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The city's housing department is standing by its embattled tenant ownership program, despite a withering audit from the city comptroller's office.

Two weeks ago, City Limits reported that City Comptroller Alan Hevesi would soon call for the overhaul of the Tenant Interim Lease (TIL) program, a 20-year-old initiative that allows low-income tenants to buy city-owned buildings and convert them to co-ops. In their critique, Hevesi's staff cited poor maintenance in TIL co-ops, the failure of some tenants to pay rent and tax arrears amassed by buildings.

TIL supporters and tenants fear that the audit might be used as an excuse to cut the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) program. “Mend it, don't end it,” Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields told the City Council's housing committee on Friday. “It is imperative that the TIL program's budget should not suffer because of this audit. This audit should not be used to terminate the program.”

But city officials say that won't happen. “TIL is considered to be one of the basic programs in HPD,” said a high-ranking administration source. “It is considered to be essential by this administration.”

In testimony, HPD deputy commissioner John Warren defended his agency's record, charging that Hevesi's investigators inspected TIL buildings that had been renovated before the city adequately funded its repair program. “We think it's a small number of buildings that have severe problems,” he said. HPD, Warren added, was in the course of identifying some of the worst former TIL buildings in order to step up efforts to offer low-interest repair loans.

Still, Warren admitted that his department had no formal procedure to assess the quality of TIL renovations or the fate of buildings once they turned co- op. “We don't have enough analytical information about what's going on,” he said. “And we are unable to know the breadth and depth of the problems.

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