Crain’s: After promising renovations, city drops Harlem tenants from homeownership program

 PHOTO: BLOOMBERG NEWS

PHOTO: BLOOMBERG NEWS

After promising renovations, City Drops Harlem Tenants from Homeownership Program

November 12th, 2018

By Joe Anuta

A decade after the city promised a group of Harlem tenants a building would be renovated and turned into an affordable co-op, the residents are still living in temporary apartments, the property remains boarded up, and the de Blasio administration now plans to sell it to a private owner, a recent lawsuit alleges.

In 2008 and 2009 the city relocated tenants at 206 W. 120th St. to other apartments so renovations to the dilapidated property could be made through the Tenant Interim Lease program, which was supposed to pave the way for residents to return as owners under a co-op–style structure a few years later. Thinking the arrangements were temporary, a single mother agreed to downsize to a one-bedroom apartment with her infant son, who is now 11 years old, a lawyer for the tenants said. Another tenant has died. Now, instead of completing the work, the city plans to pull the building from the ownership program and sell it to a landlord that would manage it as a rental property, according to a lawsuit filed by the tenants association Oct. 31.

"The tenants have endured all this because they were promised they were going to become homeowners," said Jason Wu, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, which is representing the residents. "And now [the city] turns its back on them."

The dispute centers around a host of financial reports and other housekeeping matters that residents in interim lease buildings must file. The properties in the program, which is being folded into a more modern homeownership program, were often distressed and fell into city ownership through the foreclosure process. The idea behind the initiative was to return them to private ownership as affordable apartments.

The city has said it is dropping the building, which was enrolled in the program in the early 2000s, because tenant leaders did not submit complete or timely financial reports and repayment agreements for tenants who were behind on rent, according to the suit. The tenants association counters that residents did indeed submit the paperwork required, but the city mishandled the information as part of systemic management problems with the interim lease program.

The city did not respond to a request for comment, but the lawsuit includes testimony from a former employee of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development who oversaw the Harlem property and alleges that the city's tenant interim lease program was rife with mismanagement, corruption and incompetence.

"I sincerely hope the [department's] commissioner will right the wrongs of the past with respect to the [program], and fulfill their promise to convert these city-owned buildings to affordable-housing cooperatives," Michael Besse, former building director within the Tenant Interim Lease program, wrote in an affidavit.