The Problem With Brooklyn Real Estate, As Told By One Brownstone

09/20/2013 11:20 AM |


  • Image via Townhouse Experts

When we complain about the financial ramifications of gentrification and over-development, and the visceral fear of being rapidly priced out of the place you have chosen to live—which is all the time!—it’s easy enough to see the problem as sort of an abstract bogeyman, some rich, faceless guy in a well-tailored suit, flipping brownstones for far too much money and whispering in the ears of business owners that yes, of course people will pay $15 for a cocktail, really, it’s a bargain. But, like everything else, this actually did come from somewhere specific, and somewhere surprisingly loving and well-intentioned.


In large part, it came from Evelyn and Everett Ortner, two of Park Slope’s earliest and most enthusiastic adopters, whose longtime brownstone in the area just hit the market for $4.8 million. When the couple bought it in 1963, it cost $32,000 (or the equivalent of around $240,000 in 2013). Part of the price hike can be attributed to the fact that they painstakingly fixed the place up over the years, all as they very publicly extolled the virtues of moving into the neighborhood’s beautiful, often neglected homes. Per Evelyn’s 2006 Times obituary (Everett had continued living in the home and passed away last year), the couple were “among the first, the most vocal and the most effective champions of the brownstone revival that spread from Brooklyn to the rest of the country” and “did much of the historical research that persuaded the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee to designate the Park Slope historic district in 1973.”

But of course, their renovations don’t account for most of the home’s massive new price tag. Most of that comes from the neighborhood’s meteoric, well-documented rise in both popularity and expense, a shift the Ortners actually saw coming. Everett, an editor at Popular Science (can you imagine a magazine editor buying or even renting an entire building in Park Slope now? Aaaaah!), once said, “Never again, never again, never again will houses of this quality be built for the middle class of the city.” And he was right. In a way, these houses were too good to be true, and people figured it out pretty fast. Supply and demand, essentially. Still, it’s hard not to get a little depressed and sentimental about a time when a pair of middle class history geeks could afford a beautiful home, and happily stay there for decades. A time that’s not coming back.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.