Borough Hall hearing looks at Mitchell-Lama housing
Mitchell-Lama housing, a statewide program created in 1955, supported the construction of 105,000 units of affordable housing in New York City, 18,000 of which are located in Brooklyn. The program has been a boon to the city’s middle class residents, according to its supporters.
On Feb. 29, Councilmember Jumaane D. Williams, chairman of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams co-hosted the first City Council oversight hearing in seven years on Mitchell-Lama housing to get an update on how the program is working.
More than 300 residents showed up at Borough Hall to testify on their experiences with the program and express their concerns about maintaining the affordability of their housing.
Unlike public housing, where a government agency operates developments and is dependent on government funding, the Mitchell-Lama program is designed to encourage private developers to invest in housing developments.
In recent years, however, the program has been threatened by property owners converting units to market-rate and subsequently imposing dramatic rent increases, according to Adams, who said that between 2003 and 2009, the number of Mitchell-Lama complexes decreased from 135 to 97 because of privatization and buy-outs.
Williams (D-Flatbush) said the Mitchell-Lama program is in “a state of crisis” and in need of attention.
“Mitchell-Lama was one of the most effective affordable housing programs ever implemented in New York City. Now, the Mitchell-Lama program is in a state of crisis and is rapidly disappearing,” Williams said.
“It’s unacceptable that our seniors and working families appear to receive little information while they try to find affordable homes and current tenants seem to get minimal help when they face harassment and displacement in Mitchell-Lama apartments,” Williams said, adding that he plans to work the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development to come up with solutions.
Adams, who created a Brooklyn Mitchell-Lama Task Force, worked to persuade the state Legislature and the City Council to protect at-risk units from privatization. The task force is comprised of community leaders living in developments across the borough.
“New York City — and Brooklyn in particular — is facing an affordable housing crisis, and there is no better place to focus on the preservation of these precious units than in our Mitchell-Lama complexes,” Adams stated.
Councilmembers and housing advocates who attended the meeting also spoke about how Mitchell-Lama developments are a critical part of the city’s affordable housing infrastructure.
“Local elected officials witness the destabilization and pain caused by displacement every day and are duty-bound to exercise all of the powers of our office, and even fight for new tools, to support residents in remaining in the homes and communities they love,” said Councilmember Robert E. Cornegy Jr. (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant).
“The destabilization of rent laws and programs meant to protect tenants and preserve the affordability of housing units in communities across the City of New York has displaced thousands of families and created an uncertain future for countless others,” said Councilmember Laurie A. Cumbo (D-Fort Greene-Clinton Hill).
“As we focus on the need to construct more affordable housing, we must not forget about the need to preserve the affordable housing that has existed in our city for decades,” said Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal Jr. (D-East New York-Bushwick). “These preservation efforts must include Mitchell-Lama developments, which are a vital asset that we cannot afford to lose.”
Jen Berkley, lead organizer for Tenants & Neighbors, said housing advocates were not surprised by the large turnout at the hearing at Borough Hall.
“We know there are serious concerns among Mitchell-Lama tenants about their housing and are grateful this opportunity has prompted much-needed attention on their issues. Any affordable housing plan for our city must include the preservation of current Mitchell-Lama buildings and innovative approaches to recapturing lost units,” said Berkley.
Tenants & Neighbors is a grassroots organization that supports the protection of affordable housing.
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