How Far Can $1 Go in NYC Real Estate?

George gets into real estate

On Independence Day, the Times profiled ABC No Rio, an art collective that bought its Lower East Side building from the city for one (1) dollar. Upon raising enough money to renovate the building–after nearly a decade of punk rock matinees, art exhibitions, and various fundraisers to support the cause–the city agreed to pass ownership along to the group for next-to-nothing.

But was it a once in a lifetime deal? Department of Housing Preservation spokesman Neill Coleman told the Times “sometimes the city sells buildings for a dollar” to groups that benefit the public. We asked Mr. Coleman to specify.

“I can tell you that HPD has sold over 700 buildings for $1 since 2002,” he replied via email. 700 for $1.

Most, like the 16 units at 653 Lenox Ave., are residential. Later Mr. Coleman explained: “A lot of the buildings we do with the dollar sales are under our Neighborhood Redevelopment Program, where we take buildings that the city got from tax foreclosure and give them to non-profits for the dollar price, and they do the rehabilitation with some financial help from us. Once the building is renovated, the subsidies that we provide help to keep the rents affordable for existing tenants, who can move back in, or for new tenants.”

Dollar sales to groups are much less frequent. Before ABC No Rio’s sale, there was nearby Fourth Street Arts Block, which was established to buy six buildings (plus two plots of land) between 59-72 East 4th. Each sold for $1 this January.

“It’s a long-term project,” said Block chairperson Ryan Gilliam. “None of the buildings are completely habitatable at the moment–we have a big renovation project on our hands. But the ownership has given us the capacity to attract attention and funds.”

Not all non-profits will be so lucky. A February press release from Mayor Bloomberg’s office admitted: the “stock of city-owned property is nearly gone,” thanks in part to Mayor Koch’s tax foreclosure-based affordable housing program.

While not necessarily offering buildings for a buck, city officials are quick to point out that they have plans for more affordable housing, albeit at rather contentious locales like Hudson Yards and the Williamsburg Waterfront. “What we’re doing there,” Mr. Coleman explained, “is allowing developers to build higher and with more density, and in return they have to create a certain amount of affordable housing.”

Max Abelson How Far Can $1 Go in NYC Real Estate?