November 24, 2014 by westsideneighborhoodalliance
1,600 affordable Manhattan apartments are about to disappear—for good.
Last month, two-thirds of the tenants in the 1,651-unit Southbridge Towers voted to exit the Mitchell Lama program, Gothamist reported.
The decision makes Southbridge Towers the largest co-op of its kind in New York City to convert to the open market.
“The residents of Southbridge Towers paid on average less than $18,000 for their apartments near the South Street Seaport,” Christopher Robbins wrote in Gothamist. “Now they’re cashing out.”
The Mitchell-Lama program was signed into law in 1955 in an effort to foster affordable housing.
“Developers got hefty tax abatements to build on a promise of steady, if incremental profit,” Robbins wrote. “Lottery-winning residents adhere to a strict income cap and pay a $620/month maintenance fee on their co-op units, in exchange for living a comfortable, middle-class life in downtown Manhattan.”
While propenents say the decision to exit Mitchell Lama means that these residents will now have an opportunity to own real estate in Manhattan, critics have their doubts.
“Crushing increases in taxes and maintenance fees… [will] all but force these municipal workers, teachers, and other middle-income tenants to sell,” Robbins wrote. “Those who don’t want their unit on the open market can get their initial investment back and leave, or stay as renters and lose their equity in exchange for the promise of 5% annual rent increases.”
“It’s a sad day for affordable housing in New York,” said John Fratta, 61, the only member of the 15-member Southbridge Towers co-op board to oppose the decision. “It’s really a tragedy.”
“I do think that there should be outrage,” said Christine Fowley, the president of the board of Cooperators United for Mitchell-Lama, an organization with members from Mitchell-Lama co-ops throughout the city. “People who’ve been long subsidized are able to walk away with a profit while pulling up the ladder. It’s just so wrong. It’s just not O.K.”