Faith-Based Development’s Local Sage: Osei Rubie of National Standard Abstract

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Dealing with title issues for some of New York’s older properties can be a challenge. But when your property was built around the time the Pilgrims immigrated to America, the number of possible encumbrances boggles the mind.

This was the situation Reverend Patrick O’Connor faced when he decided to expand the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens, into a complex for a new church building plus 174 units of affordable housing, as well as retail and community space.

“Our church was founded in 1662,” said Reverend O’Connor. “We needed to find the church’s title so we could transfer air rights to the development site, which is next door to us.”

Rev. O’Connor worked with National Standard Abstract, a title insurance company specializing in working with faith-based organizations.

National Standard Abstract has closed nearly $1 billion in New York and New Jersey transactions since its founding in 2015. Osei Rubie, the company’s founder and president, considers helping faith-based organizations navigate the exceeding complex development landscape to be his calling.

“National Standard Abstract continues to build its company pipeline with residential and commercial transactions, affordable, supportive housing, and faith-based development,” said Rubie, who notes that the faith-based development sector is “one of the fastest growing emerging markets of the past five years.”

“Our social mission is a priority, because we are truly vested in the communities we serve,” Rubie said. “In New York City, our firm closed a total of $654 million in commercial real estate transactions in 2018. Out of that, $274 million of those transactions were for faith-based developments.”

“Finding our records, especially going back to somewhere in the 1800s, was quite an ordeal,” Rev. O’Connor added. “Osei ensured that the title appeared the way it needed to so city agencies would be able to approve the transaction.”

Faith-based developments face unique challenges, including attorney general approval of all deals (since church property is considered public property), dealing with multiple deeds for mixed-use developments, and ensuring that the congregation is fully on board with the changes.

With more and more churches using their assets to help create affordable housing and other essential community resources, the need for real estate professionals who understand the process has never been more urgent.

The Church of God of East Flatbush found that its 9,000-square-foot facility no longer met the needs of its growing congregation. In finding a nearby location for a new 40,000-square-foot church, they realized they could also create 531 units of affordable housing.

“We outgrew our present facilities,” said Bishop R.C. Hugh Nelson. “We decided that what we really needed was an urban ministry center—a ministry model that provides more than just the regular worship experience, but to impact lives in a holistic way.”

The church purchased two blocks along Hegeman Street in Brooklyn for $8 million. But having heard horror stories about what can go wrong with property titles, such as undiscovered liens, Bishop Nelson wanted a voice of experience along for the ride.

Alongside the developer, Brisa Builders, Rubie helped Bishop Nelson navigate this potentially treacherous terrain.

“Having someone who can make sure these properties are clear is so important,” said Bishop Nelson. “Osei helped us to understand the process.”

When Brooklyn’s True Holy Church began an expansion that would include 67 affordable apartments, it was on land they already owned. They negotiated a 60-year ground lease with the city, ensuring they would retain ownership of the land.

At the exhausting nine-hour closing, Rubie helped the church’s Reverend Vivian Grubb keep track of the many players involved, as the deal included representatives from both the city and state.

“I wish I had met Osei in the beginning of all this. He really helped me understand the magnitude of the whole thing.” said Rev. Grubb. “I’ve since been to a couple of events Osei spoke at. He gives a good education on what to expect.”

For Rubie’s part, knowing that the complexities of development only increase on the faith-based side, he’s proud to be able to offer assistance to organizations doing so much to improve their communities.

“Our firm has established itself as a leader in this sector by providing title insurance for these often intricate and complex real estate transactions,” said Rubie. “We are extremely proud of our work with the faith-based community, and continually strive to ensure that we provide educational opportunities specific to our faith-based clients.”

National Standard Abstract will host a discussion on the rise of faith-based development on March 5 at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center (JPAC) at 153-10 Jamaica Avenue in Jamaica from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. All are welcome.

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