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Your Building’s Been Expelled

What if you bought in your chosen school district—and then the district moves?

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Illustration by Mark Nerys  

Edwin Jean didn’t know much about the local school when he bought a one-bedroom on Riverside Boulevard five years ago, but by the time his wife got pregnant and they needed more space, he was well aware of P.S. 199’s stellar reputation. “It was an easy choice” to move down the street where they could stay close to friends and within the catchment, he says. Except that, just this month, the city passed a resolution redrawing the zone to ease overcrowding; it would throw Jean’s and other buildings out by 2010. And the combat has begun. Kenneth Kuo, who’s helping organize his neighbors’ appeal, says that the rezoning’s huge impact on their community wasn’t assessed. Julie Mallin, a parent whose building remained in 199’s zone, reports that school leaders and the 199 PTA sympathize with those who’ve been kicked out, but, given the overcrowding, “strongly support” the decision.

Apartment hunters buy for many reasons, but a good public school is a selling point like few others. “It was absolutely black and white,” says Jean. “I would not have bought the property had they told me it would be a different district.” Some ads tout it directly, though many brokers don’t like to do that. (One reading of the Fair Housing Act suggests that citing school data could conceivably be construed as discrimination—since it hints at courting families instead of singles—according to the Real Estate Board of New York’s Steven Spinola.) It could also create costly mistakes. Last year, a woman sued her agents, saying that they’d told her an apartment was in the right catchment when it wasn’t.

Appraiser Jeffrey Jackson of Mitchell, Maxwell & Jackson says buyer motivations are subjective, so it’s hard to quantify “how redistricting affects property values.” One broker estimates that a good school can add as much as 10 percent, but in any case, its impact can’t be denied, especially now. “With the economy going the way it is in New York, more people are opting out of private schools, and the magnitude of a good public school as a factor of what you’re willing to pay for a property goes up,” says Jackson, adding that it can “dramatically increase sellability.” Or, as it were, limit it. Says Jean: “Even if we wanted to sell, it’s hard now. It’s a difficult market.”


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