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Trinity Prep School Seeks 41 Percent Rent Hike for Low-Income Tenants

By Emily Frost | May 22, 2013 1:53pm
 Trinity is proposing raising tenants' rent by 41 percent in the next three years. 
Trinity School is Proposing Raising the Rent at its Affordable Housing Building
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Residents of the affordable housing building owned by Trinity School are calling on the city to deny its application to raise rents by more than 40 percent over the next three years.

The Trinity House, the 200-unit complex on West 92nd Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, was built with public money under the Mitchell-Lama program in 1969 and houses approximately 600 tenants with one-bedrooms costing $600 on average, according to the Tenants Association.

But now the private school's corporation, Trinity Housing Company, wants to bump the rent by 32 percent next year before cumulatively jumping to 41 percent by 2015.

At a hearing Tuesday night in front of Housing and Preservation Department (HPD), which shares oversight of Mitchell-Lama buildings with the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, tenants railed against the increase.

"We do understand that there is a need for an increase," testified tenant Dena Heisler. "However, it needs to be a moderate increase commensurate with who is in the building. We cannot afford such an increase."

Trinity Housing Company argues a rent increase is overdue and necessary to make up for a deficit it's incurred. The school has a $40 million endowment it claims puts it in the bottom third compared to its peers and is insufficient to meet its needs, according to its website. 

The company applied for the increase with HPD in March.

Gary Sloman, director of operations for HUD's Division of Housing Supervision, said the department will continue to take testimony on the application through June 14 and would then take several months to consider the application. 

"We don't rush it," he said.

Some of the dozens of residents who attended the meeting and testified became emotional and visibly angered by the impact an increase would have on their lives. A large portion of those testifying said they worked in the public sector or were retirees with limited incomes.

Resident Sam Kline faced representatives from Trinity Housing Company, who remained silent during the hearing, during his testimony and urged them "not to think that just because they’re dealing with Mitchell-Lama [tenants] that they’re dealing with fools or people who will not fight back." 

Others focused on Trinity Housing Company's application to HPD, accusing it of having factual errors pertaining to their alleged need for additional funding.

Helen Rosenthal, a City Council candidate and local resident who worked with Trinity tenants in the past as the former Chair of Community Board 7, characterized the application as so "riddled with mistakes, misinformation and errors that is impossible to fairly evaluate." 

Among the errors the crowd assembled remarked on was the allegation that Trinity Housing Company projected vacant units at the house in the future as part of its justification for the rent increase.

"Given the lengthy waiting lists for the few Mitchell-Lamas remaining in the City and the shortage of affordable housing, it is inconceivable that there would be any vacancy at any Mitchell-Lama," Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal said in written testimony her office submitted. 

In 2007, Trinity tried to exit the Mitchell-Lama program and sell the building to the private developer Pembroke Companies Inc., a move denied by the city in 2008, according to tenants.