Hearing on Mitchell-Lama housing

Brooklyn Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, chair of the City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams on Tuesday co-hosted the first City Council oversight hearing in seven years on Mitchell-Lama housing.

The Mitchell-Lama housing is a statewide program created in 1955 that supported the construction of 105,000 units of affordable housing — of which 18,000 are located in Brooklyn — for middle-income residents.

Unlike public housing in which 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 that are subject to government regulations.

In recent years, Adams said the program has been threatened by property owners converting units to market-rate and subsequently imposing dramatic rent increases.

For example, between 2003 and 2009, he said the number of Mitchell-Lama complexes decreased from 135 to 97 because of privatization and buy-outs.

More than 300 Brooklynites attended the hearing, held in the community room of Brooklyn Borough Hall, to testify on their experiences with the program and concerns with maintaining the affordability of their housing.

“Mitchell-Lama was one of the most effective affordable housing programs ever implemented in New York City,” said Member Williams, who represents the 45th Council District in Brooklyn.

“Now, the Mitchell-Lama program is in a state of crisis and is rapidly disappearing,” he added. “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.

Adams said he has made preserving the Mitchell-Lama program a signature component of his affordable housing agenda.

Through his Brooklyn Mitchell-Lama Task Force, which comprises community leaders living in developments across the borough, he said he has worked to persuade the State Legislature and the City Council to protect at-risk units from privatization.

In his testimony to the City Council, he outlined a series of recommendations to support the at-risk housing stock, including regular oversight hearings to hold the New York City Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) accountable, comprehensive management training and education from HPD for development board members, as well as increased low-cost financing from both New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC) for capital improvements to developments.

Additionally, Adams urged the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) to establish its own low-cost financing program for Mitchell-Lama housing.