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Condos + foreclosures = big squeeze - Brooklynites scramble to find affordable housing in the borough

The high rate of foreclosures, the shrinking number of affordable rentals and predatory lending were all covered in a recent forum on housing in Brooklyn.

“In a city that is home to some of the richest people in the world, it is becoming increasingly difficult for families of all income levels to afford to live here,” said City Comptroller William Thompson.

“In these uncertain economic times, rents still seem as if they are soaring, people are losing their homes to foreclosure, and the city is losing its subsidized Mitchell-Lama housing at an alarming rate,” he added.

The Borough Hall event, sponsored by ‘We are All Brooklyn’ and its parent non-profit, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, drew a large number of housing industry experts and elected officials.

It also came as recent data indicates Canarsie and a sliver of Flatlands in the 11236 zip code has the dubious distinction of holding the most subprime mortgages in the city.

Homeowners in this zip code had 1,930 subprime loans as of October 2007, with 12 percent of them in foreclosure, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Another 19.1 percent of the loans were at least 30 days overdue.

Thompson, who established a foreclosure prevention helpline in April 2007, reported that it has received 3,352 calls through May 2008.

These calls have led to 1,372 cases which Thompson’s staff has worked on, and of those cases, 349 came from Brooklyn.

Brad Lander, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, gave a report on Brooklyn’s affordable housing squeeze.

“Over the past 20 years rents and housing prices are up dramatically while tenants’ incomes are down, and now we have the foreclosure crisis hitting thousands of homeowners,” said Lander.

Lander said the number of units renting for under $1,000 fell by over 150,000 from 2002 to 2205.

Additionally, there has been a loss of Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 buildings making the subsidized housing stock shrink 11 percent between 2002 and 2005 from 345,000 units to 308,000, Lander said.

Lander lauded the Bloomberg administration for building some affordable units, but said it wasn’t enough to stem the tide of the losses of affordable units as a result of vacancy decontrol.

This will particularly affect Brooklyn as most of the people moving to the borough are working-class immigrants, he said.

Borough President Marty Markowitz said a big issue is vacancy decontrol.

Vacancy decontrol occurs once a tenant moves out and landlords can do some repairs, which will allow them to raise the rent to $2,000 a month. That is the figure according to state law where the apartment loses its rent control and becomes market rate.

Markowitz said with many rent controlled apartments now at about $1,400 a month, this means that with just a few repairs, the landlord can raise the rent to the $2,000 decontrol number.

The Democrats are two seats away from taking majority control of the Senate, and if they can get a majority, the party will control all three legislative branches of state government, said Markowitz.

Markowitz said that if that happens, the first order of business should be reforming vacancy decontrol.

The forum also provided important contacts such as the Foreclosure Prevention Helpline to help homeowners manage their debt and try to prevent the loss of their homes.

That number is (212) 669-4600.

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