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NEW YORK CITY-Organized as the Campaign to Preserve Affordable Housing, hundreds of residents representing more than 15 tenants associations from Mitchell-Lama buildings across the city participated in a rally at City Hall before the first hearing on the Mitchell-Lama Conversion Protection Bill.

The bill, Intro 523, if passed, carries a two-fold purpose. First, it would give tenants more power to require landlords to comply with the Mitchell-Lama program regarding repairs and upkeep. The second aspect would require the negotiation of fair deals with landlords who want to get out of the program by providing meaningful incentives for owners to negotiate fair deals with tenants.

City Council speaker Gifford Miller, who with an additional 35 council members including Alan Gerson and Gale Brewer, is co-sponsoring the legislation. Miller said that since July, thousands of tenants in two more Mitchell-Lama buildings have been served with conversion notices, and residents of another Mitchell-Lama building have been served with eviction notices.

“Instead of standing and watching while our city’s housing crisis grows, we should be making every effort to solve it,” he told the crowd. “That’s why the council will do all that it can within state and federal law to stem the loss of any more Mitchell Lama homes. Now is the time that must say clearly that enough is enough.”

According to the Independence Plaza North Tenants Association, residents of more than 25,000 rental apartments in all five boroughs are at risk of losing their homes, as owners of Mitchell-Lama properties opt to convert them to market rents.

“Mitchell-Lama buildings began opting out in the early 1990′s, with the pace accelerating in the last three years,” said Alan Epstein, a partner at Matatt, Phelps & Phillips, which represents IPNTA in connection with the proposed conversion of their homes out of Mitchell-Lama. “If the trend of Mitchell-Lama buildings opting out continues unabated, the city’s already meager stock of affordable housing will be decimated.”

The Mitchell-Lama program, named for the two legislators who introduced it, began in 1955 as an effort to encourage the building of moderate income housing. Various buyout provisions were subsequently put in place.

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