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Black homeowners in New York City fight program that allows property seizures for unpaid utilities


Sherlivia Thomas-Murchison’s mother worked for nearly 25 years to make sure her family had a permanent home in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, reports NBCBLK.

The home of her mother, Margaret Blow, was in a co-op building, where Thomas-Murchison was a shareholder, on Madison Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Thomas-Murchison owned her apartment, as well as an apartment she and her siblings inherited after their mother died.

But in 2018, she learned that the city had signed the building’s deed over to a partnering developer. It meant she and her two children — like her neighbors in the eight-unit building — were without a home.

The transfer happened through a controversial citywide program called the Third Party Transfer program, or TPT, which experts who spoke to NBC News said has had an outsize effect on Black and Latino homeowners. Thomas-Murchison is one of three lead plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against New York City and its partnering developers, alleging that the program unfairly aided gentrification, is pushing out Black and Latino residents and has siphoned millions of dollars from families of color.

In June, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the suit could move forward after it was stalled by a lower court, Politics NY reported.

Through the program, which began in the 1990s when Rudy Giuliani was mayor, private property can be seized on the grounds of unpaid utility bills or abandonment. The purpose was to give properties to developers to create low-income housing while eradicating widespread blight.

The plaintiffs say the city seized properties that did not meet the “distressed” criteria and failed to notify nearly 700 homeowners, most of them Black and Latino, in a timely manner that their property was at risk of confiscation or offer any way for them to keep their homes.