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Unfair, Careless Management Afflicts 3 Mitchell-Lama Buildings

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A new audit by the State Comptroller's office dug up some unsettling practices at three Mitchell-Lama complexes in New York City. The developments, where apartments are affordable to middle-income families, are all located in prime neighborhoods—Cadman Towers in Brooklyn Heights, Trinity House on the Upper West Side, and Washington Square Southeast in Greenwich Village—and all have lengthy waiting lists. But the audit found that waiting lists are poorly managed, and those first in line for apartments were often passed over, with no explanation. In other cases, applicants were never submitted to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for approval, and some existing residents were found to be renting their units on Airbnb. Combine, the buildings hold 794 apartments, and only 69 became available over the last three years; in other words, these are highly desirable and rare units of affordable housing that are being mismanaged.

The audit found a plethora of careless issues with the waiting lists. For starters, the lists were not maintained in a digital database, but rather on paper, with handwritten notes regarding applicants and residents. At the 174-unit Washington Square Southeast, the list contained no addresses for the first 300 applicants. When the list was created in 2004, the building management was supposed to use the postcards from the lottery to determine an applicant's address, but they told the auditors that the cards were now missing so they were unable to do that. In turn, three applicants were passed over because they did not have addresses listed. However, when the auditors visited the management office, they found a box literally labeled "postcards" that contained the supposedly missing information.

Auditors also found that notes made by the management company did not correlate with what applicants said. At Washington Square, an applicant for a three-bedroom apartment was indicated to have never responded to management, but the applicant told auditors that she had never been contacted in the first place. Washington Square is also where two owners were found to be renting their apartments on Airbnb, even though Mitchell-Lama rules prohibit subleasing. One owner had more than 50 reviews.

Additionally, the list of residents maintained by building management did not match up with what HPD had on file. When the occupancy of a unit changes, either by being passed to a family member or to a new applicant, the new resident must be submitted to HPD, but the names for 40 apartments did not match up. At Trinity House, at least one apartment was leased to someone who wasn't entitled to it, and evictions proceedings have begun.

The Comptroller made a variety of recommendations for fixing these issues, but given that these three developments represent just a fraction of the Mitchell-Lama units in the city—there are 45,000 apartments over 97 complexes in the five boroughs—it's hard to believe that the problems will be eradicated.
· The Mitchell-Lama Program: Awarding Housing Units and Maintaining Waiting Lists [official audit PDF]
· Mitchell-Lama waitlisters were carelessly skipped over: Comptroller [TRD]