Corruption, unit loss in Mitchell-Lama targeted by Assembly

Task force will examine problems in middle-class housing program

Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Steven Cymbrowitz and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (Credit: Getty Images, Google Maps)
Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Steven Cymbrowitz and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (Credit: Getty Images, Google Maps)

Cheating, mismanagement and the deregulation of units have for years plagued the Mitchell-Lama middle-class housing program. Now the state Assembly has formed a task force to figure out some solutions.

Headed by Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Steven Cymbrowitz, it will look at threats to the program from “increasingly common dissolutions, corruption in the admissions process, and development-level mismanagement,” according to a press release.

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Last year, legislators failed to pass an Assembly bill that would overhaul the Mitchell-Lama program, which began in 1955. The legislation would have allowed the re-regulation of apartments that were subject to a voluntary dissolution, in which owners can buy the mortgage when a 30-year affordability period ends.

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The buyout program has been popular with private developers with Mitchell-Lama portfolios: 93 of the city’s 269 Mitchell-Lama portfolios dissolved, the Wall Street Journal reported, mostly in the 1990s. From 1990 to 2005, 34 percent, or 22,688 units, of the Mitchell-Lama stock was deregulated, according to a 2005 report from the Community Service Society of New York.

Mitchell-Lama is a state program, but city officials are also involved in reform efforts. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams introduced a bill in the City Council last year to shed light on rampant “list-hopping” in the lengthy admission process for the dwindling number of available Mitchell-Lama units.

The Mitchell-Lama program was the first New York housing program geared for middle-income households. It was significantly changed just four years after it was introduced: To attract private investors, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller allowed conversion of units to market-rate after a certain number of years.

Mitchell-Lama buildings built before 1974 must pass into rent stabilization after the affordability period expires, but those built after 1974 are not subject to rent restrictions. Government officials have been working out arrangements and devoting funding to keep individual Mitchell-Lama complexes from leaving the program.

The other Assembly members on the task force are Michael Blake, Maritza Davila, Charles Fall, Stacey Pheffer Amato and Robert J. Rodriguez.