What is Mitchell-Lama the Housing Program?

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Mitchell-Lama the Housing Program

Mitchell-Lama units are ideal for New Yorkers who are looking for affordable housing, but few people have heard of this type of apartment or know how to qualify.

Mitchell-Lama housing is an affordable housing program that offers affordable apartments to middle-income New Yorkers like rent to own housing in NYC, Units in the program are hard to come by, so the waiting list can be rather extensive.  Here’s what you’ll need to know to qualify and apply for a Mitchell-Lama apartment.

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The History of Mitchell-Lama Apartments

Senator MacNeil Mitchell and Assemblyman Alfred Lama wrote the Mitchell-Lama Bill in 1955. The bill created income-restricted housing and limited equity co-ops where affordable housing was non-existent such as the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, the Lower East Side, and Chelsea.

Affordable housing rent is tied to a tenant’s monthly income.  Limited equity co-ops require the buyer to pay a  small amount of money towards the principal. A buyer won’t be able to profit from selling, and only the principal amount will be returned when they sell their unit.

Nearly 100,00 units were built under the Mitchell-Lama program. To encourage development, the government gave tax breaks to developers and offered low mortgage rates on their apartment buildings.  Mitchell-Lama developments are supervised by the NYC Housing and Preservation Department (HPD) and the Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

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Privatization of Mitchell-Lama Buildings

The Mitchell-Lama plan includes a clause that allows owners to remove apartments from the program after 20 years. Almost all qualifying buildings have reached that threshold, prompting many owners to convert their apartments back to market rate units. Brooklyn’s Mitchell-Lama apartments shrunk from nearly 135 units to less than 100 in just six years.

Most New Yorkers liked the idea of Mitchell-Lama housing and rated it among the most successful affordable housing programs in the state. But the program is now in crisis with units disappearing at an alarming rate due to privatization.

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Qualifications for Mitchell-Lama Housing

In order to qualify for housing in the Mitchell-Lama program, a tenant must meet the program’s income and family size requirements. If you are already a Mitchell-Lama program tenant, you are subject to higher rent if you earn more than the minimum income requirement.

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Applying for a Mitchell-Lama Apartment

There is no standardized application that will make you eligible for all available Mitchell-Lama apartments. You can apply for several units at a time, but you have to submit applications for each individual unit. When the Mitchell-Lama program waiting list opens, available apartments must be listed publicly.  If you’re interested in a listed apartment, submit an application through the housing department’s website, which allows you to track your application status and see where you are on the waiting list.

The Mitchell-Lama Waiting List

Don’t expect the process of getting a Mitchell-Lama apartment to move quickly once your name is on the waiting list–there have been people who have been on the waiting list for years.  But as soon as an apartment becomes available you can apply for it, assuming you still meet the qualifying criteria.

The department has created a new unit to better manage the apartment application process. The hope is that the overall process will improve and become more efficient, resulting in shorter wait times.

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The Mitchell-Lama Rental Guidelines

  • Make sure you meet all qualifying criteria for the apartment.  Verify that you still meet the program requirements, especially if you have been on the waiting list for more than a year.
  • Keep an eye out for one bedroom apartments since they become available sooner.
  • Do your research if you plan on getting financed for a loan.
  • Under the Mitchell-Lama Program, a shareholder of a co-op apartment is not considered a tenant. It does not come under the owner’s assets, which means it cannot be transferred to the next of kin. If a Mitchell-Lama co-op owner dies, the unit automatically goes back to the department and is resold–the owner’s beneficiaries have no right to it.

The Bottom Line

The Mitchell-Lama Program has served New Yorkers well in the past and continues to do so. Although the number of units has decreased significantly, there are still units available to rent.  Just remember to pack your patience.