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Working Together – To Keep Families in Their Homes

What happens when 16 families, many of whom have lived in their co-op building for generations, are in danger of losing their homes? As it turns out, it really does take a village.

2178 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn is a 16-unit low-rise built in 1910 in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville neighborhood. In 1980, it was incorporated as a Housing Development Fund Corporation cooperative (HDFC).

According to Curbed:

HDFCs are a form of affordable co-op housing intended for New Yorkers to live in long-term, as opposed to being used as investment properties. Most came about after the city seized thousands of derelict apartment buildings in the late 1970s, began fixing up the buildings, and allowed tenants to buy them for nominal amounts and turn them into low-income co-ops.

The City of New York granted the building a 20-year tax abatement at the completion of the renovation and conversion, and the co-op was financially stable for two decades. Tenants paid off their rehabilitation loan with the City and approximately 90% of a loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). However, after the abatement expired, HUD sold the remaining principal balance in their publicly financed note to a private debt holder. The building’s property taxes were incorrectly assessed at market-rate and tenants struggled to keep up with the bills.

For ten years, the HDFC members fought to secure tax relief and finally obtained a City Council resolution granting exemptions on the property, but by that time, the private note holder had increased the debt so much that the building was underwater and went into foreclosure. Red tape prevented the City from releasing the back taxes – which could have satisfied the inflated claims – until the foreclosure action was resolved.

Despite their best efforts, the families who called that building home stood a real chance of losing everything.

That’s where Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) – and a team they assembled – came in. The team included two members of the NYS CDFI Coalition.

  • Habitat for Humanity New York City and its Community Fund, who in August, 2020, provided a bridge loan to refinance outstanding debts and avoid foreclosure, which unlocked some $500,000 in tax refunds to pay down the new financing quickly. Habitat’s Housing Preservation Program offered technical assistance to help the HDFC access total financing of $893,000 and return the building to its resident owners.

  • The Leviticus Fund, who in May, 2021, closed a ten-year permanent loan of $383,000, including $333,000 to pay off the bridge loan from Habitat and $50,000 to support the cost of long-deferred repairs to the property.

In addition to the funding partners, other collaborators included Brooklyn Law School and the firm of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, which provided pro bono legal services to the HDFC; New York City Housing, Preservation & Development (HPD); and the Interboro Community Land Trust (CLT), New York City’s first citywide CLT, which is advising the co-op on strategies to remain affordable into the future.

“Habitat for Humanity New York City’s commitment to 2178 Atlantic Ave HDFC was simply life changing! After months of facing multiple obstacles and challenges, we were literally weeks away from losing our property,” said Earline King, President of the 2178 Atlantic HDFC. “Habitat NYC stepped in and provided the financing which allowed us to keep our home. Three generations of families are forever grateful.”

“The resilience of the residents at 2178 Atlantic Avenue to fight to preserve their housing in the face of predatory land practices is extraordinary,” said Greg Maher, the Leviticus Fund’s Executive Director. “We welcome the opportunity to partner with The Habitat NYC Community Fund to provide our type of highly flexible capital that will maintain their housing as affordable for generations to come.”

“These tenacious homeowners have faced so many hurdles in their fight to hold onto their homes. I am so proud that Habitat for Humanity New York City was able to support them in winning this decades-long struggle,” said Karen Haycox, CEO of Habitat for Humanity New York City and President of the Community Fund. “Across the five boroughs there are so many multi-family developments that lack access to the capital and technical assistance they need to stabilize their buildings physically and fiscally. Through our Community Fund, Habitat NYC is leveraging our brand, our bandwidth and our balance sheet to help to improve communities and maintain stable and safe homes for hardworking, low-income families.”

It's always been hard for lower-income New Yorkers to own homes, but in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, it’s even harder. This is just one example of how NYS CDFIs are working together to help families build wealth, preserve economic and racial diversity, and level the playing field against gentrification and speculation.

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