Jamaica state senator takes a crack at housing reform in his own way


State Senator Leroy Comrie recently introduced a law that would establish an automated system for applications to Mitchell-Lama housing and develop a written application process for the program.

With the bill, Comrie hopes to combat inconsistencies within the application process for the housing program aimed at moderate-income families. The senator’s focus on Mitchell-Lama housing comes at a tipping point for affordable housing in the state as the Legislature considers a nine-bill “universal rent control” package that Comrie has not fully supported.

In 2015, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s audit of the Housing Preservation and Development studied four individual Mitchell-Lama developments and found that there were substantial discrepancies in how units were awarded and how waiting lists were maintained.

The agency did not always offer units to tenants in the order they were listed, and the comptroller’s office found occupants who were not submitted for approval. The study concluded that the HPD was not monitoring the lottery process sufficiently.

Comrie cited the Mitchell-Lama program early this month as a pillar of his vision for addressing the city’s loss of rent-stabilized apartments.

“We need to be able to create an affordable program. We need to be able to incentivize folks to want to maintain their buildings. We need to recreate a Mitchell-Lama housing program,” Comrie told QNS recently when asked about his hesitancy to sign on to all nine of the rent control bills.

Comrie’s bill would codify reforms to this system and standardize the processes by which units are awarded, applications are rejected, and waiting lists are maintained in the program’s lottery system.

He sees the Mitchell-Lama’s central difficulty with maintaining lists and awarding apartments as a result of the fact that it is done, by and large, manually. So the bill would also require that this information is made available to the public online and that the procedures for maintaining waiting lists and selecting tenants are fully automated.

The clock is running down on the “universal rent control” package of bills that will require a vote in the Legislature before New York state’s rent control laws expire on June 15. While Comrie is a holdout on seven of the bills, which he worries could overburden small and minority landlords, the bill suggests a path toward affordable housing reform that Comrie finds agreeable.

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