The Real Deal New York

This month in real estate history

The Real Deal looks back at some of New York's biggest real estate stories

September 29, 2009

1974: Nation’s largest federal-supported housing project opens

Starrett City, the nation’s largest federally subsidized housing project, was dedicated 35 years ago this month in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The long-delayed project on Jamaica Bay in eastern Brooklyn was first envisioned in 1964 as a complex with 19 apartment buildings with a price tag of $161 million.

By 1967, construction executive Allen Christensen, who was the lead sponsor, had dropped out, and the new sponsor was the United Housing Foundation, builders of Co-Op City, for the project known as Twin Pines Village. But the company dropped out, too, blaming the city for a slow approval process. Ultimately, Starrett Housing Corporation and National Kinney partnered to build the $325 million complex.

The 5,881-unit development is comprised of 46 buildings between 11 and 20 stories tall, and is home to some 25,000 people. It is the city’s second-largest housing development, behind Co-Op City in northeastern Bronx, which opened in 1971.

Starrett City was built as part of the middle-class Mitchell-Lama housing program and received federal, state and local subsidies in exchange for regulating rents and capping the owner’s annual return at 6 percent.

In 2006, the owners, Starrett City Associates, put the development up for sale, but vocal opposition from residents and politicians hindered the process.

In July of this year, Albany approved a refinancing of the owner’s $240 million mortgage, which could yield as much as $400 million or $500 million, reports said.

1938: Feared Manhattan prison the Tombs offered for sale

The city put the four-decade-old prison known as the Tombs, as well as the adjacent Criminal Courts Building, up for sale 71 years ago this month. The city suggested the property on the blocks bounded by Lafayette, Centre, White and Leonard streets could be torn down for new structures or converted into offices or other commercial uses. The site had an assessed valuation of $3.7 million.

The decrepit buildings had no acceptable buyers and were eventually demolished and replaced by the Municipal Courts Building, with an address of 111 Centre Street.

The 1898 prison and adjacent red brick courthouse, built in 1894, were joined by the so-called Bridge of Sighs. The buildings were foul smelling and structurally weak, as they were built over the former Collect Pond on wood pilings.

The potential auction was announced after development of the replacements for the aging structures was under way. The new Tombs and Criminal Courts buildings were opened in 1941 at 100 Centre Street.

The Fire Department suggested in 1942 it could use the Tombs for a college for firefighters, but that plan was abandoned.

Demolition of the parcel was announced in 1945, and was completed in 1948. The site was given to the Park District in 1960 and became the Collect Pond Park in 1961.

1922: State’s first real estate broker’s license law takes effect

The first law in New York state requiring a license to practice as a real estate broker or salesperson went into effect 87 years ago this month, bringing tighter regulation to an industry with scant oversight.

The law, which took effect Oct. 1, required all individuals and corporations that buy, sell or lease property for a fee to be licensed.

“Under the present loose system, real estate men complain [that] a host of so-called real estate brokers have no other office than their hats,” the New York Times reported a year before the law went into effect.

The law was supported by the Real Estate Board of New York, the state Association of Real Estate Boards and other industry groups.

The law allowed for the revocation of a license if accusations of misrepresentation, fraud or incompetence were sustained by the state Tax Commission, which first administered the law. Within a few years, the Department of State took over management of the law.

The license was good for one year and cost a broker $25 and a salesperson $5.

Today, there are 57,620 licensed brokers and 61,262 licensed salespeople in New York, according to the Department of State.

Compiled by Adam Pincus

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