Friday, February 18, 2011

☞ READ: When NYC Gave Away Brownstones

There have been a few questions in the past on how the City of New York basically gave away Harlem brownstone shells a few decades back and why many of them have not been restored until recently.  We just received a tip on an article from Dwell magazine that provides a little insight on the back story: LINK.  The above photos shows a beautiful Queen Anne brownstone with a restored contemporary interior on 118th Street which the owner received from a lottery of 150 city-owned Harlem townhouse two decades ago.  There was a crack epidemic at the time, and the neighborhood had a declining population where almost half of property owners would stop paying taxes to flee.  Architect Bill Ryall paid $42K for the brownstone since the city ended up owning most of abandoned homes and started selling them at low pricse to promote the return of residents along with the goal of neighborhood renewal.

Mr. Ryall checked on all those homes years later to find out that the worst had happened to the majority of them.  Only 10 of the original 150 were ever restored since the city told folks that it would take about $30K to renovate the homes. In reality, the number ended up being more like $300K.  The majority of homes had been bought out by locals who spent their life savings just for the down payment and discovered that they needed 10 times the original amount of money estimated to get the shells restored.  At the end, it seems that a program that had the goal of home ownership ended up with the opposite result. So for those who are wondering why many of the brownstones uptown are in such bad shape, here's part of the answer.


  1. I know two success stories of locals who bought brownstones way back for almost nothing, one spent a lot renovating and is now a multi apartment landlord, the other spent only tens of thousands patching the immediate problems, and it is still a legal sro, but a large home for a single family. But in both cases it was a huge commitment that worked out well for the owners and neighborhood.

  2. I was always told the story of the city selling brownstones for $1