Central Brooklyn residents gathered at Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration on Tuesday for a town hall with NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer who was all ears to learn about their issues and concerns.
“This is the best way to engage your constituents,” said Stringer to BK Reader. “You call a town hall meeting, hundreds of people come out. And I learn a lot every time. Sometimes what I hear become audits, some things I hear become investigations.”
As he was prepared to talk about affordable housing, education and economic opportunities, it was the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development and its controversial programs that were on the forefront of people’s minds.
Asked about his solutions to gentrification and rising rents, Stringer responded that he has long opposed rezoning which spur “the gentrification that is now rampant across the city and pushes the people out who built our city.” Instead, Stringer called on the city to create a new housing plan that also includes a communal land trust.
“We needed a new housing plan that includes a $400-million-revolving fund to create a land bank,” said Stringer. “The land trust will allow the City Council to take a look at our vacant city properties and give them to community-based organizations that have the ability to build housing at a lower AMI [area median income] that truly reflects the income of the local community.”
The community’s questions quickly went to very specific housing issues caused by HPD programs like the Third Party Transfer (TPT), under which the city forecloses on distressed properties and transfers them to nonprofit developers; the Tenant Interim Lease Apartment Purchase Program (TIL), which requires tenants to pay rent to the tenant association with the long-term plan to convert the leasing agreement into homeownership opportunities; and shareholder-owned Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) cooperatives.
Residents at 374 Prospect Place in Prospect Heights shared, that they were on the path toward homeownership when their tenant association signed a contract with HPD to sell the tenants the building for $1, with the goal that they would own their units. Some residents were asked to vacate their apartments for renovations conducted by developers, but, according to the speakers, they were never allowed back in. And now, even more tenants are asked to leave, they added.
“HPD is a monster for gentrification,” said Tammie Meadows, one of the affected tenants. “They are partnering with these developers that we know nothing about, and we can’t trust them to hold their promise. How can we trust HPD that they pick the right developer for us?”
Other tenants shared similar experiences, like Celeste Morris who asked the comptroller to audit the housing department.
“HPD is an agency that needs to be audited,” Morris said. “The TIL program is affecting tenants in many buildings. Several of these buildings are HDFC co-ops, where people are now being told that they can’t own their units anymore. HPD, the Department of Buildings, the Department of Finance seem to be working together, and it’s not in our favor. HPD is taking up the land and the wealth from our community.”
Stringer said that his office has been looking into these issues and thanked the tenants for speaking up.
“We have been also looking at these programs,” he said. “We have tried to hold them accountable, to not take it out on the tenants. I have called for a moratorium on TPT. We still need more information from tenants. But I promise you: We’re going to drill down on the issue and apply the pressure that you need.”
The comptroller offered the support of his staff to the tenants and concluded the evening with the promise to return for a dedicated town hall on housing affordability and gentrification.
“We, the city, are not focusing on the affordability crisis in New York. So many people that came out tonight tell me: Build these neighborhoods, build Bed-Stuy,” he said to BK Reader. “We’ve heard what our constituents said, and we’re going to go right to work.”
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