Putting a price on history: Professor argues protected districts only preserve for the one percent

Blasting the past: Brooklyn Heights resident and professor Sandy Ikeda says historic districts may be impeding growth in New York.
Brooklyn Paper
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Call it a landmark argument.

Historic districts are thwarting economic diversity in some Brooklyn neighborhoods because their buildings’ real estate value has risen so high that it prices out all but the wealthy, according to a Brooklyn Heights resident and economics professor.

“There’s a cost to landmarking that falls on third parties,” said Sandy Ikeda, who teaches at the State University of New York Purchase. “The mistake people make in preserving historic districts is they forget it imposes a cost, usually on people they don’t see — people who because of higher real estate prices would be unable to live in that neighborho­od.”

Ikeda published an article in March on how preserved areas limit new construction in certain neighborhoods, making them off limits to those who can’t afford to live in historic homes — which, unlike most older houses that often sell for lower prices, only increase in value as they age.

He focused on his own nabe of Brooklyn Heights, which is almost entirely a historic district and was the city’s first. The inaugural designation was made in 1965 to protect residences that date to the 1820s from being demolished to pave the way for the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway.

To protect the character of the tony enclave, homeowners must get approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission to alter the exterior of their houses — a process that includes appearing before the community board and commission, and is required for property owners in any of the city’s historic districts.

And the designation makes it almost impossible to build new high-rises that would increase the city’s housing stock and lower area real estate prices, making the neighborhood only affordable for the wealthy, Ikeda argues.

“Whatever restricts the supply of housing while the demand stays the same tends to raise prices,” he said.

The protected swathes further stifle economic development because many mom-and-pop shops can’t afford to pay their hefty rents, and are replaced with commercial banks, drug stores, or converted luxury apartments, Ikeda said. For instance, the independently owned Brooklyn Heights Cinema closed in 2014 after 44 years on Henry Street and is being converted into condos.

But the professor is not saying that all historic districts should be bulldozed. He praised the landmarking process for preserving storied buildings that might otherwise be knocked down, and noted that several factors limit the city’s stock of affordable housing, including strict zoning regulations that restrict how high developers can build.

He doesn’t think historic districts should stop being named either, but suggested the Landmarks Preservation Commission tighten its standards, approve fewer buildings, and stop greenlighting large portions of nabes for protection.

“We’re seeing more and more of these neighborhoods being converted into landmarks and that’s a serious problem,” Ikeda said.

But the city already has slowed in designating the districts, said one expert.

“There are so many neighborhoods out there at the moment waiting to be landmarked that the LPC hasn’t designated, it’s stunning,” said Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of Historic Districts Council, an advocacy group for the protected areas. “It has slowed down immensely under the DeBlasio administra­tion.”

He agreed that other factors suppress cheap housing, including the city’s zoning regulations and the lack of laws that protect small businesses from being priced out. But blaming historic districts isn’t the answer, he said, as costs of living in the city are spiking whether people reside in them or not.

“Prices have risen in Brooklyn Heights proportionally to all of the other brownstone neighborhoods around there,” he said. “Land costs continually rise, which is the case for almost all of New York City.”

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 5:56 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Ms. Me from Bay Ridge says:
The professor should go to Sunset Park and see the ugly architectural alterations being done to the neighborhood by the
Aug. 10, 2017, 9:01 am
the old fart says:
"And the designation makes it almost impossible to build new high-rises that would increase the city’s housing stock and lower area real estate prices, making the neighborhood only affordable for the wealthy, Ikeda argues." If he does, Ikeda is incorrect. What prevents "high-rises" in Brooklyn Heights is the limited height restriction in the Zoning Resolution. Awesome troll bait, Lauren!
Aug. 10, 2017, 10:05 am
Ms. Me from Bay Ridge says:
...not one percent. Perhaps the professor would change his mind.
Aug. 10, 2017, 10:09 am
Lloyd Bergenson from Harlem says:
Why is the Brooklyn Paper promoting discredited theories that's being peddled by a front for the Institute for Humane Studies, an ultra-libertarian think tank funded by the Koch brothers?
Aug. 10, 2017, 11:06 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
The professor is obviously right. But the landed gentry doesn't want you to look at how they accumulated all that unearned wealth.
Aug. 10, 2017, 1:17 pm
further from the guy whose earlier comment was deleted says:
BP can delete my comment but the comments above pretty much prove the point that you won't let me make. Is that acceptable?
Aug. 10, 2017, 1:39 pm
Russ Nelson from Bay Ridge says:
If you know even a little economics, you know Sandy is right. Imposing restrictions that reduce supply and increase cost can only raise prices. I suppose if your goal is to keep those damned minorities out of your neighborhood, then you go ahead and keep your historical districts.
Aug. 10, 2017, 3:17 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
Russ, I think these people understand that--they're getting insanely rich from their unearned wealth! They employ the language of progressivism to achieve their reactionary ends.
Aug. 10, 2017, 3:31 pm
Halley from Bk says:
He obviously has a personal agenda! He wants to build apartments on top of his house, and is using his title in order to lie and line his pocketbøger with money! He knows it's all bs!
Aug. 10, 2017, 5:21 pm
Cat from Bed stuy says:
Approximately 2% of New York City is land marked. So the lack of high-rise buildings in 2% of the city is causing a housing crisis? I think the professor should brush up on his math.
Aug. 11, 2017, 8:34 am
Lloyd from Harlem says:
Yes, Russ, tell us all about the diversity of Bay Ridge... Last I checked, your nabe had zero historic districts.
Aug. 11, 2017, 9:11 am
no professor from Brooklyn says:
We aren't looking to rid ourselves of Landmarks because it decreases the housing stock or increases rental rates, because we don't want to increase the housing stock in this overpopulated borough, nor do highrises decrease prices but rather increase them as well as create displacement enclaves.

We want to rid ourselves of Landmarks because we've surrendered our rights to make changes to our homes to government run, bow-tie wearing, holier-than-thou, power crazed aliens.

Community bodies governed by a fair percentage of owners and residents should decide for themselves what they want to see in their communities. Creating such would be a "Landmark".

Aug. 11, 2017, 11:19 am
stan chaz from Greenpoint says:
Sounds like a "professor" from Trump University.
Real estate prices are soaring in many many areas that don't have historic districts. Why not bulldoze Central & Prospect parks while you're at it buddy? And let the real estate developers do what they want to our City. This man does not know what the word "neighborhood" means. He would destroy that what he claims to value.
Aug. 11, 2017, 12:04 pm
Kat from Williamsburg says:
If this argument holds true, then why is unlandmarked Williamsburg, rife with terrible new buildings, among the most expensive housing markets in the city?
Aug. 11, 2017, 1:45 pm
BrooklynBorn77 from Flatbush says:
Is this man a paid shill for the Toll Brothers, Kushners or Two Trees Management? (Or some other mega real estate developers)
Allowing much bigger buildings - at obscene market rates - does not seem to help local housing affordability in any serious way. Not when these pricey condos attract foreign investors and rich newcomers to Brooklyn.
Regulations on prices, requiring larger amounts of affordable housing - these are ways to help the housing crisis among the city's longtime residents. Not by blindly authorizing bigger and bigger luxury behemoths which do not house anyone who has lived in Brooklyn for more than 4 years.
Aug. 12, 2017, 8:23 am
Andrew Porter from Brooklyn Heights says:
"the designation makes it almost impossible to build new high-rises..." In th Landmarked area of BH, there's a 50 foot height limit on new construction, so it makes it totally impossible to build new high-rises.

However, in parts of BH like on Montague and Remsen that are not part of the District, such high-rises are in fact being built.

Incidentally, I'm retired, on SCRIE, so I don't think I'm part of the 1%.
Aug. 12, 2017, 12:16 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
In the end, money really does talk. This is why developers always target neighborhoods of low incomes. This is mainly due to them having little or no protection to stop them, which is why Bruce Ratner, who heads FCR, was able to get his way to tear down about half Prospect Height's historical architecture just to get another of complexes built that are mainly for the rich hence the arena, which got named Barclays Center, was nothing more than his Trojan Horse just to get politicians and minority groups on his side for it. Overall, it does feel as if we do live in plutocracy, which is those believe in one dollar, one vote to get their way. Unless, you have a lot of money to give to a political campaign, your property means nothing and the LPC will refuse to help save it from developers.
Aug. 12, 2017, 5:26 pm
Toonie from Staten Island says:
Landmarking has also been a problem here- house prices on Staten Island have sky-rocketed because of the landmark district between the mall and the dump. Especially with all the hipsters moving here. Now that Williamsburg is over, and the mall to dump landmark distric has become synonymous with the New York hipster scene, regular poor people can no longer afford the houses here!
Aug. 13, 2017, 12:14 pm
Tegan from Dumpo historic district, SI says:
Hello Toonie, you old timers complaining have just got to stop. The DUMPO historic district is one of the most lively and inovative places in all of Staten Island. Sorry to "rain on your parade" but it's "out with the old and in with the new" here.
Aug. 14, 2017, 6:08 am
Ms. Me from Bay Ridge says:
The professor should come to Bay Ridge and see my ugly ugly face and take a hot steamy dump on it. Then I can give him a rimjob, prewipe!
Aug. 14, 2017, 1:29 pm
Morris from Mill Basin says:
Basically everyone here should die.
Aug. 16, 2017, 6:06 pm

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