On April 27, Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Deputy Leader, chaired an oversight hearing on the Tenant Interim Lease (TIL) program. The Committee on Housing and Buildings received testimony from representatives of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), housing advocates, legal service providers, and other interested members of the public.
The TIL program offers below-market rents to tenants who manage city-owned buildings, with the understanding that eventually they will be able to buy their apartments for as little as $250. However, there have been allegations of mismanagement and fraud.
"In a City where affordable housing is hard to come by, it's troublesome that a program that was intended to help low-income New Yorkers maintain affordable homes is not working to its fullest capacity," said Council Member Williams. "It's our responsibility as legislators to ensure that the safeguards and initiatives we have in place to help vulnerable New Yorkers are effective and managed properly. Our failure to do so has the ability to impact thousands negatively. I look forward to working with the Administration and tenants in finding a long-term solution to improve the Tenant Interim Lease program."
During the hearing, the Committee sought information on the financial status of buildings which have recently exited the TIL program and the history of buildings which returned to City ownership following the transition to co-op buildings; information about the services or resources that HPD provides to TIL tenants during the relocation process; and how the reforms which were agreed to following a 2014 Department of Investigations (DOI) report have been implemented, and whether those reforms have been effective in improving conditions in TIL buildings.
The issues with TIL came to light during a housing hearing Council Member Williams chaired last month. During the hearing, Council Member Williams raised question regarding the efficiency of the program and whether the tenants had benefited from their participation in it.
P.A'L.A.N.T.E, a tenants' rights group, issued a 50-page report titled, "Broken Promise: New York City's Tenant Interim Lease Program and Those Left Behind," which highlighted how the City failed to provide the necessary resources to TIL buildings, consequently blocking the ability for tenants to become homeowners under the program.
According to testimony received by the Committee during the March 2017 hearing, a tenant association entered the TIL program in 1996, and was told in 2008 that the building would be able be renovated. However, when tenants were relocated in 2008, they were told that there was no more money left in the budget for such renovations, and in 2012, the building was transferred to the Affordable Neighborhood Cooperative Program (ANCP).
Despite the long delays for rehabilitation of TIL properties, HPD rules did not grant successor rights to tenants of TIL buildings until adoption of such rule in October 2014. As a result of the length of time before a building renovation can be commenced and the previous lack of succession rights, according to testimony received by the Committee, some apartments in TIL buildings undergoing repairs are vacant.
In addition to the delays leading to vacancies in such buildings, tenants have also complained that because of their relocation, their belongings were moved into storage nearly ten years ago and that they cannot access those items.
"For many of these tenants at the hearing, this was an opportunity to express frustration and grievances that have been pent up for awhile," said Council Member Williams. "My hope is that out of this hearing, the promises and agreements made to impacted tenants are followed through on."
In 2014, the DOI issued a report, which uncovered a lack of oversight of the TIL program by HPD, leading to fraud and corruption in a TIL building. Tenants of TIL buildings have complained about the length of time it takes for HPD to complete repairs and sell the apartments to the owners, as buildings remain in TIL for extended periods of time despite the intent of the program to stabilize distressed buildings within three to five years.
During the late 1970s, following a period of abandonment, the City took ownership through tax foreclosure of more than 100,000 vacant and occupied units, many of which were in distressed buildings. These units were commonly referred to as in rem housing, named after the legal action that allowed the City to obtain title over these properties when such properties' taxes were unpaid for an extended period of time.
In the 1980s, Mayor Edward I. Koch, in an attempt to address a shortage of affordable housing and revitalize neighborhoods that were subject to high vacancy rates, announced a Ten Year Plan for housing, which included rehabilitating certain vacant and occupied in rem units. One of the programs that grew out of the Mayor's Ten Year Plan for housing was the Tenant Interim Lease ("TIL") program.
The TIL program, which was started in 1978, was intended to be a pathway for renters in City-owned buildings to become homeowners.
As of March 2017, there were 150 buildings in the TIL program.