“Dissolving our building’s Mitchell-Lama status would be a small but significant injustice in an already deeply unequal city. Shareholders who have long benefited from the program would be autonomously divesting some of the city’s affordable housing stock, and profiting from the conversion.”
Since I moved in at Cadman Towers with my partner two years ago, I have felt exceptionally lucky to benefit from the uniquely affordable arrangement that is the New York State Mitchell-Lama program. Subsidized by the city and state in the form of generous tax abatements and public financing opportunities, Mitchell-Lama housing was created so that families with modest earnings could afford to put down roots in the city, and so that prices would not lurch upward every time a unit turned over.
So it was alarming when, in December of 2021, our board of directors formally submitted a plan to take our building out of the Mitchell-Lama program. The process, known as “Article 2 to Article 11 conversion” in housing law parlance, would reconstitute our public, subsidized housing complex as a much more expensive, semi-private HDFC co-op. This threat of semi-privatization has raised the concern of Mitchell-Lama coalitions across the city. Advocates of affordable housing who have long fought to protect one of New York City’s signature low- and middle-income housing programs now worry that other Mitchell-Lama boards will follow Cadman’s lead in attempting to dismantle this important public good.
Most saliently, 2-to-11 conversion at Cadman Towers would entail a spike in sales prices. Outgoing shareholders could sell their units for four or five times the initial equity they invested, and pocket half of the sale. A two-bedroom unit at Cadman that currently costs $60,000, for example, would go for about $300,000—still a steal compared to stratospheric market rates in our neighborhood, but now out of reach for the majority of New Yorkers. Those who had been waiting for years for a Mitchell-Lama unit would be left in limbo, since the city-run, external waiting list of prospective residents would be discarded. Outgoing shareholders would bypass the previously regulated sales procedure, and find their own buyers on the market.
Dissolving our building’s Mitchell-Lama status would be a small but significant injustice in an already deeply unequal city. Shareholders who have long benefited from the program would be autonomously divesting some of the city’s affordable housing stock, and profiting from the conversion. As the saying goes, we would be “pulling the ladder up from behind us.”
As the veteran activists in my building’s pro-Mitchell-Lama organizing committee—the Committee to Preserve Cadman Towers (CPCT), of which I am a member—have informed me, the present conversion effort is only the latest of many attempts by some Mitchell-Lama residents to marketize their own housing, not just at Cadman Towers but in buildings all across the city. Most recently, in 2012, cooperators voted down a bid to privatize Cadman Towers (as opposed to retaining a resale cap for each unit, as the current plan would do). Some 10 percent of NYC’s Mitchell-Lama co-ops have already undergone privatization; more than half of Mitchell-Lama rental apartments in the city have also gone down this road.
Residents of buildings like ours often justify the privatization of public housing by citing the rising costs of repairs, and our diminishing financial support from the government. Indeed, when I talk with my neighbors about why we should vote down the proposal, and instead work to hold our elected officials responsible for adequately funding social housing programs like Mitchell-Lama, many shareholders respond by attacking such a notion as naïve and illusory. Among Cadman residents, the impression that the government has irrevocably abandoned its side of the bargain is pervasive; it has led them to dismiss the values of equity, inclusion and affordability on which Mitchell-Lama was developed.
Ironically, 2-to-11 conversion would merely enable government to further abdicate its responsibility for funding a public asset. We would be moving the onus of investment onto wealthier, private individuals; as follows, Cadman’s units would become more exclusive, its management less regulated—a microcosm of the broader landscape of gentrification in Brooklyn.
Legislators who are intent on preserving and expanding truly affordable housing must discontinue the 2-to-11 conversion option altogether in order to protect Mitchell-Lama housing from becoming yet another victim of gentrification. Moreover, lawmakers would do well to build upon the Mitchell-Lama Reform Bill signed into state law in December of 2021. The bill made it more difficult for Mitchell-Lama buildings to privatize, and tightened transparency rules for boards seeking semi-privatization, like ours. Rather than devising escape hatches out of one of New York’s signature affordable housing programs, our government should be providing more funding and support for its preservation.
Likewise, if shareholders at Cadman Towers and elsewhere were serious about wanting to maintain housing that low- and moderate-income New Yorkers can afford, they would clamor for our local and state government to redouble its investment in Mitchell-Lama housing, rather than trying to dissolve the program from within.
Jerald Isseks is an educator, a writer and organizer who lives in Brooklyn.
15 thoughts on “Opinion: NY’s Mitchell-Lama Housing Should Be Preserved, Not Dismantled”
This article succinctly describes the problems many Mitchell-Lama shareholders feel about their buildings. Thank you for publishing it.
The Mitchell-Lama program is little known but very important for providing truly affordable decent apartments for moderate income New Yorkers. There are long waiting lists for the 60,000 or so M-L co-op apartments which typically have a share price of under $50,000 and have a monthly cost under $1000. These waiting lists ensure equity and diversity in the allocation of these desirable apartments. There are democratically elected boards of directors and supervision by the government agencies, HPD and HCR, as well as major real estate tax abatements and low cost capital needs financing. It is staying in this program that the Cadman Towers activists are defending.
Many of us in the Mitchell-Lama community are rooting for a success in at Cadman Towers in defeating the conversion and staying in the M-L program.
City Limits has done NYC a service alerting its readers about this defense of truly affordable housing for moderate income New Yorkers.
The loss of any Mitchell-Lama cooperative is a loss of an affordable housing model. The Article 2 to Article 11 conversion benefits only a few people that have already benefitted from very low real estate taxes.
This is an excellent description of the process and its devastating effects.
Great analysis of the problems confronting Cadman Towers Mitchell-Lama.’
Wonderful article! As a grateful Mitchell-Lama shareholder, I appreciate very much City Limits publication of Isseks explanation of the threat to the survival of affordable housing that conversion from Article 2 to Article 11 presents to current shareholders, as well as those now on Mitchell-Lama waiting lists, and those hoping to get onto these waiting lists in the future. As described in Isseks article, conversion of Mitchell-Lama housing from Article 2 to Article 11, will only contribute to the gentrification of New York City. Instead, of abandoning Mitchell-Lama developments to Article 11 conversions, we need our state legislatures and others in government to provide continued meaningful measures that support affordable housing going forward. Mitchell-Lama co-ops make it possible for people in lower and middle income ranges to reside in NYC, contributing to this city’s rich diversity for which New York City is so deservingly well-known, admired, and enjoyed by its many residents and visitors from all over the world.
Sisals has moved into Cadman Towers a whopping two years ago. Cadman Towers has been in existence for over 45 years. During this time the original tenants saved Cadman from bankruptcy. Mitchel Lama has become obsolete. It is high time to convert to an Article 11 housing development. There is nothing wrong with cooperators who have lived here and supported the viability of. cadman Towers which has enabled people like Issacs to reap the benefits to earn a relatively modest profit at sale. Mr Issacs is not affected by this and in fact the coop would be saved from financial ruin. In fact, Cadman Plaza, right next door, went private about 10 yrs ago and it is still standing and I do not see all those millionaires moving in.
Excellent analysis of the challenges confronting the Cadman Towers Mitchell-Lama. Thank you for publishing this!!
My building is voting on privatization today. The old folk want to go private to sell their Co-ops. The new folk changed the whole population of our building and remodeled their apartments as soon as they came off that waiting list.
HPD is said, by our board members, to not allow persons to be added to the stock certificate. I have been living there since 1991 with my mother. My father, passed 10 years, is still weirdly head of household. Why can I not be on the stock certificate? So this leads to concerns in the future of succession rights- can a board deny me? If we are private, yeah the certificate can be changed, and myself added, or gifted, or whatever you have to do. With HPD, I know they will grant succession yet they will not allow me to get added now.
Then you have the other issue. The board is telling EVERYONE the rent will be the same. Maybe, in the first year. The board is flat out lying. Tell the elderly and disabled your fixed income will not be able to pay for a privatized Co-op. Tell everyone that HPD is holding you back from raising the rent to exorbitant levels. Tell everyone that now the board can veto whoever you are selling to.
I get HPD is overworked and understaffed. I get a lot of stuff fell through the cracks. But the oversight we normal tenants did not see occur was there, behind the scenes.
I wish we were going to convert to 11. That is what I wanted. But hell, the feasibility study even barely spent time on it and it was all in jargon.
What a board wants, a board gets, when it comes to privatization. And “we” all fall for it.
Cannot wait to hear the results of the vote.
Semi-privatization has the capacity to dismantle the remaining many thousands of units of affordable, integrated, not-for-profit Mitchell-Lama co-ops in NYC that have housed generations of working class New Yorkers. Semi-privatization is a threat to everyone on a Mitchell-Lama coop waiting list. We deserve more from our city and state elected officials, and from the regulatory agencies that oversee Mitchell-Lama coops, HPD, and DHCR.
Thank you City Limits for publishing this fine article.
Mitchell-Lama Cooperatives represent the last bastion of hope for homeownership to reside in this greed filled, excessively expensive city.
It is reprehensible and unconscionable
that HPD, Mitchell-Lama’s Managing Agency, would actively undermine the preservation of this program by pushing Article XI.
Thank you for exposing this dirty little secret.
It’s a good article, but I would be even more emphatic: No one should be allowed to sell a M-L apt at a profit. Why? Because the city and state tax payers have been subsidizing these units for over 50 years in most cases. The current residents have already gotten their reward by living at a low cost for X number of years. They should not have a right to any further profits.
As a NYC taxpayer maybe we should get a piece of any ML unit sales profits. After all my income and property taxes went to subsidize these people.
As a long time “cooperator” of Village View, a Mitchell Lama Co op in Lower Manhattan (built around 1965) I can attest to its being a wonderful affordable housing situation. Since it’s non-profit, there is no greedy unscrupulous landlord sucking up our monthly maintenance for his or her personal pleasure. Our management, maintenance and security staff are responsive to needs of cooperators and my family is completely satisfied with upkeep and affordability. I wish the MItchell Lama program could be extended–and so do my less lucky city friends! Thank you for the article!
Thank you Jerald. I’m currently researching the working class movement that led to ML homes and thousands of others that were – and in many cases remain – removed from the dysfunctional housing market. The threat you’ve highlighted will only reduce the number of homes where the people who built New York City and make it tick can afford to live. We need more homes like Cadman Towers, not less. As a regular visitor to and lover of your city, I fear for its future if the social and ethnic cleansing you allude to, continues. But this is a global phenomenon. Very similar things are happening in my home city, London. We need to fightback and recapture the spirit that led to the creation of Cadman Towers and places like it.
Thank you Isseks, For a great analysis of the problems confronting the Cadman Towers Mitchell-Lama. Mitchell-Lama housing is a highly successful model of affordable cooperative housing in New York.