Lawmakers push for approval of Brooklyn cease-and-desist list amid aggressive solicitations
Trisha Ocona has removed most of the “We Buy Houses” signs she’s seen in her East Flatbush neighborhood. The ones that remain are out of her reach, Ocona explains, high up on the city’s street lamps or telephone poles.
A lifelong resident of the community, Ocona is particularly bothered by the signs, which she thinks are predatory and take advantage of people, especially those who feel like they are out of options. “All those signs, they don’t mean well,” she says. “There are people who scheme and scam their way into getting people’s properties.”
Though plentiful, the signs are relatively benign compared to more aggressive solicitation tactics homeowners in the area have faced. Long known as a community made up of many single-family homes and longtime homeowners, East Flatbush has become a new development frontier recently, leaving some locals feeling forced out.
“People like myself who have been living in the community for years who are thinking of selling are being priced out of the area,” says Judy Spence, a resident of the neighborhood for 47 years.
East Flatbush has long been plagued by economic challenges — residents faced 213 foreclosures in 2019 — but the economic dislocations from COVID-19 are hastening the pace of foreclosures and solicitations. That’s the reason some community members and elected officials see a cease-and-desist list as part of the solution, a designation that would bar potential buyers from soliciting homeowners to sell.
State Sen. Kevin Parker, who represents Brooklyn, has been a key player in pushing for the borough to become a part of the city’s cease-and-desist list, joining Queens and sections of The Bronx. The city prohibits the solicitation of a real estate listing from any homeowner whose name appears on the list.
Just before the pandemic dominated, Brooklyn locals voiced their experiences with solicitors during a community hearing to determine the borough’s eligibility for the legislation.
“Several residents testified to receiving multiple solicitations on a daily basis, having vehicles parked in front of their home and then being stopped as they went about their private routines, only to be solicited,” reads the New York State Register, where a summary of the hearing is documented. Others report solicitors going further, even filing anonymous complaints leading to homeowner fees that would intensify the pressure to sell.–>
Assemblymember N. Nick Perry, who represents East Flatbush, also supports the legislation. His office hears complaints about solicitation from his constituents often. “We have created some notice cards we made to give to people to put outside of their house [saying] ‘House Not For Sale’ or ‘No Solicitation.’” says Dalton Robinson, office manager for Perry. “They’re very popular in our neighborhood. As soon as we get them, we run out, we order more again. People seem to want them.”
Ocona often takes the situation into her own hands. She is known to match the aggressive energy she receives from buyers, ripping down signs and making herself known locally as a staunch dissenter against solicitation. “I’ve created my own cease-and-desist list,” she says. “When they see my name, they’re like ‘no, don’t even ask her.’”
On the other hand, being on the cease-and-desist list is not a major concern for Spence. As a long-time homeowner, she says she deals with buyers asking her to sell often, but simply hangs up on them, thinking of them as just an annoyance. “Just developers calling is not the major problem that we’re facing as far as gentrification,” she says.
The Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development has conducted a data analysis of different factors that lead to housing risk in New York City, including the most recent addition of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on housing security. Some other factors include availability of subsidized housing and average change of housing costs.
According to the analysis, East Flatbush is one of the three neighborhoods in Brooklyn with the greatest affordable housing risk, along with Brownsville and East New York.
The cease-and-desist legislation has not yet been passed. Now in its third go-around, the bill has stalled amid the pandemic.
And approval is only step one. Each individual homeowner would have to request their name and address be added to the list. Ocona says this is where her work comes in. She wants people to know why being on the list is important, and their options for staying in the neighborhood, especially during uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
Community District 17, which encompasses East Flatbush, has also taken on the role of educating community members about development issues and being more vocal in their decision-making processes. Land use committee members say that in fighting to prevent the eradication of long-term residents, they are upholding the committee’s motto: “We shall not be moved.”