Bed-Stuy Blog’s newest contributor, Mikhal Weiner, is profiling interesting residents from our community for her column, Bed-Stuy Stories. Next up is Gloria Sandiford, a community activist, Real Estate Broker at Flateau Realty Corp, and president of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Real Estate Board.
If you open Gloria Sandiford’s StreetEasy profile you’ll find yourself looking into her intelligent eyes, as they beam at the camera. Underneath, a short blurb explains that she is a “Brooklynite for Life! Community advocate and activist. Deep respect and admiration for arts & culture,” but most importantly: “My service policy: knowledge, trust, honesty, integrity & top-notch service, with a little humor!” In truth, Sandiford is all this and more. We met recently at Grandchamps, a local Bed-Stuy haven of Haitian cuisine. Sandiford walked in, shaking off an umbrella, and immediately took in the room with a warm smile. Calling the servers ‘honey’ and asking how they are, she made everyone’s day brighter.
Our conversation covered a wide swath of topics, but throughout her eclectic adventures one thread has remained consistent and strong: people, and the connections between them. “[The] word community encompasses so many different things,” she told me, considering the idea as she spoke, “The people, the processes, the leadership. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Schools, education, children, seniors, it’s all a part of that word community.” That’s where her passion lies, in helping the public become it’s best self, whether through advocacy, outreach, education, or simply buying groceries for an elderly neighbor.
Born and raised in Bed-Stuy, Sandiford is the 8th of 11 children in a family of go-getters. “My father was a plumber and he had his own general contracting business. In addition, my family owned multiple brownstones in Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, East New York… back then that was how many people made a living. My mother was a stay at home mom for the most part, and had a decorating and sewing business, which she operated from our home. At one point in her career she also opened her own decorating business with a shop – she was a very brilliant, strong and creative woman.”
This enterprising spirit certainly rubbed off Sandiford, who has excelled in a wide variety of areas. Her miscellaneous accomplishments include an MA in Non-Profit/Arts Management, establishing an artist management firm for local jazz artists, growing the business of a specialty dentist, and a successful career as a Retail Executive with Federated Department Stores. “I think my parents gave me my work ethic and my ingenuity,” she explained, “they allowed me creativity and self expression.”
Sandiford officially began a career in real estate in 1998 as a licensed real estate professional with Weichert Realtors in New Jersey. After relocating back to New York in 2005, she started her own company, Queen’s Property Management. In 2011, her desire to be more of a force in her community led her to join forces with Flateau Realty, Corp., where she is Vice President and a Real Estate Broker. In addition to her work with Flateau Realty she has been serving as President of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Real Estate Board for the past three years and doing outreach and advocacy to empower local homeowners. She also finds time to lead her block association, to garden, and to host her nieces and nephews whenever they’re in town.
Sandiford sees her work as a broker as a personal calling, growing out of her love of God and her care for the neighborhood – people and unique architecture alike. As a child she spent time daydreaming about the brownstones around her, picturing them full of people and life. “I always had a love for architecture and an appreciation for structures… the brownstones were like statues to me,” she told me, “In my mind I would play a game – I imagined taking a paintbrush and just painting windows, people, flowers. I could see the beauty in the properties – in the woodwork, the carvings, the interior.”
When Sandiford returned to Bed-Stuy she knew she wanted to help people find and protect their homes. This wasn’t just a job opportunity. It was a chance to use her business experience as a constructive energy with which to help revive the neighborhood where she grew up. It became clear to her that real estate and community necessarily go hand in hand, with one supporting the other, and that brokers like herself had the power and responsibility to safeguard the neighborhood. “It’s not just about selling the property, for me it’s about life and it’s about people,” she said with conviction, “I can’t think of a greater responsibility than to help someone find the place that they call home…Because that’s where you lay your head at night, that’s where you raise your children. It’s where we live, it’s where we die, it’s sacred…Real estate became sacred for me. Being involved in the community is sacred.”
Part of this call to service means protecting the public, especially those who are more vulnerable, from those who would prey on them. This takes the form of extensive outreach and advocacy in partnership with other community organizations both at a local and national level. They run workshops, panels, discussion groups, and circulate information to residents, all to educate homeowners and buyers about the shady underbelly of the real estate world – a rampant network of criminals partaking in Deed or Equity Theft. These practices of dubious investors stealing or underselling properties from naïve or trusting seniors is an epidemic that, according to Sandiford, represents two of the greatest threats to the Bed-Stuy community. By hiding behind convoluted LLC structures, would-be investors are able to target seniors who are in debt, alone, or simply aren’t savvy enough to see through their scams.
According to reporting by The New York Times, the city’s Department of Finance was investigating 120 such cases back in 2015, but that’s hardly enough. The criminal activity may have slowed, “…but,” Sandiford says, “you still have to be careful because they’ve become very creative with the ways to steal people’s properties.”
And if you’ve successfully dodged the teeth and claws of deed or equity thieves, there are always lien sales – an NYC imposed annual process by which a homeowner can be evicted over the non-payment of a water bill and/or property taxes. Ending up on the City’s annual lien sale list is, too often, the beginning of the end for many property owners. Once the city sells that lien to a third party, they usually impose more fees on top of the lien, which makes it almost impossible for an owner to get their property back. The third-party then can foreclose on the owner, which is what usually happens. This, too, poses a danger to seniors who often aren’t even aware that they owe the money. “We didn’t used to have water meters. They started installing [them] maybe 15 or 20 years ago, so there were instances of people losing their homes because they didn’t even know they had a water bill.”
This lack of compassion by the city to its elderly residents seems to trouble Sandiford the most. “I don’t think the services in this community reflect a caring community at the city level,” she said, “For our seniors – a lot of them are housebound and afraid. There were times when the community was very bad and you have some people who think that it’s still [like that]. They live caged in – with bars on the window, triple locks on the door, a lock on the skylight – some of them have even covered their skylights up.”
Beyond the education workshops (“Last year Flateau Realty did 21 at our own expense!”), Sandiford combats this by building relationships in her community, volunteering, attending community board meetings and police prescient council meetings and networking with other civic minded organizations to educate the public and circulate important information.
Even knowing all of this, Sandiford remains positive about the Bed-Stuy community. She says that coming together is all about seeing that we have more commonalities than differences. “We make up the community at the end of the day, [and] I think we all want the same things – to live in a safe and decent community that supports our values and our lifestyles, that’s welcoming and friendly.”
With that, she explained that she had to head out having promised a sick friend that she’d “come over and bring them some comfort stuff.” With kind eyes and a wide smile, she finished her tea and gathered her things. And then she headed off, into the damp gray day, leaving ripples of inspiration in her wake.
Read the first installment of Bed-Stuy Stories here.