Nyet to Neighborhood Preservation

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It was the year the usual lobbying was not enough. Every winter for more than a decade, Republican and Democratic governors alike have attempted to slash the budget of the Neighborhood Preservation Program (NPP), a 27-year-old fund supporting tenant advocacy and other community-based housing efforts. And by summer or fall, after a series of visits from recipients of the funds, the state legislature restored it.

But in 2004, the NPP–a relatively tiny $10 million item in the $100 billion budget–was cut by 50 percent.

“We did our normal legislative advocacy,” says Joseph Agostine, Jr., executive director of the Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, which represents the groups that receive funding under the program. Agostine seems mystified by the budget brinkmanship in Albany. “It doesn’t make sense to any of us that this program has been such a target,” he says.

But NPP wasn’t exactly singled out. Governor George Pataki vetoed 195 items in the 2005 budget, and the legislature failed to override them. In years past, Republican and Democratic leaders met following the budget’s passage to restore certain programs, including NPP. It helped that NPP funds went to specified organizations in dozens of legislators’ districts, giving it a built-in base of support. But the Assembly, the Senate and the governor didn’t strike a deal this year. Says Democratic State Assemblymember Vito Lopez, who chairs the housing committee, “There was no three-way agreement, and a lot of good programs got caught up in the shuffle.” Lopez held two hearings in January and hopes to secure additional NPP funding next year, to make up for the 2005 cuts.

In the meantime, with no money available for the second half of the fiscal year, some smaller nonprofits may be forced to close their doors. Others say they’ll have to substantially cut their assistance to tenants.

“I don’t know how long I can go on,” says Pat Singer, founder and executive director of the Brighton Neighborhood Association, where $65,000 in NPP funding makes up 50 percent of its budget. “Maybe only another six weeks.” Singer reports that her NPP funding helps support tenant assistance, legal advice clinics and social services for close to 3,000 residents of Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood. The group’s activity leverages lots of additional funding. “I know our actions brought in about $4 million to the community,” Singer says.

On Manhattan’s West Side, Housing Conservation Coordinators faced a double whammy. The group lost $32,000 from the NPP and $75,000 from the Supplemental Homeless Intervention Program. The two cuts will likely force HCC to drastically reduce the hours of its free legal clinic.

In retrospect, HCC’s executive director, Sarah Desmond, thinks her group and the coalition could have worked harder to call attention to how the Pataki administration’s budget priorities will affect communities.

“The governor is advocating using public funds to build a new stadium,” notes Desmond. “Clearly the money’s there. It’s simply a choice of how you want to spend it.”