By JAKE MOONEY
October 12, 2008 - Living In | Canarsie, Brooklyn
EVEN years ago, back when she rented in East Flatbush, Ismay Gardner knew she liked Canarsie, a quiet suburban community on Brooklyn’s south shore with row upon row of detached houses and neat lawns. When she decided to buy a house, Canarsie was the first place she looked, and even when she moved — twice — it was within Canarsie.
Now, Ms. Gardner, who is 58 and has two grown children, believes she may finally have reached the end of her time in the neighborhood. Partly because of a feeling that the area is not quite as tidy as it used to be, and partly because she is simply restless for something new, she has decided to sell the two-family house on 103rd Street, in a leafy corner of the neighborhood, which she bought just last year to live in with her son and daughter.
Her timing, people who follow real estate in the neighborhood say, is less than ideal. Hit hard by the mortgage crisis, Canarsie is one of the city’s trouble spots for foreclosures. A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, released in January, found that the 11236 ZIP code, which includes Canarsie and the adjacent Flatlands neighborhood, had the highest number of subprime mortgages in the city, 1,930, and that lenders had initiated foreclosure proceedings against 12 percent of them.
Barbara LaBarca, the Coldwell Banker broker who sold Ms. Gardner her house and is now selling it for her, said that many people who bought multifamily houses with plans of relying on rental income to pay their mortgages now find themselves squeezed by nonpaying tenants. As a result, she said, houses that might have sold for $650,000 a year ago are now going for little more than $525,000.
Ms. Gardner, who paid $690,000 for her house in June 2007, is asking $739,000, because she made extensive improvements and renovations. The house has been on the market since August, Ms. LaBarca said.
Jean-Paul Ho, a vice president at Fillmore Realty, said many of the troubled new owners in the area were recent immigrants from the Caribbean who were targets of predatory lending, receiving loans they should not have qualified for.
In the lending climate of recent years, all a borrower needed to do “is fog up a glass and you get the loan,” he said. “A lot of these people are just hard-working blue-collar workers. They just don’t understand the system, and a lot of them are being taken advantage of, unfortunately.”
The ramifications for Canarsie are worrisome, said Saul Needle, chairman of Community Board 18, which represents the area. “When you talk about a neighborhood that has more than its fair share of foreclosures, and people want to start a family, buy a house, and they look around the block and see vacant houses, they get scared away,” he said.
In an effort to keep the area from getting worse, Mr. Ho said, community members recently held a “foreclosure prevention triage,” with lawyers donating their expertise and representatives of several banks attending to counsel worried homeowners in several languages.
For her part, Ms. Gardner said she had seen a lot of for-sale signs, but no boarded-up houses or similarly alarming sights.
Meanwhile, many of the things she loves about Canarsie are still there. She has enjoyed seeing the leaves beginning to turn, and the mist from Jamaica Bay.
“It’s very pretty,” she said. “It has a country feeling, and we’re living near a ballpark” — Canarsie Beach Park. “It’s so nice when you hear them playing, the ball hitting the bat. It’s like music.”
WHAT YOU’LL FIND
The leafiest parts of the neighborhood are to the northeast, from East 98th Street to Fresh Creek Park around Seaview Avenue and Avenues L, M and N. Visitors to this area — finding themselves surrounded by detached houses with the smell of cut grass in the air, the sound of seagulls in the distance and the sight of driving-school cars edging down otherwise empty tree-lined streets — may find it hard to imagine they are not miles east in Long Island.
The areas to the east are denser, with smaller houses, usually brick and usually with garages. The main commercial streets through the neighborhood are Rockaway Parkway, Remsen Avenue and Flatlands Avenue. Mostly, they are easier to negotiate by car than on foot. The exception is the stretch of Rockaway Parkway north of Flatlands, around the L train stop, which is a busy shopping strip, with a cluster of Caribbean businesses and restaurants.
Higher-density development in the interior of the neighborhood has increased in recent years, to the displeasure of many residents. In response, the Department of City Planning has been working with local officials for the last year and a half to plan a comprehensive “downzoning” of much of the area. The measure has yet to clear the city’s extensive land-use review process, but Mr. Needle, the community board chairman, says it enjoys majority support.
If you buy a house on a quiet block, he said, “you don’t want the dude next door to come, knock down his house and put up a four-story building.”
WHAT YOU’LL PAY
Ms. LaBarca, of Coldwell Banker LaBarca, says many homes on the market in Canarsie are two-families. On Oct. 1, the Multiple Listing Service noted 172 two-families, 57 single-families and 16 three-families.
From June through September, she said, 16 two-family houses sold, generally for $500,000 to $600,000. Of the 11 single-family houses reported sold in that period, Ms. LaBarca said, most went for around $400,000. No three-family houses were listed as having sold during those four months, she said.
In general, sale prices were down compared with 2007. Early that year, for example, a house on East 81st Street sold for $690,000; last June, a similar house a block away sold for $607,000.
As for the higher-density buildings that are the target of the rezoning, Ms. LaBarca says they, too, have been difficult to sell. “All these builders built them and they were in the 700s, and they’re not worth 700 anymore. They want more than what it’s worth.”
As for rentals, two-bedrooms generally run $1,200 to $1,300 a month, one-bedrooms around $1,000.
WHAT TO DO
Canarsie Pier, at the southeastern edge of the neighborhood, is a popular destination. People fish there; others take their children to the playground, or gather in the parking lot to compare car stereos, or sit on the benches to watch the fish being caught and the planes landing at nearby Kennedy Airport.
Nearby, Canarsie Park has fields for baseball, soccer and cricket; courts for basketball and tennis; a dog run; and plenty of green and open space.
The five public elementary schools in Canarsie all did well on their most recent city progress reports. Public Schools 115, 272 and 276, to the south, all got A’s; Nos. 279 and 114, to the north, both scored B’s.
There are two public middle schools. At Intermediate School 68 on East 82nd Street, which got a B on its progress report, the percentage of eighth graders testing at or above grade level in English was 37.6; the percentage in math was 48.7. At No. 211, which got an A, the percentages were 42.9 in English and 63.5 in math.
Canarsie High School, on Rockaway Parkway, has about 2,300 students. It got an F on its last report card, and in December city officials announced it would be closed in phases, ending in 2011. It is to be replaced by a group of smaller schools at the same location.
SAT averages last year were 384 in reading, 374 in math and 374 in writing, versus 438, 460 and 433 citywide.
Canarsie is difficult to negotiate without a car. The L subway line ends on Rockaway Parkway, near the northern edge of the area, but reaching it from Canarsie’s more distant points requires a bus ride or a long walk. Ride times into Manhattan approach an hour. Most other subway lines in southern Brooklyn are also accessible by bus; the Nos. 2, 3 and 5 are the closest.
The Belt Parkway is the only highway through the neighborhood, with an entrance and exit ramp next to Canarsie Pier. Rockaway Parkway and Remsen Avenue are the two main roads into the middle of Brooklyn. The BM2 express bus provides rides of about an hour into Midtown Manhattan.
Canarsie, originally part of the Dutch town of Flatlands, was named for the Native Americans who originally lived there. According to the Encyclopedia of New York City, German immigrants arrived in the 1870s, and Jews and Italians followed in the 1920s.
The neighborhood has remained middle-class throughout its history, but its ethnic makeup shifted drastically in the 1980s; it is now predominantly Caribbean.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 19, 2008 The “Living In” article last Sunday about Canarsie, Brooklyn, referred imprecisely to an assertion by JeanPaul Ho, a real estate agent, about the regional origin of many homeowners who were in financial difficulty because they had been the targets of predatory lenders. He was speaking only of immigrants from the Caribbean, not also of immigrants from China and Russia. The article also misstated the end point of the L subway line. It is Rockaway Parkway, not Rockaway Avenue.