When the invitation for a private tour landed in my inbox, I was swarmed by a well-mixed cocktail of contradictory emotion. Colony 1209, a new apartment building in Bushwick arrived at the scene with a big bang very recently, and quickly earned itself a label of the most controversial building in Bushwick. Not only does the name of the building lend itself to the comparison of gentrification with colonization but also the building is marketed by the real estate brokers aptsandlofts.com as ” Modern residences in a vibrant industrial setting…re-imagined through artful eyes in NYC’s new ‘IT’ neighborhood Bohemian Bushwick, Brooklyn.” The language on their website continues: “Here you’ll find a group of like-minded settlers, mixing the customs of their original homeland with those of one of NYC’s most historic neighborhoods to create art, community, and a new lifestyle. Let’s Homestead, Bushwick-style.” Media have been wondering about the choice of words like “settlers” and “homestead,” interpreting it mostly as offensive – but then again, real estate lingo is rarely pleasing to the existing Bushwick community.
So when the invitation arrived, I knew that if I went and wrote about it, I wouldn’t be able to avoid the G talk, and what it means to have Colony 1209 and its inhabitants as part of our “Bohemian IT neighborhood.” But I still went. Partly because I wanted to see the alleged luxury with my own eyes, and partly because my first Bushwick apartment was actually only a couple of houses down on Dekalb and Myrtle Ave, and I was curious about this new fancy neighbor.
Just to explain, I moved to a 2-bedroom apartment at Dekalb Ave with a roommate in 2010 and stayed there for two years. It was a typical 1930s Bushwick 3-story, 6-unit building, newly renovated but, as my grandpa would put it, ” it was a shitty, flaky job of a renovation.” The tiles soon began to fall off, mysterious sizable insects would appear in the bathroom, and an uninvited roommate, a mouse named Hubert, showed up in my kitchen and claimed his rights to the modest apartment. Neighbors said that Hubert was there long before me, and that’s probably why he easily won the challenge of “It’s either me or Hubert.” I moved out in 2012, and the rent of the place went from original $1,550 to $1,850. I would guess that its current rent is upwards of $2,000, which Zillow’s estimate confirms at $2,100.
So what does $2,100 get you over at Colony? Well, not quite a 2-bedroom, but it will get you a studio, which start at $1,875, or even a 1-bedroom for $2,200. A 2-bedroom (size comparable to Hubert’s Place) is $2,700 and goes all the way up to $3,100 if you want a balcony and more space.
Colony 1209 has a gym, screening room, a “speakeasy,” which in human (aka non-real estate) terms means a common seating area, a big roof with outdoor furniture, parking and a shared backyard.
On the other hand, Hubert’s Place had a reclining roof where you could only go when the super was around, and a fire escape used by generations of residents for smoking. Any in-house entertainment? Yes, you could watch rats crossing the street and hiding in an old garage.
So an additional $600 (or 28% of your rent) buys you significantly more dignified living conditions than Hubert’s Place could ever provide. The logical conclusion should be that Colony 1209 is a better investment than your typical “reconstructed” Bushwick apartment, but an extra $600 in the life of a typical Bushwick resident might be a much greater jump than it seems. If you’re a seeking twenty-something, it means 100 less craft ales per month (priced at $6 each); or four weekly grocery shopping lists if you’re a typical Bushwick household of three (priced at $150 per week).
During the Colony 1209 tour, the aptsandlofts.com representatives were nice and very accomodating. They showed us their model apartments of various sizes, and told us that over 50% of the units have been leased since the building went on the market in April 2014. According to the representatives, 50% of the building’s residents moved there from Bushwick; another large group is from Fort Green/Clinton Hill and some are also from Williamsburg. 100% of the inhabitants are so called Millennials, aged 24 to 35.
On the roof, I met a resident of Colony, a 22-year old named Mike. I asked him what his background was, hoping for something other than, god forbid, finance. That was unsuccessful – he works in finance. He also told me he had just moved to the city after he graduated from a college in Los Angeles. He said he loved the new building the minute he saw it, and it was the best he was able to find. He was very nice, too.
According to the public archives, Hubert’s Building was sold in 1999 for $65,000. The new owner then sold it in 2004 for $377,500, and after just five months of ownership resold the building to the current owner for $499,000.
Colony 1209, a 127-unit former mattress factory, was sold in 2006 for $8,300,000. After the owner fell into financial difficulties in 2012, the building was sold in a foreclosure auction to Read Properties for $6,000,000. (There was also a mortgage for $21,000,000 at the deed.) The building had just won necessary permits to be developed into condos but the construction had not started yet. Read Properties switched the condos to rentals, and went ahead with the original blueprints. Before a single unit was leased, Read flipped the building in 2014, and a group of investors paid…wait for it…$58,000,000.
Colony 1209 did not appear in Bushwick by accident or at a pace unknown to this area. Actually, it is quite a very expected step of the development of Bushwick in the past 20 years.
Many of you are probably wondering whether the building will bring super-rich executives to the area off Central M train stop who will price us all out? Well, hardly. Colony 1209 is pretty but it is clearly a destination for entry-level Millenial workers with some disposable income. The building feels more like a fancy dorm than a luxury residence. (For the record, I 100% agree that the marketing language of the building could be less obnoxious and/or offensive.)
The silver lining? This area now has the potential to serve nearly 200 new residents with some disposable income…but it could use some more business. Nearby is the newly open Champs Vegan Bakery (Bushwick Ave). The jazz club Brass Bottle is on Myrtle Ave, and a fun nightclub Bossa Nova is a little farther. But opportunity is most certainly there, ready to be seized by those who have good ideas, and who want to be able to pay that extra, seemingly impossible, $600 per month…