Airbnb reshaped these Bed-Stuy blocks. What happens when it’s gone?
The stately brownstone on Madison Street, near the corner of Marcus Garvey Boulevard in Brooklyn, recently sold for $2.4 million, less than three years after a developer purchased it for an eighth of that price.
On Halsey Street, a home sold for $1.9 million, two years after an investor purchased it for less than half that from a family facing foreclosure.
A house on Hancock Street, near Throop Avenue, tells a different story: the same homeowner has held onto the property for nearly four decades.
All three were recently advertised on Airbnb as short-term rentals for entire apartments in Bed-Stuy, with prices ranging as high as $800 a night for “luxury” properties that boast of marble countertops, designer furniture, soaking tubs and a “smart Madeli auto-defogging mirror,” according to one Airbnb listing.
A Gothamist analysis shows the historically Black, and now rapidly-gentrified neighborhood of Victorian brownstones has New York City’s highest concentration of active Airbnb listings where a guest can rent an entire apartment or house for less than 30 days – a scenario that is illegal under state and local laws. Bed-Stuy has more than 15% of the roughly 10,000 such listings in the city, according to data shared by the housing advocacy group Inside Airbnb.
But that should all begin to change on Sept. 5, when the city plans to start enforcing strict new registration requirements for short-term listings that require hosts to register their properties with the city in order to receive payment from Airbnb and other websites.
Some local politicians, residents and housing advocates argue the rules are necessary to keep thousands of housing units that they believe should be rented to New Yorkers from being used as de facto hotel rooms for tourists.
The neighborhood, along with the city as a whole, is now likely to see thousands of listings that will have to either meet the 30-day minimum or be barred from earning money from the site altogether. The Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, which is charged with implementing the registration requirements said nearly half of the 3,250 applications its received for short-term rentals as of Aug 28 were submitted after a judge dismissed a pair of lawsuits earlier this month that were brought by Airbnb and a group of hosts in attempt to prevent the regulations from moving forward.
Gothamist’s analysis matched property records with over 50 recently-booked Airbnb listings for entire houses and apartments within roughly two dozen city blocks that contain the highest density of full-time Airbnb listings in Bed-Stuy to determine who owns the properties and how they’ve changed hands in recent years. The area is bounded by Malcolm X Boulevard to the east, Macon Street to the south, Marcy Avenue to the west and Madison Street to the north. The analysis found that 30% of properties had been purchased by limited liability companies, the majority within the last decade, illustrating how investors can spur displacement by buying homes from long-time owners – some in financial distress – and reselling them at an exponential profit to new residents who turn units into Airbnb listings.
Data from the three census tracts that make up the area show it has become wealthier and more white over the past decade. Median income has increased more than 50% and the proportion of white inhabitants has more than doubled to 26%. The number of Black residents declined only slightly during this time, but their share of the population dropped by 25%. Evictions in this area have also spiked higher than the city average, according to data tracked by Gothamist.
“I was here when all of these buildings were family homes and people bought these buildings for the reason of wanting to raise a family here and wanting to live here,” said Wayne Slater, a retired school teacher who moved back to his childhood home on Halsey Street in the 1970s. “I don’t like the transient part of the Airbnb cycle — people coming in and leaving. I think it’s better when people are invested in the neighborhood.”
In interviews with Gothamist, people who once lived in homes that are now posted as short-term rentals on Airbnb said they faced eviction, foreclosure or other forms of financial hardship before losing their homes. Property records show their houses later often passed through a chain of limited liability companies after having served as a home for the same family for several generations.
Other long-time Bed-Stuy owners said they were fed up with what they saw as the hassle of having tenants and were instead using revenue from Airbnb to supplement their incomes and maintain their houses.
“Airbnb, for someone like me, has become a very valuable way to subsidize my financial situation since I’m fully retired,” said Frankie Scott, who worked as a construction administrator for the Parks Department and has owned her Hancock Street brownstone since 1984. “I’ve had tenants before and it was hell. It cost me a lot of money to have them evicted for nonpayment of rent. I don’t want to go that route anymore.”
Airbnb has sided with small homeowners, arguing that the city’s new registration requirements are a “ban” on the site altogether and identified Bed-Stuy as one of the neighborhoods that will be most affected. It’s also criticized the slow pace at which the city has approved registration applications, with only slightly more than 800 reviewed and roughly 300 granted so far. And yet, the company said it’s already begun blocking some listings that don’t comply with the law.
“We’re trying to find a path forward with the city but for the moment, it’s going to be complicated.” said Nathan Rotman Senior Public Policy Manager at Airbnb. “Parts of the city are going to lose out on the economic opportunity these visitors bring, and a lot of hosts are going to lose what little income they make from the short-term renting that they do on an occasional basis.”
Gothamist found that the listings on the blocks it analyzed averaged about two reviews per month, with the most popular netting four or more reviewed stays in the month of May alone. At an average nightly price of $233 and minimum stay of 4 nights, the average Bed-Stuy Airbnb brought in around $1,800 per month.
Even if property owners do put their apartments back on the rental market, the units will likely remain out of reach to most New Yorkers, with brownstone one-bedrooms going for upward of $4,000 a month. Median rents in the neighborhood have increased more than 55% since 2010, according to data from New York’s University Furman Center.
Families, foreclosures and flips
Each of the Airbnb listings in Bed-Stuy that were reviewed by Gothamist tell their own story of a changing neighborhood, and the role short-term rentals have played in that shift.
One entire brownstone on Hancock Street now listed on Airbnb for $496 a night passed through five owners — three of them limited liability companies — in less than five years, according to property records. Half a block west, another brownstone listed on Airbnb for $249 a night was purchased for $1.4 million by an LLC in 2019, records show. The company sold it less than two years later for $2.3 million.
An elegant four-story brownstone on Madison Street is yet another example. Property records show the building changed hands multiple times in the decade between 2007 and 2017, passing through limited liability companies and Brooklyn Hospital Center—a sharp contrast from the prior half century, when the home belonged to just two families.
The current owner paid $2.4 million to buy it in 2017, according to property records. A full apartment in the home listed on Airbnb includes photos of a meticulously renovated space. The unit goes for about $379/night and advertises prints from the Finnish design firm Marimekko, Indian wood carvings, high-end brushed steel appliances and “plenty of room for Yoga practice.”
“This house is a Brooklyn brownstone, lovingly restored as a modern classic,” the listing reads. “It is one of the finest examples of this classic house type in the area.”
The current owner declined to be interviewed for this story, but former residents say the home has undergone dramatic changes that reflect the broader neighborhood shift.
Lisa Thompson, a retired educator, grew up in the building and said she and her family rented an apartment there for about a decade in the 1960s and 1970s. She said they later purchased another property on nearby Lewis Avenue, which she still owns.
“I loved living there,” said Thompson, now 64. “There was a fire escape in the back and you could open the window, sit out there and get a nice breeze. The neighbors down there were great.”
She said her parents paid the landlord, a family friend, $75 a month for their three-bedroom, top-floor unit at the time. That’s the equivalent of around $600 in today’s dollars, or about a day and a half of rental time at the Airbnb.
Another family bought the building in 1976 and used it as a home base over the next four decades, according to property records and interviews with a former owner. One woman purchased the home from her ailing mother in 2003, and according to her husband, Thomas Rogers, sunk thousands into the renovation.
Rogers said they had to give up the home to cover his mother-in-law’s medical bills. He said she did not have health insurance and owed Brooklyn Hospital Center hundreds of thousands of dollars for medical care. Property records show the hospital took control of the home in 2007 to cover around $250,000 in medical debt.
“After we put a lot of money into it,” Rogers said. “That was something that we invested in and it’s gone.”
Rogers said he took pride in the home. He recalled a bridal shower they hosted for a friend, and cookouts the family held in the backyard. He said they had tenants living in the building as well.
“With the Airbnb, I don’t agree with that,” Rogers said. “It takes a lot of housing off the market.”
Brooklyn Hospital Center sold the building to a limited liability company for $310,000 in 2015, according to property records. That company, tied to real estate developer Michael Kandhorov, resold it to the current owner in 2017. Brooklyn Hospital Center did not respond to emails inquiring about the purchase and sale. Kandhorov did not respond to a voicemail left with his company New York Real Estatement Management LLC.
A property on Halsey Street has changed hands in similar fashion, passing from a family in financial distress, according to one former owner, to an investor and then to a couple who now list the first-floor apartment on Airbnb as a “spacious newly renovated garden apartment in a classic Brooklyn brownstone” with heated floors and “spa robes” hanging in the bathroom. The couple who own the building charge about $225 a night but declined to discuss the property or what they plan to do when the new restrictions take effect.
Trina Bey, 57, said she misses living in the building that she and her brother were forced to sell after inheriting it from their parents, who bought the house in 1968. “We had a big backyard. The rooms were big, not small,” said Bey, a retired corrections officer. “I grew up there. My whole family lived there.”
Bey said they sold the house in 2019 because they could not afford the mortgage and their lender filed for foreclosure. An investor contacted them and made an offer, she said. Property records show a limited liability company represented by real estate agent Avi Dynov purchased the property for $827,000 and flipped it about a year and a half later for $1.9 million.
The new owners declined to discuss the property or their plans for it after the new restrictions take effect. But the Airbnb listing recently changed to only allow visitors to book stays of 30 days or longer, which is in keeping with the state and local restrictions on short-term rentals.
Dynov, the agent associated with the LLC that flipped the property, said he merely represented the initial buyer in 2019 and declined to say who they were. The buyer’s attorney declined to share their names but said they did a “complete renovation” before reselling. The person who signed mortgage documents for the company, Marina Yakubovsky, did not answer phone calls.
Bey now lives in an apartment building in Brownsville where she is facing eviction, despite keeping up with monthly rent payments, according to court records. Her landlord has hung a for sale sign on the fence in front of the building.
She said she wishes she never had to give up the Halsey Street home she shared with her extended family members, who lived on separate floors, and the tight-knit community that formed among neighbors.
“We had a lot of families. We had a lot of kids also,” she said. “We all knew everybody. A lot of us grew up together.”
She said she doesn’t know how Airbnb works, but has observed the impact of rising rents and limited housing options.
“I wish I could go back there,” she said. “If I got a chance to, I would. Even if I could just get an apartment.”
A citywide shift
The New York City Council estimates that roughly a quarter of the city’s 40,000 Airbnb listings are illegal short-term rentals for entire houses and apartments. Other hotspots for full-apartment Airbnbs include the Upper East Side. Williamsburg, Hell’s Kitchen and Midtown.
Airbnb said that, as of Sept. 5, unregistered short-term listings will be either deactivated or automatically switched to monthlong minimum stays.
“I do think that with Airbnb being sort of phased out, to have actual tenants in these buildings would strengthen the community,” said LeMar McLean, a filmmaker who has lived in his Bed-Stuy apartment since 1994. But some long-time owners in the city said Airbnb is helping pay their bills, without the potential pitfalls of a permanent tenant.
Scott, the retired Parks Department worker, has owned her Hancock Street brownstone since 1984. She spoke with Gothamist from her ground-level apartment. Her son and grandson occupy the second and third floors, while she reserves the top floor for Airbnb guests. She said she used to rent out units in the three-story building to permanent tenants until 2018, when she evicted a tenant over unpaid rent. She said it was her second eviction and she didn’t want to ever go through the process again.
“I don’t want some of these people living in my home,” she said. “They destroy and then they don’t want to leave, and then I gotta spend money to take them to court.”
I don’t want some of these people living in my home. They destroy and then they don’t want to leave, and then I gotta spend money to take them to court.
Scott said she left the top-floor apartment vacant for about four years until her plumber connected her with an agent who specializes in renting units on Airbnb. She said the agent has a year-long lease, pays her monthly rent and keeps whatever he earns from Airbnb guests. The agent declined to discuss the business with Gothamist.
The arrangement has allowed her to cover her mortgage payments and she would otherwise leave the apartment empty, she said
She believes long-time, small homeowners like her should be exempt from the regulations and that the city should instead go after investors who move into neighborhoods to extract as much money as possible out of homes.
“It’s about profit for them,” Scott said. “It’s not right because they’re taking advantage of the situation and someone like me, who struggles to keep her home, and this is a way to help me continue to keep my home.”
More than four-fifths of NYC hosts on the site have just one listing to their name, according to data from Inside Airbnb, while the handful of hosts with multiple properties manage nearly half of all Airbnb listings in the city.
Margenett Moore-Roberts, who’s hosted from her Bed-Stuy brownstone since 2015, said in a phone interview that she and other hosts don’t plan on going back to long-term leases come Sept. 5.
“We’re not gonna put our unit on the market,” she said. “We’re gonna have to figure something else out. Some people are saying they’re going to have to leave New York.”
She and dozens of other Bed-Stuy hosts have joined a group of one- and two-family homeowners who, they argue, are simply trying to defray maintenance costs on their private homes. The collective, Restore Homeowner Autonomy and Rights (RHOAR) NYC, is petitioning City Council members to make exceptions to the enforcement law for homeowners who live on property and rent out a spare apartment from time to time.
“You’re not gonna treat somebody jaywalking the same way you treat someone who mowed down seven people,” Moore-Roberts said. “There’s nuance in everything.”