LOCAL HOUSING GROUPS $AVED

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Who says that only evil lurks in the final hours of Albany budget negotiations? In the waning moments of this year’s budget talks, state lawmakers agreed to restore $7.5 million Gov. George Pataki had cut from the Neighborhood Preservation Corporation program, which provides 175 community housing groups $65,000 a year to organize tenants, help seniors and assist residents in conflicts with their landlords.

“We’re feeling really good about things for the first time in months,” said Roz Lee, downstate coordinator of the Neighborhood Preservation Coalition of New York State, an affordable housing group that lobbied for reinstatement of the funds.

In addition to endangering the program’s future, Pataki also withheld the scheduled spring payments for the NPCs, putting many of them in jeopardy of missing payroll or rent. That crisis was averted when the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal offered groups low-interest bridge loans to cover the cost.

To assure that such a gap in funding never occurs again-no matter how long past deadline Albany’s annual budget abomination lingers–the legislature agreed to reconfigure the NPC program’s payment schedule so that cash flow will not be endangered in future years. “That’s good,” said Carmen Allende, executive director of the South Bronx Action Group, “because I came pretty close to having to lay people off.”