Some of these concepts are familiar. An early-1990s federal preservation program called the Low-Income Housing Preservation and Resident Homeownership Act (LIHPRHA) provided federal funding to nonprofit organizations and tenant groups to purchase their buildings, before Congress defunded it in 1998. In Washington DC, building owners are required to give their tenants the right of first refusal.
But while advocates, academics and attorneys were pleasantly surprised to see a pitch for anti-gentrification policy at the federal level, several worried that the cost of the GMZ program would be staggering—especially for a federal government so historically stingy when it comes to affordable housing.
“With LIHPRHA they had to layer all kinds of subsidies to make it actually affordable,” John Krinsky, a professor of political science at City College, told us. “It was more feasible in situations where there wasn’t yet rampant gentrification, because those properties aren’t as valuable yet.”
Even East New York, still less gentrified than neighboring Crown Heights, recently saw its property values triple. “Think about a tenant coop that is competing for a property with, like, Blackstone Group,” Krinsky speculated.
“It’s hard to see how the Republican Congress is going to pass any of these,” added Legal Aid Society housing attorney Judith Goldiner. “Truthfully, it’s just so hard to get them to do anything.” She suggested that if the federal government were willing to make a huge investment in affordable housing, the money might be better spent on fully funding Section 8, coupled with stronger rent laws at the state level and the right to an attorney in housing court.
She also questioned Espaillat’s relocation tax proposal. “Once people are displaced it’s really hard to find them,” she said. “And they’re probably going to be paying more somewhere else. That’s not the goal.”
Governmental loans, like the HUD-funded mortgages Espaillat is suggesting, tend to have expiration dates. What might happen to cooperative tenants if and when these federal subsidies run dry?
“When you have these HUD-backed loans, the object is how do you keep them from [expiring] after a certain amount of time,” Krinsky said, suggesting that Espaillat consider the Community Land Trust (CLT) model—which can protect a building from any future for-profit sale—as an additional protection. (Espaillat says he’s open to the concept.)
But even with the protections of a CLT, some advocates in Espaillat’s Harlem are skeptical of the sustainability of the proposed coops.
Maria Lizardo, director of the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC), has supported numerous low-income coops in Harlem. “It only works when you are able to provide the tenants with a lot of assistance,” she said. “Everything from the workshops about what to expect… to doing the monthly overview of the budget and maintenance increases.”
“These ideas are great, but not without ongoing support,” added NMIC legal services head Rodrigo Sanchez. “It’s something that needs to be seen as an ongoing 10, 20, 30-year plan. Whether I think the government will commit to the dollars and cents is another question.”