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Affordable Home Ownership Program More Effective Under Bloomberg: Records

By Gustavo Solis | November 19, 2015 3:21pm
 This building on 108th Street and Amsterdam Avenue has been in the co-op conversion program since 1998. Tenants say the TIL program is designed to fail and fear they will run out of money within a year.
This building on 108th Street and Amsterdam Avenue has been in the co-op conversion program since 1998. Tenants say the TIL program is designed to fail and fear they will run out of money within a year.
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DNAinfo/Gustavo Solis

HAMILTON HEIGHTS — A city-run affordable housing program that provides a pathway to home ownership for low income New Yorkers has stalled under Mayor Bill de Blasio, records show.

The Tenant-Interim-Lease (TIL) program was designed to renovate city-owned buildings and train tenants to manage finances and perform maintenance then allows residents to buy their apartments for $250.

In practice, however, few buildings have converted to tenant control.

In Manhattan, seven out of nearly 130 buildings in the ownership program have actually been become co-ops since 2012, DNAinfo has learned.

Many buildings have been in the program for decades, waiting for renovations that never come, tenants say.

“This program was geared to fail and they are succeeding,” said Ralph Padron who lives in a TIL building on West 108th Street.

Citywide there are 157 buildings in the TIL program — 129 of them in Manhattan. The majority of TIL buildings are in Central Harlem and Hamilton Heights.

According to data obtained by DNAinfo, 25 TIL buildings have become HDFC co-ops in Manhattan since 2011. That year 18 buildings, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, were converted. Since then the number has plummeted to four in 2012, zero in 2013, two last year, and one so far this year. Three buildings waiting for co-op conversion in the near future.

In Brooklyn five TIL buildings became co-ops in October, according to the Department of Housing Preservation & Development. 

Most of the tenants in the building are elderly and three have died since becoming part of the TIL program in 1998, Padron said. 

The program fails because it does not get enough financial support from the city and because some of the tenant association boards that run TIL buildings are mismanaged, according to Padron.

Another road block is that buildings are not allowed to rent vacant units. So whenever a resident dies or leaves the building, they lose part of their monthly revenue. This also applies to a commercial unit on the ground floor that has been empty for six years, he said.

“We are not surprised because we know they set this program to fail,” said Luisa Rodriguez who lives in a TIL building on West 150th Street.

The mayor's office declined to comment on the program.

However HPD blamed the lack of activity to budgetary constraints, a downturn in the homeownership market and lack of Section 8 vouchers available to residents. They did not elaborate.

In 2012, they launched the Affordable Neighborhood Cooperative program to combine government money with private financing for co-op conversions. HPD recently issued Request for Qualifications for organizations to rehabilitate and manage buildings in the city's portfolio. 

"For years, the TIL program has been underfunded and has left many tenants in our district with difficult conditions in their buildings," Councilman Mark Levine said. "While the process of converting a building into a co-op is challenging and requires a significant investment of resources, tenants deserve the opportunity to realize their dream of homeownership."

Levine, who chairs the Affordable Housing Preservation Task Force, previously hosted a town hall meeting for TIL tenants to address HPD. He called on the city to offer more support toward the program.

Advocates said that the stalled program is undermining the de Blasio's reputation as a proponent of affordable housing.

“The mayor is talking about affordable housing and he is forgetting this group,” said Elsia Vasquez, the founder of tenant advocacy group Pa’Lante. “In the housing plan there is only one little paragraph about the [TIL] program, it doesn’t touch on it.” 

Eddie Torres, who lives in a TIL building on West 145th Street, said a lot of his neighbors have already lost hope in the program.

Two tenants in the building renovated their own apartments because they were tired of waiting to be converted, he said.  

“There is no confidence anymore, there is no more belief,” Torres said. “They’ve heard the run around so they’ve lost faith in participating.”