Despite some good news about the economy in recent weeks, the Daily News reported on Thursday that the number of New Yorkers losing their homes spiked in January, with Brooklynites "bearing much of the pain." Of 1,825 homeowners who received some form of eviction notice in January, 693 (or 38%) were residents of the borough of Kings. As has been typical of the housing crisis in New York and other major cities, some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods were low to middle-income communities, including Bed-Stuy, East Flatbush, and East New York. While the city as a whole lags behind the national average (one in 409 homeowners faces foreclosure in the USA), these communities, like their counterparts in Queens, have seen the gains of the recent past rolled back in a hurry as jobs, credit, and home security disappear in lockstep.
At the height of the crisis, it was easier to find sympathetic ears, but the dominant discourse today is about the improving economy, not those who are still hurting almost eighteen months on. Local groups like the Pratt Area Community Council and South Brooklyn Legal Services continue to provide homeowners with assistance, but despite the well-documented tactics of predatory lenders, the "blame the borrowers" argument persists. The bottom line, this argument claims, is that homeowners should have known better.
In defense of the 693 Brooklynites who joined the nightmare ranks of those facing foreclosure this month (and all their counterparts already suffering), I offer the latest big real estate news from Northwest Brooklyn (Manhattan): Tishman Speyer has handed the keys to Stuy-Town over to the banks who financed the $6.3 billion debacle after defaulting on the mortgage. These were not optimistic homeowners seeking a piece of the American Dream--these were, in theory and the estimation of their peers, the finest minds in finance and real estate, from Tishman to BlackRock to Merrill Lynch. In an interesting piece detailing the sale before the default, the Observer likens the rhetoric in the lead-up to the sale to vintage Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld chatter about Iraqi WMDs. If nothing else, it illustrates the point that even the savviest dealmakers in New York City came up clueless, which adds some perspective to any critique of a Brooklyn homeowner.