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New bill to help safeguard Starrett City

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Two local lawmakers last week hailed a bill that passed the House of Representatives as a step forward in keeping Starrett City’s federally subsidized affordable housing protected.

The bill, which was added onto a larger bill dealing with the nation’s mortgage crisis, creates conditions necessary for possible purchasers of Starrett City to secure long-term financing necessary to purchase the property if they keep the units affordable.

“While the passage of this bill is a critical step forward in preserving the affordability of Starrett City, much work remains to be done,” said Rep. Ed Towns, who co-sponsored the bill along with Rep. Nydia Velázquez.

First opened in 1975, Starrett City – a.k.a. Spring Creek Towers – is a sprawling 46-tower, 140-acre residential complex, with about 90 percent of the units receiving some kind of subsidy.

These subsidies include the Mitchell-Lama program for moderate-income workers, the state Section 236 program, and the federal Retired Assistance Program (RAP) and Section 8 program.

The remaining 10 percent of the 5,881 housing units is rented out at market rate.

However, after the complex’s owners, Starrett City Associates, became eligible to opt out of the Mitchell-Lama program, another firm, Clipper Equity LLC, bid $1.3 billion for the complex, spreading fears among residents and housing advocates that the complex would go market rate.

At this point, federal and local lawmakers including Sen. Charles Schumer, Towns and Velázquez fought to stop the sale.

Velázquez said the bill represents an agreement between government agencies and the owners of Starrett to keep the development affordable, and continue to serve the tenant population currently in place.

The legislation converts the Section 8 and Rental Assistance Program (RAP) contracts to a project-based Section 8 contract, she said.

The legislation passed the House, 345-73.

But Starrett City Associates spokesperson Marty McLaughlin denied that any agreement with lawmakers has been reached.

“We are not accepting any bids and the property is not for sale,” said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin added that the ownership group has been meeting with public officials to devise a process that may or may not include selling the complex and keeping the units affordable.

Towns spokesperson said Schumer’s office is a strong supporter of this legislation and is working to get this legislation passed on the Senate side.

A Schumer spokesperson said the senator is working on every front to ensure that long-term affordability is preserved at Starrett City.

Jonathon Rosen, spokesperson for ACORN, the nation’s largest grassroots tenant advocacy organization, which has also been involved in the issue, said the legislation was a major step forward for Starrett City tenants.

“There was an overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill and we believe there is strong support in the Senate,” said Rosen.

However, Rosen cautioned there’s still a long way to go before the bill gets to President Bush’s desk for a final signature.

The main mortgage bill would allow help to hundreds of thousands of homeowners at risk of foreclosure to trade exotic loans with rapidly rising monthly payments for more affordable mortgages backed by the federal government.

The legislation would also create a $7,500 tax credit for first-time home buyers to try to boost sales and slow plummeting home prices.

The Bush administration has threatened to veto the bill, but according to a Washington Post story, White House officials appear to be leaving the door open to negotiation.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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