contact your state elected official, state senator and assembly member and ask them to support the “End Toxic Home Flipping Act.”
- Push for an opt-out option on the existing cease-and-desist zone: advocate making them opt-out instead of opt-in, because “right now homeowners have to opt into the system, into not having to deal with speculators”
- Check out this arm of Cypress Hills LDC, which can help homeowners protect themselves from speculators: https://cypresshills.wixsite.com/homeownerhelpdesk/homeowner-resources
- Dive into this city resource, which offers guidance on how to protect yourself from deed fraud: https://www.nyc.gov/site/finance/property/deed-fraud.page
- Contact brokers or actual real estate agents if you’re a homeowner and are considering selling:
“A lot of these predatory speculators will make all-cash offers, but they’re often lowballing. Go through the entire process with a known or vetted realtor or real estate agent.”