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City-run program leaves nearly 900 affordable apartments sitting empty

Delays and poor management have stalled a program to create permanently affordable housing

615 West 150th Street, a building in the program, courtesy Google Maps

Public advocate Letitia James has released a report criticizing a city-run program, known as the Tenant Interim Lease (TIL) program, that has left New Yorkers waiting for years to live in affordable apartments. According to the New York Post, 38 percent of the 2,322 apartments in the program—or 884 total—are currently unoccupied.

The TIL program was established in 1978 to assist low-income New Yorkers in becoming homeowners of permanently affordable homes. The idea was that the city would assist tenant associations in converting their buildings into Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) cooperatives. To do this, the building would enter into a temporary lease agreement with the city, undergo temporary rehabilitation, and then become a permanently affordable HDFC.

But delays, poor management, and alleged corruption have seriously stalled the program. The public advocate found that buildings have remained in TIL for an average of 13 years. At the TIL building 615 West 150th Street (pictured above), tenants moved out in 1996 for what was supposed to be a two-year rehabilitation period. The public advocate reports that to date, the remodeling is still not complete and tenants have reported having their possessions locked up without being provided access. Overall, at least 130 households are still waiting to return to their apartments.

The Post has also reported that that Department of Investigation is probing the program over allegations that squatters are living rent-free in the buildings in exchange for bribes, and that tenant-association accounts have been looted.

Although the HPD proposed a new program, the Affordable Neighborhood Cooperative Program (ANCP), to expedite the cooperative conversion process, the public advocate has criticized the replacement. According to a statement, “Public Advocate James does not believe that the program is sufficient to preserve affordability, and calls on the City to postpone it for independent review. The buy-in for tenants to participate in the program is ten times as expensive, and the buildings would face deregulation after thirty years.” This new initiative also relies on outside developers and private equity to make renovations.

City officials have blamed the 2008 housing crisis and resulting budget cuts for the issues surrounding TIL. Mayor de Blasio, speaking about the delays, told the Post, “I am perplexed.”