Gotham Gazette

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Stated Meeting -- Maintaining Mitchell- Lama

The City Council passed bills intended to keep affordable housing available, and to protect the safety of construction workers at its most recent stated meeting on March 28, 2007. It also approved its budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

All of the bills were passed unanimously by a vote of 47 to 0.




The council passed two designed to keep property owners from opting out of the Mitchell-Lama, a tax incentive plan that one housing activist has called "the best housing program any government anywhere has ever designed."

The Mitchell-Lama program was started in 1955, offering developers low-interest mortgages and tax breaks in exchange for guarantees that their apartments would be accessible to middle class families. The most famous example of this housing is Co-op City in the Bronx, which has 15,000 apartments.

Developers who accepted the tax breaks are allowed to opt out of their commitments to middle class housing in 20 years. Increasingly, they are doing so, drawn by the potential for huge profits in the city's tight real estate market.

The bills introduced into the council at the behest of the mayor would make certain types of co-ops and condos eligible for additional tax breaks in exchange for guarantees that they would stay in the Mitchell-Lama program for 15 years.

Intro 203 would extend certain tax credits (known as the J-51 tax benefit program) to Mitchell-Lama participants even if their buildings receive subsidies for alterations or improvements. Such buildings are not eligible for the benefits currently. Intro 204 would offer the same tax benefits to co-ops and condos that are currently too expensive to qualify. In exchange for these tax incentives, participants would have to must agree to stay in the Mitchell-Lama program for 15 years.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn said that the council had not developed a price estimate for the measure, largely because the council cannot predict how many property owners will decide to take the deal.




The council also passed several bills that came from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's scaffolding safety task force.

Seventeen construction workers fell to their deaths last year, up from nine the year before. As a result, Bloomberg formed a task force to establish tougher regulations for hanging scaffolding. As part of the task force's recommendations, Councilmember Erik Dilan – himself a member of the panel – introduced three bills.

The bills would require construction firms to notify the buildings department when they plan to use C-Hook scaffolding, the type of hanging scaffolding involved in over half of the scaffolding deaths in 2006 (Intro 523). The other bills would also increase fines for violators (Intro 524), and require daily written inspections of scaffolding by site supervisors (Intro 522).

The council approved all three bills on March 28 by a unanimous vote of 47 to 0. The mayor has already endorsed them, but must sign them before they become law.




The council also passed its annual operating budget (Res 787). This budget, which the council submits to the mayor for approval every March, is the total amount of money that the council allocates itself to operate.

The total budget is $54.6 million, a 7.5 percent increase from last year. Most of this rise in spending is non-discretionary, according to Speaker Christine Quinn, and is due to higher salaries for council members, cost-of-living pay increases for council staff, rent increases for council offices in 250 Broadway, and an upgrade of the council's information technology capabilities.


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