NYC's Wrecking-Ball Budget: Giuliani's Plan Knocks Tenants FWD

Tom Boland (
Sun, 23 May 1999 11:06:42 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  The Village Voice: Features: CityState  May 19 - 25, 1999



     by J.A. Lobbia

It was already after 11, but the morning rush at Brooklyn Housing Court was
still in full swing, with the crowd surrounding Patricia Lemon's desk
growing steadily. A young man led an elderly blind woman who was being
evicted by the New York City Housing Authority; she needed to know which
courtroom to report to. A woman with her baby in a stroller spoke no
English and needed help responding to her Sunset Park landlord's dispossess
notice. A gray-haired Caribbean man held a crumpled notice from a city
marshal, who had already hauled away all his furniture and changed the
locks on his Woodruff Avenue apartment. Clearly confused, the man told
Lemon, "I don't live nowhere right now."

Every morning until at least noon, Lemon or another staffer from the
Citywide Task Force on Housing Court sits at a table in a grimy corridor of
Brooklyn's housing court, where a daily sea of landlords and tenants come
to battle over their homes and their property. Although Lemon's main
purpose is to help tenants navigate the treacherous waters of the court,
she also fields questions from landlords and even from others using the
nearby small-claims court.

With a table in the housing court of every borough but Staten Island, the
task force assists about 60,000 people a year, many of whom are but a step
away from eviction and maybe homelessness. That the task force operates on
a budget comparable to the price of an unremarkable Manhattan coopˇ about
$300,000ˇ is impressive. The only thing more astounding is that Mayor
Rudolph Giuliani wants to pull the plug on the project, cutting $263,000,
about 70 percent of its total budget.

"We're making the rounds, trying to get the council to restore it," says
task force director Angelita Anderson. "It's the same thing we went through
last year, and I still haven't restored the staff I lost then," a total of
five workers. Now, the task force has six employees; three are part-time,
including Lemon, a student at John Jay College.

Last year's cuts came from Governor George Pataki, who axed Anderson's
program apparently in retaliation for her opposition to a particularly
nasty antitenant provision that Pataki forced on renters in the 1997 battle
over rent laws. The city council restored that money, but this year,
Giuliani took his turn at slicing it out.

While the Giuliani administration's appreciation of the housing crisis is
surely in doubt, the mayor's slash is probably based in more primal
politics: His housing budget for fiscal year 2000 would cut just about
every cent that the city council budgeted in for fiscal 1999. "The only
thing I can think of is that the mayor cut it out simply because the
council put it in," says Anne Pasmanick, director of the Community Training
and Resource Center (CTRC), whose innovative program to teach delinquent
landlords the basics of providing heat would be put out of business by a
Giuliani-proposed $200,000 cut. "That's the level of sophistication things
run on these days."

Among the items Giuliani would defund: $1.3 million to pay for housing
inspectors; $2 million for eviction-prevention services and legal help for
tenants of single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels; $1 million for community
housing consultants; and, along with the cuts to Anderson's and Pasmanick's
groups, another $361,000 in various housing-related services. Spokespeople
for the mayor and for his Department of Housing Preservation and
Development (HPD) did not return calls.

"It's our whole budget," says Elizabeth Kane, who runs the West Side SRO
Law Project and who, along with an East Side SRO project, would lose
$900,000 under Giuliani's plan. Right now, the city council is preparing an
alternative budget; both sides have until June 5 to come to an agreement.

"This has happened every year since Giuliani was elected, and we get
worried and stressed and strained," says Kane. "The council has faithfully
restored us, but never fully. We were better off, for instance, in 1995
than we are now. We're asking this year, since the city has a surplus [of
$2.1 billion], to get back to that level." Kane says Giuliani should spend
more on eviction prevention simply because it's cheaper than housing
homeless people. "It baffles me," says Kane.

One of the more mystifying mayoral cuts is to CTRC's Landlord Training
Program. Begun in 1997, the program is a sort of alternative sentencing for
first-time offenders; in this case, the offenders being landlords who have
failed to provide tenants with heat and hot water. Rather than fining such
landlords and taking them to court, HPD can send them to CTRC's classes,
where they spend nine hours over three weeks learning the basics of
building, and especially boiler, maintenance.

"So far, the experience has been uniformly good," says Pasmanick. "It bore
out the idea that these are low-income immigrant owners who can't absorb
the cost of the fine and needed to learn to be able to run their system."
Originally offered only in Brooklyn, this year classes were held in
Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx as well; just more than 200 landlords
attended this year, says Pasmanick.

And while the classes began in February, CTRC began planning them last
July. But it wasn't until a week ago that Pasmanick got HPD to sign the
contract for the classes that CTRC conducted this past winter. "We've
worked this entire time without a contract, we've completed the program,
we've taken out loans to pay people, and now we find he's cutting us for
the next year," says Pasmanick. "It's been a real ordeal, and it's not just
us, but groups all over the city. It gives a picture of how bad it is with
this administration. They just do not play well with others."


**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
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