The city has long been grappling with an increase in homelessness, a spike that began during the Bloomberg administration but has become more visible, especially to the media, over the last few months. That increase has sparked 311 complaints, tabloid outrage, and some action from City Hall. And, according to a story in DNAinfo this week, a handful of real estate brokers say they sometimes have trouble closing because of the presence of panhandlers and other homeless folk near their properties.
"I get approached at least once a day by a homeless person asking for change or food," one broker for Mirador Real Estate told DNAinfo. "This used to happen like once in a blue moon but now it has even affected business," the broker said, adding that panhandlers in neighborhoods like Chinatown, Washington Heights, Prospect Heights, and the South Bronx have been "more aggressive" recently.
The piece profiles a few prospective buyers and renters who chose to look elsewhere after spotting, say, a homeless person looking for cash outside a building they were considering, or a shirtless man passed out in front. One single woman looking at a walk-up in Hell's Kitchen eventually opted to rent in a doorman building; another, a pair of brothers in their 20s, passed on purchasing on West 25th Street over concerns about one of their girlfriends walking home at night.
Hey, it's your money, rent where your heart and bank account takes you. You can care about combating homelessness while still reasonably fearing a stranger who followed you into your building—though, as a spokesperson for Coalition for the Homeless pointed out, homeless people actually "tend to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators."
It is, however, quite hard to be sympathetic to the plight of the real estate broker who is struggling to sell to folks in SoBro.
There are a number of factors that contribute to homelessness—mental illness, chronic illness, drug addiction, job loss, disability, and family tragedy, to name a few—but in New York City, affordable housing is the central issue. Homelessness experts and advocates have pinpointed the start of the city's homelessness spike to 2005, when the Bloomberg administration stopped giving priority referrals for federal housing programs to homeless children and families; eventually, the administration killed housing assistance for homeless families altogether, and the homeless and shelter population soared.
That might not be the real estate lobby's fault, but it goes without saying that the gentrification they love so much has priced out families, pushing many into homelessness. We can argue endlessly about whether or not gentrification is all bad—perhaps the longterm effects remain to be seen, maybe not. What we do know, though, is that real estate agents have knowingly rebranded neighborhoods and helped to push rents up faster than the cost of inflation, leaving the city full of people who can freak out the lucky few simply by being "shirtless."
Real estate brokers are the foot soldiers of the largest, most powerful lobby in NYC and NY State, and now some of them have the nerve to whine about people who can't afford the obscene cost of shelter—which their very industry has engendered? The field of nanotechnology has yet to design a violin small enough to soundtrack their struggles.