Roberts' Rules

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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 Neighborhood Preservation Consultant Program (NPCP) money. Moreover, some neighborhoods may be shut out of the city's two-and-a-half-year-old program altogether, according to a new plan released by the city's housing commissioner, Richard Roberts.

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

If tapped by the city, groups will get double the money–about $80,000 per year–than they received under the first phase of the program.

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 out altogether. Officials at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) 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 and Central Brooklyn. “You are going to have entire neighborhoods where the community groups are gone,” Irvine adds.

An analysis of the first two years of the program, published in February by the Community Service Society, praised HPD's emphasis on helping landlords where small buildings and less experienced owners are prevalent. But in neighborhoods dominated by professional owners, tenant organizing is likely to produce better results.

Another concern is the real estate speculators. Concentrating on neighborhoods like Harlem may leave other low-income communities 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. “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 says. “It's a work in progress.”

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