The plan to fix NYC’s ‘racist’ home seizure program
City Council member Robert Cornegy Jr., who represents a large population of black homeowners in Central Brooklyn, unveiled legislation on Thursday alongside Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams that is set to overhaul the controversial Third Party Transfer program.
“It didn’t alarm anyone that HPD could potentially take 192 properties from Brooklyn while not even including not one property from Staten Island?” Cornegy asked at Thursday’s press conference.
Under the TPT program, which is run by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the city designates “distressed” properties to be transferred to qualified sponsors (nonprofit or for-profit developers) that can purchase and rehabilitate both vacant and occupied multi-family properties. These transfers are known as in rem foreclosures.
There were initially 192 properties targeted in Brooklyn alone in the most recent round of TPT foreclosures — the highest number in all five boroughs. Out of the 11 neighborhoods where buildings were most often identified for potential transfer into the program, six were in Brooklyn. Queens only had 10 properties targeted, and there were none in Staten Island.
HPD maintains that, under law, they are authorized to foreclose on properties with outstanding tax liens of $1,000 or more irrespective of whether they are distressed, according to city records.
However, newly drafted legislation from Cornegy’s office includes a bill that would increase the threshold for eligibility from $1,000 to $100,000, as first reported by Bklyner. Intro. 1594 would aim to change the program’s protocols, which have allowed for million-dollar homes to be transferred into the program due to mere thousands in unpaid city debts.
“It is racist, it is intentional, and it is this intentionality that is criminal … the equity of 30 and 40 years to have that property removed from you because of a $3,000 water bill … There is a clear conspiracy to remove homes from black and brown people and we need to call it the way it is,” Adams said at the press conference.
A second bill (Intro.1595) would require the city’s housing department to give a detailed financial summary of every property eligible for the program. A property list is sent to each councilmember that has eligible properties in their district for a signature, but Cornegy says this list lacks an explanation or any basic details.
“We should have how much the debt-to-value ratio is. We didn’t have that for the most recent round. We just had that these properties were ‘distressed.’ And we didn’t even have the right understanding of what distressed was,” Cornegy told the Brooklyn Eagle.
These bills will join a larger package of legislation expected to be introduced in the City Council this fall that will push to tighten the scope of the more than 20-year-old program. Other bills in the package will expand the exemption of properties from being eligible for the program and will allow for consistent review of the program’s success.
“We actually have the most equity per capita than any place in the country. You wonder why that is — my parents bought their home in the 1970s for $15,000 and now its worth $3 million,” Cornegy told the Eagle. “That’s equity built and people are aware of that … There is a narrative that literally says there is ‘gold in our hills.’”
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