George's April Fool’s Gift

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

Community groups receiving Neighborhood Preservation Company grants from the state have always relied on the governor to transfer millions of dollars from one fiscal year to the next to cover the gap between contract terms and the state’s fiscal year. Since 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 NPC reauthorization. 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 1 don’t have a housing person come April 1, and I don’t do a housing program,” says 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 governor slated big cuts for the programs in each of his previous budgets only to have them restored by the State Assembly, but advocates fear the welfare reform and the repeal of rent regulation laws will top the agenda this year, leaving the housing cuts unrestored.

The loss of the re-authorization poses a 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, according to Celia Tkaczyk, executive director of the Neighborhood Preservation Coalition of New York State, an affordable housing lob-bying group.

“It gets harder and harder every year to ask them to keep restoring the program when they have so many other things to worry about,” Tkaczyk says.

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