Million Dollar Blocks in Every Boro of NYC

13 Jun

Don’t think of this post as a very optimistic, positive one, because Lord knows it isn’t. I’m very angry, upset and fumed at this point. I recently read a book by Jana Leo called Rape New York, an autobiographical and poignant feminist and activist approach at her whirlwind of an experience in getting raped in her apartment of a Harlem building whose front door and roof doors were never kept locked or safe. Leo went on to sue her landlord, a thief, despite my lack of better words, Steven Green, and she prevailed. Though the process took her six years after the crime was committed in early 2001, the criminal was caught and sentenced and the man even helped in some way in the process of suing her landlord.

Leo’s experience, though she wasn’t a born-and-raised New Yorker, isn’t the only one we hear of. Deep in the tunnels, the city parks and at other peoples’ homes these types of crimes are being committed every day. I’m an assault survivor so my heart goes out to every survivor who lives to tell their story. For those who have yet to tell their story, you must know you are NOT alone.

What this woman goes further into detail about other than just describing the process of her rape, she talks about her dealings with the NYPD, FBI and other tenants who have felt unsafe in the building and have made complaints against the landlord, but have succumbed to threats or worse.. being kicked out. A crime that most people do not know of because they genuinely fear of being kicked out of their own home to which their landlords have NO grounds.

Leo’s experience also isn’t much different from many women who are raped in parts of Brooklyn like Red Hook, the Downtown area by the courthouses, and stretching as far as Williamsburg and Bedford Stuyvesant. What is more intriguing is the telling of how the introduction of crime by the government working with real estate developers is what leads to cases like Leo’s. In Rape New York, she writes:

“Introducing crime into an area is part of a crude development strategy. The more sophisticated and perverse approach is to clamp down on street crime while forcing it into specific buildings targeted for speculation. Containing crime in specific buildings reduces their value so developers can purchase them inexpensively. Not only were developers able to buy property on the cheap, the scam also made short-term, low-income rentals much more profitable than high-income rentals…”

So in reality you have these low-income families who pay a moderate price in rent. If these families or couples or single women are only taking a one or two year lease, whatever is shortest, then they face rent increases and fees (if rent is late, etc.) from their landlords. The charges seem endless.

“Agents kept the security deposit, increased the rent, and charged illegal brokers’ fees, thus quickly realizing a profit from the quick turnover of tenants. If a third of the tenants in a thirty-apartment building moved annually, income doubled, yielding up to an extra one hundred thousand dollars. Eventually the building would fall completely vacant, and was no longer subject to rent stabilization laws. It would then be demolished or converted into luxury housing.

When you think of the people who are in prison, you don’t really think much of where they come from or which neighborhoods and how it reflects on government costs and funding of both. You might overthink or overlook that. Leo writes:

“A map by Columbia University’s Spatial Information Design Lab and the Justice Mapping Center shows that the New York prison population largely comes from a few neighborhoods such as Brownsville and Harlem. The map cross-references the annual cost and population of prisoners with the place where they lived before they were incarcerated, evaluating how much blocks in a certain area cost the government. The study found that a disproportionate number of inmates come from a limited number of neighborhoods, and also from specific blocks in these districts. The cost of incarceration has led these blocks to become known as “Million Dollar Blocks.””

Leo goes on to further talk more about the study and its flaws:

“The study also leaves the implication of The “Million Dollar Block” unchallenged; that the cost of incarceration and crime is borne by the U.S. government, and thus fails to consider the costs for the victims of crime, and the financial implications for the area’s non incarcerated residents.”

The “Million Dollar Blocks”  become a source of income for governmental agents in a world that follows the Robocop principle of corruption: introduce crime into an area to decrease real estate value, buy up land when the prices are down and then develop the neighborhood. Taxpayers bear the cost of crime, while the revenue created by real estate speculation remains in the hands of corrupt officials, slum landlords, and developers – with a payoff tax benefit going to the city and the state government. In a Robocop world, the million-dollar cost of a high crime block paid by taxpayers yields a much greater revenue for speculators and government. The money spent on crime and incarceration is considered an initial investment for much greater return and increase in tax revenue from upscale development. Each “Million Dollar Block” is a gold brick radiating profit.”

Where there is crime, and slum landlords sitting on profits and raking in new tenants year after year, there is something to be said. I won’t say that I am facing the same experience as Leo, but I have been dealing with a management company, who for the past six years in my dwelling has never once seemed the least concerned about its tenants’ safety. They are more quick to ask for your rent money, ask if you have got a job than to ask the things that matter and hold more clout. I’m not naming names, but believe me.. this is my first time dealing with a management company who had taken over the building after the owner died some years after we initially moved in and landlords and apartment buildings are NOT what they used to be. Especially when you are dealing, like Leo and I, with companies who manage your building – you have to take matters in your own hands at your own time and NEVER fear them. There are tenants’ rights and tenants’ issues and lawyers. This is a widespread issue and Leo talks more in depth about how she handled suing her landlord over many issues regarding her rape. Take a look at the Village Voice article from earlier this year here.


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