Thursday, June 8, 2017

How To Hedge Against Gentrification In Southeast Queens With Home Ownership

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By Isa Abdur-Rahman, Esq.

Collage of Jamaica Queens Copyright Southeast Queens Scoop 
Downtown Jamaica, Queens, is currently undergoing rapid redevelopment.  Several new hotels and apartment buildings are being constructed, and the expectation is that an influx of affluent buyers and renters will soon flood the Southeast Queens neighborhoods, pricing out the working-class families and mom-and-pop businesses in our community.  “Gentrification” is the term for this type of trend, and it usually carries a negative and often cultural connotation.

Is Gentrification the Challenge?

I am not determined to prevent people of different cultures and ethnicities from moving into the area.  Not at all.  The truth is that I embrace diversity … when it is diversity and not displacement.
However, I am determined to see our younger generations become business owners and property owners here in Southeast Queens, where our parents and grandparents have worked hard for decades. Since I began my law office in 2004, I have handled numerous real estate, business lease, and probate transactions in Southeast Queens, and I can state with confidence that empowering the younger generation is a far more real challenge than what many perceive as gentrification.

Important Questions One Might Consider

> What does it take for a young woman age 26 to want to purchase her own home in Hollis?

> Does she need to be married first?

> Does she need help from family to make a down payment?

> What does it take for a young man age 30 to take over his parents’ small business on Merrick Blvd?

> Do they have to guarantee him a salary based on his degree?

> Does he have to pay off his student loans first?

> What does it take for heirs to hold onto Grandma’s property in Laurelton now that she has passed on?

> Does one of the heirs have to live in the property?

> What if the other heirs want their share of the cash value instead of keeping the house?

These are the types of questions that actually come up within the households of Southeast Queens, and the answers are unique to every family, every individual, every situation.  But I have observed one theme emerging from these households:  members of the Millennial generation in our community are postponing their plans for ownership until later in life.

Southeast Queens Millennials Becoming Owners

There are various theories as to why Millennials seem to be “starting out later.”  For example, the job market may be more limited now than in years past; education and student loans may be more expensive; marriage may be intimidating and, thus, the 2-income household may be harder to establish; travel and recreation may be more of a priority than “settling down” and investing; and so on.

Despite the speculation, one thing is certain: Southeast Queens needs its Millennials to emerge as the next generation of owners, innovators and leaders.  Each family in our community can and should consider practical ways to empower the next generation, giving them a chance to “test drive” ownership through tried-and-true approaches as well as new methods and technologies.

Ideas to Empower the Millennial Generation in Southeast Queens

Here are just a few ideas for your consideration:

1. The Trulia app.  Trulia’s free mobile app allows you to view homes for sale directly on the map of whatever neighborhood you’re interested in.  You can view available pictures from outside and inside the home, find out the asking price, how long the home has been on the market, and any scheduled open house dates.  It’s a very convenient way to envision what’s possible for owning property in our area.  (It also works when you’re visiting other cities and states.)

2. Lease Agreement with Family.  Young adults living at home with parents should still have the opportunity to pay rent and agree to the terms of a written lease.  Being under a formal lease agreement enhances your ability to transition to ownership, and the lease itself may be a useful document when you apply for a mortgage or if your parents apply for a refinance or loan modification.

3. Rent-to-Own Agreement with Family.  In this arrangement a portion of your monthly rent payment gets treated as a partial down payment for purchase of the home you are currently renting.  Over time the down payment grows to be sizable and helps you qualify for a mortgage loan.  For parents or grandparents who intend to relocate, this approach can be a useful way to gradually sell their property to a younger member of the family.

4. Life Estate Deed.  Where the elder family member intends to remain in the same home, it may be practical to have a responsible younger family member placed on the deed, with the elder retaining a “life estate” interest.  Not only can this bolster the ownership identity of the younger generation if they are already responsible, but it may also be an effective legacy planning or Medicaid planning tool for the elder.

5. Form a Non-Profit Corporation.  Finally, many Millennials are driven by a desire to use their skills and abilities in a meaningful way, to make a difference in the community or create content that stimulates progress.  That type of drive can be empowering to a young adult if it is structured and purposeful.  Forming a small non-profit corporation is a low-cost way to establish a structure that can give Millennial family members a vehicle to launch into innovation and leadership.

Start the Ownership Conversation

These items are just for consideration.  Legal counsel should be obtained for your family’s specific objectives before any formal documents are implemented. 

I recognize that families often have a hard time discussing topics like property ownership, so I created a “personality quiz” to break the ice and help people start talking about ownership more comfortably.  You can take the quiz online at, share it on social media, and talk about it with family and friends.  Enjoy.

Isa Abdur-Rahman is an attorney based in Jamaica, Queens.  He is also the founder and executive director of Farmers Boulevard Community Development Corp., a non-profit group created in 2009 with the mission of revitalizing Farmers Boulevard.  Isa taught Business Law at York College from 2011-2016.  He lives in Jamaica with his wife, Fazeeda, and their three young children.

Isa Abdur-Rahman, Esq.
90-04 161st Street, Suite 308
Jamaica, NY  11432
Phone: (718) 262-0682

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