‘I Put in White Tenants’: The Grim, Racist (and Likely Illegal) Methods of One Brooklyn LandlordBy DW GibsonEphraim is both developer and landlord. His thick beard and heavyset frame make him look much older than his 26 years. He is a Hasid, and he started buying buildings a few years ago, in the wake of the housing crash. …It is important to remember that Ephraim is one voice on a wide spectrum. And it is important to know that Ephraim is a pseudonym for reasons that will become obvious.The rest is “Ephraim” talking:
… Jewish people, they’re going to come in and they’re going to try to rip off the black tenants — and the tenants know it, there’s word of mouth. So it’s like, “Oh, a Jewish guy again?” There’s a lot of Jewish guys moving around. Like a lot, a lot, a lot of investors who are either Hasidic Jews or a little bit less, but they’re Jewish. They’re holding Bed-Stuy like this — he squeezes at the air in front of him, strangling it. So sometimes it’s like, “Hello, this was our neighborhood. What are you doing here?”We started in East New York, but we sold everything we had. We didn’t want to be there. Most of them are either Section 8, other government programs, and even the person that pays with cash is too much headaches. So we sold everything over there and we came out all the way to Park Slope. Then we started backing up, backing up, slowly, all the way to Bushwick. …We’re small, so we look into places that haven’t caught on — we just did a place on Nostrand Avenue. People are not even there yet. We put in $600,000 and everyone was laughing at us. “It’s crazy, you’re over there. A building for yuppies, white people? It’s not going to work.” The building was full of tenants — $1,300, $1,400 tenants. We paid every tenant the average of twelve, thirteen thousand dollars to leave. I actually went to meet them — lawyers are not going to help you. And we got them out of the building and now we have tenants paying $2,700, $2,800, and they’re all white. So this is what we do.My saying is — again, I’m not racist — every black person has a price. The average price for a black person here in Bed-Stuy is $30,000 dollars. Up over there in East New York, it’s $10,000 dollars. Everyone wants them to leave, not because we don’t like them, it’s just they’re messing up — they bring everything down. Not all of them.Most of them don’t believe you at first. “Oh, you Jewish people you’re a bunch of thieves, you’re never going to give me my money.” But once you start actually having a base of people who know you, who you actually gave the money, it’s better. Sometimes it’s really tricky because you’ll have one person willing to leave for $2,000 and another wants $20,000. And the second this guy finds out that guy is getting 20 he says, “Hell no, I’m not leaving. I want 20, too.”They don’t know — here he lowers his voice — that even if they get the money and they left, they could always come back. They don’t know that part. And it’s so scary sometimes because they could come up in the middle of construction and say, “It’s my property, I didn’t understand what I was signing, and I want to come back.”Some blacks have an attorney and everything. So I try to make them happy, even if they’re going to go for $7,000 or $8,000, I’d rather give them an extra grand so they’re happy and they’re not going to think about it too much. Again, I don’t want to be a racist, but when I have a building—I can’t even say it because it’s not going to sound right.He lowers his voice again:If there’s a black tenant in the house—in every building we have, I put in white tenants. They want to know if black people are going to be living there. So sometimes we have ten apartments and everything is white, and then all of the sudden one tenant comes in with one black roommate, and they don’t like it. They see black people and get all riled up, they call me: “We’re not paying that much money to have black people live in the building.” If it’s white tenants only, it’s clean. I know it’s a little bit racist but it’s not. They’re the ones that are paying and I have to give them what they want. Or I’m not going to get the tenants and the money is not going to be what it is.The scary part about doing this is, if the black guys start to realize how much the property will sell for. This is a new thing now, the past year. A million, two million dollars—it’s crazy, crazy numbers. None of them realize yet—some of them do—the amount of money you can get. The scary part is they’re going to realize they can get the same exact house in East New York for $400,000, $500,000 and they can get paid $1.5 million for their home in Bed-Stuy, they’re going to start dumping houses on the market and the market’s going to be flooded and it’s going to cool down. It’s already cooling down.DW Gibson is the author of Not Working: People Talk About Losing a Job and Finding Their Way in Today’s Changing Economy and The Edge Becomes the Center: The Oral History of Gentrification in the Twenty-First Century, from which this excerpt was adapted.