HOUSING HELPERS BLAST CITY PLAN

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Tenants take a hike. Landlords will once again be the major beneficiaries of the city’s updated neighborhood housing services program.

Housing groups–many of which have traditionally focused on tenant organizing–will be doing more landlord assistance if they want to keep their city money. Moreover, some neighborhoods might be shut out of city’s two-and-a-half-year-old Neighborhood Preservation Consultant Program (NPCP) altogether.

“The danger is this is currently the only official program that funds nonprofits to do any sort of housing preservation work and tenant organizing,” said Celia Irvine, policy analyst with the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development.

If tapped by the city, groups can look forward to getting double the money–about $80,000 per year–they received under the first phase of the program. Currently, NPCP contractors receive about $40,000 a year, a sum that many have argued is too small to do meaningful work. The catch is that far fewer groups will be funded, down from 53 to 30. And organizations in neighborhoods like the Lower East Side and Sunset Park may find themselves frozen out altogether. Officials at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development say this money will be reserved for groups who work in the city’s “most distressed” neighborhoods, which have historically been in areas like northern Manhattan, the South Bronx, southeast Queens and Central Brooklyn. “You are going to have entire neighborhoods where the community groups are gone,” Irvine added.

An analysis of the first two years of the program, published this month by the Community Service Society, noted that HPD’s emphasis on helping landlords is good in neighborhoods where smaller, less experienced owners are prevalent. But in neighborhoods dominated by professional owners, tenant organizing is likely to produce better results.

Additionally, real estate speculators are eyeing neighborhoods all over the city, organizers say. Concentrating on places like Harlem may leave low-income neighborhoods like Sunset Park vulnerable to a wave of landlords who over-leverage themselves to buy distressed buildings, says Lisa Grist, executive director of Neighbors Helping Neighbors. That’s a recipe for abandonment–and those neighborhoods aren’t likely to have NPCP groups to help them out, she says. “We now have a combination of factors that, in worse times, could lead to some real problems,” she warns.

But a senior HPD official tells City Limits that the best strategy is to focus on where the problems are now and make changes as they are needed. “A lot of things are being refined,” the source said. “It’s a work in progress.”