NEWS


Residential grant deadline passes

By Elizabeth O’Brien

The application period for the $281-million residential grant program administered by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation ended last Saturday to mixed reviews, with critics charging the program with discrimination against moderate-income residents and supporters hailing it as crucial to the revitalization of Lower Manhattan.

The grant program began in June 2002 as a way to draw new residents to Lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11 attacks and to entice those already in the neighborhood to stay. As of last Friday, the L.M.D.C. had received more than 38,000 applications and had approved more than $160 million in grants, the corporation announced.

Amy Peterson, vice president for development programs and economics for the L.M.D.C., said that there was a flurry of activity on Saturday, as residents rushed to submit their applications on deadline, but she did not have an estimate of how many people waited until the last minute.

The corporation will accept residential grant applications through June 14, Peterson said. This is not an extension, but rather a grace period to allow those who missed the deadline to take advantage of the program, she said. Those submitting late applications must also include a letter explaining why they missed the original deadline.

Some said that the complex registration process made it especially difficult for lower income residents to apply for the grants. In addition, some criticized the program because those living in Chinatown and the Lower East Side were often entitled to less grant money than their more affluent counterparts closer to the W.T.C. site in Tribeca or Battery Park City.

“In so many ways the poor are being punished for being poor,” said Hyeon-Ju Rho, a staff attorney for the Urban Justice Center.

The program pays residents about 20 percent of their rent or mortgage, up to $12,000 over two years for those closest to ground zero. In addition, there is a one-time payment of $1,000 for those who were living in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001 and remain there today, plus a family grant of up to $1,500 for families with children under 18. Eligibility for the three grants depends on a resident’s proximity to the trade center site, with the area south of Delancey and Kenmare Sts. divided into three zones.

On Thursday, a coalition of advocacy groups including Asian American Legal and Education Defense Fund rallied on the Lower East Side to protest what they called the L.M.D.C.’s unfair standards for the grant program.

Among their criticisms was that the L.M.D.C.’s documentation requirements made it difficult for those without leases and utility bills to apply. Chinatown resident Fun Mae Eng, 70, said that her husband made repeated trips to the L.M.D.C. community office on Park Row, only to be told each time to return with more documentation. The center would not accept the paperwork he brought as proof of their residence in a co-op building, saying they needed a standard lease, which the Engs do not have.

“The L.M.D.C. is presenting way too many obstacles,” Eng said through an interpreter.

Ten days ago, the L.M.D.C. released a list of alternate documentation that could be used to prove current and Sept. 11, 2001 residency, including correspondence from the Social Security Administration. But critics charged that the announcement came too late for widespread publicity on the new rules. Also, protestors said that the information sheet on the changes was not translated into Chinese or Spanish.

Peterson said that the sheet was translated into both Chinese and Spanish soon after it was released on May 23. She said that timing of the release was deliberately late: “We wanted to make sure everyone who had a lease had a chance to submit that lease.”

Critics also said that the lower-income residents of Chinatown and the Lower East Side are still suffering from the terror attacks and should not be granted less money than the wealthier communities closer to the trade center site. At Thursday’s rally many protested the distribution of the family grant, which awards families closest to the trade center $1,500 if they have a child under 18, while families living farther away are eligible for only $750.

But others said the corporation’s geographic zones were only intended to give the most help to those who were most affected by the trade center disaster.

“Isn’t that because the affluent areas are closer to the World Trade Center?” said Paul Colliton, 51, a resident of Independence Plaza North in Tribeca, of the L.M.D.C.’s distribution policy. “I was out of my home. Were any of these people out of their homes?” he asked of the protestors.

Colliton had come to the Park Row center to apply for the grants last Thursday and said that his experience had been largely positive even though he was told he needed to return with further documentation.

Supporters say that the L.M.D.C. grants played a crucial role in repopulating Lower Manhattan after the terror attacks.

“We believe that the grants were enormously successful and we do think the people they have attracted will stay,” said David Wine, vice chairperson of The Related Companies, which manages three rental properties in Battery Park City and Tribeca.

Wine said that his company screened potential renters to make sure that they could afford the rent payments without L.M.D.C. assistance, so that there would not be a mass exodus when the two-year grant period ended.

Linda Belfer, president of the tenants’ association at Gateway Plaza in Battery Park City, said while it was difficult to speculate whether the newcomers would stay after their grants ran out, her landlord did express concern that there would be a big turnover in two years. Gateway is managed by the Lefrak Organization.

“My gut feeling is many who moved in because of the grants will be leaving,” Belfer said.

Belfer said she did not know whether management screened potential renters in any way.

But she said she sympathized with their need to mitigate 9/11-related losses: “When you have a 50 percent vacancy rate, your primary goal is to get people in.”

Elizabeth@DowntownExpress.com


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