Protecting Mitchell-Lama requires multi-faceted collaboration
Editor's Note: The following letter to the editor is in response to a September 20 op-ed from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Community Board 1 Chair Dealice Fuller: "Living the Mitchell-Lama Dream"
We agree with the Brooklyn borough president that the Mitchell-Lama program is a vital source of affordable housing for New Yorkers, which is why New York City has worked so diligently to provide the financial assistance and technical support needed to protect and preserve the Mitchell-Lama developments under our purview.
Since 2004, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Housing Development Corporation have issued over $900 million in bonds to preserve 78 Mitchell-Lama developments, consisting of 38,000 units – including 22 developments with 8,800 units in Brooklyn – that now have committed to remain in the program, and affordable, for a longer period of time.
But beyond this significant financial investment in our Mitchell-Lama portfolio’s infrastructure, HPD works with boards of directors of Mitchell-Lama co-ops to help them better perform their important fiduciary function. Last year, HPD reinstituted its board training program, which provides a solid grounding for these elected volunteer shareholders to better understand their role as the operators of this vital affordable housing. And to protect some of our most vulnerable residents, we have provided SCRIE for eligible seniors.
The very existence of a Mitchell-Lama cooperative is grounded in a board of directors elected by the shareholders who call their Mitchell-Lama co-op home. These democratically elected, uncompensated, volunteer board members assume a tremendous responsibility on behalf of their fellow shareholders to maintain the affordable and sound housing provided by the Mitchell-Lama program.
HPD is committed to ensuring that all shareholders have an equal opportunity to actively serve on their boards and participate in co-op governance. We encourage all Mitchell-Lama shareholders to use their voting power to hold their respective boards accountable, and make sure that board members fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to the shareholder community.
While the relationships between Mitchell-Lama co-op boards and individual shareholders are not subject to government oversight, HPD mandates that the co-op boards abide by the Mitchell-Lama Rules, which include ensuring that their Mitchell-Lama is operated in a fiscally responsible manner. In addition, HPD’s oversight includes the review of large contracts, ensuring accurate financial reporting and the sale of apartments as an important check on the governance process. And in the rare instances where stronger HPD oversight is needed, we have taken over Boards of Directors or have replaced management.
We are working on every front to confront the city’s housing crisis, and protecting this critical affordable housing stock is a key priority. The needs of Mitchell-Lama developments are as varied and diverse as our city, which is why no one-size fits all approach will suffice. We will continue to expand the range of tools and programs that we use, but we need collaboration at all levels of government, with our elected officials, and across community stakeholders to ensure the long-term affordability, health and governance of this critical housing resource.
-- Maria Torres-Springer, commissioner, New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Eric Enderlin, president, New York City Housing Development Corporation