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Allocation frustrates NYC groups

Groups in New York City are frustrated over allocation of post-Sept. 11 funds.

BY HEATHER MOYER | NEW YORK CITY | March 18, 2005

Community groups in New York City are frustrated about where the federal government’s post-Sept. 11 restoration and recovery funds are going.

New York Gov. George Pataki placed the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) in charge of distributing $2.7 billion from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development earmarked for revitalization and restoration of Manhattan post-Sept. 11.

Community groups are continuing to urge the LMDC to focus the remaining $850 million in cash grants on unmet needs they say have been ignored.

A coalition of community groups including New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS), 9/11 Environmental Action, Labor Community Advocacy Network, Latin American Workers’ Project, and many others, held a forum on Wednesday night entitled “Without a Trace.” The forum’s aim was to allow community members to speak out about where the money should go, as well as voice their frustrations about being ignored.

“There is general frustration and anger from these groups and people who are feeling left out of the process,” said Daniel Bush, director of disaster recovery and victim advocacy for NYDIS. He said he didn’t believe the LMDC has been transparent about the allocation process.

Bush said most of the community organizations feel that the money has gone “to the higher end” instead of to people who most need assistance. The coalition of organizations agrees that the focus of funds should be on affordable housing, environmental health and employment.

“Much of the conversation (Wednesday night) was around housing. So far the money has mostly gone to higher-end housing – which just makes housing constraints worse,” explained Bush. 

The health issue involves the toxic cloud of dust that enveloped Manhattan and other boroughs on Sept. 11, contaminating offices and residences. Ground Zero workers and Manhattan residents and employees report they are suffering from health problems tied to the dust, which has been shown to include such toxins as asbestos and lead.

Groups like NYDIS have been helping sickened employees and residents with basic needs, such as rent payments or transportation. The only current screening for Ground Zero health issues is for people who worked at the site, and not those who live or work in the general area. Beyond that, there is no funding for treatment of the sick workers.  

“We’d like to see needs addressed on a systemic level – not just treating the symptoms like we’re doing,” noted Bush, who said religious groups and community coalitions have limited assistance money.

The LMDC defends its distribution of the funds thus far, citing a residential grant program set up in 2002, as well as one funded proposal for affordable housing. Funds have also gone toward incentives to keep businesses in lower Manhattan, creating community parks, promoting tourism, and creating a Ground Zero historical campaign, said LMDC spokesperson Joanna Rose. 

The corporation is also defending its public input process, with Rose saying that LMDC held numerous public hearings and allowed for significant public input to the funding proposals.

“Every single step of the way there’s been public engagement,” said Rose. “We welcome input. We are working out now what future opportunities there will be for public comment.” 

For the remaining money, Rose added that the LMDC is looking at what the priorities are and reaching out to the public for ideas.

Yet no LMDC representatives attended the Wednesday forum, despite being invited, said Bush. Some members of the faith communities in attendance said the evening was another powerful reminder that many are still struggling to recover. 

“It was a very inspiring and moving event,” said Rabbi Jonathan Glass of New York City’s Synagogue for the Arts. “We saw and heard stories of significant hardship. There is a definite desire for access to money earmarked for people in need who are not getting it.”

Glass is a member of a clergy group working with NYDIS to put more pressure on the LMDC about fund distribution and public input. “We lend a moral voice in a way that only clergy can do,” explained Glass, who also noted that every community group involved has shown incredible commitment and resolve.

The organizers of Wednesday’s gathering said they were pleased with the results. “It was a wonderful event and we were very proud to be participating in it,” said Kimberly Flynn of 9/11 Environmental Action. “It was a celebration of the diverse and interconnected communities of lower Manhattan. Folks who attended represented every area in lower Manhattan, from river to river.”

Flynn said the forum’s attendees and speakers asserted that LMDC-distributed funds are the community’s money. The LMDC needs to hear the community, she said, and the corporation’s attempts thus far at hearing from the public are sorely lacking.

“There is a way of holding meetings that fosters discussion and provides for accountability – and then there’s what the LMDC has done,” she explained.

As for which needs should take a priority for the remaining $850 million, Flynn said the community should decide.

“The host of organizations working with the community should work together in defining (the needs) and in dividing up (the remaining funds) – because all of these are urgent needs,” she explained. 

“Health is an urgent need, but I think when you look at rebuilding people’s lives, you can’t really separate health from having a safe clean place to live and being able to make a living. The whole idea of this money was to rebuild people’s lives, and that’s a multi-faceted project.”


Related Topics:

Motorcycle riders honor Flight 93

NJ interfaith group closes doors

Observing 9/11 by doing good deeds


More links on September 11 2001

 

Related Links:

NYDIS

Lower Manhattan Development Corporation

9/11 Environmental Action

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