The Mystery of Real Estate Porn ‹ CrimeReads – CrimeReads

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It’s a game in New York and we all play. Everyone talks real estate, how the condo market’s soft, how the rental market’s skyrocketing, how Manhattan’s suddenly affordable but forget about Brooklyn, and really, the south Bronx is incredibly convenient on the 2, the 5, even the D, Hoboken’s way out of reach but have you thought about Weehawken? (New Jersey: the sixth borough.) New Yorkers stop and stare in the windows at real estate agents, where photos of available apartments and townhouses are posted, and we try to figure out what the place really looks like, never mind those wide-angle shots of narrow little rooms and the staged furniture probably hiding holes in the walls. Especially if the rent or the asking price seems below market, there’s got to be something wrong with it and we, New Yorkers, can sniff it out.

Well, there sure as hell is something wrong. What’s wrong is, when we say “affordable” we mean a studio that can be snatched up for $3,000 a month. We mean a fourth floor walk-up with the bathtub in the kitchen. We mean a 425 square foot co-op apartment for $750,000 and monthly carrying charges of $1,000.  You guys in the rest of the country are going, whuuut?


Buy/sell, rent/lease residential &
commercials real estate properties.

Whuuut indeed. Are these absurd prices the result of the fact that everyone wants to come to New York, New York, a helluva town? That new young dreamers, stars in their eyes, are arriving daily to fill every nook and cranny with their talent and ambition, crowding and jostling for places to live and create?

That does still happen, that new young dreamers thing. But it’s not why real estate prices are pornographically high here.

Starting with our 105th mayor,  Ed Koch, and right down through the next five– Dinkins, Giuliani, Bloomberg, de Blasio, and the current guy, Adams–the soul of New York was and continues to be sold for laundered money.

Oh, you thought those supertalls, the slender needle buildings that poke up through the clouds along 57th Street and a couple of other east side spots, giving the skyline the finger, you thought those were there because the super rich were looking for places to live? Sorry. They’re there because the mega (way beyond super) rich, mostly but not exclusively from other places–oligarchs, if you will–have a problem. They have more money, much of it the product of corruption, nepotism, and outright theft, than they know what to do with. Literally. In places like China and Russia, the banks aren’t trustworthy, and for that matter neither is the government. Here in the US of A, we still have laws that trigger investigations of large movements of cash, so our own oligarchs are faced with the same conundrum. Short of keeping all your wealth as cash and hiding it under the mattress (I’m seeing the tower in “The Princess and the Pea”), how many options do you have? One is art, which is why the art market and the money markets have come to resemble each other so strongly. If I say a Van Gogh is worth a hundred million dollars, and so do you, I can buy it, lock it away and don’t allow the day here inside where it hides, until I need a hundred million dollars to invest in Elon Musk’s next rocket ship or some damn thing. Then I sell the Van Gogh to you, and you lock it away, etc. Eventually you might sell it back to me, or one of our other mega rich buddies. That way a small portable object becomes the depository of our hundred million dollars, which only one of us uses at a time.

On the other end of the scale is real estate. That’s the other place I can park my obscene amounts of cash. You can do this in any major city, and the same effect has already damaged London, but Manhattan real estate started higher and historically only goes up, tiny softenings and temporary dips aside. If I say a penthouse triplex on the 75th floor above Manhattan is worth a hundred million dollars, and so do you… etc. It’s the same as the Van Gogh, with this one huge difference. When you or I pay a hundred million for a Van Gogh and then lock it away, the art market gets all kinds of screwed up and regular people lose the chance to see a great work of art. Bad, but life goes on. When we pay that for a condo in a building so slender it moves with the wind and starting from two thirds of the way up you can’t actually see the so-called view because most of the time you’re above the clouds or in them, it’s because someone has planted that building in the middle of a New York block. The prices you or I pay for our money parking place–which we may never even visit–are reflected in the rise in the city’s real estate appraisal of the neighborhood, and real estate taxes go up. Landlords, who’re paying those taxes, pass them on to tenants. And oops, there goes another rubber tree plant shop.

What’s any of this got to do with my new book, The Mayors of New York? Everything. All those rubber tree plant shop owners have to go somewhere. All those immigrants, all those refugees, all those starry-eyed dreamers from London and Lagos and Poughkeepsie, they’re still coming and they’re still finding places to live and to work. The so-called outer boroughs are big, diverse, and people-absorbent. Add the far northern end of Manhattan, not yet out of reach of real people–people who, not being mega-rich, actually live in the places they rent or buy, and need to shop and get their shoes repaired nearby–and you’re talking about 90% of New York’s landmass. These people create chaotic and thriving communities. And someone has to look out for them. Not the politicians, who’re pretty generally looking out for their next election and the real estate interests that’ll sponsor it.

The people who do, they’re the real mayors of New York. The old lady who sits all day in the park; the guy who organizes the workdays of the Times Square costumed characters; the tax accountant her neighbors call Boss Lady. The people who know what’s going on, and where to put pressure to try to get people what they need. In a smaller town, the Mayor may actually be in charge. In a more political town, the councilmember or alderman or ward heeler might be able to fix things up for you. In New York, it’s your local mayor: the barber, the baker, the candlestick maker. A locus of hyper-local knowledge, a volunteer fixer, a node in a decentralized system of power brokers. There’s nothing they can do about the rising picket fence of supertall buildings, but when offered the opportunity to exchange information for a favor that will get the neighborhood a crossing guard, they’re all over it.

In The Mayors of New York, the elected Mayor becomes beholden to the neighborhood mayors. If only; but I’m a fiction writer. Still, what I care about is the richness of New York, not the rich of New York. If I can bring to life for readers some of the colors, smells, and sounds of the vibrant New York that’s booming under– sometimes, way under–the noses of the powerful, the famous, and the vacuous, I will have done my job.

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