Signing Bonus


Location: Brooklyn Heights (Cadman Plaza)
Price: $14,000 ($334 monthly carrying charges)

Square Feet: 550

Occupant: Brett Littman (assistant director, UrbanGlass)

This is our 10th interview. During the other nine you thought you lived in a Mitchell-Lama building but you do not. Now we have to have the interview all over again! It was when you went away to Istanbul to look at handblown glass that your building manager brought the truth to light. The Whitman Close co-op is regulated not by the Mitchell-Lama law passed in 1955 but by the Redevelopment Companies law pushed through in 1942 by Robert Moses, during his demolish-and-replace slum clearance period. Anyway, both programs, though their origins may be different, provided tax relief for developers and co-op shareholders and resulted in government-assisted, regulated housing for hundreds of thousands of middle-income people citywide. Of course, who can get in these buildings— the waiting lists are so long. Your mother, a public-school teacher, signed you up when you were in high school. She was busy putting me on lists to get in all these buildings. Finally I told her to stop. It got too complex. There were 40 lists I was on. She put my sister on some lists, too.

She was a list signer-upper. She and my father got their Mitchell-Lama in the ’60s, the Cadman building next door, where I grew up. Anyway, after she signed me up on the lists, I went away to college, came back and lived in every neighborhood in Brooklyn. I’d pretty much given up hope I’d ever get an affordable apartment. One day last year, 11 years after my mother first signed me up, I got a call about this building. I don’t know why. I was still number 187 on the list. They said there’re two studios available. Take one in a week or you’re knocked off the list forever. I took one.

You have a doorman, laundry, garage for an extra $65 a month, three closets, enough space for your antique camera collection including that Ansco Shur Shot, and a terrace overlooking the former Peaks Mason Mints factory. The exterior architecture, all tall and concrete, has that Antonioni feeling of Monica Vitti walking in empty space. In the ’60s these buildings were seen as gigantic eyesores. People hated them. Now that the ’60s are back, this is a hip-looking structure.

Life is perfect for you! Of course, all government-regulated housing comes with The Rules. If I wanted to sell my co-op, I could only get back my original investment of $14,000, no interest. There are maximum-income requirements. For a studio with monthly charges that add up to $4000 a year, you couldn’t earn more than $40,000 or something. No modifications. When I wanted to tear down some walls, the board said, Whatareyoucrazy. You can’t own property within commuting distance. There was this woman living in a co-op she owned somewhere else. She put herself on a list here. They called her for a studio after 10 years. She sold her co-op, rented an apartment for a year, so she could come to the board here and say, Look, I don’t have any property.

She came barefoot in a thin, torn dress. So are there other list children here like yourself? I know 10 others whose parents put them on lists. Someone I went to high school with lives on my floor. We’re the last generation to get in.

Your manager said your building is in a 10-year statutory phaseout of its real estate tax abatement. The redevelopment program was set up so the tax break would expire after 25 years. Are the shareholders going to vote to go private? I don’t know. For me, the clock is ticking. I want to get a one-bedroom soon in case that should happen. I signed up on an insider list for that. And for a two-bedroom in case I have a family by then. And then I got on a list to get an apartment higher up. And I got on a list for a B-line . . .