Mott Haven shut out of federal housing grant

Thirty million federal dollars that the New York City Housing Authority could have used to rebuild dilapidated housing complexes, revitalize residential plazas and expand early childhood education will instead go to other other states.

Residents gather to help plan a proposal for a HUD grant last year.
Residents gather to help plan a proposal for a HUD grant last year.

HUD rejects NYCHA’s application for millions in repairs, upgrades

Thirty million federal dollars that the New York City Housing Authority could have used to rebuild dilapidated housing complexes, revitalize residential plazas and expand early childhood education will instead go to other other states.

In October 2012, NYCHA received a $300,000 planning grant from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funded by the department’s Choice Neighborhood Initiative program. Over nearly two years, hundreds of local residents sat through numerous community meetings and visioning sessions with housing officials and representatives of a prominent nonprofit organization to develop a Neighborhood Transformation Plan. NYCHA finally submitted the ‘Make Mott Haven’ application to HUD in November 2014.

On Sept. 28, HUD announced it would award the coveted funds to housing authorities in Atlanta, Kansas City, Memphis, Milwaukee and Sacramento instead. New York was one of 28 other cities that vied unsuccessfully for $30 million each in federal funding to revitalize and redevelop some of their public housing and surrounding areas.

While HUD informed NYCHA officials that the Housing Authority was not selected as one of the nine finalists for the Choice Neighborhood Initiative in July, some residents only learned the news from a Mott Haven Herald reporter in October.

NYCHA has not told residents why the proposal came up short and no meetings have been planned to discuss the federal government’s rejection of their plan.

Milagros Morales, a Mott Haven resident for more than 50 years and member of several committees that worked on the Neighborhood Transformation Plan, was dismayed by the news.

“As a participant it’s hard because we invested a lot of time and effort and hope,” she said.

“It felt like we were sort of abandoned,” said Milagros, adding no one had informed her of HUD’s rejection of the proposal before she met with the reporter.

NYCHA responded to questions about the grant’s status in an emailed statement.

“We became aware NYCHA did not move forward in the grant selection process over the summer,” the statement read. “Since that time, the Authority has reaffirmed its commitment to ‘Make Mott Haven’ through leveraging $250 million for the initiative. Additionally, NYCHA is also working to strengthen its grant application strategy moving forward.”

In September, NYCHA announced that it had received a $100,000 National Endowment of the Arts grant for Hunts Point-based arts nonprofit Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education as part of the ‘Make Mott Haven’ proposal.

NYCHA offered no explanation as to why residents who participated in developing the grant were not informed that it had been denied.

“Considering everything we worked on and the end result, as a resident of this community I felt like I was just used,” said  Linda Duke, a Mitchel Houses resident.

While many community members were caught off guard by the news, John Johnson, president of the tenants’ association of the Mott Haven Houses complex, said he was not surprised.

“We were made to believe that this was a done deal but I know from dealing with the federal government that it’s their choice, not NYCHA,” he said. “I knew it was still up in the air.”

Johnson was critical of the efforts made by NYCHA and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a Manhattan non-profit that coordinated community engagement in the grant’s development.

“There were a lot of residents and stakeholders from outside of the community, positioning themselves in the meetings,” he said. “LISC and NYCHA reached out to those people before residents. That put us at a huge disadvantage.”

A spokesperson from LISC said that the nonprofit and the Housing Authority tried to create an inclusive process for everyone.

“There were a lot of different opportunities for people to participate in the process in different ways,” said LISC’s director of special projects, Jessica Guilfoy. “It was an extremely competitive pool of applicants. Without knowing the merits of the application, we can only speculate that other cities, for one reason or another, had a stronger application.”

NYCHA and HUD declined to comment on the grounds for the grant’s rejection but some residents say they want answers.

“I’m really disappointed that we didn’t get any follow through. We didn’t get feedback after the proposal was handed in,” Morales said. “There were a lot of really good ideas that were generated. I wish somebody had picked up the baton.”

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