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As the second city housing commissioner in 10 months prepares to jump ship, advocates for low-income tenants complained to the City Council that the agency is stonewalling attempts to monitor the development of its much-touted computerized early warning system, which would identify distressed apartment buildings.

Since the beginning of the Giuliani administration, officials at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development have promised to implement the first-of-its-kind system. With proper data, officials and advocates agreed, the city could help prevent abandonment of much-needed housing units.

The plan was written into law last spring, along with a policy for transferring ownership of badly-maintained buildings from private owners to pre-screened non-profit and for-profit landlords. On Friday, HPD Deputy Commissioner Cynthia Fisher told a council committee that the innovations will go ahead regardless of who replaces Commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, who will step aside in mid-February to become the city’s new welfare chief.

Angry advocates testified that Fisher has consistently kept them in the dark about key parts of the new program. “After we had an initial meeting with her she made representations to us that she needed our input,” said Jay Small, executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a coalition of neighborhood nonprofits. “Our subsequent calls to her have gone unanswered. Our subsequent attempts to give input have gone unresponded to…. She has stonewalled us.”

“Our requests for all kinds of information have not been answered,” agreed Victor Bach, a housing analyst with the Community Service Society.

Fisher told the committee that the early warning system would be ready within the next few months, although she would not say if the system would be available to community groups or the general public–something HPD’s original proponents of the plan guaranteed last spring.

But Fisher and other HPD officials didn’t stick around long enough to field more detailed questions–or to listen to the complaints. Shortly after advocates took seats at the witness table, the HPD contingent decamped from the hearing room. City Limits’ attempts to question Fisher as she left City Hall were rebuffed.

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