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Hundreds of working-class tenants in Manhattan and the Bronx are planning a July rent strike to force the New York City Housing Authority to fulfill its long-deferred promise to let them buy their apartments.

The 450 would-be co-op owners, who were handpicked for NYCHA’s Multifamily Homeownership Program (MHOP), are also angry that the authority has failed to fix their leaky roofs, lack of heat and hot water and mice infestation. “It was supposed to be a move up the ladder, up from a housing project,” said Tracey Bowen, a tenant leader at an MHOP building on Southern Boulevard in the South Bronx who is helping to plan the strike. “Instead it’s been a betrayal.”

Four years ago, tenants left their crowded apartments in housing projects or rundown private buildings for new, parquet-floored flats in the six MHOP projects. NYCHA gave them the following promise: keep your job, deposit a small down payment and the authority will sell you a spacious apartment within 18 months for a few hundred dollars. If the promise–subsidized with millions in federal funds–had been kept, the city would have developed an innovative home ownership program and a valuable way to dispose of its huge backlog of tax-repossessed apartment buildings.

Instead the program has been almost a complete failure, frozen by internal squabbles in NYCHA’s executive suite. Now, many would-be owners tell City Limits they’re not interested in accepting the co-op offer because they fear their buildings will fall apart the minute the authority turns title over to them. Things have gotten so bad that authority planners now estimate that fewer than half of the 730 MHOP apartments originally slated for tenant ownership will ever become co-ops. To assuage some of the complaints, the authority is embarking on a $5 million roof repair program and a PR blitz aimed at convincing leery tenants to buy.

To read the full story of NYCHA’s homeownership folly, read “Promises, Promises,” in the June/July edition of City Limits magazine, on sale now. To be sure you don’t miss groundbreaking investigative stories about NYC, subscribe to City Limits. It’s only $25 a year. Call 212-479-3344.

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