Queens Tribune Honorees Talk Real Estate
On Oct. 19, the Queens Tribune honored members of Queens’ real estate community at the Real Estate Marketplace Awards at Terrace on the Park. Interspersed with appearances from elected officials, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Borough President Melinda Katz, the Tribune’s publisher, Michael Nussbaum, presented awards to real estate experts who have contributed to Queens’ booming marketplace.
The Queens Tribune spoke to many of the honorees and their associates in order to tap into their knowledge and experience and understand the mechanisms behind the Queens real estate explosion.
Michael Mattone, who is a developer along with his father, honoree Joe Mattone Sr., chairman of Mattone Group LLC, said that Western Queens and Eastern Brooklyn are booming, especially along the 7 line. He said his father’s group is developing a residential building in Ridgewood and that in the past, they never would have guessed it was an area that was in the market for more residential buildings. He said millennials who are now renting apartments don’t drive and, “it’s a different dynamic. They would rather travel by the subway.”
Honoree John J. Ciafone, Esq., agreed. He looked out across the expanse of Queens from the windows at Terrace on the Park and noted, “Anything along the 7 line is valuable.” He added that there are homes in areas of Western Queens such as suburban Glendale that sold 10 years ago for $450,000 and are now selling for $750,000 or higher.
Current CEO and president of Investor’s Bank and fellow honoree Kevin Cummings called those spots along transportation hubs “transit villages.” With the boom of cheap transit solutions like Zipcar and Uber paired with the convenience of public transportation in some Queens neighborhoods, Cummings said that the once-appealing quiet suburban areas are no longer as viable as they once were. He added that these booming areas provide opportunities not just for investors, but for families and individuals.
“Millennials want to be in these transit centers,” he said. “They don’t want to be in Long Island or suburban New Jersey. They’re attracted to the urban areas. They want to be close to the action. I mean how many kids don’t have cars now?”
Ronald Hartmann, executive vice president of Flushing Bank, told the Queens Tribune that Queens offers a number of neighborhood features besides transportation that make it an appealing place to live.
“The proximity to Manhattan, the great mass transportation is there; the views of the waterfront; the good, strong, established communities,” he listed. “There’s good support of restaurants and bars, established and growing. The young people are moving in in droves, and it’s pretty clear why.”
While many of these pillars of Queens living have existed for decades, there seem to be new discoveries ripe with opportunity for those in the real estate industry. Hartmann said that this is a result of a newfound desire for city living outside the expensive spaces of Manhattan.
Even with the booming industry, Hartmann believes that Queens still has room for growth, particularly in the retail sector.
When the Queens Tribune spoke with Emily Lin, founder and principal of LIN + Associates Architects, she said that Queens has been growing tremendously over the past five years but that if 421-A, a tax incentive program that is a partial real estate tax exemption for the new construction of multifamily rental housing, were to come back, there would be a substantial increase in development growth throughout the city, particularly in untapped areas like Jamaica.
“Long Island City is out of this world, Flushing is getting too expensive, but Jamaica … there’s a lot of development potential in Jamaica,” said Lin. “I’d like to buy Jamaica.”
Regional Plan Association senior vice president and chief planner Christopher Jones was not only an award recipient, but given his real estate success, he was the keynote speaker of the event.
“There is no question that real estate in Queens has taken off in the last several years,” Jones told the Queens Tribune.
However, Jones said that problems like overcrowding, public transportation, infrastructure and the overall New York City economy needed to improve before Queens’ real estate market could grow further.
Executive consultant Bob Nyman was in attendance to support his partner, award recipient president of Crystal Windows Thomas Chen. Although Crystal Windows, a window installation and manufacturing company, is not involved in development, it is affected by the real estate market because more development means more windows. According to Nyman, the market began to turn around for the good around 2007-’08.
Honoree Joseph Strasburg is the longtime president of the Rent Stabilization Association, an organization that represents the owners of rent-stabilized and rent-regulated buildings. He pointed to continuing immigration into the outer boroughs as a contributing factor to Queens’ growth, helping to explain why the outer boroughs continue to grow even as Manhattan is slowing down.
“There’s a pent-up demand for housing, and as soon as you build it gets filled up immediately,” he said.
However, Strasburg also expressed caution, noting that the market can’t continue booming forever; like Lin, he pointed to the elimination of the 421-A tax abatement as a major drawback to real estate growth. He explained that many projects currently being built were approved under 421-A, and that once they are finished, development will slow down as developers struggle with the cost of land and union labor.
Further, he added that the mayor’s plan to increase housing by building “high and dense” will pose problems as developers run out of land. He pointed to Flushing as an example, as developers have been moving away from the developed Main Street.
“As you geographically expand outside of the commercial hub for Flushing, you’re going to run smack into neighborhoods of one and two families,” he said. “When that happens, you’re going to find communities organizing in opposition.”