Less Marc Jacobs More Jane Jacobs
May 29, 2015 8:50 AM   Subscribe

 
This could be about Harvard Square, or any other place that is being gentrified. I went to the Lower East Side last year, and it felt like I was in a suburban mall with all the chain stores.
posted by Melismata at 9:07 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Every neighborhood in Manhattan is like this
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:10 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've seen this in my neighborhood in NYC too. It's weird being in an area that you know has lots of people with money to spend but a number of shuttered storefronts on otherwise-bustling streets.

Is holding out for years for a whale, as the article suggests, really worth all that time with no rent for the landlords?
posted by Sangermaine at 9:11 AM on May 29, 2015


It can also be a tactic developers use to extort money from local government. See: whatever happened to Filene's Basement?
posted by the painkiller at 9:13 AM on May 29, 2015 [13 favorites]


Yeah, there's a ton of stuff around here that's disappeared over the past 8 years and then stood vacant for ages. It's satisfying to imagine that the shitty landlords are losing a boatload of money when they crowd out old neighborhood businesses so I'm just going to keep on living that dream.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:14 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have an extra view on this cause I know a lot of people who own businesses in the west village but the closing of St. Vincent's basically removed thousands of upon thousands of customers all at once and you end up with prime real estate on heavily trafficked streets sitting empty for YEARS.

it's not gentrification, the WV has historically gone through boom and bust cycles but for the last 25-30 years has been solidly "the place Nicole Kidman lives" kinda level -- it's undergoing complete ossification cause it's too expensive to open a damn business.
posted by The Whelk at 9:16 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Is holding out for years for a whale, as the article suggests, really worth all that time with no rent for the landlords?

Well, when's the last time you seen a bank branch close?
posted by griphus at 9:19 AM on May 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


YES, it was super weird to see a 24h duane reade go out of business but presumably once that massive high rise is finished there will be more stuff reopening.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:21 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


The West Village once served as a model for what a healthy neighborhood economy looks like. Its ongoing story marks a new chapter in the life and death of the great American City.

I'm not really convinced of Wu's reach for broad representativeness here. The real-estate economic dynamics of downtown Manhattan over the last few decades are certainly a bizarre mess, worthy of study, and a good case in point of the perils of ill-distributed prosperity, but they're also very unlike most other cities (apart from perhaps London). Wu frames this discussion as if this dynamic were easily recognizable in, say, downtown Cleveland or Boise too, but as far as I can see it simply isn't.
posted by RogerB at 9:21 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is this a sign of extreme income inequality? The building owner raises rents to unsustainable levels, but can afford to let the storefront sit vacant. Since they don't need the rent to make money, they simply don't bother with it. Then you have areas with less economic activity and fewer and fewer opportunities to support income mobility. The rich stay rich, the poor stay poor, and everything slows to a halt.
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:21 AM on May 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Why is it like that? Because the rent is too damn high.

Next question?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:22 AM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]




Imagine if you will a Chase Bank stretching into forever. The future.

rents will never go down, all store fronts will become ad hoc garbage cans as everything moves to a contract worker delivery economy and then it won't matter where you live cause no one will ever leave the house so they can keep up with their demanding work from home job.

Only then, finally, will the whole world be San Fransisco.
posted by The Whelk at 9:23 AM on May 29, 2015 [52 favorites]


The same thing happened in North Beach, SF when I lived there. Lots of storefronts completely vacant after tenants were booted by exorbitant rents. Landlords sitting on the properties waiting to rake in the dollars when the right sucker came along.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:25 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean I assume no one will actually live in that high rise that replaces St. Vincent's, it'll just be money lock boxes for Russian billionaires, the whole thing will stand empty and contribute nothing.

Oh well at least there's a new park planned.
posted by The Whelk at 9:25 AM on May 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


Wu frames this discussion as if this dynamic were easily recognizable in, say, downtown Cleveland or Boise too, but as far as I can see it simply isn't.

It's not necessarily as pronounced, but I see stores sitting vacant for ages in DC all the time. Here it's just as likely to be a less successful chain as a local business*, but the dynamic is the same; the business shuts down and the owner lets the place sit, seemingly in violation of basic economics and common sense, hoping to score a tenant who can pay an outrageous rent.

*RIP Cosi-by-my-office, ????-2012
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:27 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I KNOW i'm so excited for that pokey little park but if it gets overrun by YOUTHS i will be vexed.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:27 AM on May 29, 2015


also i just looked at the prices of what's left & what's already sold at the greenwich lane and lol no.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:30 AM on May 29, 2015


That resteraunt that stood empty after a New Years Eve party, decorations, glasses on table and all, for like two years was a distressing omen in retrospect.
posted by The Whelk at 9:32 AM on May 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


I honestly have to wonder if/when the bubble will burst, after people finally realize that it's not worth living in a neighborhood where you can't buy a birthday card or a sandwich without taking the train to Throgs Neck or Gravesend.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:33 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


yeah we've seen this as well and I also wonder how much it has to do with outside money buying up the apartments in new york and only coming to visit a few times a year. We have friends who live in some tony buildings and they say they rarely see their neighbors and it's at least 30% vacant most of the year.
posted by slapshot57 at 9:34 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


(Townhouses start at 26 million! Yeah no one is living in those things, those are money boxes in cause of revolution in the motherland)
posted by The Whelk at 9:34 AM on May 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


The best thing about catering the ultra rich olgaichs is that the bubble never has to burst! It's all trival to them anyway! They'll just ending up owning everything and letting it go to seed.
posted by The Whelk at 9:36 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean the 1.4m studios are like, ok, fine, I guess. But the rest is just so fucking unreasonable by any measurement.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:36 AM on May 29, 2015


I remember a little while before 9/11 going with my mother to her friends' new apartment in the financial district and her vicariously bragging to me that they had just bought it for over a quarter million dollars.
posted by griphus at 9:38 AM on May 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


I came in here to make Bulgaroktonos' comment about DC. It's just crazy. Just one block from arguably the busiest street in DC for nightlife (18th in Adams-Morgan, maybe second only to M in Georgetown) there's a whole row of buildings where the city has posted a notice of vacancy, including the little Israeli cafe where I went on my first-ever real date. I too wonder when the bubble will burst - because these are all mixed-use neighborhoods, and rich elitist Washingtonian families don't want to buy $1M condos across the street from places with broken windows and piles of trash and people loitering on stoops...do they?
posted by capricorn at 9:39 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Does DC have an actual bubble or is it like the NYC bubble where prices go up slightly slower during a recession/bust/whatever?
posted by griphus at 9:40 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


DC does a lot of things poorly, but we do one thing very, very correctly:

Vacant properties are taxed at 5% of their assessed value annually, and blighted properties are taxed at 10% (with a potential to increase further if the property is truly neglected, IIRC).

If you can't rent out your space, lower the rent or sell the property and GTFO. In an ideal world, I'd probably double both of those rates. Real estate speculation is toxic, and benefits very few at the expense of many.
posted by schmod at 9:41 AM on May 29, 2015 [61 favorites]


There's a rent bubble for sure, not sure how it's affecting buying/selling of property. Someone with more knowledge here should step in.
posted by capricorn at 9:41 AM on May 29, 2015


This has been happening in Ballard, Seattle for years.
posted by matildaben at 9:41 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Man if only American history wasn't a history of vicious speculative bubbles that constantly destabilize society without contributing anything then we might learn about avoiding them via legislation or something.
posted by The Whelk at 9:44 AM on May 29, 2015 [40 favorites]


I've often thought that property taxes on unused property or unlived-in housing should double every year the property is idle.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:47 AM on May 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


I've often thought that property taxes on unused property or unlived-in housing should double every year the property is idle.

The people who maintain those properties are so rich they would very likely not give a damn.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:49 AM on May 29, 2015


See this is where things get really really screwy. These areas are actively creating potential food deserts, where it becomes too pricey for even food store to operate there... Much the same way as the poorest neighborhoods have had to operate. Soon though, you will know the truly wealthy in New York, when they bulldoze a building to put in a garden for their vegetables...
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:49 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wu frames this discussion as if this dynamic were easily recognizable in, say, downtown Cleveland or Boise too, but as far as I can see it simply isn't

I don't know. I live in a college town (Chapel Hill) and large swaths of our once interesting college strip sat (or are still sitting) vacant for years while absentee landlords waited for national chains to show up. The strategy has worked in that a whole lot of Franklin Street is now chain restaurants, high rise condos, national drug stores and buildings purchased by the university. Local businesses just can't afford the rent and the landlords frankly could care less. They'd rather have a Chipotle.
posted by thivaia at 9:49 AM on May 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


Wu frames this discussion as if this dynamic were easily recognizable in, say, downtown Cleveland or Boise too, but as far as I can see it simply isn't.

There is a bit of this visible in Lincoln Park/Lakeview in Chicago.

N State St. at Diversey and Broadway is a high traffic area with four vacant corners (2 with something opening some time in the future maybe..) . In two minutes walk south on State you will pass by about 4 more vacant storefronts that have been vacant for at least 2 years (and so unkempt the city stepped to force the California based property owner to deal with the thousands of dead flies in the storefront windows).

And this is on probably one of the most high value pedestrian shopping corridors in Chicago outside of the city center.

I'd be curious about what the actual statistics are for commercial real estate turnover in the area and how long things on average are vacant. It's a bit hard to get a real sense in the constant almost gaslighting flux of urban living.

Really though I am just pissed that my favourite burger joint shut down after not be able to make their rent. Now if I want Edzo's I have to take a train to Evanston and eat with wealthy smart young kids reading Vonnegut before they go on to take their starting position at the half way point in the rat race.
posted by srboisvert at 9:49 AM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


My neighborhood is the neighborhood next to one that is getting hardcore gentrified, and we have this too - dozens of empty storefronts, just waiting around for the possible rent to quadruple. It really sucks.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:50 AM on May 29, 2015


I don't know. I live in a college town (Chapel Hill) and large swaths of our once interesting college strip sat (or are still sitting) vacant for years while absentee landlords waited for national chains to show up. The strategy has worked in that a whole lot of Franklin Street is now chain restaurants, high rise condos, national drug stores and buildings purchased by the university. Local businesses just can't afford the rent and the landlords frankly could care less. They'd rather have a Chipotle.

RIP, Pepper's Pizza.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:51 AM on May 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Is there a legal avenue for rent caps in NYC, or is tha too socialism
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:52 AM on May 29, 2015


The problem is that you can't really legislate vacant storefronts away through taxes and incentives without also creating a disincentive for new construction, except at the cost of public subsidy. Everything that gets built without subsidy nowadays is at the high end because that's where the profit is.

If you're a municipality and you want to create a disincentive for empty property (say, through an increased tax on vacant storefronts) you lower the future value of the property enough that no investor is going to build anything. Over the long horizon of a commercial lease, an "investor" is often too willing to sit on an empty property rather than lock themselves into a lower future value, and you create a stagnant real estate market with little to no growth.

So after your economic advisors point out to you that you can't tax empty storefronts, you consider providing subsidies for small/local/minority-owned/whatever businesses so that they can pay the increased rent and stay in business … but then you're essentially underwriting the additional construction of luxury-only property, because the same investors who can afford to hold out are now milking the city. So that's political suicide, and it's out too.

So then you think, well, what if we control rent over here, in exchange for some subsidy/tax incentive/low interest municipal bond/other in another location we'd like to have built out over there. Then you're just shuffling expenses around and still subsidizing high end construction, because you know the investors and builders still aren't going to pop for new construction unless the profit margin is high enough. And municipalities shouldn't be in the business of subsidizing private profits.

In the end I'm not sure how a municipality can break out of this cycle. I think it's probably through an increased and increasing tax on vacant property (e.g. the first year is X%, the second year is X+10%, and so on) AND the willingness to tie rent increases to development in other areas, but then you're still only catering to the construction and investment groups that are large enough to amass significant parcels of land in multiple places in your city, and you perpetuate the problem of privatizing profit while carrying risk publicly every time you participate in some sort of land swap/bond issue/TIF/other.

TL,DR: ugh.
posted by fedward at 9:52 AM on May 29, 2015 [14 favorites]


I mean I assume no one will actually live in that high rise that replaces St. Vincent's, it'll just be money lock boxes for Russian billionaires, the whole thing will stand empty and contribute nothing.

I've actually written the mayor's office twice about this kind of thing. Every time he's done some kind of affordable-housing action, I shoot him an email that says that you know, there's this other thing you maybe also could do that would bring the rising rent under control...

There needs to be some kind of restriction on this kind of thing. An extra property tax, a residential requirement, something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:53 AM on May 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


I can't really see how to do it without time travel tbh.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:54 AM on May 29, 2015


or armed insurrection i guess.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:54 AM on May 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


We should counter this trend by encouraging graffiti artists. Ideally, residential renters could aid the artist by storing supplies and providing them chill out space before and after, making their travel to and from the site safer. If graffiti lowered rents, both residential and commercial renters benefit. /modestproposal   (related)
posted by jeffburdges at 10:00 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Armed insurrection is your answer to everything tho
posted by The Whelk at 10:01 AM on May 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


Encouraging graffiti artists is a terrible idea, and will just incite the NYPD to crack down more on unsuspecting people of color.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:02 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


thivaia sez: I live in a college town…

This was all true of the Campus Corner neighborhood in Norman, OK, when I was on campus 20 years ago. Except Chipotle didn't exist yet. This may be a universal condition of college towns.
posted by fedward at 10:02 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


The problem is that you can't really legislate vacant storefronts away through taxes and incentives without also creating a disincentive for new construction, except at the cost of public subsidy.

Sounds great to me, if there are idle buildings we've already built enough shit. Time to use them and stop ruining more land and creating more sprawl.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:04 AM on May 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


Isn't part of it that there just isn't as much need for retail these days?
posted by octothorpe at 10:05 AM on May 29, 2015


Avoid buying from stores that can pay those rents. Avoid big banks, use credit unions instead. Avoid name brands, buy off brands or used. Buy online, but again avoiding brands. Buy direct from China using ebay, dx.com, aliexpress, etc. Just avoid overpaying in general.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:06 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


There's a Dunkin' Donuts at Bedford and North 7th. I mean.
posted by the_blizz at 10:10 AM on May 29, 2015


That's unrealistic in Manhattan, though. Part of the draw of Manhattan is that you can buy a bottle of shampoo at Duane Reade at 3 in the morning when you're drunk and forgot that you were out.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:10 AM on May 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Credit unions in nyc are no better than chain banks at this point, if you can even find one in the first place. I can't buy used toothpaste. I do try to buy all my books used, though, but I feel like getting them through amazon sort of negatively balances that out.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:11 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, there is theoretically less need for retail, octothorpe. It's wonderful when retail stores close because everybody buys online.

In this case, we're discussing them closing restaurants in the hopes a retail bank or ready-to-wear fashion chain moves in though, so we haven't yet reduced the need for retail enough obviously.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:12 AM on May 29, 2015


Live in a cave, eat salamanders, watch sunsets for entertainment.
posted by griphus at 10:12 AM on May 29, 2015 [19 favorites]


Buy direct from China using ebay, dx.com, aliexpress, etc. Just avoid overpaying in general.

I don't think buying direct from China is really the solution to local & non-chain stores being pushed out.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 10:12 AM on May 29, 2015 [17 favorites]



Credit unions in nyc are no better than chain banks at this point,


I beg to differ.
posted by lalochezia at 10:13 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


oh good let me just start a career at the UN then, brb
posted by poffin boffin at 10:15 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Live in a cave, eat salamanders,

Wow, I guess some people want to eat salamanders? Seems like a pretty cost-ineffective move to me when you can just order a bucket of insects online
posted by Greg Nog at 10:21 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh look at mr la de dah expecting salamanders on demand
posted by The Whelk at 10:24 AM on May 29, 2015 [18 favorites]


seems a shame that cities are no longer so prone to burning down all at one fell swoop as they used to be.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:26 AM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Whelk: "Why is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in NYC full of shuttered storefronts? "

Surely this is an ethical use of eminent domain. I read through the article but it wasn't mentioned anywhere.
posted by boo_radley at 10:28 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Encouraging graffiti artists is a terrible idea, and will just incite the NYPD to crack down more on unsuspecting people of color.

I'm sure they must all suspect something by now.
posted by srboisvert at 10:36 AM on May 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


I honestly have to wonder if/when the bubble will burst,

Hasn't burst for 30 years in Cambridge. Money wants what it can't buy.

Call me socialist or xenophobic or something, but I think that governments somewhere would do well to make some laws or tax the hell out of the rich foreigners or something. And our own, for that matter, although you're right in that it wouldn't deter them in any way. I dunno.
posted by Melismata at 10:45 AM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


oh hey - I live here. Its nothing but bankers and hedge fund dudes.

The problem is simply that no business that needs to directly make money from selling things can survive the rents that the market is saying they should pay. Its a market failure propped up on the back of overly optimistic restauranteurs, global brands wanting a "presence," and cheap credit.

Most of these places that stay empty are in obviously terrible places for foot traffic, so even the overly optimistic can't talk themselves into it. There is always a sucker for anything that looks like it might plausibly work as a restaurant.

Commercial rents need to drop, but for most of these landlords,with their financing costs as low as they are there is no reason for them to decide to lower prices to increase occupancy if they think in the medium/long term that's bad for their occupied spaces.

Rents are sticky, and take something to make them unsticky.

BTW - anyone who says "Grafitti" makes me laugh. Obama has had 4 fund raisers on my block in the past year.
posted by JPD at 10:46 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Avoid buying from stores that can pay those rents. Avoid big banks, use credit unions instead. Avoid name brands, buy off brands or used. Buy online, but again avoiding brands. Buy direct from China using ebay, dx.com, aliexpress, etc. Just avoid overpaying in general.

Convince others to do this. Lecturing them won't work. Go.
posted by amtho at 10:47 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also going straight to "pass laws to make it mandatory" won't work.

Also writing articles for and talking only to people who already agree with you won't work.

We have other ways of doing this, we just have to discover them.
posted by amtho at 10:49 AM on May 29, 2015


Avoid buying from stores that can pay those rents.

This misses the point. Literally no stores/banks/etc can afford to pay the rent.
posted by JPD at 10:50 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Isn't New York City, like, the king of rent-controlled apartments?

So why aren't commercial spaces also rent-controlled?
posted by hippybear at 10:52 AM on May 29, 2015


Retail rent control has been suggested a bunch over the years and legislation was drafted at least twice, but it's never been passed AFAIK.
posted by griphus at 10:55 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you want a picture of the future New York City, imagine a Chipotle kitty-corner to a Chase — forever.
posted by wcfields at 10:55 AM on May 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


Armed insurrection is your answer to everything tho

Only because it solves everything!
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:56 AM on May 29, 2015


Isn't New York City, like, the king of rent-controlled apartments?

Not for a looong time. "For an apartment to be under rent control, the tenant (or their lawful successor such as a family member, spouse, or adult lifetime partner) must have been living in that apartment continuously since before July 1, 1971. When a rent controlled apartment becomes vacant, it either becomes rent stabilized, or, if it is in a building with fewer than six units, it is generally removed from regulation."
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:56 AM on May 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


Commercial leases are normally quite long which should cushion the impact of the real estate cycle, so rent stabilization in theory shouldn't be necessary. The problem is we are in about 15 years of unabated increases in Real Estate prices here in NYC, and that undersells it as neighborhoods that were "premium" in 1995 haven't seen anything like the appreciation places below 23rd street have. So a business model that worked at rent Y growing at 3% per annum is an obvious failure once the base rate resets to 3Y at the end of the lease.
posted by JPD at 10:57 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you want a picture of the future New York City, imagine a Chipotle kitty-corner to a Chase — forever.

It's Duane Reades all the way down.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:12 AM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


What I don't understand: How is it profitable for banks to have so many branches? They must be so expensive to operate...how does the marginal cost of having an additional branch every block benefit chase more than just paying to put a highly visible ATM in an existing store (like they already have in all the Duane Reades)? Who (aside from small business owners) even goes to bank branches for services other than ATM use more than once in a blue moon?
posted by R a c h e l at 11:13 AM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


And the artists who lived in Carnegie Hall were booted out to make room for more office space. Do we really just hate the little people that much, or something?
posted by Melismata at 11:13 AM on May 29, 2015


Its a market failure propped up on the back of overly optimistic restauranteurs, global brands wanting a "presence," and cheap credit.

Yeah -- more than anything it seems to be a toxic combination of the widespread idea that "real estate only ever goes up!" (despite, somehow, recent experiences) and money being basically free. In another real estate thread a while back somebody (wrt London) made a comment to the effect that it's going to be a huge, huge mess when the first person blinks. I wonder how much leverage there is in NYC real estate and vs other markets.
posted by junco at 11:15 AM on May 29, 2015


What I don't understand: How is it profitable for banks to have so many branches?

I was just composing a post to ask that myself, given that it seems like the number of bank branches keeps growing at the same time that debit cards, ATMs, direct deposit and online transfers have eliminated the vast majority of reasons you'd need to set foot in a bank. I can't imagine that the special cases where you actually need to visit with an advisor for in-person signatures or see a teller for large amounts of cash or get access to a safety deposit box generates enough foot traffic to justify these locations. Are enough people paying teller fees that this is a money-maker for the bank?
posted by eschatfische at 11:19 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I live in a tourist town and we have something sort of similar going on here as well. Just walking around today, the streets are full of tourists wandering past dark shops. The reason the shops stay dark is due to the cycle of tourism here in Salem - in September/October, things go bugnuts crazy and landlords can make more money waiting to overcharge for a 3 month lease than they can charging a sensible rent year-round.

We went up the coast to Newburyport and that place was full of little, specialized shops. Sure, they have an average of 50% more household income up there, but Salem has over double their population. We can't have nice things in Salem because the landlords hold out for WitchiePoo T-Shirts, Inc to come in, make a pile of cash, then flee on November 1. If a store does manage to take root and survive a year, the landlords try to up the rent and the little business ends up being lured across the bridge to Beverly where they will discover selling online is easier.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:19 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


paul krugman: Preliminary Notes on Inequality and Urbanism - "when it comes to things that make urban life better or worse, there is absolutely no reason to have faith in the invisible hand of the market... market values can very easily produce destructive incentives."
posted by kliuless at 11:19 AM on May 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


So are squatters going to move into the empty storefronts and start a bunch of weird underground stores?
posted by I-baLL at 11:21 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


What I don't understand: How is it profitable for banks to have so many branches?

Chase has something like 60% market share of checking deposits in NYC. There is a much stronger relationship than you would think between branches and deposit share, and the long-term profitability of a commercial bank is essentially a function the degree to which you can use cheap deposits to fund your loans. Think about it this way. If my branch costs me 240k a year and my cost of funding in the market 6% and my cost of funding with deposits is 3%, I only need to draw in an incremental 8 million dollars in retail deposits to have it break even. I mean those numbers are incredibly rough. Costs are higher, spreads are lower, deposits are much higher, but you get a sense of the mdoel.

Not to mention that the local branches in the West Village are really chasing after HNW customers they can sell other products to. Every time I walk in a branch I get pitched hard for products.
posted by JPD at 11:22 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


From WSJ:
TD, which has more than 1,300 branches in cities up and down the East Coast, conducted a customer survey and discovered that, compared to the rest of the nation, New Yorkers are obsessed with branch convenience. While folks in other towns value frivolities like friendly service, New Yorkers more often rank convenient ATMs and branches a top priority. They want locations near their homes, their offices and the offices of their spouses, says Mr. Giamo. They want to see their bank everywhere they go.
posted by griphus at 11:22 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


you would be amazed at what people still want to go to a branch for. Amazed.

I saw someone go to a teller to check their balance last week. that's it. they even offered to show her how to use an ATM to do it and she refused. And she was like 40....
posted by JPD at 11:24 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


eschatfische: The wall street journal says New Yorkers are unusually obsessed with branch convenience. Quote:

This may explain why Chase holds nearly half the city's deposits—an astounding $385 billion. It all comes down to the branch network. Chase has 391 locations in the five boroughs, more than the number of Starbucks. It's so ubiquitous, you simply can't avoid giving them all your money.


It's true that when my money was at Chase, I was aggravated to have to go to another bank's ATM whenever I was outside of New York and was unwilling to plan ahead enough to avoid that. Then I switched to Ally so every ATM is my ATM (maybe I am the most obsessed with branch convenience).
posted by R a c h e l at 11:25 AM on May 29, 2015


Well, jinx. Sorry about that!
posted by R a c h e l at 11:25 AM on May 29, 2015


I mean, I don't know what ATM fees are like in other parts of the country, but it would make sense for people in NYC and especially people in Manhattan to be obsessed with branch convenience when using another bank's ATM or a street ATM can cost like $3+. But I don't know whether that's a cause or an effect or if it's a whole chicken-and-egg thing.
posted by griphus at 11:26 AM on May 29, 2015


JPMorgan Chase 2014 annual report [pdf], commercial banking is on p. 97.
posted by junco at 11:29 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


What I don't understand: How is it profitable for banks to have so many branches?

I have similar questions about mattress stores. They seem to be everywhere. Do people really buy mattresses that frequently?
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:30 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


My credit union is in another state so there are almost no free ATMs near me. Fees range from $2-4. I mostly get cash back with my debit card when I go to Target etc. I think they cap it at $60. Walgreens caps it at $20.
posted by desjardins at 11:30 AM on May 29, 2015


At least Chase is closing a few branches now.

I admit to being one of those NYers obsessed with branch convenience, but would gladly give up at least one of the 3 Chases within walking distance of my work for something (anything) else.

And I think NYers are just obsessed with convenience/efficiency in general-- when you walk/take the subway everywhere, having something on the way home saves SO much time. My cat-food-buying routine has gone from 5 minutes/week to 25 minutes/week just because the store I used to go to closed (to become an empty storefront, along with 2 others in the same block owned by the same real estate corporation) and I have to go 10 minutes out of my way (each way) to a different one.
posted by matcha action at 11:32 AM on May 29, 2015


griphus: "They want to see their bank everywhere they go."

No joke, New York is hyper localized. Going out of your way isn't trivial and can add 30 - 45 minutes.

When I lived there I'd hardly consider dating someone that is more than 1 train transfer away. Let alone consider EVER going out of my way for an ATM to make a deposit. I lived there 2003-2007 and many places did not take cards for things you do everyday, or had arbitrary $8.00 minimum or $.50 fees. The street-meat / coffee cart for instance probably don't take cards or charge you extra to use their square.

It's like $2.50 at the bodega ATM to draw cash and there's a not-insignifigant chance that the bodega ATM is a card-skimmer too.
posted by wcfields at 11:33 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


JPMorgan Chase 2014 annual report [pdf], commercial banking is on p. 97.

... and "consumer & community banking" is what we're actually interested in, which is page 81.
posted by junco at 11:33 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


My cat-food-buying routine has gone from 5 minutes/week to 25 minutes/week just because the store I used to go to closed

cat food desert
posted by hippybear at 11:38 AM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


The failure of the market isn't landlords holding out for good long term leases. Giving up a year or two of rent in order to get a 15-year lease at 80%-100% more is perfectly rational.

The market failure is the lack of demand for short-term leases that let the landlords have their cake and eat it too. The West Village is full of people with very high incomes and/or very high influence on consumer and market behavior. Every good and service brand in the world should be rushing to come up with fast-install-and-takedown pop-up store model to occupy those spaces.
posted by MattD at 11:41 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


So are squatters going to move into the empty storefronts and start a bunch of weird underground stores?

If they want their asses kicked by the cops when the landlords call them, sure.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:43 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Every good and service brand in the world should be rushing to come up with fast-install-and-takedown pop-up store model to occupy those spaces.

There are actually several spaces on Bleecker that were at one time "flagship locations" for wannabe global brands that failed, that have essentially become that. They do short term sub-leases I'm guessing - a year, six months. And then move on.

except that's not really a market failure, so much as there not being a market for short-term commercial leases in an inflationary environment.

Flip side is Tokyo where everyone wants to get a one year lease.
posted by JPD at 11:55 AM on May 29, 2015


Seems like most folks do not like to see change even though that change is necessary and often helpful for a city that is growing and attracting those with decent jobs that can afford the rising costs of those places.

Ah, for the good old days when Times Sq was filled with chicken hawks, a hustlers, and whores and peep shows.

And some of us are old enough to recall that just about any serious assault in the West Village was a crime of passion and not for gain or mayhem.
My last visit to the Village (where I had years ago lived), fairly recently, I noted the attractive botiques etc that were earlier to be found in the upstart area SoHo...

things change. Cities, like species, evolve.
posted by Postroad at 12:32 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but on the flip side, there are degrees of shittiness of change, and ways to try and make it less shitty besides "letting the market decide". If Manhattan becomes completely inaccessable to anyone making less than 80K, that is a loss.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:42 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


The West Village has been fully gentrified for 25 years at least.
posted by JPD at 12:46 PM on May 29, 2015


Which is what I said, above, it's getting into crazy Belgravia ossification where there are no stores and nobody living in the stately townhouses
posted by The Whelk at 12:49 PM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Seems like most folks do not like to see change even though that change is necessary and often helpful for a city that is growing and attracting those with decent jobs that can afford the rising costs of those places.

Ah, for the good old days when Times Sq was filled with chicken hawks, a hustlers, and whores and peep shows.


...Ah, yes, the "people are whining about things changing" brushoff. Decent enough execution of the genre, but I think the Russian Judge is going to be a little critical of the dismount.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:50 PM on May 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


The market failure is the lack of demand for short-term leases that let the landlords have their cake and eat it too. The West Village is full of people with very high incomes and/or very high influence on consumer and market behavior. Every good and service brand in the world should be rushing to come up with fast-install-and-takedown pop-up store model to occupy those spaces.

Oh, you mean you want a Walmart... because when talking about revolutionizing logistics and minimizing wasted and unproductive inventory//shelf space, Walmart did it... and they've forced their suppliers to adapt or fail. Actally, expect Walmart's Neighborhood Grocers - that does seem like a business that could survive in that environment (even with the stigma of Walmart), but I digress.

If you aren't going that route, you are back to stores operating in a broker model - which doesn't really work or seems really weird to consumers (think of this as the mattress store), or you've got showcase stores which aren't generally margin acretive - and at worst can be extremely counterproductive as market saturation limits what growth is available over a multi-year lease...
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:57 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]



My credit union is in another state so there are almost no free ATMs near me. Fees range from $2-4. I mostly get cash back with my debit card when I go to Target etc. I think they cap it at $60. Walgreens caps it at $20.


Credit Union ATM locator
posted by lalochezia at 1:09 PM on May 29, 2015


Which is what I said, above, it's getting into crazy Belgravia ossification where there are no stores and nobody living in the stately townhouses I was replying to postroad.

The townhouses are relatively occupied - at least the ones not being renovated. Its the new builds on west and I'm sure the former St. Vincents that are/will be see through buildings
posted by JPD at 1:11 PM on May 29, 2015


As others have pointed out: the issue here is the financialization of urban real estate. Urban property is purchased at exorbitant prices for the same reasons/purposes that the super rich purchase modern art paintings for $300 million -- to admire it's aesthetics and also to add additional leverage to an investment portfolio.

Incidentally, this also works with rural/agricultural properties -- remember the scenes from the Grapes of Wrath were the Joad's are starving to death while watching farmers destroy their own crops? It would cost more money to harvest the crops than it would cost to simply let them rot, so they let them rot. Meanwhile a nation starves.

Financialization -- that is, making an investment out of *everything* -- drives out the possibility of productive work. Investment is always needed to produce things, but when investment becomes disconnected from productive enterprise -- when it becomes easier to make money by buying a factory, tearing it down and selling the rubble for scrap rather than employing people in the factory to actually make things -- then capitalism has reached its most horrific, terminal phase.
posted by Avenger at 1:11 PM on May 29, 2015 [23 favorites]


oh good let me just start a career at the UN then, brb
posted by poffin boffin


UNFCU has been a great credit union for me and I have no affiliation with the UN.

Join UNA ($40 max per individual, $25 for reduced income, free if less than 25 yrs old) and you can join UNFCU.
posted by lalochezia at 1:12 PM on May 29, 2015


no. Most of the west village commercial real estate is not owned by people like that. really. Its lots of people who have owned the real estate for decades.

This isn't some REIT or a Real Estate Private Equity owner here.
posted by JPD at 1:13 PM on May 29, 2015


. Investment is always needed to produce things, but when investment becomes disconnected from productive enterprise -- when it becomes easier to make money by buying a factory, tearing it down and selling the rubble rather than employing people in the factory to actually make things -- then capitalism has reached its most horrific, terminal phase.

a factory that's worth more as rubble than as a factory, is actually a pile of rubble that doesn't know it yet. Capital isn't free.
posted by JPD at 1:15 PM on May 29, 2015


Won't these places eventually get robbed, stripped of anything salable, and torched? If a place is just left empty, I am surprised the local anarchists aren't already throwing bricks through windows just for the luze. Cops won't arrive for many minutes, assuming nobody has disabled the alarm systems, and surveillance isn't quite ubiquitous yet. When I lived in NYC, you could tell when a place had been left untenanted too long: it would suffer incremental degradations (broken windows, pried apart security shutters, graffiti, followed by stripping and arson) until all that was left was a brick shell. It may be less likely because of population density in those areas, but NYC police response times are slow, most of these areas are deserted in the early AM (seriously, go walking around Manhattan at 6 am on and Saturday; its disturbingly empty and quiet), and flash mobs and random acts of vandalism are common.
posted by Blackanvil at 1:19 PM on May 29, 2015


Credit Union ATM locator

That comes up with 19 ATMs in a metro area of over a million.
posted by desjardins at 1:22 PM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Blackanvil,

Are you sure you're not thinking of The Warriors? There aren't roving mobs of arsonists spreading destruction across the city, and certainly not in the West Village.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:23 PM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah things haven't been the same since the Big Giulianis took over just about all the turf and kicked the rest of the gangs out.
posted by griphus at 1:29 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


The townhouses are relatively occupied - at least the ones not being renovated.

Which allows for my favorite WV activity, gazing into the windows of opulent townhouses and figuring out what I'd grab in the armed insurrection (That's a MIRO in their LIVING ROOM..)
posted by The Whelk at 1:32 PM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Tax vacant property! It's completely illogical that developers choose not to lease out perfectly good space for years at a time... but they seem to make that choice frequently.

In Seattle, vacant storefronts are given to art projects. Often the entire facade will be completely remodeled into something unrecognizable and interesting (for example, completely covered in layers of driftwood). I think this is a great thing to do with the proceeds of the vacant property tax.

Also, very large single-purpose buildings (factories, warehouses, grain elevators) should be built on the condition that the developer puts up a bond to pay for demolition of the building. If the building is ever vacant for 1 year, the city uses the bond money to demolish the building. Here in Minneapolis there are dozens of unbelievable decrepit eyesores that the city "can't afford" to demolish... it really should be the developer's responsibility.
posted by miyabo at 1:34 PM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Cities, like species, evolve.

Well, they definitely mutate.
posted by Xavier Xavier at 1:45 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm having a very hard time seeing "WV" and not reading it as West Virginia which puts much different images in my head.
posted by octothorpe at 1:47 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


griphus: Well, when's the last time you seen a bank branch close?

Last December, Citibank closed the branch in the Glen Park district of San Francisco. The nearest Citibank branch is in the Excelsior district, about a mile away, with limited parking.
posted by blob at 2:27 PM on May 29, 2015


In a college town I know, this was a problem -- apparently one guy (who lived in the major city miles away) owned like four of the major buildings at the center of town, and pegged the rents at ruinously high rates and just let them sit vacant for years, partly out of spite for the town... and I was told he could do this because he could write them off somehow as business losses for the year that would reduce his other tax bills.

Anybody know if that's true, that it can actually get them tax discounts to do this kind of thing?
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:28 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


What I don't understand: How is it profitable for banks to have so many branches?

It isn't at all, but in high-profile real estate markets, banks open branches every few blocks to prevent the competition from doing it. Net result is ridiculous saturation - I have visited a branch of the bank I work for in NY, and if you peer out just the right window, you can see another branch just up the street.

When we were regionally-owned, our owner used to take the car and driver out and scout real estate he would buy JUST to prevent someone else from buying it. I assume when he came back to the office after an exhausting day he would take a quick dip in a Scrooge McDuck pool of golden coins.
posted by ersatzkat at 2:33 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anybody know if that's true, that it can actually get them tax discounts to do this kind of thing?

There are some weird tax benefits you get from owning real estate in general, like very generous depreciation rules and 1031 swaps (you can sell real estate and not pay taxes as long as you buy more real estate with the money). But you get those whether you're earning rent or not earning rent. So why don't the property owners choose to earn rent?

I think the article is right and the owners are speculating on the underlying value of the land as property values rise. Any rent they make is basically breadcrumbs to them and not worth the hassle.
posted by miyabo at 3:00 PM on May 29, 2015


Jersey City Mayor Seeks to Limit Chain Stores Downtown
Proposal is intended to protect local shops; critics say free market is the best solution

I don't like my mayor (also, I think the shop pictured in the article has closed down already), but I am interested in seeing how this plays out. There has been so much luxury condo building going on in this city (across the water from the West Village) in the last 2 years that you can hear everyone talking about it when you walk around.
posted by armacy at 3:12 PM on May 29, 2015


Metafilter: TL,DR: ugh.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:06 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't buy used toothpaste.

I feel like in New York (based on the mythology of New York presented to those of us who have never been there) you might be able to.


And I live in a building downtown, four tenants, in a seriously edgy-but-desirable area. The owner of the building won't sell until (we think) his mother dies. She's 89, and at a rough guess he could get $7.5-10MM for the property alone.

We're hoping she holds on is what I'm saying.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:38 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


a factory that's worth more as rubble than as a factory, is actually a pile of rubble that doesn't know it yet. Capital isn't free.

Why is it more profitable these days to own stuff, than it is to do stuff?

Change the rules, change the game.
posted by Artful Codger at 4:38 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Most of the west village commercial real estate is not owned by people like that. really. Its lots of people who have owned the real estate for decades.

This. I live in this beighborhood, and have helped open two stores here. Many of the owners of these buildings are starting to die, and it's typically the heirs that are raising the rents or they're selling the buildings and the new owners are buying at inflated prices predicated on high rents. In the case of one family that owns several buildings, there's a dispute over the estate and things are just in stasis until it's sorted out, so the spaces are unrentable. It's a fairly complex situation, and I'm not sure what the solution is.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:50 PM on May 29, 2015


In a college town I know, this was a problem -- apparently one guy (who lived in the major city miles away) owned like four of the major buildings at the center of town, and pegged the rents at ruinously high rates and just let them sit vacant for years, partly out of spite for the town... and I was told he could do this because he could write them off somehow as business losses for the year that would reduce his other tax bills.

Lobster Mitten, if the college town you're talking about is the one where I currently reside, things haven't changed. The same guy and two other families own all the buildings downtown and are more concerned with renting out the apartments above the vacant storefronts. I get excited when I see a new business open up here, but for every opening, there are tons more empty storefronts. It sucks when we have such a gorgeous downtown.
posted by Kitteh at 5:13 PM on May 29, 2015


Ha, sadly I was thinking of a different town, but I am not remotely surprised to hear that's still the case in your town too. Bleh.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:15 PM on May 29, 2015


Most of the west village commercial real estate is not owned by people like that. really. Its lots of people who have owned the real estate for decades.

For a pretty long time it was prolly just this one guy who was my mom's neighbor and subsequently my former landlord, but then he died about 4 years ago and his daughter has been selling off a lot of property, from what I can tell.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:33 PM on May 29, 2015


That sounds suspiciously like what happened to my artist friend who finally had his building sold three? Years ago after living there on perry street since the 80s and the new owners kicked him out.


It's a small town aaaaafter allllll
posted by The Whelk at 6:00 PM on May 29, 2015


The problem is that you can't really legislate vacant storefronts away through taxes and incentives without also creating a disincentive for new construction, except at the cost of public subsidy.

New construction in Manhattan is often tax abated anyway. A vacancy tax could be delayed for ten or twenty years after construction is completed so as not to disincentivize investors who are worried about getting stuck with unsellable units. Or did you mean that if stores are occupying cheap old property they won't need to move to expensive new property? In either case, why is this bad, again?

I am curious though, in terms of places where there is a vacancy tax, how does the city prevent the landlord from just installing a sham tenant e.g. from claiming to utilize the retail space for a pop-up gallery that's only open 1 hour a week or some such similarly transparent nonsense?
posted by xigxag at 6:12 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


A vacancy tax could be delayed for ten or twenty years after construction is completed so as not to disincentivize investors who are worried about getting stuck with unsellable units. Or did you mean that if stores are occupying cheap old property they won't need to move to expensive new property? In either case, why is this bad, again?

If you implement a vacancy tax you decrease the future value of any new construction by a somewhat predictable amount, as investors will factor in the increased cost of extended vacancy rather than lower the target rent. There's also the soft factor that such a rule is "unfriendly" to business (specifically the sort of business that invests in new construction), and that could discourage investors (and/or cause them to seek friendlier jurisdictions in the suburbs). All it takes is for one or two projects to be canceled because the math doesn't work out to a high enough future value with the new taxes. Since there's a whole lot of herd mentality in construction, one or two canceled projects could be enough to stop new development dead.

In commercial real estate as well as residential, there's a general idea that a certain amount of supply (space available for lease or purchase) is good. Too little supply leads to inflation; too much leads to stagnation and blight. New construction feeds supply and helps to keep prices stable, as long as it arrives at the right rate. But if you dry up new construction, you're still going to find all the shuttered storefronts as landlords try to capitalize on the decrease in supply by raising rents.

So if you're running a municipal economy, what you want is both things: continued new construction at a relatively consistent rate of delivery, and rules or incentives that keep existing properties leased to existing businesses. Whatever rule you create to tax vacant properties (in an effort to keep existing storefronts from becoming vacant) also has to account for new construction in such a way that nobody is penalized for building too much, too fast. Or for investing in a neighborhood that didn't grow up as quickly as you'd planned. Or whatever.

It's bad because the businesses the community wants can't afford the rents landlords think they can get, and nobody's blinking.
posted by fedward at 8:14 PM on May 29, 2015


If you implement a vacancy tax you decrease the future value of any new construction by a somewhat predictable amount,

I'm not disagreeing with you but since property values in Manhattan are by usual standards overvalued, and seem likely to pop catastrophically at some point if just left to market forces, as has happened in the past, then lowering property value in a predictable, controlled fashion doesn't come across as necessarily bad thing.

On second thought I am disagreeing with you a bit because a properly crafted vacancy tax would only hit a tiny fraction of properties anyway. In terms of this thread anyway, we're not talking about all commercial properties, but retail storefront locations, the type that blight neighborhoods when they remain shuttered for an excessive length of time. A tax targeted at only such locations would be for the most part background noise in the myriad of taxes already imposed in NYC. If necessary the stew of taxes could be seasoned with other credits or abatements that would make it risk-neutral for investors. Plus at least hypothetically the decreased value of an individual property would be more than offset by the increase in value it would accrue resulting from being in a well-maintained neighborhood with an active retail scene. Nobody's used the phrase "tragedy of the commons" yet in this thread but that's in essence what we are discussing. Landlords' shortsighted self interest winds up being bad for everyone. The purpose of a carefully crafted tax would be to try to short-circuit that process. I'm sure cleverer minds than mine could make that work.
posted by xigxag at 9:30 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


My credit union is in another state so there are almost no free ATMs near me. Fees range from $2-4. I mostly get cash back with my debit card when I go to Target etc. I think they cap it at $60. Walgreens caps it at $20.

My credit union is in another state, but they reimburse my ATM fees as long as I meet some incredibly basic criteria (like having my paycheck automatically deposited, or making a minimum number of debit transactions each month). It is glorious.

My understanding of commercial real estate outside of NYC is that it tends to be owned outright by people who aren't necessarily incredibly rich, but who are just wealthy and diversified enough to often not care about a particular parcel at a given time. So everywhere you will see shuttered businesses that could be rented, but where the landlord doesn't give enough of a shit to bother rehabbing and charging market rates. Add in NYC's ridiculous property values, and you have a recipe for inaction.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:47 PM on May 29, 2015


Just emminent domain those motherfuckers. Either it works and we get unshuttered storefronts, or we get laws limiting emminent domain for commercial purposes. Win-win!
posted by ckape at 10:59 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


in my community college class in Philly this summer, like 2/3 of the people are former New Yorkers who have fled because of cost.
posted by angrycat at 1:35 AM on May 30, 2015


So are squatters going to move into the empty storefronts and start a bunch of weird underground stores?


In my experience, that usually ends like this:
posted by thivaia at 10:31 AM on May 30, 2015


On second thought I am disagreeing with you a bit because a properly crafted vacancy tax would only hit a tiny fraction of properties anyway.

We're not even disagreeing on that, really. While I think a vacancy tax is potentially flawed (and is likely to be so riddled with loopholes as to be useless after special interests finish with it) I think it's probably the most useful tool in the municipal arsenal. I think the most effective vacancy tax would involve commercial tenants' ability to protest catastrophic rent increases in front of a judge or mediator or panel or something, and perhaps a sort of partial emminent domain where the landlord is compelled to offer a discounted lease until such time as they actually have an offer at what they consider to be market rate (and then, say, they have to give the discount tenant six months' notice to vacate). But administration of such a law would be a nightmare. Basically the rule comes down to forcing a landlord to prove that they really have demand for the specific property at the higher rate, and until such time as they do, an existing tenant can continue to occupy the space at a non-usurious rate.

I don't know how you write that law in such a way that it has teeth without having such nasty side effects as to be unenforceable.
posted by fedward at 11:39 AM on May 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


fedward: "I don't know how you write that law in such a way that it has teeth without having such nasty side effects as to be unenforceable."

I get where you're coming from here, but I think it's worth trying. Much like residential rent control: I have mixed feelings about it, and the devil is in the details of a particular city's implementation, but overall I think it does more good than harm.
posted by savetheclocktower at 2:18 PM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the trouble is that in any established neighbourhood there routinely are a number of businesses that occupy premises uneconomically - think of a shoe store where the owner of the shop is the trader, and has been there for 20 years. Or a deli who owns the building and has been there 2 generations.
These places fill the need for business amenity, the places you need routinely to live and enjoy your neighbourhood.
Around them, businesses come and go based on economics, with increasing rents etc.
Eventually, the shoe shop guy dies or the deli owners see they can retire in style, and the premises get sold to a more lucrative business - a bank or starbucks, say.
There is nowhere left that can support the low rent a shoe store needs to operate profitably, as every other building has already had the rent escalator go through it.
The result is, these businesses that had uneconomic rents because they were owned by their operators disappear, and the locals find themselves under served. After all, they can take the train 5 stops to a shoe store, or walk 5 blocks to the next nearest deli, but their lives are clearly poorer.
The result is all the local business real estate is worth slightly less, but importantly, because the lower value is evenly spread, it doesn't become low enough at any single property to allow a new shoe store or deli to operate profitably.
So everybody is worse off because they no longer have the subsidy that the owner/operator provided by running their marginally economic shop, but the market offers no way to restore the amenity.
This seems a classic opportunity for government to be involved, but how does the government do this in a sensible way that avoids capture of subsidy by private interests?
posted by bystander at 8:08 AM on June 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


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