On housing, we need a ‘Mitchell-Lama 2.0’

BY MARNI HALASA | Housing is happiness. And when housing is affordable, everyone has the opportunity to live with integrity, better oneself and fully experience our amazing city.

However, housing costs have skyrocketed. As a result, millions have been forced to leave New York City due to the hyper-gentrification of neighborhoods, with escalating rents displacing tenants and small businesses. Therefore, offering real and attainable solutions has become a vital issue if we want to save our city.

Those who tend to get hurt the most are middle-income people. While many middle-income individuals can pay for their housing, the reality is their payments account for a significant amount of their take-home pay.

I firmly believe that housing costs should not consume a disproportionate amount of a person’s income. Instead, I believe housing costs should be affordable, allowing middle-income families to enjoy a reasonable amount of discretionary income.

One older program, Mitchell-Lama, offers a potential solution to solve our most pressing problem. Mitchell-Lama provides a framework for new affordable housing policy that works for today’s problems. I propose that 35 percent of all new rental construction should be designated as affordable housing catering to low- and middle-income households.

Additionally, I propose that 35 percent of all existing units should gradually transition to an affordable housing designation. Meaning that buildings that currently have no affordable housing and no rent-controlled or rent-stabilized units, will offer every fourth unit as affordable housing as they become available until the building meets the 35 percent affordable housing threshold. Once a building meets that threshold, the rest of the apartments can be rented at market rate.

I would also advocate expanding the program to include co-op apartments since this would protect even more vulnerable residents. Landlords will not be left out of this proposal since they would be given tax abatements and low-interest mortgages by a Mitchell-Lama designation to help offset their losses.

The difference between my policy and Mitchell-Lama as it now exists, is that my policy allows for an affordable housing life cycle: Rents would change as incomes change, with a continuous flow of units into affordable housing as other units price out.

Mitchell-Lama worked for New York in the past and if resurrected with minor tweaks, such as I am suggesting, it can work again.

To help fund my affordable housing proposals, I would institute an annual 1 percent vacancy tax on “ghost apartments” that sit empty, impose reasonable linkage fees for developers, and use city-owned vacant lots for housing sites. I would also pressure Albany to abolish 421-a, which would allow us to reclaim the forgone $1 billion in property taxes lost to this tax abatement.

This plan would ensures that housing would never again be a major financial struggle for working families, the backbone of our city’s economy.

What our district has been missing with Corey Johnson and Christine Quinn before him is a representative who not only has a moral conscience, but does not accept money from corporate and real estate interests. The purpose of a city councilmember is to help create policies that make people’s lives easier, not pad the bank accounts of corporate gentrifiers.

My policies seek to help forgotten populations who struggle every day to pay their bills and live fulfilling lives. If elected to the City Council, I promise to ensure that the voiceless will always have a voice, and that the action I take will be real.

Halasa is the Eco Justice Party candidate for City Council District 3

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