Thursday, August 26, 2010

The regulated market for cemeteries

The NY Times reports, City Cemeteries Face Gridlock.

"More than 50 years have passed since a major cemetery was established within the city, and no new burial grounds are planned. But New Yorkers continue to die, some 60,000 a year.

"Accordingly, per square foot, burial plots in centrally located cemeteries rival the most expensive real estate in the city. A private mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx can easily cost more than $1,000 per square foot.

"“We have people who would like to disinter Mom and Dad and sell the graves back to make some money,” said Richard Fishman, the director of the New York State Division of Cemeteries.

"There are state laws limiting the profits on resold graves, but the fact that people would be willing to go to such lengths, Mr. Fishman said, illustrates just how valuable burial plots have become."
"Other major urban areas have taken measures to alleviate similar space crunches. London allows people to be buried upright, while cemeteries in Singapore and Sydney, among others, offer “limited tenure,” cemetery-speak for digging up bodies after a certain amount of time so that the plot can be reused."
"It might seem that an enterprising developer could find a way to make a lucrative business out of providing burial space.

"But that has not happened.

"First, by law, cemeteries in New York State must be nonprofit institutions. There are 35 privately owned cemeteries in the city and several dozen with religious affiliations. The closer to Manhattan and major transportation, the more crowded and expensive a burial ground will be. Farther away, particularly in Staten Island and parts of the Bronx, space is available. The indigent of New York City are buried on Hart Island in Long Island Sound.

"Woodlawn, which was part of Westchester County when it was founded in 1863 but was later incorporated into the Bronx, still has burial room. It hopes to be able to offer graves for another 40 to 50 years, but that relative abundance hasn’t kept its prices down.

“We want to have enough saved so that the income from the trust, once we are closed and have nothing left to sell, is enough to maintain the cemetery,” said John P. Toale Jr., the president of Woodlawn.

"While there is a space crunch in the city, there is more space in the suburbs, and cemeteries in upstate New York can barely give away plots, state officials said. Many New Yorkers who struggled and saved to live in the city end up buried elsewhere.

"Even as the broader real estate market languished in the recession, prices for graves in the city continued skyward. The state regulates the fees a cemetery can charge for services like excavation, but graves sell at market price. So burial plots are a cemetery’s revenue-generator.
"Now that an end to plot sales is in sight, Green-Wood is seeking to transform its image, according to Richard J. Moylan, its president. The graveyard charges admission for guided tours, giving people a chance to saunter through time among the tombstones of the notable and the notorious. The hope is that it will become much like Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, a magnet for tourists."

See also this earlier post.

1 comment:

dWj said...

I live a few miles from Woodlawn, in a coop apartment I bought for less than $200 per square foot. I'd be willing to inter people here, though I'm not sure my wife would go for it.