In 2008, the city started relocating tenants at 206 W. 120th Street in Harlem to other apartments so renovations to the dilapidated city-owned property could be made through the Tenant Interim Lease program. The plan was for residents to buy their renovated apartments for just $250 and return as owners under a co-op-style structure.
Now, a decade later, the property remains boarded up, residents are still living in temporary apartments – except for the one who died – and the de Blasio administration has announced that it plans to sell the building to a private owner who will run it as a rental property, Crain’s reports.
"The tenants have endured all this because they were promised they were going to become homeowners," says Jason Wu, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, which is representing the residents in a lawsuit. "And now [the city] turns its back on them."
The city has said it is dropping the building because tenant leaders did not submit complete or timely financial reports and repayment agreements for tenants who were behind on rent, according to the suit. The tenants association counters that residents did indeed submit the paperwork required, but the city mishandled the information as part of systemic management problems with the interim lease program.
The lawsuit includes testimony from Michael Besse, a former employee of the department of Housing Preservation and Development who oversaw the Harlem property and alleges that the city's Tenant Interim Lease program was rife with mismanagement, corruption and incompetence.
"I sincerely hope the [department's] commissioner will right the wrongs of the past with respect to the [program],” Besse wrote in an affidavit, “and fulfill their promise to convert these city-owned buildings to affordable-housing cooperatives."
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