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Governor Pataki has hatched a nasty April Fool’s Day surprise for 175 community housing groups who organize tenants, help seniors and assist residents in their conflicts with neglegint landlords.

Because contract terms rarely coincide with the state fiscal year, community groups always rely on the governor and the state legislature to transfer millions of dollars from one fiscal year to the next to cover expenses on already-signed contracts. Because it has no effect on the state budget, the transfer has become a matter of annual routine. Until this year, that is.

In his recently released budget, Pataki for the first time omitted reauthorization of the Neighborhood Preservation Company program and a smaller rural housing program. The decision cuts off the flow of $7.5 million to the community groups as soon as the new state fiscal year begins on April 1.

“As it stands now, it means I don’t have a housing person come April 1, and I don’t do a housing program,” said Catherine Piecora, executive director of the Astoria Development Corporation, which uses its $65,000 NPC contract to provide a wide range of tenant services. “I don’t think Pataki realizes what he’s cutting. We help seniors fill out grant forms, for God’s sake.”

Calls to Pataki’s budget office were not returned.

Pataki has also proposed a 75 percent cut in the program’s $11.75 million budget for next year. The legislature is expected to restore all or part of those cuts.

The loss of the re-authorization poses a far more immediate threat. Because the money is not even in the governor’s budget, local groups will have a hard time obtaining bridge loans from banks, said Celia Tkaczyk, executive director of the Neighborhood Preservation Coalition of New York State, an affordable housing lobbying group.

Still, at least one prominent Assembly Democrat sees a reason for Pataki’s move: the larger GOP assaults on the state’s rent regulation laws.

“The strategy is to put the NPC people under pressure so they don’t have the energy to fight to keep the rent laws,” said Brooklyn Democrat Vito Lopez, who chairs the Assembly’s housing committee.

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