The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday on an exciting New York City real estate offering: For $22 million, someone can buy a 20-unit apartment building in Brooklyn Heights to use as their very own single-family dwelling. Are you that person? That is to say, are you a monstrous asshole, who would like to make dozens of people’s lives worse for the sake of your personal luxury?
It is not uncommon, as the ultra-wealthy cast an ever-greater shadow on New York, to hear the argument that this concentration of ultra-wealth is good for the city—that through their building and spending and consuming, the rich enrich us all, that all those dollars or laundered renminbi cannot help but trickle out and improve the lives of all the construction workers and housecleaners and personal trainers and delivery people and garage attendants.
And then a deal like this comes along, and the reality comes out. Gothamist locates this particular building—with about 14,500 square feet of living space—at the corner of Orange and Hicks. That’s a short three-block walk from the Clark Street stop on the 2 and 3 trains, and about the same distance from High Street on the A and C.
It’s the sort of location where a sane and healthy city would be aiming to sustain or increase density. Instead, the plan is to destroy 19 households’ worth of transit-accessible housing stock—including several households that are “still in place” in the building, according to the Journal—to create a hollowed-out single-family ghost mansion, perhaps with an “800 bottle wine cellar,” a fitness room, and a “double-height library with floor to ceiling shelves.”
The buyers don’t have to put in library or the wine cellar, if they don’t want to. These are simply speculative ideas, a blueprint for a $10.6 million renovation that the seller, the Benchmark Real Estate Group, commissioned to inspire customers. Maybe you’d rather put in a swimming pool full of money! It would be a little redundant, though.
Are rich people inherently terrible? “Virtually everyone agrees we should judge people by their actions and the content of their character, not by the (real or manufactured) sins or shortcomings of other members of whatever group they happen to belong to,” a hilariously overwrought essay on the Federalist argued. It was written by one of the authors of a new book, Equal Is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality.
The argument continues:
We need to ask ourselves: Do we really think of rich individuals as human beings? Or do we view them as cartoon villains—one-dimensional stereotypes not dissimilar to the caricatures propagated by racists, misogynists, and Jew-haters?
The trouble at the corner of Orange and Hicks is that there are no individuals to single out for blame. This is not one monstrous person choosing, on a twisted impulse, to annihilate 19 households’ worth of living space to build a monument to his or her own inhumanity.
Instead, this is a real estate company betting that such an asshole is already out there, just waiting for the chance to participate in a zero-sum act of greed and destruction. There are, after all, plenty of others doing it. A whole class of customers, even.