NYC’s Construction Craze Leads To Demolition Delirium

A record number of permits have been filed in NYC to bring in bulldozers and dump trucks as older buildings make way for new.

By Jeff Vasishta February 14, 2017
Photo courtesy of Jordy Meow

Brooklyn’s rabid and rapid gentrification has engulfed the borough with every block seemingly in the midst of some kind of construction. Amid the heartache and displacement for some, optimism and joy for others, one group has fared better than most—demolition crews.

In order for shiny, slick concrete, glass and steel structures to take to the skies, others have to be razed. They are often parking garages, low income housing, or historic homes, not protected by a landmark status. According to records, the city issued 2,152 demolition permits last year, an increase of 83 percent from the number of tear downs approved in 2012. Brooklyn, not surprisingly, hit a record high of $750,000 in permit fees for the fourth quarter of 2016, according to real estate brokerage Douglas Elliman. Available inventory dropped 31 percent from the same period a year before.

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The fact that debris from construction and demolition accounts for 60 percent of the city’s solid waste stream shows just how important the building industry is to New York’s economy. However, behind every demolition lies a story—a family displaced, a home no more and neighborhood changed.

Rentlogic reports that the construction frenzy has led sketchy landlords to use demolition as an easy way to evict rent stabilized tenants out. Once plans and permits for demolition are filed with the city, landlords can then legally evict tenants, even if the demolition doesn’t happen. Known as “demolition evictions,” they have come under increasing scrutiny recently when demolition and repair work has commenced with rent paying tenants still in the building. When complaints were filed, as was the case with the 292 Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, the city were alerted to the situation. In many instances, though, the landlords are only happy to evict tenants and demolish buildings, either selling and cashing out or rebuilding.

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In other instances, historical preservation groups find themselves in a frantic race against time to save some of the borough’s stately homes, in need of repair, from the bulldozer. Since Brooklyn’s gentrification caught steam a decade ago, there has been story after story of historic homes pulled back from the cliff edge. This was the case with 1375 Dean Street in Crown Heights. Built in the mid 1880’s, it is the oldest existing home in Crown Heights. It had been abandoned and its condition worsening since the early 1980’s. When the Crown Heights North received landmark status in 2006, the then owner’s demolition permit was rescinded. The same happened at 329 Macdonough Street in Stuyvesant Heights.

Now, in light of the rezoning and rebuilding occurring in East New York, the former Empire State Dairy Complex at 2840 Atlantic Avenue and at 181 Schenk Avenue which date back to 1906 are in the midst of public hearings to seal their fate.

Alas, Admiral’s Row, 10 historic waterfront residences in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, could not be saved from demolition. Built between 1864 and 1901, they stood on Flushing Avenue for generations, and they were among the most prominent artifacts of the area’s history of shipbuilding and maritime activity. However, they had also been severely damaged by decades of government neglect that they were demolished last summer to make way for retail buildings, a grocery store, and a parking lot. Another chunk of New York’s history consigned to the dump truck.



Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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