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City Limits

Volume XIX Number 9

City Limits is published ten times per year.
monthly except bi-monthly issues in Junel
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profit organization devoted to disseminating
information concerning nei ghborhood
Editor: Andrew White
Senior Editor: Jill Kirschenbaum
Associate Editor: Kim Nauer
Contributing Editors: Peter Marcuse.
James Bradley
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Photographers: Steven Fish. Gregory P.
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Association for Neighborhood and
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Pratt Institute Center for Community and
Environmental Development
Urban Homesteading Assistance Board
Board of Directors
Eddie Bautista. New York Lawyers for the
Public Interest
Beverly Cheuvront. City Harvest
Errol Louis. Central Brooklyn Partnership
Mary Martinez. Montefiore Hospital
Rebecca Reich. Low Income Housing Fund
Andrew Reicher. UHAB
Tom Robbins. Journalist
Jay Small . ANHD
Walter Stafford. New York University
Doug Turetsky. former City Limits Editor
Pete Williams. National Urban League
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Rations for the Poor
s City Limits goes to press, leaks from within city government are
unveiling details of the fierce budget cuts due this month from the
Giuliani administration. The mayor says he has to close a $1 billion
gap in the current fiscal year's budget. To no one's surprise, a high
proportion of these cuts will fall on the heads of the estimated 1. 7 million
New Yorkers whose incomes fall below the federal poverty line.
The cuts will certainly hit all the agencies that provide front line services
to the poor, most especially the Department of Homeless Services and the
Human Resources Administration (HRA), already targeted in the first round
of budget slashing last spring for 34 percent and 18 percent personnel
reductions, respectively.
It's true, the clients ofHRA and Homeless Services are not the people that
voted Giuliani into office. Yet by focusing primarily on headcountreductions
in such agencies, he is sacrificing hundreds of millions of dollars in state and
federal support. One example outlined by the City Council Finance Division:
by getting rid of 4,200 social service workers, the city saves $32 million-but
loses $80 million in federal and state matching funds. That means employees
who provide key social service functions, and cost the city only $7,500 per
year each, are losing their jobs. Drop by your local income support center to
see the result: workers are demoralized; clients are struggling to get help with
their most basic needs.
Sometimes even this mayor trips up politically, however. His budget
analysts made a huge misstep by tentatively suggesting the elimination of the
city's emergency food aid program, which provides essential backup support
to soup kitchens in all five boroughs. The soup kitchens are a stark symbol
of charity in action. Their primary promoters and operators are religious
organizations. Witness John Cardinal O'Connor's hearty October 20th con-
demnation of the mayor for presuming to cut the budget "on the bellies of the
The food program advocates have defended their turf with great skill in the
last few weeks. But how can this lesson be carried further? Do many of
Giuliani's constituents care about poverty issues in a broader sense? Will
Cardinal O'Connor speak out against an increasingly impenetrable and
unresponsive welfare bureaucracy, where families are routinely churned off
the lists or refused entry just to save the city budget a few dollars?
The current administration would like nothing more than to see the city's
social service, community development and advocacy organizations become
special interest groups obsessed with preserving their own small piece of the
budget at the expense of one another. Tread carefully. There are many mutual
interests here. It's time to start identifying them very quickly. We will be
dedicating ourselves to that mission in the coming months. We hope others
will as well.
* * *
The publication of City Limits has been made possible this year by our
many subscribers, advertisers and supporters, and by the following
grantmakers: the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, the Robert Sterling
Clark Foundation, the New York Community Trust, the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore
Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, Morgan Guaranty Trust, the Scherman
Foundation, The North Star Fund, Chemical Bank, Citibank, and the East
New York Savings Bank. Sincere thanks to all of them.
* * *
Our production director, Chip Cliffe, is leaving City Limits after nearly a
decade. He devised the current design of the magazine as well as many of its
previous incarnations, and we are sorry to see him go. But we wish him luck
nonetheless. 0
Cover design by Lynn Baldinger. Photo of the Brooklyn Family Court by Gregory P. Mango.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent 20
The way Family Court works, if your children have been placed in foster
care, you'll need more than a strong case to get them back.
by Kim Nauer
Raising the Alarm 26
Clean, well-run residences with support services for the mentally
disabled are a far cry from neglected SROs and welfare hotels. Why can't
some Upper West Siders tell the difference? by Robert Kolker
Time Will Tell 6
A new partnership of housing nonprofits is rescuing apartment
buildings from foreclosure and city ownership. by Seema Nayyar
Queens Logic 9
Why save public hospitals from extinction? It's not not just a question of
money. by Christopher Zurawsky
Harnessing the Money Machine 10
A city program is fostering tenant employment and entrepreneurship in
New York's housing projects. by Fara Warner
Taking Back the Classroom 14
South Bronx parents know who to blame for their schools' low rankings.
They're organizing to do something about it. by Jordan Moss
Get the Lead Out 32
Nobody likes the city's current lead paint law. Three alternatives are
now being considered. by HoUy Rosenkrantz
To Survive and Flourish
Shelter Scramble
Red Hook Squabble
Heavy Traffic
Howring Pollee R.I.P.?
by Lucy Sanabria
by Greg Donaldson
2 Lettel'll 36
Directory 37,38
5 loh Ads 38,39
Shelter Scramble
Permanent housing numbers slide
Sometimes the numbers just
don't add up.
An analysis of city government
planning documents shows a
steep reduction in the quantity of
affordable, permanent apart-
ments available to homeless
families. One reason is a dramatic
decline in the number of land-
lords taking part in the Emergency
Assistance Rehousing Program
(EARP), which offers one-time
bonuses and market-rate rents to
apartment owners who rent to
families housed in the shelter
As of September 30, there were
5,761 families-about 17,500 men,
women and children-living in the
family shelter system. Since early
August, hundreds of families
have spent their nights sleeping
in a Bronx welfare office because
there are far fewer shelter rooms
available than families seeking to
enter the system.
Governmentofficials have also
made significant cutbacks in the
number of city-owned apart-
ments in tax-foreclosed in rem
buildings and public housing
available to shelter families. An
internal document from the
Department of Housing Preser-
vation and Development (HPD)
obtained by City Limits allocates
only 1,756 in rem apartments for
homeless families in the current
fiscal year. According to the
ElMrglRcy .. liItMce RIII'.lill Progra.:
marginally" due to
the pace of rehab-
ilitation and privati-
Number of apartments
offered by private landlords zation.
"Every number
is changing every
month:' Spiller adds.
"The fact is there is
no dramatic change
in terms of HPD's
homeless produc-
tion. "
July/August 92 July/August 93 July/August 94
Advocates are not
convinced. "The city
seems more inter-
ested in selling off
HPD housing than in
Source: NYC Department of Homeless Services
document, the number will drop
to 1,027 two years from now.
HPD First Deputy Com-
missioner William Spiller says the
document, dated May 5, 1994, is
outdated and that numbers in the
agency's plan for providi ng per-
manent apartments to homeless
familiesareinfactchanging "only
abating homeless-
ness," charges
Steven Banks of Legal Aid' s
Homeless Family Rights Project,
whose class action lawsuit charg-
ing officials with failing to pro-
vide adequate shelter to families
has already led to extensive con-
temptfindings. "The resultis more
and more families in the welfare
hotels." Andrew White
In a cost-saving measure last
summer, the city cut the landlord
bonuses from $2,300 per home-
less person to $1,000, with a new
cap of $5,000 per family. Land-
lords rushed to meet the July 1
deadline, and immediately after-
wards the number of new apart-
ments placed in the program
slipped to about half what it was
at the same time last year, ac-
cording to internal documents
from the Department of Home-
less Services (see chart).
Red Hook Squabble
center and a health clinic, both of
which would be open for use by
the community, says Food First
Executive Director Paul Galvan.
Aspokesperson forthe depart-
ment, Sam Szurek, denies that
the program is hobbled by the
decrease, however. "There is no
problem here. We are not trying
to hide anything," he says, add-
ing that the agency is renting
about 60 EARP apartments to
homelessfamilieseachweek. "It's
going very smoothly." He points
out that since August, the num-
ber of landlords participating has
increased a bit.
Managers of the filled-to-
capacity homeless shelters tell a
different story. During the last
year, shelter providers have come
to depend increasingly on the
EARP program as the single most
important resource for permanent
apartments. Bill Groth of the
American Red Cross, which
operates three shelters and helps
residents find permanent
housing, reports that seven out of
every 10 homeless families in his
agency's shelters have been
moving into EARP apartments.
"But there are new guidelines
and fewer landlords in EARP, and
we are finding that families are
staying longer in the shelters" as
a result.
It appears that all systems
are go for a controversial Red
Hook development that would
provide housing for both se-
nior citizens and AIDS-affected
families. Both the state and the
Red Hook Houses tenant asso-
ciations, representing 10,000
residents of public housing,
support the project and are
ready to move forward.
Yet the Red Hook Civic As-
sociation, a tight group of long-
time residents, still vows to fight
the project-even if it means tak-
ing all of the project's supporters
to court.
A nonprofit organization, Food
First, plans to renovate P.S. 30, a
long-abandoned school building
at 165 Conover Street. Thirty-six
apartments will be built: sixteen
reserved for families with at least
one HIV-positive member and the
rest for low income seniors. The
proposal also includes a day care
Galvan says he has done his
best to work with the neighbor-
hood. The plan, a result of two
years of negotiation with the Red
Hook Tenant's Association, has
changed considerably since its
inception, he adds.
"The TenantAssociation ... has
been willing to listen to our
proposals when no one else
would, H says Galvan. "We haven't
had that much contact with the
~ Civic Association. I haven't found
~ these individuals very willing to
~ negotiate. H
Under Food First's original
plan, the entire building would
have been used for HIV families.
However, The tenant association
suggested the mixed-use arrange-
ment, arguing that it would pro-
vide much-needed senior citizen
housing. The negotiations also
led to opening upthe medical and
day-care facilities for public use,
and created a provision giving
Red Hook residents priority in both
housing and jobs.
"Atfirst, there was little under-
standing about who Food First
was and why [it chose) Red Hook, H
says Beatrice Byrd, president of
Heavy Traffic
Outraged at the prospect of H a
ten-year traffic jam,H western
Brooklyn residents and busi-
nesses have urged the federal
government to shorten the
planned renovation of the
Gowanus Expressway-and the
state Department of Transpor-
tation (DOT) is
showing signs of
The express-
way is a decrepit
four -mile stretch of
elevated highway running from
the Belt Parkway junction at 65th
Street in Bay Ridge to the Brook-
lyn-BatteryTunnel. The DOT plans
to begin work on it in 1997. They
anticipate the job will cost $600
million and take nine and a half
years, with at least one side of the
highway closed mostofthattime.
With more than 40,000 cars
the Red Hook West Tenant
Association. - But as we learned
more about it, we sort ofturned
a corner and realized how it
could help Red Hook.
But from Red Hook's Civic
Association come allegations
of misrepresentation and
deceitfulness, and a concen-
trated effort to stop what co-
chair John McGettrick de-
scribes as -a project driven
primarily by grabbing as much
taxpayers money as possible."
The Civic Association
questions the background and
experience of Food First, and
how a dilapidated building that
sat empty for more than ten
years could claim a million dol-
lar price tag-two-thirds ofthat
cost being footed by the state.
While the Civic Association
is not opposed to senior hous-
ing in the school, it maintains
that the HIV families would be
better served in scatter-site
housing sprinkled through the
entire Red Hook neighborhood.
McGettrick adds that his
group will fight the project.
"They just assumed that they
could shove this into Red Hook
and get away with it. They can't
and they won't," McGettrick
says. KIIIt GottKkp
and trucks-a quarter of the
175,OOOvehicles that use the high-
way daily-expected to detour
onto local streets such as Third
and Fourth avenues, area
residents predict disaster. Oppo-
nents estimate itwill cost western
Brooklyn $215 million a year in
lost business, accidents, and
In September,
opponents of the
plan met with Fed-
eral Highway
Administration head
Rodney Slater, urging him to get
the state to finish the renovation
in three years. HWe feel he lis-
tened, H said Ben Meskin, chair of
the Gowanus Expressway Com-
munity Coalition. The two-year-
old group, which includes 19com-
mu nity organizations throughout
western Brooklyn, has led the ef-
fort to control or halt the con-
struction project. More recently,
some of the borough's business
leaders have joined the coalition.
Residents are urging the Fed-
The support commItIae for a group of 50 latina home care attendants picketed
the Institute for Home Care Senic:es In Washinatan Heiahb last month. The
attendants are protesting the firing of 10 ~ who spoke out aplnst
slashing of wort! schedules and unfair wort! ruJes. The picket was orpnlzed by
the LatIno WorilerI' Center.
eral Highway Administration to
order a broad impact study that
would compare the costs and
benefits ofthe state's proposal to
alternatives. The coalition wants
the FHA to consider replacing the
expressway with a ground-level
boulevard and light rail system,
says John Kaehny, executive
director of Tranportation Alter-
natives. Such a design, he
explains, would promote the
revitalization of the neigh-
borhoods of far west Brooklyn,
orphaned when the expressway
was built. HThat's really the idea
here, to reunite neighborhoods, H
Kaehny says. Steven WIshnie
Housing Police R.I.P.?
NYPD officers will be far more
reckless and disrespectful than
the housing police. HWe want
more housing police, but that
doesn't mean we want NYPD of-
ficers," says Barbara Barber,chair
of the committee of northern
Manhattan' S tenant presidents.
New York's public housing
residents say a few hoursofNYPD
police sensitivity training cannot
replace the long relationshipthey
have built with the city' s
housing police force.
is all they're going to
get if Mayor Rudolph
Giuliani moves forward
with announced plans
to merge the housing,
transit and citywide
police forces. They're
worried about the repercussions
of losing officers who understand
the problems and needs of public
housing tenants.
H[Sensitivity training) won't
have an effect," says Sandy
Campbell of the Edgemere
Houses tenant association in
Rockaway. "It's bull. The NYPD
doesn't have sensitivity or people
Giuliani's plan to consolidate
the city's three departments was
supposed to begin with the elimi -
nation of the housing police in
October, butthe merger has been
put on hold after State Supreme
Court Justice Carol Arber ruled
the mayor must first win approval
from the city and state
The housing force
of 2,400 police officers
provides security for
some 560,000 resi-
dents, according to
New York City Hous-
ing Authority (NYCHA)
spokesperson Allen
Monczyk. The merger will give
residents access to a force more
than 10 times that size. HWe need
more police and we do not have
the funds," he argues. Some ten-
ants buy Monczyk's arguments.
The president of Harlem's
Audubon Houses' tenant associa-
tion, Katie Rolle, doesn't care what
kind of police work her develop-
ment. HNine out of 10 housing
police do not serve us at all, " she
says. "It could be worse, it could
be better. "
Still, some tenants fear that
Barber adds that she has
started a petition drive to halt the
merger, and threatens a rent strike
if plans go forward.
Tenant leaders point out that
the move could siphon police from
the developments. They say Hous-
ing and Urban Development
(HUD) funds, earmarked exclu-
sivelyforthe housing police, could
be lost in NYPD's coffers. Under
the merger, NYPDwili apply those
funds-approximately $67 mil -
lion-to its larger budget .
"[Giuliani) has found a way to
save money," chides Campbell.
'finally, residents say their
voice will be squelched when the
city combines the departments'
three civilian complaint review
boards. NYCHA officials counter
that the new review board will
have members from public hous-
ing. Mark Cohen
Time Will Tell
By Seema Nayyar
CATCH is struggling to rebuild homes the private sector left behind-
and to craft a citywide infrastructure for community and tenant ownership.
here's a metamorphosis going
on at 201 West 144th Street in
Harlem. Screaming power drills
and the thunder of hammering
drowns out the boom boxes blaring on
the street below. Workmen are dump-
ing old tile and ripping out frayed wiring
as they prepare to outfit this five-story
apartment building with new kitchens,
bathrooms and freshly plastered walls.
The facelift was a long time coming.
Residents, some of whom thought they
would outlive the building, are watch-
ing their homes come back to life after
decades of neglect. After years of taking
their woes to Housing Court, the tenants
on 144th Street have found someone
who will listen to them:
Community Assisted Ten-
ant Controlled Housing
(CATCH), a coalition of
nonprofit housing groups
with a new idea to save
some of the city's most vul-
nerable housing stock.
the screening of tenants. But instead of
managing one building, the board over-
sees a group of them. The reasoning: a
co-op structure that manages multi-
family tenements is less likely to fail
than a single co-op trying to survive on
its own, according to Kenneth Wray of
the United Housing Foundation and a
member of the CATCH coalition. "The
idea here is for people to control their
own housing," he says.
Rising Foreclosure Rates
It has proven to be a complicated and
frustrating enterprise at times, particu-
larly in buildings awaiting the approval
of financing from banks and govern-
With this birthright, CATCH has
reaped the benefits of the coalition's
wide range of talent. The Long Island
City-based Community Environmental
Center, for example, provides construc-
tion management and weatherization.
The Parodneck Foundation offers bridge
loans, an important source of interim
financing that pays for insurance, hot
water and, occasionally, staff salaries.
Community Footprints, anew nonprofit
in Harlem, serves as building manager
until tenants can select their own staff.
And UHAB trains residents to make
these decisions, offering courses on basic
management skills like tenant screen-
ing and annual budgeting.
The building on West
144th Street is CATCH's
first success story. Two
years ago, residents voted
to try CATCH's tenant-
managed housing approach
instead of seeking a new
owner or trying to estab-
lish a limited equity co-op.
Organizers were able to
convince Chemical Bank to
donate the building in re-
turn for paying off the liens
against it. The deal closed
last March and renovation
began the following month.
CATCH is the latest at-
tempt by community ac-
tivists to tackle the short-
age of quality low income
housing in New York City.
The brainchild of a dozen
nonprofit groups-includ-
ing Neighborhood Housing
Services, the Urban Home-
steading Assistance Board
(UHAB), the Association
for Neighborhood and
Housing Development and
the Parodneck Founda-
tion-CA TCH aspires to
Barbara Chernesky's
two-bedroom apartment
was one of the first to be
repaired. For six weeks she
and her husband lived
without a toilet or running
Tenanb at 201 west 144th Sb'eet once tfIouIht...., -.Id outlive their buiIdInc,
but not Iny more. Tenants like Gloria Mackey, Ibcwe, Ire pleased to finIIIy line
control 0ftI' building management.
water. She showered next
door and cooked off a hot plate while
workers gutted her kitchen and bath-
room, replacing everything from the cup-
boards to the bathtub. ''I'll be happy
when everybody'S home is finished like
this one," she says.
rescue and spruce up buildings aban-
doned by their landlords before the prop-
erties end up in city ownership. "The
idea is to 'catch' buildings before they
go into steep decline," says Greg Cohen,
the group's interim executive director.
How? By buying up clusters of apart-
ment buildings from the banks that hold
them in foreclosure, renovating them,
organizing residents, and then training
them to manage the project through a
Mutual Housing Association (MHA).
The MHA-which eventually offers
an ownership option to tenants-func-
tions like a low income co-op. An elected
board sets policy, oversees the collec-
tion of rent, the payment of bills, and
mentagencies. Some of the buildings in
the program have seen delays stretch
out for nearly a year.
But the program's creators-many of
the city's most experienced affordable
housing activists-say they are not about
to give up on the project. The idea for
CATCH was born four years ago at a
brainstorming session among two dozen
advocates and nonprofit development
professionals worried about rising fore-
closure rates and the consequences of
unchecked speculation. They agreed
that the best solution was to save or-
phaned buildings before the city itself
was forced to adopt and care for them in
its infamously inadequate way.
Building Trust
This school teacher has taken the
role of unofficial tenant leader since
CATCH entered the picture. In July,
Chernesky helped choose a manage-
ment company to maintain her building
and the two others that will make up
Harlem's MHA cluster. Unfortunately,
a complete MHA board doesn't exist
yet. CATCH is still organizing at the
other two buildings, and persuading
tenants battered by years of broken prom-
ises and neglect that they should be-
lieve in a new owner can be a delicate
and slow process. "People's expecta-
tions are that you're lying to them,"
Cohen says. "A lot ofit centers on build-
ing trust over time."
But taking too much time can be a
problem as well. At CATCH's other site
in Washington Heights, delays in
funding are dampening residents'
spirits. Tenants at Broadway Terrace,
where CATCH hopes to complete its
Washington Heights MHA, are losing
hope that the banks will come through
with funding to refurbish their apart-
ments. Gathered at their usual meeting
spot, a terrace overlooking Broadway
and 192nd Street, tenant board mem-
bers Sergio Cruz, David Thorpe and
Jeanette Morais report that a loan for
$1.5 million to refurbish the buildings
has been delayed for the second time
since March.
"We're frustrated," Cruz says. "We're
$80,000 in arrears. Half the building
isn't paying rent. Everything needs to be
replaced. I don't think this building is
going to stand another year."
Adds Thorpe, "A lot of tenants are
skeptical, and we're facing winter in a
perilous position. Without money we
can't do anything." Since tenants won't
pay rent until they see some improve-
ments, the bank delays have effectively
halted all attempts at improving the
building'S condition, Thorpe says.
"We're in a holding position until this
place is renovated."
CATCH members say their projects
face two additional hurdles. First, taking
charge of an occupied building requires
time-consuming negotiations. Second,
the city doesn't give CATCH projects
the same loan priority as other kinds of
low income housing development. "It's
a policy of neglect on the part of the
city," charges Jonathan Springer,
housing coordinator for Northern
Manhattan Improvement Corp., which
initially connected the Washington
Heights tenants with CATCH. "If this
were a private landlord, [the city 1 would
be much quicker at processing the loan,"
he says. Officials at the city's Depart-
ment of Housing Preservation and
Development (HPD), however, take is-
sue with that characterization. "There's
no lack of will on HPD's part," says
spokesperson Mara Neville, noting that
they've closed on two buildings already
and hope to close on two more by the
end of the year.
Others say CATCH's relative youth
in the city's housing scene may be its
biggest obstacle because it still lacks a
track record with New York's big lend-
ing institutions. "It's not that they don't
support CATCH," says one housing
organizer, "They're just not doing
anything to help."
Cobbling Together
Credit is a big issue, CATCH board
members say. New plumbing, wiring
and heating systems cost a minimum of
$30,000 to $34,000 per unit, and that's
just the beginning of renovation costs.
Typically, CATCH finds its financ-
ing by cobbling together funding from
several sources. For example, money
for CATCH's Harlem MHA came from
federal HOME coffers supplemented by
HPD and private bank funds. At 201
West 144 Street, CATCH needed a $1
million loan. Sixty percent came from
the HOME program, HPD kicked in 15
percent and the remaining 25 percent
came through a low-interest Chemical
Bank loan.
However, the amount of HOME
money made available depends on the
number of low income people in the
building who are eligible for assistance.
At the second Harlem MHA building at
216 West 116 Street, HOME paid for
only half of the $1.03 million loan; HPD
and Chemical provided the rest. Today,
CATCH's Harlem MHA development is
moving along at a promising clip. Two
of the three buildings have secured
loans and are under renovation.
Residents in the Washington Heights
MHA are not as lucky. They have an
elected board but, so far, no loans. Lead-
ers worry that they'll have to push their
promises to start renovation back to
December or even into the new year.
Umbrella Organization
Despite the delays, CATCH is moving
forward with plans to overhaul another
set of apartments in Brooklyn. It has
bought one 16-unit building and is now
looking to form a board and secure
rehabilitation financing. As in CATCH's
other projects, the goal is to buy more
buildings nearby and create an MHA.
CATCH's ultimate goal is to set up
independent Mutual Housing Associa-
tions all over the city. Working with
their MHA boards, tenants would
control their buildings just like co-op
owners control their own apartments.
CATCH would serve as the umbrella
organization, providing technical
services and leadership when needed.
"Residents involved in these properties
tend to be involved with the neighbor-
hood," UHAB's Andrew Reicher says.
"That's one of the benefits that make
this worthwhile."
CATCH's organizers acknowledge
that tenants in many buildings on the
verge of abandonment may be less than
eager to take on the responsibilities of
ownership. "Not every building will fit
into this," concedes Rick Cherry of the
Community Environmental Center. "But
enough will."
Four years after that first meeting,
CATCH organizers hope that their vi-
sion for tenant-run building clusters is
finally building enough momentum to
stay up and running. "The test is when
we start bringing in other buildings,"
Cohen says. But for now, CATCH has
real proof that this idea can work: the
sounds of construction at 201 West 144th
Street. 0
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Queens Logic
A coalition of medical professionals, labor leaders and health
advocates rally against hospital privatization.
few thousand health care job
. Health and Hospitals Corpo-
ration deficit there, and pretty
soon public hospitals-accountable to
the community and open to all-are a
thing of the past. At least that appears to
be the picture the Giuliani administra-
tion is painting. And that may be bad
news for the quarter of a million people
who were admitted to one of the city's
11 public hospitals last year, not to
mention the 30,000 babies born at HHC
facilities and the more than 1 million
New Yorkers treated in its emergency
rooms annually.
A formidable community force has
mobilized in southeast Queens to
"intercept" the privatization juggernaut
now aimed at converting Queens
Hospital Center (QHC) and three other
municipal hospitals into private
institutions. Such an act, they say, will
threaten the already insufficient health
care available to poor New Yorkers and
it must be stopped.
The Campaign to Save Our Public
Hospitals, Queens Coalition, is a broad-
based collective of community groups
ranging from the Queens Gray Panthers
to the Queens College Student Associa-
tion, and includes doctors, nurses, labor
leaders, clergy and thousands of health
care workers and activists. Taking the
lead on public education for the cam-
paign is the Committee of Interns and
Residents (CIR), a union of physicians
and dentists who work in public and
private hospitals. Founded over 35 years
ago, CIR represents about 6,000 mem-
bers in four states and the District of
Columbia and is the largest union of
salaried doctors in the country.
On the Sidewalk
CIR is responsible for the television
and subway ad campaign that features
two doctors standing over a bed-ridden
patient. Nothing unusual there, except
that the scene is taking place on a city
sidewalk, not in a hospital. The ad copy
reads, "We Can't Let This Be the Future
of Health Care in New York." The group
also sponsors an anti-privatization
hotline and has collected signed state-
ments from thousands of New Yorkers,
including city, state and national law-
makers, pledging their support for public
hospitals. Last month, CIR and other
campaign members sponsored lunch-
time rallies at QHC and at Manhattan's
Metropolitan Hospital. Each attracted
upwards of 1,000 protesters.
"One of the most important benefits
public health care gives the city is care
to those who can't afford it. That's part
of their mission," says John Ronches,
CIR executive director.
Mayor Giuliani has argued that
privatization will save taxpayers money
and result in a more efficient health care
system, and he made this a central issue
of his election
campaign. While he ini-
tially favored turning the management
of public hospitals over to private insti-
tutions, more recently he has indicated
that he may opt for selling the hospitals,
lock, stock and barrel; Coney Island and
Queens Hospital Centers are believed to
be on the short list of those under con-
Ronches counters that only about 1
percent of HHC's budget is currently
supported by the city. And, adds Lani
Sanjek of the Commission on the
Public's Health System, Giuliani's
concern about city health care expenses
is based on a "myth." Sanjek points out
that HHC gives the city $800 million
worth of mandated services, including
care for all police and firefighters, for
By Christopher Zurawsky
which the city pays only $300 million.
What will happen to those millions
under a privatized system?
"Privatization will make worse one
of the most unconscionable abuses of
the relationship between the public and
private sector, which is the continuing
handing over of public dollars to pri-
vate interests with little or no account-
ability," Sanjek asserts.
More at Stake
Of course, there is more at stake here
than money. As James Butler, president
of AFSCME Local 420, a campaign
participant, reminded HHC's board of
directors at its September meeting:
"You're playing Russian Roulette with
poor people. This is not the Parks
Department or the Sanitation Depart-
ment. We take care of human beings."
Queens Hospital Center is a prime
example of the pivotal role municipal
hospitals play in caring for the city's
sick and poor. According to data
prepared by the Health Systems Agency
of New York City, 20 percent of]amaica,
Queens, residents who were admitted
to a hospital in 1991 were admitted to
QHC, more than any other facility in the
borough. Admissions for psychiatric
care and substance abuse topped 40
percent. At the same time, Jamaica was
the only Queens neighborhood with an
infant mortality rate twice that of the
citywide average, the only one with a
measles incidence rate 50 percent or
higher than the average, and one of only
three borough locales where AIDS/HIV
hospital admissions were 25 percent or
more above the city norm. Finally, more
than 20 percent of Jamaica's residents
are eligible for Medicaid benefits.
"Those who speak of health care
often speak in terms of economics, in
terms of how much money can be
saved," the Reverend George West of
Ebenezer Baptist Church told a Queens
Coalition meeting. "Very rarely do you
hear talk of how many lives could be
lost as a result of people being denied
basic health care. It is not simply an
economic issue, but a moral issue." 0
Christopher Zurawsky is a Manhattan-
based freelancer specializing in medical
Harnessing the
Money Machine
Public housing tenants are finally getting a shot at
millions of dollars in contracts and jobs.
heir landlord spends $1.6 bil-
lion a year, but the tenants of
New York City public housing
haven't seen very many of those
greenbacks coming their way.
Sure, they occasionally seethe
managers and the custodians, the
rent collectors and police. But
when it comes to doing major
repair work or construction, or
even basic upkeep-replacing
doors, plastering walls orremod-
eling kitchens-the workers and
their bosses are rarely residents
of public housing.
Some savvy tenants have long
wondered why all that cash
hasn't been used to help public
housing residents. Thousands of
low income families, they've
reasoned, could make their way
off welfare or up and out of the
ranks of the working poor if the
city only contracted with busi-
nesses that hire locally or with
companies owned and operated
by tenants themselves.
tenants for their maintenance and
rehabilitation work-is fairly straight-
forward. But the second part of the plan
is more enterprising: help low income
By Fara Warner
this is no simple affirmative action
program. "It offers a level field where
tenants can bid competitively on the
open market," she explains-a market
for public contracts that is very
large and has very explicit tar-
gets for tenant employment.
"This is not a handout. This is
Just Another Scam?
Martin Brown, a tenant in
LaGuardia Houses on Man-
hattan's Lower East Side, was
skeptical the first time he saw a
posterfor the entrepreneur train-
ing program, which the Housing
Authority dubbed "Mind Your
Own Business."
"I thought, 'It's just another
little scam they are running. How
can the city do anything for any-
one?'" he recalls. But Brown
decided he didn't have much to
lose except a little of his own
time. Now, a year after going
through the program, he is one of
about 20 tenants who have
qualified for loans, started
businesses-and in a few cases,
won bids for contracts from the
Housing Authority itself. Brown
has already completed a cabi-
:I: netry job and other carpentry
: work, and for each job he has
~ employed several other public
~ housing tenants. His new com-
A few years ago, officials at
the New York City Housing Au-
thority (NYCHA) reached the
same conclusion. They began
crafting new programs devoted
to fostering tenant employment
and entrepreneurship. "We real-
ized that there were billions of
dollars in contracts done through
the authority, but hardly any ofit
went to residents," recalls Ron
Ashford, NYCHA's director of
economic development. "It made
no sense."
C.nie Blake ...... uated from the New York CIty HousIng AuIhortty'I
entrepreneurship procram two yean ago. Today, her business has
already won more thin $60,000 In city contrac:ts.
pany is called Martin Brown's
Contracting Unlimited.
Mind Your Own Business
This year momentum for change has
strenghtened, thanks to the federal
government, which provides most of
the Housing Authority's budget. The
Clinton administration recently man-
dated that housing officials nationwide
offer tenants the opportunity to win
millions of dollars' worth of jobs and
contracts that have traditionally gone to
It is no small task. The first part of
NYCHA's response to the mandate-
directing major city contractors to hire
people become their own bosses, in
charge of their own contracting
Starting new businesses is not easy
for anyone; by most estimates, at least
seven out of every 10 small businesses
fail in their first year of existence. But
the staff in charge of the entrepre-
neurship project in NYCHA's small
economic development office has little
doubt that it's worth trying. After all,
according to Deborah McKoy, the
agency's chief of economic initiatives,
includes 15 weeks of training by
the Interracial Council for Business Op-
portunity in Manhattan, and then eight
months of business mentoring if it's
needed. There's also counseling for
already-established resident-owned
businesses. So far, more than 100 tenants
have taken part.
While many of the participants are
planning to start retail or catering busi-
nesses, McKoy says the primary goal of
the project has been to help tenants
create businesses in industries where
they will be able to bid for NYCHA
contracts for construction services and
supplies. Just last month, the first group
of 27 students completed a program
specifically geared to learning the ins
and outs of city contracting. They
studied bookkeeping, bidding, sales,
hiring, insurance and other basic man-
agement topics. Most of the students in
the group are skilled craftspeople or
laborers with experience, either through
job training programs or as employees
in the construction trades.
Finding potential students hasn't
been a problem. Participation has been
limited only by the program's capacity-
one class at a time, three classes per
year, says Ashford. During the spring
his office circulated flyers at five housing
developments where major construc-
tion projects were scheduled to begin
soon. There is now a waiting list of
hundreds of interested tenants. The next
round of classes begins in January
The entrepreneurship program is
funded by the federal Department of
Housing and Urban Development
(HUD), with $1 million for training and
technical assistance over three years. In
addition, HUD recently funded a
$500,000 revolving loan program called
Lending Initiative For Tenants, or UFT.
The loan fund, managed by the Com-
munity Capital Bank in Brooklyn, offers
low interest loans to tenant-owned
businesses. Entrepreneurs can borrow
up to $20,000 from UFT, thereby
establishing a credit history that will
make it possible for them to borrow
from other banks in the future. "We
want to make sure this program links to
the mainstream business world," McKoy
Brown, who learned his trade from
his father and by working for contrac-
tors from New York to Florida, plans to
make the most of the loan process. He's
gone through three loans already. "I
plan to use up all the $20,000," he says.
"Then I can show a bank that I could use
up that money and pay it back." To date,
more than $60,000 has been offered for
23 loans, and $15,000 has been repaid.
Residents also pay a nominal fee for
extra seminars such as workshops on
corporate and income taxes.
Vast Spending Power
The entrepreneurship program is
only one part of the effort to redirect the
vast spending power of public housing.
Under the authority's plan, hundreds of
new jobs for tenants will come from
greatly-strengthened hiring guidelines
for large contractors with multimillion-
dollar Housing Authority construction
and rehabilitation contracts. Starting this
year, at least one-fifth of their new hires
must live in the housing projects and
one-fourth of their subcontractors-
including plumbers, electricians,
carpenters and demolition crews-must
be either resident-owned businesses or
minority and women-owned compa-
nies, according to Lynn Leopold, chief
of the agency's equal opportunity de-
The need for jobs in public housing is
no secret. As the city's economy
stumbled in the late 1980s, the number
of working tenants plummeted: in 1988,
48 percent of all NYCHA apartments
had at least one employed tenant; cur-
rently, that number is
down to 31 percent.
New York public hous-
ing is a city unto itself,
with more than 179,000
apartments and an es-
timated 560,000 res i-
dents-roughly the size
of Boston. Ninety-one
percent are African
American, Latino or
Asian; more than one-
thjrd are single parent
In 1968, Congress
included a clause in the
Housing and Urban De-
velopment Act requir-
ing housing authorities
to give preference in
hiring and contracting to low income
people, or at least to businesses that
employ a high percentage of low in-
come people. Until this year, those rules
have been substantially ignored. But
under the leadership of Secretary Henry
Cisneros, HUD has rewritten the regula-
tions to close loopholes that had al-
lowed public housing authorities to hire
mostly large, predominantly white-
owned and staffed contracting com-
panies to do work in low income com-
munities of color.
As a result, NYCHA now has a specific
mandate to direct $40 million in spend-
ing to contractors who hire a significant
number of tenants or other low income
New Yorkers, as well as to tenant-owned
businesses. Within three years, more
than $100 million in federal funding for
modernization contracts and operating
expenses will be applied to the program.
Nationally, housing authorities have
lined up in opposition to many aspects
of the new regulations. Their trade
association, the National Association of
Housing and Redevelopment Officials,
argues that the rules pose an unreason-
able administrative burden, and is asking
that the plan be cut back to an experi-
mental pilot program.
But New York officials strongly
disagree. Ashford says this is a once-in-
a-lifetime chance to change the direc-
tion of Housing Authority contracting.
Others in the authority bureaucracy are
just as adamant. "Administratively it
will be very difficult, but that's no reason
not to do it," says Leopold.
New Day
Carrie Blake may be the closest thing
to a poster child that entrepreneurial
training has ever had. A resident of
Ingersoll Houses in Fort Greene, Brook-
lyn, Blake graduated
from the first class of
Mind Your Own Busi-
ness in 1992. She had
previous construction
experience and had run
a mail order company
and a paper route out
of her home, but she
was unemployed when
she started the classes
and had been on and
off public assistance for
years. But today, she
owns her own com-
pany, New Day Con-
struction, providing
jobs to as many as 10
fellow tenants at a time
on a freelance basis.
"I'm not big enough right now to hire
people full-time," she explains.
That may soon change. Blake recently
won her largest contract yet, a $55,000
job doing plastering and other repair
work in housing projects citywide. She
is also planning to seek subcontracting
work from some of the major contrac-
tors running public housing modern-
ization jobs. If she can raise $150,000 to
invest up front, she may be eligible to
win a contract to seal and clean
ramshackle abandoned buildings owned
by the city's Department of Housing
Preservation and Development.
She's also an old-timer at the loan
process, having received her third loan
from LIFT. "When I heard of the pro-
gram, my main concern was how much
I could learn about borrowing power,"
she says. "It takes money to make any
business work." She used her first two
loans to buy materials and supplies and
to cover other up-front costs; the third
was simply put in the bank to show
assets on a contract application.
In five years, she hopes to bid on
larger private sector projects in the city,
subcontracting on office or hotel
construction work, for example. In the
meantime, however, she has to get her
business bonded-a lengthy, compli-
cated process in which a surety com-
pany guarantees a contractor's ability to
complete a job. It's a difficult but neces-
sary hurdle for most small contracting
companies; without a bond, they can't
get hired for big jobs.
Tough Work
Critics of entrepreneurial training say
the concept of helping low income
people start their own businesses is
problematic. Although such programs
have become increasingly popular in
recent years, their success rates are, for
the most part, exceedingly low. Starting
a business is no easy feat.
"If anybody else told you they were
coming up with a strategy that would
fail seven out of 10 times, you would say
it's a waste of taxpayers' money," says
Errol Louis, director of the Central Brook-
1yn Federal Credit Union in Brooklyn.
"Individual success stories are compel-
ling," he adds. "But the overall policy is
troubling, to say the least."
Many of the professionals who run
the two dozen or so entrepreneurial
training programs in New York City are
the first to admit how difficult it is,
particularly when the
participants are very
poor or on public assis-
tance. Low income
people often don't have
the resources necessary
to gain the minimum
level of stability that
starting a new business
demands-from day
care and health care to
family counseling and
legal advocacy. "There
are tremendous prob-
lems and issues and
setbacks that the rest of
the population doesn't
have to deal with," says Sherry Roberts,
who runs a federally-funded entre-
preneurial training program at the Local
Development Corporation of East New
But for many of her students, Roberts
has found ways to deal with such prob-
lems. Of the 68 men and women-all on
public assistance-who have gone
through her program in two years, about
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15 have completed business plans. Oth-
ers have started cottage businesses un-
officially (which raises potential prob-
lems with the welfare
bureaucracy), and
though most of them
are not making a living
at it, they are learning
something about self-
sufficiency, Roberts
"If I were not in the
middle ofit and looked
at the dollar cost per
student, I wduld say
no, this is not the way
to go" for economic de-
velopment, she says.
"But I look at the
people we've touched,
the people whose lives we have changed
and I would say yes, it really is worth
it.. .. For many people, this program gives
them the tools to support themselves."
Dream Becomes Reality
Roberts is a little envious of the
Housing Authority's program because
it has one huge advantage over the others:
the potential market for the new busi-
nesses-public contracts-is very large
and nearly guaranteed. "As a low income
person what you have may be a dream,
but you can't see it becoming reality,"
she says. "If you know that you can go
through your training and end up with
a contract, then it is real."
The program also brings long-term
benefits for public housing. "If you don't
have working families, you don't have
the role models you need," says McKoy.
"You will improve the quality of life in
public housing if you can help people
value their work, value their lives and
value their communities."
Although it's still a small effort,
McKoy points out that numbers can be
deceptive. "Last Saturday, 27 men and
women graduated from our latest class.
If we get 15 out of that class who can go
out and start companies, that's great.
If they each hire two or three people,
that's 60 jobs." And that's just the begin-
ning. D
Fara Warner is a Manhattan-based
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Taking Back the Classroom
By Jordan Moss
South Bronx parents have begun a movement to drive corruption
and administrative intransigence out of the schools.
arolyn Pelzer was worried
about her son Demetrius. He
was not progressing in his fifth
grade special education classes
at I.S. 52 in the Hunts Point section of
the South Bronx. Yet no matter how
hard she tried to get someone on the
school staff to investigate Demetrius'
situation, Pelzer got nowhere. "He was
just stuck and no one seemed to
be doing anything about it, "
she recalls.
She didn't give up, however.
With the help of an organization
dedicated to mobilizing parents
in the struggle to reform the
public schools, Pelzer joined a
community movement to fight
corruption and overcome stasis
in the often-unaccountable
education bureaucracy.
Unlike teachers and admin-
istrators, who have powerful
unions to protect their inter-
ests, most parents have only
quasi-official, school-spon-
sored parents' associations to
turn to. In New York City, these
organizations operate under
bylaws dictated by the Board of
Education and often take their
marching orders from the prin-
cipals and district offices of the
school bureaucracy. Critics say
it's a formula designed to
maintain the privilege of
entrenched school officials-
and, all too often, to stymie the
efforts of parents who take an
active role in the education of
their children.
services, has launched a massive cam-
paign against school board corruption
(see sidebar, p. 15).
It's been 25 years since the parent
protests and teachers' strike of 1968 led
to a school decentralization law bitterly
criticized even then as politically rigged
by advocates of community control.
Today, the tireless work of Edward
budgets prevent teachers from making
simple requisitions for construction
paper, crayons or text books.
Instead of promoting parental con-
trol, critics charge, the decentralization
law resulted in an overlapping web of
power centers, no accountability and
unlimited opportunities for unscrupu-
lous administrators to exploit the
system. But helping parents
understand the consequences
of this is no easy task.
Mothers on the Move grew
out of classes offered by Bronx
Educational Services (BES), an
organization that offers literacy
and English-as-a-Second-
Language programs to adults.
Using methods based upon the
work of Paulo Freire to link
literacy and empowerment, the
program' s classroom work
focuses on issues of personal
interest to its adult students.
Often this includes public
education, because many of the
participants are products of
the Bronx school system and
have children there today. In
1991, when classes at BES began
studying statistics that ranked
Hunts Point schools at or near
the bottom in every category,
the students began to put two
and two together. They hadn't
z learned to read and write during
~ their years in the public school
~ system, and now their children
~ were doing poorly as well.
~ "It was like, 'Whoa, I can't
~ believe this is still happening, '"
Patronage Scandals
Mothen on the Move (MOMII demanded reforms at 1.5. 52 in Hunts
Point, and has begun to make progress on systemic problems in IChooII
throughout the community. MOMs member Carolyn Pelzer (shown with
I0Il EllJahl has taken a leading role.
In the South Bronx, where
numerous corruption and
patronage scandals within local
community school boards have been
exposed in recent years, a fledgling
grassroots group called Mothers on the
Move (MOMs) is teaching parents like
Carolyn Pelzer how to advocate effec-
tively for their children and take on the
difficult work of systemic change. And
South Bronx Churches, a coalition of 30
local congregations and homeowners'
associations that has developed hous-
ing and battled the city for better public
recalls former BES instructor
Barbara Gross, who is now the
cocoordinator of MOMs. Add-
ing insultto injury, when a BES
Stancik, the city school board's special
commissioner for investigation, has
revealed the depth of corruption within
the system, exposing everyone from
custodians to local Bronx school board
administrators involved in fraud, kick-
back schemes and embezzlement. In
the most recent revelations , 25 school
workers were accused of misspending
or stealing funds for school supplies-
this, from a system in which inadequate
group visited a fourth grade
classroom, they were angered to hear
the teacher warn her students to learn
from the adults' mistakes, or they would
wind up illiterate and on welfare just
like them.
Blaming the Children
"The teacher was telling the girls that
half of them were going to be on welfare,
and that they should try to marry a
lawyer or a doctor," recalls BES student
Jose Merced. "When I spoke to the class,
I told them to be a lawyer or a doctor, not
marry one."
Merced feels that the cycle of illit-
eracy in the South Bronx was being
blamed not on the system, but on the
children, who were being stigmatized
because they came from poor families.
"Some of us were able to see ourselves
in the faces of the kids. We were seeing
ourselves in that classroom. It really got
us angry," he says.
Turning outrage into activism, Gross
and her colleague Mili Bonilla worked
with the adult students to start a parents'
group that would exact accountability
from school administrators and teach-
ers. The Edna McConnell Clark Foun-
dation came through with startup money
and MOMs was born.
Bonilla, Gross and the parents of
MOMs (despite the group's name there
are fathers involved as well) began build-
ing the organization by knocking on
doors and leafleting outside school
buildings. They offered parents the
opportunity to identify and discuss
issues important to them in a support-
ive atmosphere, away from the more
traditional, Board of Education-
sponsored parent associations. Out of
these discussions came their first target:
I.S. 52 in District 8.
Unlike South Bronx school districts
Politics and Parents
Members of South Bronx Churches
(SBC) were horrified by the meaty
page-turning reports produced with
a depressing regularity by school
investigator Edward Stancik. Twenty-
five SBC member congregations are
within four South Bronx school
districts-7,8,9 & 12-where
Stancik's investigators have detailed
violations of financial disclosure re-
quirements, election fraud and the
outright purchase of principalships.
So one stunning afternoon in late
May, streams of SBC members filed
onto the gymnasium floor of St.
Margaret Mary's School on East
Tremont Avenue. In no time all 700
seats were filled and latecomers had
to line up along the walls. Children
held signs explaining the reason for
this unusual Saturday gathering: "I
Have a Right to Read" and "Please
Teach Me."
South Bronx Churches organized
the rally to kick off a massive cam-
paign and petition drive against
school corruption. The grou p believes
there is a direct connection between
corruption and schools ranking con-
sistently at the bottom ofthe heap in
every category. Stancik agrees. "You
are not getting the best educators to
lead the schools when principals are
appointed because of their political
talents," he observes.
In July, SBC took its integrity
campaign on the road. Two bus loads
of the group's members went to the
state legislature in Albany, with
25,000 petition signatures in hand,
to push for reforms including tight-
ening enforcement of financial dis-
closure requirements, restricting hiring
power to superintendents, moving
school board elections to November and
scrapping proportional representation.
Getting legislation passed may be the
easiest component of SBC's ambitious
agenda, however. In the next few
months, the group plans to organize
parents around problems at individual
schools. They recognize that even if
they are successful in their legislative
strategy, reforms are going to take time-
at least until the 1996 school board
elections-to filter down to local
There is a weak spot in the SBC
armour, however: most of the organ-
ization's leaders on the education issue,
as well as those that made the trip to
Albany, are not parents of school-aged
children in the Bronx.
"Without organizing parents, it's kind
of business as usual," says Pastor John
Heinemeier, a former SBC leader who
recently left New York for a ministry in
the Roxbury section of Boston.
"Operating in Albany, operating at City
Hall, that's what everybody expects us
to do. What would be a revolution is if
we could turn significant numbers of
parents into actors."
South Bronx Churches' initial foray
into the treacherous waters of school
reform may offer some valuable lessons.
In 1993, SBC joined with the central
Board of Education to create the South
Bronx Academy for Community Leader-
ship, one of more than 30 theme schools
that opened last fall. But when Principal
Justino Rodriguez failed to adequately
consult SBC on curriculum and other
issues, they convinced the Board of
9 and 12, where community school
board corruption and bottom-ranking
schools have been staples of the media
grist mill, District 8 has largely ducked
the tabloid radar screens. The higher
performance ratings of the largely
middle class Throgs Neck schools in the
northernmost part of the district have
historically masked what MOMs says is
a disturbing picture in Hunts Point,
where 1993 scores in reading ranked
among the city's lowest. Children are
frequently not permitted to bring text-
books home, advocates say. They also
point out the stark disparity in teachers'
qualifications between the two halves
of the district: In 1992, 39 of69 teachers
Education to fire him. Students im-
mediately walked out in support of
their popular principal, and many
parents and teachers charged SBC
with racist motives and grew hostile
toward the organization.
Critics within the group say the
situation could have been avoided if
SBC had developed a firmer base
among parents and students at the
school before things fell apart.
Heinemeier, clearly in a reflective
mood as he prepared to leave 30
years of ministry in New York City, is
frank in his assessment of the mis-
takes his organization made. He says
the group did not do the work to
build necessary relationships. "We
get disingenuous sometimes about
saying we didn't have the list of par-
ents, their addresses and phone num-
bers. It is partially true .... But we're
smart enough to know how to get that
kind of thing if we need it. We did not
pursue that energetically enough and
I would have to say that loud and
"In terms of the one-on-one visits
to literally dozens if not hundreds of
parents before that school opened,
we did not do a good job."
In SBC's future reform efforts, he
says, such relationships will be
especially important because hostile
prinCipals and parent associations
will do their best to divide and isolate
parents associated with an outside
group. SBC lead organizer Lee Stuart
agrees. Creating meaningful change
in the schools, she says, will require
parents-many of whom will be from
outside SBC's traditional church
base-to be principal players and
decision makers over the long haul.
atLS. 52, a junior highschool, were full-
time substitutes, according to a 1993
article in New York Newsday, and only
nine teachers were tenured. By com-
parison, 85 percent of the teaching staff
at the four Throgs Neck schools were
tenured and reading scores were among
the district's highest.
Long-Delayed Repairs
In January, 1992, MOMs organized a
sit-in at the district office to protest the
physical condition of LS. 52, whose
severely deteriorated 78-year-old build-
ing had broken windows stuffed with
plastic garbage bags and peeling paint
lying in large chunks on the floors. They
quickl y got the attention of Max Messer,
District 8's superintendent of almost
two decades: he and the school board
attended a speakout at which some 200
parents gathered to present their con-
cerns. As a result of the meeting, the
district began to make long-delayed
structural repairs.
Despite the cosmetic improvements
to the school, however, problems with
teaching and learning persist. Accord-
ing to MOMs organizer Helen Schaub,
many parents are afraid to send their
children there, and will do anything-
even lie about their home address-to
get their children placed elsewhere.
"Everywhere you go, people tell you
what they've done to avoid LS. 52," she
says. Many are afraid of the school's
reputation for violence; a teacher was
stabbed there last year.
So far MOMs has been most success-
ful at training and encouraging parents
to be effective advocates for their chil-
dren. The larger challenge for Mothers
on the Move is to get parents to see their
plight as part of a systemic problem.
"Because there's so much at stake for a
parent in what's going on with their
own child, it's very hard to move beyond
that," Gross says. "I mean, they have to
take care of their kids."
The group has helped parents under-
stand the bigger picture by taking them
to visit small, innovative schools such
as Central Park East in Manhattan,
which, under the guidance of its former
principal Deborah Meier, has gained
accolades from reformers nationwide.
And MOMs has been working with the
Coalition Campus Schools Project, a
three-year reform initiative to create
smaller high schools and redesign exist-
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ing ones. MOMs is helping restructure
James Monroe High School, a South
Bronx institution that of late has
graduated only 10 percent of its students.
Gross and Bonilla also spearhead the
Bronx Coalition to Reform Public Edu-
cation, an eclectic group of parents,
educators and activists that has begun
meeting regularly in MOMs' new store-
front office. The organization grew out
of widespread disgust with the findings
of Commissioner Stancik's report on
corruption in the 1993 school board
elections: every school board in the
Bronx was implicated in various degrees
of fraud, including District 8. (Bonilla,
in fact, successfully challenged the
petitions of two candidates, but they
were reinstated in a closed-door session
of the Board of Elections. The incident
is currently under review by a grand
jury.) The coalition is planning a Bronx
summit on school reform with parents
from throughout the borough.
Empowerment Training
Carolyn Pelzer's experience illus-
trates the appeal of MOMs' strain of
community activism: after being
rebuffed by school officials, she took
part in a 15-week parent empowerment
training that MOMs leaders devised.
She learned about her rights as a parent,
and about the ins and outs of the public
school system and its various power
centers. Ultimately, Pelzer managed to
get her son placed in another special
education class with a teacher more
responsive to his needs. He was recently
moved out of special education and into
a regular class.
Armed with new confidence, Pelzer
ran for president of LS. 52's parent
association, and won. Her aim? To take
on the establishment. "Most parent
associations keep all the information to
themselves and work closely with the
district office," she says. "I wanted to be
the type of P.A. president that gives
parents all the information they need in
order to make decisions and choices for
themselves." From her new perch, Pelzer
has been able to spread the word about
MOMs and encourage parents to hold
school officials accountable. But she
confides that her mission has been
diluted by the many bureaucratic
responsibilities forced upon P A leaders
by the district and the Board of Educa-
tion; she says it's just one more way
parents are hobbled by the system-and
one more target for reform. 0
Jordan Moss is editor-in-chief of the
Norwood News.
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The East New York Savings Bank
Is Now Accepting Applications
For Its Entrepreneurial Ingenuity
Grant Program
The Entrepreneurial Ingenuity Program
was established to provide
community development organizations
with a financial grant in
recognition of their entrepreneurial spirit
and creativity. The program is designed to
help support organizations which create
opportunities for economic growth
benefiting low to moderate income
We are offering grant awards of $15,000
each to three competitively selected
organizations in support of
existing or proposed community and/or
businesses. The East
New York Savings Bank will also provide
financial and managerial technical
assistance for the selected projects.
The East New York Savings Bank
preneurial Ingenuity Program is open to
tax exempt organizations
located in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens
and Nassau counties. Applicants must
have a proven track record in housing
production and/or management,
nomic development and/or commercial
revitalization or have a neighborhood
revitalization strategy which includes
community organizing and the
ment of neighborhood residents in the
administration of the organization.
Information and application materials
may be obtained from any of the East
New York Savings Bank branches or by
mail from:
Community Development Unit
350 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10022
Attention: Angela Davis or Steven Flax
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until proven
Family Court was supposed to preserve families.
Why is it treating parents like the enemy?
"The cases we get are already 90
percent won."
-Mitchell Regenbogen,
attorney for the Child
Welfare Administration
"If they've got such a good case against
me, why do they have to lie?"
-Caroline Cappas,
accused mother
ome called it a case of mistaken identity. Others
said it was perjury. But lying is exactly what the
Child Welfare Administration did last July when
the agency went to Brooklyn Family Court with a
petition to remove Caroline Cappas' day-old baby
from her custody.
The baby didn't exist. And two CWA workers, who visited
Cappas in the hospital the day before, should have known.
Cappas wasn't in labor, nor in a maternity ward. Had CWA
talked to hospital staff, they would have found out she had
been admitted for a severe case of pneumonia.
Yet the agency knew Cappas had been pregnant four
months earlier. By their watch, she should have had a child
by now. So CWA, which had already taken Cappas' five older
children and placed them in foster care, went forward with
the removal petition. For good measure, the lawyers invented
a sex and birthdate for the nonexistent child.
CWA lawyers were also seeking a warrant for Cappas'
arrest, arguing that she should be forced to come to court that
very day and testify to the whereabouts of the missing baby.
Judge Philip Segal asked ifCWA really meant to have Cappas
dragged from her hospital bed. "There is no documentation
that Ms. Cappas did not have a baby," agency attorney
Kathleen Gladden replied. "That's why we're asking for a
Cappas' lawyer told the court that his client had received
an abortion long ago, and he tried to convince the judge that
the hearing was a flagrant invasion of Cappas' privacy. But
the judge ruled she must be questioned. Spared arrest, Cappas
was ordered to appear in court a few days later. Then Segal
would seriously consider CWA's petition. "Obviously," the
judge added, "the existence of a child is necessary."
When Cappas appeared the next Tuesday, the lawyers,
still convinced a baby might be hidden somewhere, forced
Cappas to describe her abortion in excruciating detail. They
grilled her about where and when she had the procedure,
how long it took and how quickly she healed. Only when
Cappas agreed to release her gynecological records were the
attorneys satisfied. The judge adjourned the case, the lawyers
bolted, and Cappas, deflated and vaguely nauseous, headed
for the courthouse steps.
In criminal court, due process protections would not
allow a judge to proceed on attorney Gladden's convoluted
logic-we want a warrant for Ms. Cap pas because there's no
evidence that she did
not kidnap the child.
Butin Family Court, the
parent's cooperation
with CW A is a key is-
sue. As Caroline
Cappas has learned in
an ongoing battle to re-
trieve her youngest
child, a two-year-old
daughter, from foster
care, parents have few
righ ts in F amil y Court.
Once CW A has re-
moved a child, the
agency, through the
courts, wields such
power that even par-
ents with legitimate
claims for the return
of their children have
little or no recourse in
the judicial system.
"Even in get my daugh-
ter back, this has been
like torture for me,"
Cap pas sighs. "I will
never be the same again.
I'm always going to be
paranoid about these
t is well known
that CW A and the
Family Court are
responsible for pro-
tecting society's most
vulnerable citizens:
the neglected and
abused children of
men and women un-
willing or incapable
of providing the bare
minimum of support.
The agency and the
court, with all their flaws, provide a service much in demand
in a city ravaged by poverty and drugs.
But what is less well known is that the primary mission of
both institutions is to keep families together whenever
possible. And that means supporting the parents as well as
protecting their children.
CW A has the obligation to remove children from the care
of parents suspected of abusing or neglecting their children.
But someone must decide if the danger is great enough to
justify the trauma of breaking a family apart. That is the job
. of Family Court.
To this end, child
welfare proceedings
look a lot like those in
criminal court. The
parent, the child and
the state each make
their arguments. The
judge, listening to the
evidence, is supposed
to determine who is
telling the truth and
what must be done to
protect the rights of each
member of the family.
Yet, critics charge,
judges today are reluc-
tant to make these hard
decisions. Instead, they
have become arbiters for
the child welfare sys-
tem, doing their best to
oversee cases and goad
CWA workers into pro-
viding needed services
for the parent and child,
but unwilling to come
down on the parents'
side in a decision, even
when the evidence is
in their favor.
Hence, critics say,
the laudable goal of
protecting the health
and well-being of chil-
dren has all but over-
whelmed state laws
protecting the rights of
the parents. Interviews 0
with dozens of players ~
throughout the system .,:
indicate that Family gj
Court proceedings are ffi
stacked against par- in
ents at several key b
points in the process: a..
CWA workers routinely use their emergency removal
powers to take children from their parents before getting a
court order approving the action.
Parents who want to fight removal are outgunned. CWA
and the child each have institutional lawyers and support
staff. Indigent parents are almost always appointed "18b"
attorneys. These private practitioners, supported by a meager
pool of court funds allocated under article lsb of the New
York State County Law, are underpaid and lack the time and
staff needed to deal with CWA's allegations.
Even when parents are well-represented, they have
little chance of overturning adverse Family
Court rulings or, on appeal, defending those
in their favor. An ongoing New York Univer-
sity Law School study of higher court deci-
sions indicates that the state's appeals courts
almost never rule in favor of the parent.
Parents lose their court-appointed rep-
resentation after the trial is over and have no
one to turn to if they want to challenge agency
actions while their child is in foster care.
While parents are appointed new lawyers for
annual review hearings, they have little or no
hope of seeing their children returned with-
out CW A's nod.
Finally, no one-including the judges-
wants to be blamed later for putting a child
back into an abusive or neglectful home. This
position is so pervasive that Cappas' CWA
lawyers used it to brace their legal arguments
in the case. They called it "the safer course
doctrine." No such doctrine exists in legal
precedent; it would be antithetical to the due
process protections in Family Court law.
But all of these finer points just wash over
parents who stumble into Family Court, says
are then allowed a hearing, similar to an arraignment, where
a judge determines if the evidence does indeed show that the
parents pose real danger to their children. Awaiting trial,
CWA is allowed to keep a child in foster care only if the judge
finds that other reasonable alternatives, like
providing home-based counseling, will not
keep the child safe.
At trial, all sides of the case are heard.lfthe
judge decides that it is best for the child to
remain in foster care, the law requires the
court to review the status of the case at least
once a year.
As long as the parent visits the child and
actively works with CWA, the law prevents
the agency and the court from arbitrarily
terminating parental rights. But the law sets
no rules for what a parent needs to do to get a
child back. This is up to CWA and its contrac-
tors-private foster care agencies-to decide.
In theory, street-level CWA caseworkers
are the people best qualified to manage and
evaluate a family'S problems and decide if
parents are ready to have their child returned.
z But as the press has aptly chronicled, the
~ agency 'is severely understaffed, underfunded
i5 and misman;lged. Facing the enormous chal-
l lenges of the crack epidemic, which lured an
~ unprecedented number of women into drug
Betsy Alterman Kallor, assistant director of GIBB SURETIE:
use, CWA's family evaluation system has
gotten slipshod, says Beth Ornstein, a certi-
fied social worker and private training con-
sultant to CWA.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA),
a volunteer organization which each year Caroline Cappas
helps hundreds of families deal with the f
city's dense child welfare bureaucracy. was willing to ight.
Many caseworkers are ill-trained, she says.
Some fail to see important danger signs while
others are too eager to remove a child. As
important, many private foster care agencies,
which also oversee reunification programs,
don't know how to Sflt clear goals for parents
"This is a scary place to walk into," she That's been a big
says. "Very few parents walk through the
doors with counsel, and they mayor may not part of her problem.
be assigned a lawyer that day. Everybody uses
a lot of shorthand, lingo and court terms. By the end of the
day, the parents are not really quite clear what has happened.
"These are disenfranchised people who are intimidated
and fearful. They're afraid to speak out," Kallor says. "And
they need advocacy."
he state Family Court Act was not particularly sensi-
tive to the rights of parents when it was first passed in
1962. However, the law has evolved. In the last
decade, lawmakers have acknowledged the gravity of taking
a parent's child, says David Lansner, counsel for the state
Assembly's Committee on Children and Families. Today, the
act essentially offers parents due process protections analo-
gous to criminal court.
In all cases of suspected abuse or neglect, CW A is required
to get a judge's order before removing a child unless workers
genuinely believe a child is in "imminent danger." Parents
so they can do what it takes to get their child returned. "The
system often gets stuck," Ornstein says. "rCWA and the
agencies] have this vague sense that they shouldn't send a
child home, and, using this vague criteria, the judge may
continue to order extension upon extension. Unfortunately,
the child gets damaged in the process."
Sadly, she adds, Family Court frequently fails to provide
the balancing influence CWA so desperately needs. ''I'm not
always certain about how knowledgeable [the judges] are
about the rules and regulations." Perhaps, she says, "they're
just ignoring them."
he problem is not the law, but the fear, says Martin
Guggenheim, director of clinical programs at New
York University Law School and a veteran parents'
rights attorney. "It is the reality that lies on top of the process.
There's an abiding fear: 'I'm going to be held responsible for
an injury to a child, and the only way I can avoid that problem
is by not taking any chances.'"
This so-called "safer course" might be considered prudent
if the child welfare system were working well. But the reality
is, once a parent's children are placed in foster care, getting
them returned can take years.
According to March, 1994, data from the state Department
of Social Services, which tracks CWA performance, some
47,000 children are in the city's foster care system. The
majority-27,257 children-have been there for more than
three years. The annual cost to taxpayers is about $740
As unresponsive as the child welfare system seems, par-
ents have little choice but to work within it. When extending
foster care placement, courts rely on the
testimony of CW A and the evidence in its
case record. This means parents are at the
mercy of the very agency that took their
children in the first place.
"You don't win these cases by fighting
with everybody and then having a judge
agree with you," Guggenheim explains. If the
judge feels that there was reason to put the
child in foster care to begin with, he's going
to want the agency's word that the risk has
been dealt with. Generally speaking, a good
advocate must find out what CW A wants and
help the parent meet these expectations. "You
just keep on negotiating until there's no fur-
ther opposition to returning the child," he
So what happens when a mother-for
mothers are almost always the prime respon-
dents in family law cases-believes her child
was wrongfully taken and wants to go to
Family Court to demand its return?
"There is complete meltdown," says Gibb ~
Surette, an attorney with Brooklyn Legal
Services' fledgling Family Preservation Unit.
NYU's Guggenheim predicted. Nine months later-with a
preliminary Family Court ruling saying she poses no immi-
nent danger to her daughter---Cappas isn't any closer to
getting her child back.
bservers throughout Family Court agree that time is
a crucial element in child welfare proceedings.
They say a parent's best chances for a quick return
are in the first stages of litigation, when the state must
actually prove that a parent's behavior has put the child in
imminent danger.
Yet, as CW A's own lawyers admit, the task of putting on a
sharp defense overcomes all but the most
determined of parents. Mitchell Regenbogen,
a supervising attorney for the Human
Resources Administration's Office of Legal
Affairs, which represents CWA, is overseeing
the agency's case against Cappas. Though he
could not talk about Cappas' case, he was
willing to discuss how the court and CW A's
practices seem to affect the parents he's
worked with.
The Child Welfare Administration, he ex-
plains, is charged with investigating all local
reports of suspected abuse and neglect that
come into the state's hotline. In checking out
a complaint, caseworkers determine if there
is a genuine problem, and, if so, whether
there is any way to resolve it without going to
If the worker feels there isn't, CWA
routinely kicks the case into emergency status,
and the child is placed in foster care immedi-
ately. This applies to almost all court cases-
from extreme abuse to the far more common,
~ and less dangerous, charges of neglect.
One of a handful of nonprofit family law MITCHELL
attorneys in the city, Surette has been
defending Caroline Cappas since last REGENBOGEN:
Regenbogen says that workers almost never
seek a court order before removing a child
because getting an order placed on Family
Court's crowded docket can take the better
part of a day. "If a caseworker or supervisor
believes that a kid is in imminent danger, it's
not really responsible to leave the situation as
it is," he says.
February. That's when CWA workers charged
her with abuse and ordered the emergency CWA appeals Judge
removal of her fifth child and namesake, Segal's decisions all
baby Caroline.
The abuse charges stemming from bruises the time, II and we
seen on baby Caroline's face were ultimately
dropped in criminal court for lack of evi- always win."
dence. But the case has become a tinderbox
CWA's position is that this speedy re-
moval is not a problem since CW A must do a
thorough investigation before removing a
child. And parents, he adds, are guaranteed a
of litigation in Family Court. As Cappas' daughter sits in
foster care, four teams of publicly-funded lawyers and two
teams of social workers have sparred over the most basic facts
in the case. The battle has become so emotional that CW A's
lawyers and Surette are not speaking to each other; the two
sides communicate only by fax.
Despite all the heat, the outcome has been exactly what
quick post-removal hearing. But if the judge upholds the
removal at this hearing, Regenbogen says, the court process
bogs down and parents' prospects dim considerably.
"The trial gets delayed and delayed and delayed and
delayed, and now the kid has been out of the parent's care for
months," he says. "Many of [the parents] sort of give up and
become resigned."
hat disturbs many observers, however, is that
even those parents who do have the wherewithal
and tenacity to fight for the return of their children
see little success. Caroline Cappas was willing to fight. If
anything, her attorney Gibb Surette charges, that has been a
big part of her problem.
There's no denying that Cappas had a past that would open
the eyes of any CWA worker. In her 20s, Cappas had four
children who were removed from her care, one by one, on
neglect charges. Cappas let them go. Kicked out of her South
Bronx home at 14, she had been living on the streets and
struggling with crack addiction, on and off, for years.
Surette, who has seen CWA's case file on Cappas, says
none of these removals-which ended in the termination of
Cappas' parental rights-included charges of abuse. Each
stemmed from Cappas' nomadic living circumstances. All
four children have since been adopted; two of them live with
Cappas' relatives in Georgia.
When Cappas found she was pregnant with her fifth child,
she decided her life had to change. Approaching 30, she says
she decided to quit drugs and move away from her suppliers.
(In court, CWA admitted there was no indication that Cappas
was still addicted to drugs; she has been drug-free in every
test CWAhas given her since the birth of baby Caroline.) With
the help of a welfare worker and her boyfriend, she found and
furnished a two-bedroom apartment in the
the child. And Cappas' defense might have had to rest with
her suspicious bed excuse, except for one consequential
decision: early in the day, she had voluntarily taken her
daughter to Coney Island Hospital to have the bump checked
The doctor examined the baby and he saw no reason to
suspect abuse. While he did ask Cappas to speak to the
hospital's social work staff after the examination, his report
noted only "slight swelling" on baby Caroline's head, consis-
tent with a falloff a bed. Medical records show that the doctor
ordered no tests or treatment. And most importantly, after an
interview with the hospital's social worker, Cappas was
allowed to leave with her child.
Jacalyn Stern, child protection coordinator at Coney Is-
land Hospital, says that the hospital, as a mandated reporter,
would not let a mother leave with her child if abuse were
suspected. The staff would have taken photographs of the
bruises and kept the child in the hospital until CWA arrived.
If doctors suspected severe abuse, she adds, the hospital
would have taken x-rays, admitted the child, and called the
The facts are heavily disputed in this case, but one thing
is clear: the doctor's diagnosis bears little resemblance to
CWA's charges. In court documents, the caseworker testified
that Caroline "beat the child with her hand or hands or some
instrument." Witnesses claimed to have seen
Fordham section of the Bronx. Here, baby
Caroline was born, celebrated her first Christ-
mas and her first birthday.
The doctor's
a bump "half the size of an egg." However, the
doctor's report noted only "slight swelling."
More importantly, the hospital's emergency
room report concluded in medical shorthand: But Cappas says her apartment took on a
frightening feel in October 1993 after thieves
climbed the building'S fire escape, broke in
through her bedroom window and took the
family'S television set, VCR and savings. She
says she couldn't sleep knowing she and her
baby were lying in the same room that thieves
could easily traipse back through. A veteran
of the city's shelter system, Cappas knew that
bore little
"According to MD, mother's story is consis-
tent wi [patient] physical evidence such as
bump on forehead. There was no other
physical abuse evidence." It was the medical
evidence that Judge Segal noted when he
ruled in late March that CW A did not have a
strong enough case to keep baby Caroline
resemblance to
CWA's report.
reentering it would land her a preferred spot on the city's long
waiting list for low income housing. She says she took a
chance, hoping she would get a safer apartment, and soon
found herselfin Angels by the Sea, a welfare hotel in Brooklyn's
Sheepshead Bay.
t was, as it turns out, a Faustian bargain. Life in the
shelter system was a fishbowl, where she was sur-
rounded by people required to report any case of sus-
pected abuse or neglect. On the morning of February 23, the
shelter manager and the police noticed a purple bruise on
baby Caroline's head and called the abuse hotline. Cap pas
denied she had beaten her baby, but her excuse sounded too
pat. She had no crib in her room, she said. Her baby fell off the
With the reports from the police and the shelter manager,
CW A's caseworker already had enough evidence to remove
while awaiting trial.
But baby Caroline did not go home. As is its right, CWA
kept the child in foster care while it appealed Segal's deci-
sion. The agency's arguments boiled down to this: Judge
Segal was biased against CWA, and he wasn't taking the
prudent position that CWA has come to count on from the
Family Court. "The 'safer course' doctrine designed to pro-
tect the subject child has been ignored," agency attorney
Kathleen Gladden concluded.
Baby Caroline, talking and just beginning to walk when
she was removed, celebrated her second birthday in foster
care. Four months after the preliminary hearing, an appeals
court decision came down in favor of CW A.
The decision in Cappas' case is in keeping with a disturb-
ing trend in the higher courts, says NYU's Guggenheim. The
law professor has been surveying higher court decisions on
abuse and neglect cases for a study to be published next year.
Preliminary results show that the higher courts rule in favor
of the child welfare agency almost all of the time, he says.
It is no surprise, then, that CWA considers the appeals
court to be its ace in the hole. Cappas' judge is known to be
one of the more pro-parent judges in the Brooklyn court-
house, and CWA's lawyers say they can count on the higher
courts to overrule him. "We appeal Judge Segal all the time,"
says HRA's Regenbogen. "And we always
Surette is now painstakingly preparing for
trial, knowing that CWA has vowed to appeal
any ruling in favor of his client. Cappas, too,
knows what she's up against. "They figure
I'm a bad mother," she concedes. "[They
assume that] no mother should have their
kids taken away, and any mother that has had
her kids taken away is a bad mother. Forever.
It's like I had no love for them at all."
But she says HRA's Regenbogen is right
about one thing: her experience in Family
Court has been painfully frustrating. Without
the support of Surette, she says she would
have given up on getting her daughter back
long ago. "There was nothing I could have
done. Beg? Get on my knees? If! had cried my
eyes to death, they wouldn't have given her
back to me.
"If it hadn't been for Gibb, forget it, I would
have been lost."
The judge decides if the money is warranted.
Under that rule, Surette says Cap pas could have been
stranded after her first hearing. He estimates he's put more
than 500 hours into the case already. Fortunately, he adds,
Legal Services supports the kind of legwork it
takes to win.
Magill agrees that the court restrictions
don't allow for a defense with much octane.
She says she is personally committed to doing
the work in complex cases and will provide
free legal services to those clients she feels
have been wrongly accused by CWA. Still,
she cautions, she can do this only because she
has a thriving private practice and her
husband's financial support. She says other
lsb lawyers are not as well off. "They can't be
asked to do this work without being paid,"
Magill says. "This is not charity."
And there's a second big problem with lsb
representation. Parents lose their lawyers af-
ter the judge's initial trial decision and are not
reappointed counsel until the extension hear-
ing a year later. This means a mother who has
~ just lost her child to foster care must face
~ CWA alone over the course of the next 12
~ months, and possibly for years after that, as
~ she tries to convince the agency to reunite her
~ family.
er assessment may be more true than
Cappas knows. She has the services GOLDAH MAGILL:
of one of only 13 Legal Services
family law attorneys in the city. The law Government funds
says he's been trying to get the fund-
ing to set up a new nonprofit parent
advocacy group. It would be equipped with
social workers and lawyers so parents would
have a team to depend on, both inside court
and out. But so far, he says, city funders
haven't nibbled.
schools at Columbia University and NYU pay for only the
also have small parent representation clinics,
but nearly all indigent parents are repre- most perfunctory
sented by court-appointed private practitio-
ners-lsb attorneys. representation.
It is a stacked deck. Even assuming that
these private attorneys are trained and motivated-a topic of
debate in Family Court-sparse government funds can pay
for only the most perfunctory representation.
Goldah Magill, an lsb attorney who helps select and train
Brooklyn's lsb Family Court lawyers, says that parents'
attorneys do their best to help clients, but there is little
incentive to do the kind of advocacy work that is so vital in
these cases.
The lsb attorneys, who are paid only a fraction of what
they get from private clients, make the bulk of their parent
representation income from court appearances. They receive
$40 an hour for this duty, while out-of-court time-investi-
gating the case, appealing unfavorable rulings, negotiating
with CWA-is rewarded with a paltry $25 an hour stipend.
Even when they are willing to put in the time, the court limits
their budget. Any attorney seeking more than $SOO-between
20 and 30 hours of representation per client-must write a
detailed memorandum justifying the expense, Magill says.
"They say, you're right, it's a good idea, but
we don't have the money. I tell them they're wasting hun-
dreds of millions of dollars in foster care payments. Still, they
don't want to bother."
Family Court's Administrative Judge Kathryn McDonald
says there's no reason to believe that parents won't some day
get government-funded institutional lawyers-though she
admits there's not much of a movement for change right
now. "I'm always optimistic about what will happen in the
future," she chuckles. "I can remember when kids had no
As anyone who has watched the latest round of city budget
cuts knows, money is tight. Yet the fact remains that even
CWA's own workers say one tenacious parent's advocate will
take years off a child's foster care stay.
"It's my fondest wish that all natural parents knew what
their legal rights were," says a veteran CWA supervisor. "If
they did, a lot of the nonsense they have to tolerate from this
agency would be superfluous." 0

a l S l n ~
Are Upper West Side opponents of
social services trafficking in superficial
arguments and loaded rhetoric?
hen he heard the news that July
afternoon, public relations con-
sultant Aaron Biller must have
known immediately that he
had the perfect image in hand.
Larry Hogue, a mentally ill man with a history of
violent behavior and drug addiction, had walked out
of a Queens psychiatric hospital without permission
earlier in the day. That evening, Biller addressed a
committee of the local community board on
Manhattan's Upper West Side.
"Ladies and gentlemen, tonight Larry Hogue is
walking the streets," he said, harping on Hogue's
reputation as a dangerous addict preying on innocent
families. "He's probably on his way to 106th Street to
get crack." The image of the so-called Wild Man of
96th Street haunting the sidewalks of this mostly
middle class neighborhood was just what Biller needed
for his speech opposing a new home for the mentally
ill on Upper Broadway.
As he spoke, others in the room felt the blood
pressure rising. "There is such a tremendous sizzling
of anger and fear in this room I can hardly believe it,"
said Sheila Gardner, a member of the West 104th
Street Block Association and supporter of the housing
plan. But after speaking up, Gardner was roundly
booed by half of the people in the room.
Before it had even opened, the West Side home for 72
people in need had become the latest target of a runaway
train, an increasingly powerful movement threatening to
permanently upset the community's long tradition of support
for social services and tolerance for the mentally disabled,
the less privileged, the city's outcasts.
rom Bella Abzug to Ted Weiss to Ruth Messinger, the
West Side of Manhattan has supported politicians
who hold to the liberal line on all things, be it welfare,
civil liberties or overdevelopment. But somewhere along the
way, "social services" has become a pair of dirty words.
Stricken by a poor economy, declining city services, state
deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill and the city's failure
to solve the homeless crisis, some
neighborhood groups now argue that
Upper Broadway has become, as Lisa
Lehr puts it, "an open air asylum."
Lehr and Biller are cochairs of the
West 90s/West 100s Neighborhood
Coalition. The group has sued the state
Office of Mental Health twice, unsuc-
cessfully both times, for planning a
new residence at 2643 Broadway near
100th Street. Moving back to the Upper
west SIde oppositionists
have twice sued the state
OffIce of Mental Health
for planning a residence
at 2643 Broadway (facing
page). Securing a room at
a similar facility nearby
wu a godsend for Ivy
Valle (right), a former
dancer and waiter who
can no longer work due to
complications from AIDS.
West Side after living more than a decade in New Jersey, Lehr
made headlines when she turned in Larry Hogue to the police
two years ago. Since then, she has invoked Hogue's name to
fight every new social service residence near 96th Street.
Lehr recently earned a post on Community Board 7, the all-
volunteer council that has become a punching bag for West
Siders angry with new homeless shelters and housing for the
mentally disabled. As Lehr and Biller's voices grow louder,
many people around them wonder if the West Side's sup-
posed liberal tradition is faltering.
Of course, such opposition is not an entirely new feature
of the neighborhood's landscape. In June, 1973, The Westsider,
a local weekly newspaper, reported a gathering of 50 neigh-
bors angry with the government's policy of housing men and
women on welfare in local single-room occupancy hotels
(SROs): "The problem, as the group, West Side Concerned
Citizens, views it, is that the city 'has been using the West
Side as a dumping ground for every undesirable problem
client of the Department of Social Services,' according to a
petition that was circulated," the article read.
The cycle seems endless. Today, from Park Slope to
Clinton to Red Hook, virtually any new plan to convert
buildings into government-funded social service housing
sparks a shouting match. Nonprofit groups that for years have
picked up the slack for the city and state by housing and
caring for the homeless and mentally ill now find themselves
under siege.
Tragically, nonprofit homeless shelters and permanent
housing often don't get the support they need from their
neighbors to succeed. In the longrun, the failures of non profits
and the city and state to demystify their motives and win
neighbors' goodwill could ruin their ability to make a differ-
ence to the people who need them. Opponents nearly always
manage to step into the vacuum left by inadequate public
information, padding the debate with questionable argu-
ments about crime rates and property values and misconcep-
tions about the nature of social services.
Still, in spite of the battles, there are many unsung West
Side success stories, instances when nonprofits have over-
come opposition and proven themselves to their neighbors-
and where public education about the homeless and the
mentally ill has temporarily halted the cycle of protest and
polarization. There may, in fact, be far more room for accom-
modation and compromise than the politically-charged
rhetoric of today's oppositionists appear willing to allow.
eth Levenstein, a 101st Street resident, remembers
the Upper West Side north of 90th Street in the 1970s.
"Twenty years ago it was absolute hell," she says.
"You didn't want to be crossing Broadway and have to stay
in the middle part of the street [where vagrants hung out]. It
was terrifying."
"It was wall-to-wall SROs on the Upper West Side," recalls
Mary McAulay, another longtime West Sider. "The people
got no services and the lagabouts were allover."
"They were sort of out of it," she adds. "I saw a lot more
people looking as if they were on drugs."
Panhandling was worse than it is today, many longtime
residents recall. City planners were partly to blame. In the
1960s and 70s, demolition work in the federally-funded and
city-administered Urban Renewal Area from 87th to 97th
streets, Central Park West to the east side of Amsterdam
Avenue, displaced between 8,000 and 12,000 households
and resettled only about 2,000 of them. The result was an
upswing in the number of transient people living on the
streets or moving from place to place, trying to
maintain their ties to a rapidly changing neigh-
But in challenging new social service housing programs,
the opposition groups have made a big assumption by lump-
ing privately-owned, for-profit "unsupported" SROs together
with nonprofit-operated residences that have on-site super-
vision and services. And that's only the beginning. Compil-
ing a map laSt year, Biller and Lem's group said 81 social
service programs lined the streets and avenues between West
90th and 110th streets. Their criteria were so
broad, critics say, that the result bordered on
the outrageous.
Should st. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital
In the 1980s, economic renewal hit the
West Side. But during the past 15 years, the
area has lost another 15,000 units of SRO
housing to gentrification, further reducing the
number of apartments available for men and
women just barely scraping by, according to
Laura Jervis, executive director of the West
Side Federation for Senior Housing. Again,
experts say, the inevitable result has been an
increase in people living on the streets.
for a map
of social
Center's countless tiny walk-in clinics be
thrown onto the same map as the massive
Regent Hotel homeless shelter at 104th and
Broadway? And how can a map include a
medically staffed, rehabilitated SRO with-
out footnoting the decrepit drug dens that
such buildings frequently replaced? In fact,
only 21 of the map's facilities are privately
owned and unsupported. Some maps by other
neighborhood groups even include public
schools and church soup kitchens under the
"social service" heading.
Despite all the rebuilding, the most well-
offparts of the West 90s and 100s still aren't as
gentrified as neighborhoods just a few blocks
to the south. So despite the fact that, by most
accounts, the area isn't as bad as it once was,
many residents may have greater expectations
for their block than they once did. It's a simple
cause and effect, says Jill Greenbaum, presi-
dent of the Police Liaison Group, a crime-
watch organization that covers the West 80s
were so
the result
on the
Ancl then there's the question of crime.
Does every mental health and homeless resi-
dence make a neighborhood more danger-
ous? In the first quarter of this year, the 24th
Precinct (stretching from West 86th to 110th
Street) made 424 drug arrests-nearly five
and 90s. "When you have people who have more of a vested
interest in a neighborhood because they own a place or raise
children here, then they have more of a reason to change these
things," she explains.
"The imbalance is totally, absolutely clear," says West
107th Street resident Tony Vellella, who blames new welfare
residences along with crack, gun proliferation and the low-
income housing crunch for the panhandling and drug prob-
lems in his neighborhood. "If you walk in the West Sixties,
you don't see this."
ertain government policies during the early 1990s
also hit the West Side particularly hard. Most nota-
bly, the Dinkins administration placed 800 of the
city's 1,750 AIDS patients in the neighborhood's privately-
owned, for-profit SROs. The move was a last resort for the
Division of AIDS Services (DAS), but there were harsh
consequences. Most of the SROs lacked any of the services
their new tenants needed. The direct result, advocates say,
was an increase in street people in the West 90s and 100s.
Dinkins administration officials acknowledged at the time
that they chose the neighborhood not only because of avail-
able hotel rooms, but because the West Side had a history of
liberal acceptance of social programs. Their words lent some
credence to politically charged arguments denouncing "self-
defeating liberalism."
times as many as the neighboring 20th Pre-
cinct (West 59th to 86th Street), which made 88. But the vast
majority of Upper West Side drug arrests don't happen
anywhere near most of the nonprofit-run supported resi-
dences. Lt. Fredrik Sachs of the 24th Precinct's detective
squad says the area's hardcore drug magnet is Manhattan
Valley, the small neighborhood between Amsterdam A venue
and Central Park West where, last summer, some 81 indict-
ments came down for Valley-based gang members linked to
10 murders and 14 shootings.
Almost without exception, the residences most vehe-
mently opposed by community groups are located on or to
the west of Broadway, well outside Manhattan Valley. Of the
81 services in Lem and Biller's coalition map, 61 are west of
Amsterdam Avenue-statistically the safest part of the
"upper" Upper West Side.
In fact, the crime rate in the area is declining. "The [24th]
precinct statistics continue to get better, and that's been going
on for a lot of years," says Tamar Lynn, assistant director of
West Side Crime Prevention, a 15-year-old community crime-
watch group.
owhere is the difference between supported and
unsupported housing clearer than on West 97th
Street. The Yale Hotel, an unsupported, 147-room
SRO that houses some DAS clients, had 10 crimes reported
between January and September this year-a mix of burglar-
ies, assaults and robberies. During the same period, the
building across the street, a supported nonprofit Volunteers
of America (VOA) residence for 94 people-either mentally
ill, drug addicted or both-reported just one burglary.
The Yale has three city-employed housing and crisis
referral counselors on-site. The VOA home lias at least six
staffers on-site at a time, including a psychiatrist and an
addiction counselor. This summer, police made five arrests
at the Yale and just one at VOA. A staffrnember at VOA says
they called police to the scene when one resident struck
Neighbor groups still make much of a June, 1993 incident
in which a VOA resident cut himself with a razor blade, ran
onto the street and tried to jump into the Hudson River. But
most don't mention that two of his fellow tenants chased after
him and, according to police, helped save his life.
Melissa Zangas, assistant program director at the VOA
home, proudly shows visitors photos of the men getting
awards of heroism from the mayor. "I think what people don't
realize," she says, "is that these
people are more dangerous to
themselves than to anyone
else." When the injured man
returned from the hospital, VOA
helped him kick his addiction.
He now works as a case assis-
tantfor addicts atVOA'sWard's
Island shelter. That could not
have happened, says Zangas, at
the unsupported Yale.
VOA also offers art classes,
Bible study and Alcoholics
Anonymous meetings, all out
of the sight of neighbors. The
tenants live in immaculate
rooms with comfortable com-
mon spaces. There are three
large porch lights around the
outside doorway, and the build-
ing is the brightest on the street.
Two huge flower beds have been
planted at the bases of the trees
in front.
concerned, the same can't necessarily be said for other
residents of the block. Elliot, a 48-year-old VOA tenant who
won one of the police awards last year, says he has had some
difficult run-ins. Once, he exchanged words with a neighbor
who let her dog trample the residence's flower bed. "She said
she doesn't know why people like us are around here,
anyway," he recalls.
But that was some time ago, he doesn't have
much to say lately. Not negative stuff. I would say [neighbors
were] angry, but they're not intimidated like they used to be.
It's a lot better than it was in the beginning. They know more
about what we're about."
his year, only two social service locations made the
24th Precinct's problem list. Both lack support
services: the Marion Hotel on 98th Street near
Broadway, a privately-owned SRO with many city DAS
placements, and the Regent Family Residence, a 175-unit

temporary shelter for families
that was subsequently turned
over to VOA in October after
years of mismanagement by
the city.
Under city control, the
Regent, on Broadway and
104th Street, crammed 500
people into 18 stories with no
lounge or recreation space.
Staffers say they have been un-
able to prevent some residents
from loitering or panhandling
outside at late hours. To make
matters worse, the city had a
policy preventing residents
from returning to their rooms
after curfew, forcing tenants to
spend some nights outside on
the curb. "Every time we had
the radio on, the [neighbors]
called the police," says Shakim
H., 23, who shares aroom there
with his three-year-old son.
But now that VOA has taken
over-with an agreement to
shrink the shelter by 35 apart-
ments, add lounge space,

expand the security staff's
When the residence became
a target of neighborhood un-
rest, community involvement
turned out to be the best solu-
tion. "As a block, we went ba-
nanas," says Stephanie Pinto, a
West 97th Street resident who
three years ago signed onto a
lawsuit against the home. But
The supported I'8SideMe run by Vol ....... of on west 97th
Street Is an immIIc:uIaIe, brigIdIy-llt neiIhborhood presence that the
block usocIation supports. Melissa lanps, abon, a IJI'OII'IIm director
at the home, Is proud of her tenants.
powers and give residents drug
counseling, child care and job
training-the Regent has finally
since joining VOA's community advisory board, she has
spoken in defense of the organization at neighborhood meet-
ings questioning the plan for the residence at 2643 Broadway.
While the VOA home on 97th Street has turned out to be
a good neighbor as far as the local block association is
won support from the nearby
Cathedral Station Block Association. Shakim says there are
"a lot of crackheads" who could use the help.
Harry Wilkins, head of the West Side Federation of
Neighborhood and Block Associations, once sued the city
over the Regent. Now he has asked to volunteer there.
"Anybody could run a shelter more effectively than the City
of New York," he quips.
In 1989, another West Side SRO went through the same
cycle of community anguish, but eventually its support
services also won over detractors. When the Congressional
Hotel on West End Avenue and 83rd Street was slated for
purchase by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, neighbors
filed suit, claiming that the move required community ap-
proval through the city's Uniform Land Use Review Process.
about mental illness," says Vincent Christmas, director of
mental health and supportive services for the Corporation for
Supportive Housing, which arranges financing and technical
assistance for nonprofits. "You've got to make people under-
stand that they're just like all of us. Twenty-five percent of all
families have people who are mentally ill."
Many nonprofit agencies agree with neighbors that the
state and city have done a terrible job educating communities
about social services. In mid-July, a block association in Park
The fight lasted 10 months, eventually falter-
ing in the courts.
Today some of the former plaintiffs have
joined the board of directors of what is now
called the West End Intergenerational Resi-
dence, a cooperative effort of the Archdiocese,
New York Foundling Hospital and Fordham
University. "I am told that it was just as rocky
as some of the agencies coming up now," says
executive director Linda Sargeant.
Fifty-four young mothers and their chil-
dren, temporarily placed at the facility as city-
referred transitional shelter residents, share
the 12-story building with 39 senior citizens
who live there permanently. Many seniors
have lived in the building since before the
nonprofit took over. Some now babysit for the
children while the mothers study for their
Graduate Equivalency Diplomas.
got to
that the
Slope, Brooklyn, heard through their com-
munity board that a forthcoming state-spon-
sored home for 30 mentally ill people would
include some people who have been through
drug treatment. "For whatever reason, the
state informed the community board before
we had a chance to talk to the community,"
says Carmen Cognetta, vice president of de-
velopment and general counsel for the Insti-
tute for Community Living, the same group
now managing 2643 Broadway on the West
Side. Predictably, the Park Slope neighbors
started planning a lawsuit.
Time after time, the lesson for social ser-
vice providers has been the same: don't rely
on the community board to get the message
out. John Kowal, a longtime member and
former chair of Community Board 7, is also
ill are just
like all of
Neighborhood volunteers help out as well.
One woman takes the residents out to fine
restaurants. The Board of Education provides child care.
Fordham social work students and neighboring high schoolers
earn credit there. The United Way, American Express, and
A T& T sponsor parenting and career counseling workshops.
Sargeant says women from the residence have a better chance
of becoming independent than families from more tradi-
tional shelters like the Regent, but the daily price tag for the
city is no different: about $100 per family.
nfortunately, many New Yorkers hold an image of
social services clients that looks a lot more like
Larry Hogue than a young woman getting her GED.
In and out of psychiatric hospitals more than 20 times in two
decades, Hogue went into a drug-induced rage two years ago,
destroying property and frightening pedestrians.
But West Side touchstone that he may be, Hogue is an
anomaly-not just a drug user and paranoid schizophrenic
with occasional psychotic bouts, but also the victim of a near-
fatal 1960s Navy injury on an aircraft carrier that left him
without a portion of his frontal lobes. He never lived in a
supported residence on the West Side; state and city mental
health officials say no one remotely like him would be
allowed in a program like the VOA home on West 97th Street
because of his medical condition and his repeated refusals to
take medication and stay off crack.
"I just think there needs to be a lot of public education
president of the West Side Federation for
Senior Housing, the nonprofit group devel-
oping Euclid Hall, an SRO on Broadway and
86th Street. The organization bought the SRO in 1989. Neigh-
bors accuse the city of lying about what type of people the
federation will house there. "I don't understand why they're
not giving us a medal," Kowal said last spring. "The last two
owners of the building allowed it to be used by prostitutes,
drug pushers .... Now that we've cleaned it up, suddenly
we're trying to destroy the West Side?"
The wisest nonprofits establish a bond with communities,
not community boards, before the residence's plan is even
conceived. "It's important to start talking and building a
relationship long before you go and say, 'Look, we're thinking
of building a residence,'" says Christmas. Being prepared to
offer hard data about the nature of a building'S population is
also crucial. "It's like courting," he adds. "You take them out.
You show them an annual report. If an agency sits there and
doesn't know the percentages of [mentally ill or drug-ad-
dicted] people that will be there, then that's how those
misconceptions begin.
"You've got to tell these people that there's going to be 24-
hour security and 24-hour psychiatrists, and then maybe
they'll feel comfortable."
ommunity Board 7, for its part, downplays its role in
overseeing social services, urging neighbors and
non profits to collaborate on advisory boards, small
groups of neighbors who help shape residences' policies.
West End A venue resident Mild Fiegel was a plaintiff in a
lawsuit against 2643 Broadway until she helped choose
Institute for Community Living (ICL) as the provider. Now
she is on the residence's advisory board. She says she stopped
fighting when ICL guar-
anteed that no drug-
addicted resident would
be admitted without first
going through treatment
elsewhere. But she still
fights the nearby, pri-
vately-owned Broadway
Hotel-an unsupported
SRO neighbors say is se-
verely drug-infested.
ment appropriated $6 million for 160 units of public housing
on the corner of 91st Street and Columbus Avenue, a group
called Committee of Neighbors to Insure a Normal Urban
Environment (CONTINUE) joined in a lawsuit against the
plan filed by a local pri-
vate school. The suit ar-
gued that the concentra-
tion oflow income people
in the community would
be detFimental to the "lo-
cal environment." It went
all the way to the United
States Supreme Court,
where it was defeated in
1979. By the early 1980s,
two principals of
o CONTINUE, Eugene
~ 1 d :: Ha pern an Louis
a: Antonelli, were pub-
lishing the West Side
ffi News, a conservative
"I think the whole
neighborhood wishes the
[2643 Broadway] build-
ing wasn't here. But it's
here," she explains. "Ifit's
a well-done program, we
won't even know it's
City and state funding
streams for the homeless
The nelghboltlood"_ pretty peaceful,"..,. ...... Bonner, who recently mowd Into
a supported residence 01\ Upper Broadway that had been the subject of a Plobaded
convnunity dispute. NeIghbors are _ halpI", out at the home.
newspaper with editori-
als calling then-
Councilmember Ruth
and mentally ill often prevent supported residences from
recruiting all their tenants from the immediate neighbor-
hood. But social services can provide a financial boon to their
neighbors. "About a third of our employees live in the
immediate area," says Steve Coe, executive director of the
Lower East Side's Community Access housing group.
Preparing for a series of community board meetings over
a new facility, Coe went through budgets, vendor accounts
and employee records for the group's five other residences to
see how much the organization gives back to its neighbors. He
came up with the following: $82,700 in goods and services
bought locally in 1993, $492,000 in salaries to 36 local
residents, $532,000 in rent to property owners and $300,000
in consumer living allowances spent locally by tenants. This
doesn't count "good neighbor" contributions, he notes, such
as cleaning up vacant lots and helping to paint nearby
oo often, the West Side's "compassion fatigue" argu-
ment has been warped into a politicized "mad-as-
hell" diatribe rooted in ideological differences. As
Lisa Lehr puts it, "We're not suicidal liberals anymore."
Members of Lehr and Biller's group {;ampaigned heavily for
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. At a September rally against Euclid
Hall, which after renovations will have support services for
80 people diagnosed with mental illness, state Assembly
candidate Jeff Livingston said the Euclid could turn out just
like the city-run Regent. But in social service terms, it was
like comparing apples and oranges. Still, the candidate
campaigned primarily on the issue of Euclid Hall.
It's not a new strategy. In 1970, when the federal govern-
Messinger a "political
hack" and a "poverty proponent."
But when the protest cycle is broken and communities and
nonprofits work together, there's no telling what can be
After all the lawsuits and rhetoric, the new residence at
2643 Broadway has won the trust of its neighbors. Ilana
Lobet, a former president of the 101st Street Block Associa-
tion, says neighbors have pledged to help out. "It seems like
it's well-run," she says. When street fair time rolls around in
the spring, the block will save space for the residence to take
part. Lobet's group even plans to hold its next meeting in the
community room there.
hen Jane Bonner lost her apartment last winter,
she spent 10 months at Travelers Hotel, an old
hotel near the Port Authority bus terminal, before
being tapped by Institute for Community Living to move
uptown. Since moving to 2643 Broadway, she has paid more
than one visit to Murder Ink, a nearby mystery book store. "I
want to write detective stories," explains Bonner.
The neighborhood "seems pretty peaceful," says Bonner,
who is also grappling with mental illness. When she's not
reading, she's brushing up her typing skills to get office temp
work. "I need to make money for when I get old," she says.
Have neighbors bothered her since she moved in? When
asked, Bonner looks quizzical; in her four weeks there, ICL
has shielded her from controversy.
Her answer is tentative. "I have a lot of privacy," she
says. U
Robert Kolker is a staff reporter at The Westsider.
Get the Lead Out
With the city's current lead paint law still unenforced,
the City Council is considering alternatives.
dozen years have gone by
since the Ci ty Council passed
a law requiring a thorough
cleanup of lead paint in
housing. The law has been at the center
of a court dispute ever since, and
children continue to be hospitalized for
lead poisoning at a rate of more than five
per day.
Now, the main factions involved in
the issue-the city Department of
Housing Preservation and Development
(HPD), advocates for lead-poisoned
children, and private landlords-have
taken their battle back to the City Coun-
cil chambers.
Since September, legislators and the
Giuliani administration have introduced
a total of three new lead paint bills.
None dispute what the federal Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention con-
cluded long ago: that lead poisoning
can cause major learning disabilities,
impair a child's intellectual develop-
ment, and, in extreme cases, lead to
death. The bills differ, however, in their
approach to solving the problem; the
disagreement is over how much money
the city can afford to spend in enforcing
the law.
Tremendous Cost
Local Law 1, passed by the council in
1982, presumes there is lead paint in all
apartments in buildings built before
196o-the year New York City banned
lead paint in housing construction; if a
child under seven years old lives there,
the paint must be removed or covered
Last March, the city Department of
Health (DOH) added strict rules defin-
ing exactly how property owners must
go about removing lead paint hazards,
including extensive cleanup require-
ments and laboratory tests after work is
complete (see City Limits, June/July
1994). But when a landlord fails to
comply with the law, the city is required
to do the lead abatement job itself. That,
officials say, is an overwhelming job for
the city.
In a hearing last month before the
City Council's Environmental Protec-
tion Committee, William E. Spiller, first
deputy commissioner of HPD, testified
that lead paint removal under current
guidelines could cost $15,000 per unit,
or "just about the size of the annual city
budget" if every apartment in the city
built before 1960 were to be cleaned up.
But advocates claim that Spiller's
estimates are greatly inflated, and point
out that his analysis does not consider
the alternative: the cost of noncompli-
ance. "The city doesn't account for all
the money we're currently spending on
treating poisoned children," charges
Lucy Billings, an
attorney for the
New York Coali-
tion to End Lead
Poisoning, which
sued the city in
1985 for ignoring
the lead paint law.
According to Dr.
John Rosen, pro-
fessor of pediat-
rics and head of
the division of
sciences at the
Albert Einstein
College of Medi-
cine, Montefiore Medical Center, the
cost of hospitalization, outpatient treat-
ment and special education services for
each lead-poisoned child is $25,000 for
the first year of care-or between $38
and $50 million in 1993.
Justice Leland DeGrasse found the
city in contempt of court in 1992 for its
failure to issue regulations covering in-
spection and enforcement as required
by Local Law 1. Advocates say the cur-
rent inspection program is haphazard at
best, and there is no follow-up or en-
forcement when violations are identi-
fied. The city is currently appealing the
Most Ambitious
Of the three bills currently under
consideration to replace Local Law 1,
the one introduced by Councilmember
Stanley Michels is the most ambitious.
The bill, referred to as Intro 385, pre-
sumes there is a lead paint hazard in all
apartments built before 1978 in which a
child under seven or a pregnant woman
lives-unless a test proves otherwise.
His bill also addresses lead paint haz-
ards in schools, day care centers and
By Holly Rosenkrantz
other places where children could be
Intro 385 sets strict guidelines for
lead paint removal. In housing, the bill
would require HPD to respond to any
tenant's complaint about lead paint by
sending an inspector within three days.
Building owners would have to remove
all peeling or deteriorating paint acces-
sible to a small child within 10 days of
the time a hazard is confirmed, using an
abatement method
approved by HPD.
If they don't, then
the city would
have to do the work
itself within an-
other 10 days. The
landlord would be
charged for the
The bill has
wide support
among advocates.
"This is a mea-
sured effort to try
and break the log-
jam," says Andrew
Goldberg, a staff attorney at MFY Legal
Services, one of the groups in the
coalition that sued the city for noncom-
pliance with Local Law 1.
Advocates explain that Michels' bill
stands out because it explicitly defines
the duties required of HPD. However,
the agency and groups representing
property owners argue that the bill is
useless because its rules and guidelines
will be even more costly than the current
law. HPD officials contend it defines
lead paint violations too broadly, and
that the guidelines would be so
demanding of inspectors' time that the
city would be unable to respond to other
complaints such as lack of heat , backed-
up sewers, cascading water leaks and
other housing emergencies.
Small property owners' organizations
are supporting Intro 388A, introduced
by Queens Councilmember Archie
Spigner, chairman of the Housing and
Buildings Committee. His bill would
limit the definition of a lead paint viola-
tion to include only apartments built
before 1960 where there is peeling paint.
It would also give landlords and the city
more time and flexibility than Michels'
bill. Spigner says the bill aims to bal-
ance the concerns of the advocates with
those of property owners.
The third bill, known as Intro 436
and submitted by HPD, is conservative
in its list of abatement requirements. It
would require an owner to correct any
peeling lead paint and insure that doors
with lead paint are properly hung to
prevent friction with door jambs that
could cause paint chips and dust to
accumulate. The bill would also man-
date that owners cover or remove lead
paint from windowsills whenever an
apartment becomes vacant , and to
perform a lead dust cleanup. The bill
does not layout HPD' s responsibilities
regarding the inspection and correction
of violations-a fact that angers many
Most to Lose
"The city is the largest landlord, and
they have the most to lose from strict
lead paint abatement requirements,"
says Chris Meyer, an attorney at the
New York Public Interest Research
Group, which lobbies the City Council
on a number of issues including lead
poisoning. "Their bill gets them out
from under liability."
Observers on all sides say that if a
new lead paint law does eventually
emerge from the council, it will likely
combine elements of all three bills. But
few expect a quick resolution to the
debate, or a cleanup plan that will com-
pletely eliminate lead poisoning in chil-
"People are acting as if what is at
stake is dollars," says Megan Charlop,
who runs a safe house for lead-poisoned
children at the Montefiore Medical
Center in the Bronx, where families stay
while lead paint is being removed from
their apartments. "This discussion is
not about dollars. It's important to keep
it on the fact that so many children are
suffering." 0
HolJy Rosenkrantz is a Manhattan-based
freelance writer.
Subscribe to
City Limits!
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(212) 614-5314
Lucy Sanabria has been receiving public
assistance for nearly 10 years. Prior to
this, she worked in the mail room of a
Manhattan publishing house for four
years. She separated from the father of
her two teenage sons many years ago;
the children currentlyreceive child sup-
port and are not included in her welfare
grant. Sanabria's monthly check from
the government is $352 plus about $11 0
in food stamps.
here are all the jobs for the
people like me? I am on
public assistance and on my
second round of workfare
"training." If you can get me a job as a
clerical aide, I would be happy to get off
the System.
Mayor Giuliani likes to say, "Not
welfare but workfare." But I want to ask
him: How many more years do I have to
work for the System, doing clerical work
for next to no pay, before getting a r e ~
job with real wages?
Five years ago, the city welfare
office-the Human Resources Admin-
istration-found me a job-training
position with the Fire Department. I
worked there for two years as a clerical
aide, processing fire hazard violations,
scanning records for inspectors, up-
dating violation records and so on. I
worked as a receptionist when the
occasion arose, answering questions
from the public.
My workfare grant at the time was
$288 a month. I worked 20 hours a
week. That's about $3.60 an hour. They
gave me money for the subway trip to
work and back. That's it, not even money
for lunch.
Hiring Freeze
Still, I liked my job. At the end of the
two years, my supervisor wrote me a
good evaluation report with excellent
ratings. She recommended that the
department hire me to work in her unit.
But, at the time, there was a hiring
freeze. That's my bad luck. So when the
training time was over, I had to leave.
Cityview is a forum for opinion
and does not necessarily reflect
the views of City Limits.
Now I am a trained clerical aide
without a job, and still on welfare. Worse
yet, I'm "training" again-this time as a
clerical aide at the Human Resources
Administration, and again working for
my welfare check. I'm still working 20
hours per week and getting the subway
money, and my grant is up to $352 per
month. That's a little better-just about
minimum wage-but it's still not enough
to survive.
The program is great for someone
who doesn't have any skills, but people
like me with skills and training should
be put to work for a paycheck, not a
welfare check.
Good Points
How much clearer can I make this
point? What the government is doing is
not workfare, it is slavefare. I pay taxes.
I am a United States
citizen. Yet I have to
work for about $80 a
week. That is not fair.
How can I pay my
bills, my rent, or buy
food for myself and my
two sons?
By Lucy Sanabria
own. I took the United States Post Office
examination for mail clerk and carrier.
I was even interviewed for the mail
clerk position, passed a physical and
made the waiting list. I'm still waiting.
Hard in Every Way
People on public assistance have it
very hard in every way. When we go out
to look for work, employers think that
because we are on public assistance, we
must be stupid. But many of us are hard-
working people who are trying to get off
the System. I would like to get a 9-to-5
job-it would be better than depending
on the System to help me out.
And when a person on welfare needs
the help of the government to straighten
out a problem with their case, it's noth-
ing but trouble. When I needed help
because my rent was increased, I called
my caseworker. But
she was not there.
She is never there. In
fact, in one and a half
years I have never
met my caseworker.
So what was I sup-
posed to do? Now I
know I'm better off
calling Legal Ser-
There is a solution
to this problem. For-
get workfare. I am
z tired of all these pro-
~ grams. They are all
~ the same, with no
~ hope for a real job at
I'm angry that
people always say
men and women on
welfare are lazy. These
people should be in
our shoes before they
talk. We have skills.
For one thing, we are
good parents who
know better than
anyone else how to
stick to a budget while
making sure our chil-
dren have what they
Lucy Sanabria is currently studying for the end. I suggest get-
her Graduate Equivalency Diploma. ting rid of some of
the rotten apples who
work at the welfare
need. We have no
choice; if we were not good at keeping a
budget, we would be lost.
You government people and
policymakers live well, and yet all of
your working life you are telling me
what it means to be poor. The Mayor
thinks we have it so good. We don't, and
he is making it even harder. He and the
others should try to live like us poor
people before talking their bull.
There are many people out there
losing jobs-they will end up on wel-
fare just like me. So how can we get any
jobs? Tell me, Mr. Mayor.
I've been trying to find work on my
offices, the case
workers who don't know what they are
doing, don't care what they are doing
and don't want to work. Give the jobs to
people who know the System, people
like me. Stop talking and just do it. Put
me on the payroll. Give me a real job
with a real paycheck. 0
Subscribe to City Limits!
Call (212) 925-9820

To Survive and Flourish
"The Uptown Kids: Struggle and Hope
in the Projects, " by Terry Williams and
William Kornblum, G.P. Putnam's Sons,
1994, 256 pages, $24.95 hardcover.
he Uptown Kids, Terry Williams'
and William Kornblum's book
about the lives of teenagers in
several Harlem public housing
projects, is a lot like the elevators in the
projects themselves. Too often, it falters.
But at its center are the young members
of the "Writers Crew," an after school
group formed by the authors, and when
their youthful voices ring out, Uptown
Kids is a blessing. Most importantly, the
book shifts the focus of the question,
"What is wrong with inner city kids, " to
"What is wrong with us as a society for
abandoning them?"
African Americans have long been
angered and frustrated by character-
izations of their culture as monolithic.
Only recently has white America begun
to recognize the existence of a black
entrepreneurial class or a black intelli-
gentsia. Now, sociologists Williams and
Kornblum have more news for those
who treasure their stereotypes. Not only
are the children of our inner city hous-
ing projects brimming with talent and
ambition, but the projects themselves,
those brick prisms so often portrayed as
vertical slums and pinnacles of despair,
can, in fact , be healthy places to live and
come of age.
In one atmospheric passage, the au-
thors describe a "circus of children's
play ... where the courtyards of Harlem
public housing projects ring with the
sounds of youth and neighborliness."
The overall tone of Uptown Kids is, in
fact, one of persistent optimism, a clean
breeze of hope that is welcome as a
corrective and an inspiration.
Reality Looms
But reality looms like the buildings
1 have worked throughout Brooklyn
for 2 5 years and have spent the last three
researching a book about Brownsville.
There is no denying the grimmer side of
life in many housing projects. Consider
Linda Sanders who, when describing
the half-dozen murders that have oc-
curred outside her window in the
Brownsville Houses, lamented to me,
"You want to know where 1 live? 1 live
in hell."
The truth is that New York City pub-
lic housing varies greatly. There are
those with strong tenant associations,
several of which Williams and Kornblum
describe at length. And there are the
"Gunsmoke" units, taken over by gangs
like The A Team in Brooklyn's Cypress
Houses or the Young Guns in
Yet even though its authors recog-
nize the stress of life in public housing,
Uptown Kids challenges the perception
that young men and women there have
no chance of retaining their ambition.
And the authors know their territory
well. Williams, an associate professor
of ethnography and community studies
at the New School for Social Research,
has written several ground-breaking
books on black youth, including The
Cocaine Kids. And Kornblum, a pro-
fessor of sociology at Queens College
and the Graduate Center of the City
University of New York, has written
extensively on race and class relations
in American society. The two teamed
up to write Growing Up Poor in 1985.
Troubling and Inspiring
One aspect of the book that I found at
once troubling and inspiring was the
dual role the authors playas reporters
and participants, mentors to the teenag-
ers chronicled in the book.
On the one hand, the authenticity of
a book that purports to show life in the
projects suffers when the authors inter-
vene in the lives of their subjects. On the
other, these kids, as they try desperately
to define themselves and take their first
few steps toward self-realization, cry
out for the helping hand of capable men
like Kornblum and Williams.
When Sheena, a troubled but promis-
ing 17-year-old mother, finds herself in
serious trouble with the law-more the
result of youthful recklessness than ma-
licious intent-Williams writes her a
letter to help her out and salvage her
future. There can be no doubt that Wil-
liams did the right thing. And when,
through the efforts of Williams and
Kornblum, another Writers Crew mem-
ber, Dexter, is chosen to go on a tour of
national parks interviewing people for a
survey, his growth is palpable. The time
is over, Uptown Kids implies, for blood-
less investigations of "life in the ghetto."
By Greg Donaldson
Don't even go there unless you want to
help, the authors seem to be saying.
Uptown Kids is best when the kids
themselves are heard. "Yes ... it took me
ten years to figure out what my life was
all about, and it still has me bewil-
dered," Sheena writes in her journal. "I
have come across some rainbows that
were blown away. I've hit some bliz-
zards that have lasted more than they
should have. I've been to the gates of
hell a couple of times." The voice is
brave and clear and the words are an
indictment of all of us who look at the
projects and dismiss their residents as
losers who are the engineers of their
own circumstances.
Scattershot Design
Nonetheless, Uptown Kids is a frus-
trating book; the weakness primarily
lies in its scattershot design. It offers a
superficial analysis of a dozen topics. It
opens us to the voices of young creative
artists, but only fleetingly. It addresses
economic issues, for example, but only
in a cursory way.
Furthermore, it is distressingly awk-
ward when the authors refer to them-
selves in the third person in passages in
which they are directly involved.
But what are questions of style when
a generation of children is threatened
with physical and psychic destruction?
Uptown Kids should be read. We can all
learn from passages like this one by
Marcus, a college graduate and Writers
Crew alumnus who captures with as-
tounding insight the nuances of racism:
"White folks have plans for black men
and I have come in contact with these
plans. We gotta remember that there is
more than one plan. Racism ain't easy
no more. It's what they call dynamic ...
One minute the door is closed, the next
minute it's open-but you can't get in.
The next minute you're in but you're in
a corner. The next minute you're at the
table but you can't speak. The next
minute you can speak but no one is
listening. "
Williams and Kornblum have let the
kids in the projects speak. What they
say is that they need the same things
that other children need to survive and
flourish. It is up to us to listen. 0
Greg Donaldson is author 01 The Ville:
Cops and Kids in Urban America.
Creaming the Competition
On America Works, Peter Cove is
right and Irwin Nesoff is wrong ("The
Privatization Vanguard," August/
September 1994). There is no evidence
that non profits have matched America
Works' record in placing AFDC clients
in good private sector jobs. Nor is the
deal "lucrative": the bulk of payment
occurs only after the client has held her
job and become a regular employee; no
nonprofit that I know of is willing to
negotiate a contract with the city on that
basis. If and when that happens, America
Works would welcome their entry since
the company can train and place only a
small fraction of those who are able and
willing to trade AFDC for paid work.
Nesoffs reply to Cove (Letters, October
1994) is inaccurate regarding length of
time on AFDC, the relationship of the
company to its clients both before and
after they are placed, and the charge of
"creaming," among others. The average
length of enrollment on AFDC for their
clients is 4.7 years. The company failed
to win contracts earlier because the focus
of the RFP specs, not the company's
record, was the real culprit.
Let me add that though I know a good
deal about America Works, I have no
financial or professional relationship
with them. But as a long-time teacher
and researcher of welfare policy, I
believe that this company broke new
ground. Profit-making involves risk, as
Cove and his colleagues have learned
from experience. But a profit-making
private firm can deal with prospective
private employers more effectively than
can most nonprofits or public agencies.
That's one explanation of the company's
impressive track record
Sumner M. Rosen
The writer was a professor at the
Columbia University School of Social
Work for 17 years.
False Impressions
I am a subscriber to City Limits, and
I always enjoy reading it. But I would
like to address some problems I have
with a recent article, "Restoring Trust,"
by Kate Lebow (October 1994).
There are two factual errors that
should be corrected. First, the grounds
program is taking place at Morrisania
Houses, not Morris Houses. Second, the
budget for the program is $60,000, not
More significantly, the author uses
my comments out of context, thereby
recasting their meaning inappropriately.
The article quotes me as criticizing
local management as being a very
obstructionist force in the course of our
ongoing project, a youth-motivated
grounds redesign. This is inaccurate.
The former Webster/Morrisania man-
ager did in fact try to impede the project,
first by discouraging the young people
from doing the work themselves (as the
article relates correctly), and later by
demanding a last-minute plebiscite from
a majority of Morrisania residents to
approve a particular detail of the pro-
posal. Leonard Hopper and other
NYCHA officials at the meeting became
as distressed as I was at this unusual
demand; Lenny and the manager argued
about it, and eventually, the residents
met this controversial requirement and
removed the objection. But this
manager's troubling disposition was, in
my experience, relatively unusual, and
his conduct at this juncture was equally
disturbing to the other NYCHA employ-
ees and residents with whom I worked.
He has since been replace by a new
manager, who is very energetic, coop-
erative and encouraging.
Next, I am quoted as saying that work-
ing with NYCHA is a struggle between
"the do-gooders and the forces of stasis."
I actually said that my experience with
NYCHA was one where I encountered
many people trying to do good, to bring
positive change to the lives afits tenants.
These people often worked to overcome
the inevitable forces of status quo within
the authority, amongst the residents and
throughout the city's formidable
bureaucracy. Anyone would admit and
expect that, within a large agency like
NYCHA, there would be some employ-
ees who do not work as zealously as
others in their advocacy of the tenants.
By pulling this comment out of its con-
text, it seems that I am saying that we-
the outsiders-are the" do-gooders," and
that they-NYCHA-are the "forces of
stasis." Rather, what I was saying was
less dramatic, but more complex: that
NYCHA employees themselves often
struggle to overcome obstacles within
and beyond their own bureaucracy.
The article implies that our group
wrestled the money out of NYCHA for
the grounds program. This is a false
impression: NYCHA officials, particu-
larly Deborah McKoy, Lenny Hopper,
and David Burney, eagerly embraced
the program when we brought it to them,
and have dutifully pursued the project
with deserved pride.
Finally, the author implies that we
had to go around the existing tenant
associations to achieve our objectives.
This is not correct. From the outset, we
worked with the consent and often with
the assistance of tenant association
officials. Our goal has been to bring new
people into the associations with which
we have cooperated with, not to erect a
I remain an avid fan of your publica-
tion, and I look forward to reading more
thoughtful, provocative journalism in
City Limits.
Michael Goldblum
Municipal Art Society
The editor replies: We owe an apology to
the youths working on the Morrisania
Houses grounds design project, as well
as to Michael Goldblum and the NYCHA
staff helping them out. We have been
following their work from afar for more
than a year and never intended to
denigrate it by quoting Goldblum out of
One of the essential points the article
sought to make was that a number of on-
the-ground managers at the Housing
Authority have developed a reputation
for protecting their turf and expressing
hostility to organized tenants. The
evidence for this is ample. But obvi-
ously there are many people within the
authority bureaucracy actively facili-
tating tenant empowerment, and they
should have been recognized.
Dig Deeper
With respect to the relegation of the
case of Farkas v. Farkas to obscurity
("Spiked, October 1994), the decision
did appear in the New York Law Journal
on July 13, 1992, and is digested in the
1992 volume of the New York Law
Journal Digest-Annotator.
The Law Journal is a major research
tool for the legal community in New
York City. A decision appearing there is
not quite as obscure as you indicated.
Erik Strangeways
Statement of Ownership,
Management and Circulation
Required 39 U.S.C. 3685
Title of Publication: City Limits. Publi-
cation No. 498890. Date of Filing 10/1/94.
Frequency of issue: Monthly except bi-
monthly in June/July, August/September.
No. of issues published annually: 10. An-
nual subSCription price: $20 individual, $35
institution. Complete mailing address of
known office of publication: 40 Prince Street,
NY NY 10012. Editor: Andrew White. Pub-
lisher: City Limits Community Information
Service, Inc. 40 Prince Street,NY NY 1 0012.
Known bondholders, mortgagees or other
securities: none. The purpose, function and
nonprofit status of this organization and the
exempt status for federal income tax pur-
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Extent and nature of circulation: Total
average no. of copies: 3500 (3600 closest
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distribution by Mail, Carrier or Other Means
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ing 55 (1 04). Return from News Agents 290
(285). Total 3500 (3600). I certify that the
statements made by me above are correct
and complete. Andrew White, Editor.

...... o\.

o"\)C. \\
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EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR. Community Development Organization. Re-
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COMMUNITY AFFAIRS TEAM MEMBER. Republic National Bank of New
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