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The city housing agency and the New York City Partnership agreed in May to make some substantial changes to the Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Program, under which for-profit construction managers rehabilitate city-owned buildings.

The new guidelines promise to make the program, which had confused and frustrated many building residents, more tenant-friendly. They ensure that residents and local politicians will be notified promptly when buildings and redevelopers are chosen, and they reinstitute neighborhood task forces that will review all the decisions made in the program.

“I think these changes are good,” says Theresa Brooks of the Task Force on City- Owned and Distressed Property. “A good many [problems] were addressed, and the Partnership was agreeable.”

NEP had been harshly criticized by Harlem tenants, who said the program was badly managed and ignored tenants’ needs. One of the biggest complaints was that residents, many of them elderly, were being summarily moved into dirty or dangerous buildings while their own apartments were rehabilitated. Under the new rules, tenants who are to be relocated while their building is being rehabbed get to inspect the temporary apartment before they agree to the move. The entrepreneur must offer another choice if the first apartment is no good.

Tenants also get more time–up to 120 days–to decide to opt out of this program and into Tenant Interim Lease (TIL), the city’s low-income co-op program. Under the old system, many tenants complained that they didn’t hear about this option until it was too late. Now, TIL representatives will explain early on in the process how the program works, giving tenants more time to think through the decision.

Negotiators say that the housing agency and the Partnership, which co-manages the initiative, were backed into a corner when Harlem Councilmembers Stanley Michels and Bill Perkins threatened earlier this year to stall approvals for NEP buildings. “I want to guarantee that the community gets timely input, and timely orientation for tenants,” Perkins told City Limits back in February. “Just asking us for a stamp of approval–that’s not the role I want to play.”

Bad publicity had something to do with the changes, too. A fractious City Council hearing in April saw hundreds of irate tenants pitted against the enthusiastic entrepreneurs. It was especially embarrassing because the program–and the housing agency–had been nominated for a prestigious “Innovations in Government” award from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, due to be decided in October.

Certain kinks have yet to be worked out. As some residents get shifted from old-fashioned six- or seven-room apartments into much smaller quarters, they are forced to get rid of a lot of furniture. “Some people have bedroom sets that don’t fit into the new rooms,” says Brooks. “If you’re still paying for the stuff [on installment], it’s really unfair.”

In any case, the NEP tenants will be watching carefully to make sure that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Partnership keep their side of the bargain.

“It remains to be seen,” says NEP tenant Maxine Newman. “We’ll have to push, and call their attention to these things if they’re not done.”

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