On Reader Comments: Real Estate in Washington Heights (or, WTF?)

14Feb08

In which The Gay Recluse responds (in italics) to reader comments.

Dear The Gay Recluse: I also live in Washington Heights, and was led to your blog through curbed.com. I read your parody post On Our Eulogy for Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage with giddiness and glee!
We like you already; this has been a banner day at The Gay Recluse.
It seems that one can’t post comments to the blog?
This is true; we don’t like bloodshed. Trackbacks are preferred.
I had no idea that the spot on Amsterdam/St.Nicholas,162nd Street was at one point a Rite Aid.
Get this: We just heard it was a Boston Market before it was a Rite Aid.
But I was more surprised that you seemed to imply you might not mind a playground there, when housing is in such short supply.
Sadly, unsubsidized housing in most of Washington Heights is at least another housing boom away (which given the current situation doesn’t seem likely to be right around the corner); meanwhile — at least on our block — the kids need a place to play and the drug dealers a place to deal. What better solution than a playground? The other issue is that that location is over the subway station, which creates even more problems for a potential buyer; basically Columbia University someone with extremely deep pockets and good political connections needs to step in and take care of it.
The bizarre conditions created by the regulation thicket allow a 2 bedroom in one of the only new construction properties (on 163rd between Amsterdam and Broadway) to be on the market for about $800,000 (a piece-of-shit apartment, incidentally, which doesn’t deserve to sell for more than $800), while parcels, including this one, sit vacant. A condo or apartment complex of new fewer than 8 stories, I say, preferably 12 floors with set-backs. There are so few places for sale in the neighborhood, and those that are for sale are astronomically expensive for the typical Heights resident. There seem to be a variety of prime development opportunities, and I don’t see how developers would not be taking advantage of them without some sort of absurd regulations or illogical opposition by people who still for some reason don’t understand the basic laws of supply and demand.
The high density of rent-stabilized apartment buildings in Washington Heights has traditionally — or at least since the 1920s, when we moved here — made (unsubsidized) residential development problematic, because basically nobody (in their right mind) is going to pay $800k for an apartment between Broadway and Amsterdam on 163rd Street. At the same time, Manhattan construction costs and predictable amounts of greed have created a situation where developers don’t feel comfortable getting into something unless they can bank $800k (at least) for that hypothetical apartment (and at least a handful of others); hence the Catch-22. In short, we’ve never seen anything for sale in Washington Heights that didn’t lead us to scratch our head and say “wtf? why is this so fucking expensive? Who would pay such money to live amid the squalor and ruins?” The other problem is that carrying costs (especially taxes) tend to be very low, which is also a disincentive to commercial development.
For example:
McDonalds at around 170th and Broadway. Hideous, and a 1-story building at this location is a missed opportunity. The location at the intersection of Broadway and St. Nicholas could afford interesting views, and is within 3 minutes of a subway stop. Why is there not at least an 8-10 residential building there?
We too, would like to call Knockbusters to take care of the McDonalds. But see above.
Gristedes – one floor, right next to the subway stop !?!?!
See above.
Vacant, trash-strewn block on 162nd street, one-half block from the C stop that is supposedly on 163rd street, but really at 162 and 161.
See above. Note that the subway used to exit on the street at 163rd (hence the name).
Of course there are a variety of other under-used parcels, none of which contribute in any way to the architecture and character of the neighborhood, and many of which detract from the neighborhood quite a bit. I am just wondering, why are these parcels not being developed? Even in a supposedly depressed market, there is plenty of demand. If a 2-bedroom east of Broadway can sell for over $600,000, there is plenty of demand. What’s going on here? Do you know?
See above. Ultimately the neighborhood will change only when the demographic is more affluent; this is a long-term proposition because of the rent-stabilized buildings, which as a rule experience a very delayed reaction to changing market conditions (which has both advantages and disadvantages). Bottom line: nothing is changing too fast around here, and don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.
And the low density of Dykeman is even more mysterious given the subway access there as well.
Inwood is indeed a mysterious place to us; the Dykeman Marina is filled with shipwrecks and ghosts; if we had an unlimited production budget, we would probably shoot a film there.
Sincerely,
a new Washington Heights resident
We have enjoyed hearing from you, our new young and idealistic neighbor. (May the force be with you.)

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