How I Landed a $38,000 Apartment in Brooklyn Heights

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Finding an affordable home in New York City can sometimes seem impossible. With apartments in neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy now going for millions, the city seems increasingly inaccessible to middle class folks. We've been hearing Mayor de Blasio talk a lot about it since he ran for office on his Tale of Two Cities theme, including on Friday when he appointed an official to solve what he sees as an affordable housing crisis.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. Back in 2010, I landed on the wait list for an apartment in Cadman Towers, a Mitchell-Lama co-op in Brooklyn Heights that opened in 1971. About three years later, my name came up and I was able to buy a 600-square-foot one bedroom with a balcony for a little more than $38,000. It was probably the only way I – a single, 32-year-old, public radio employee – was ever going to achieve the American dream in New York City.

The Mitchell-Lama program was created in 1955 with the goal of providing housing options for middle income residents. In New York City, 174 rental and co-op buildings were created under the program. (You can find a list of open wait lists here.) After a certain number of years, building owners can leave the program and make their units market rate. So far, 96 have done just that. It’s an outcome that’s alarming to some housing advocates.

The state has not funded Mitchell-Lama for years, but on Friday, Bronx State Senator Jeffrey Klein and fellow members of the Independent Democratic Conference, said they would push to set aside $750 million to revive the housing program in the state’s budget.

Some critics say New York City already has way too much affordable housing and that the city's sky-high housing prices are a result, in part, of properties protected from the free market. In short, they say New Yorkers who have rent control or Mitchell-Lama apartments never give them up, at least not until they die. And that's exactly how my home became available to me.