NYPost reports that Columbia University gave a West Harlem group $3.5 million, and all the community got for its money were some consultants and a temporary job program for teens.
But organizational problems continue to plague the group in charge of doling out the money.
The West Harlem Local Development Corp. was set up in 2006, but the group still has no executive director, no Web site and no means for the community to apply for the money.
“In these desperate economic times, it is crucial these funds be disbursed for the benefit of Harlem residents,” said Vincent Morgan, a Harlem resident and former congressional candidate.
Donald Notice, chairman of West Harlem LDC’s board, said the group was about a month away from having “everything in order.”
“We’re working extremely hard,” Notice said. “We don’t want to spend money and not have an infrastructure in place.”
He said the group did spend $302,000 last summer on a jobs programs for 200 teens and about $400,000 to hire consultants.
DNAinfo reports that, in the agreement, $76 million would be given in cash for the West Harlem LDC to disburse. Columbia has also agreed to $30 million for construction of a new K-8 school in conjunction with Teachers College, $20 million for an affordable housing fund and $20 million in in-kind benefits such as facility use. There were also agreement to hiring mandates for local and minority firms.
Thus far, Columbia had paid out $1.5 million into the benefits fund, said Victoria Benitez, a spokeswoman for the university. Another $10 million has been paid to the city for affordable housing. Columbia says it has also awarded more than $19 million — or 68 percent — of the project area contracts to minority, women or locally-owned firms and has provided “advice and guidance” to the West Harlem LDC.
“Since the community benefits agreement with the West Harlem Local Development Corporation was formally adopted 19 months ago, the University has diligently fulfilled its responsibilities under the agreement and worked cooperatively with the WHLDC,” Benitez said in a statement.
But the slow pace of implementation in the community, combined with the lack of information, has left many angry.
Through the negotiation process with Columbia that took place from 2006 to 2009, the composition of the LDC had gone through drastic changes. Several members resigned to protest the LDC’s inaction. After facing sharp criticism recently, those involved with the LDC’s transition say they want to keep a lower profile.
“What has happened in the past should stay in the past,” English said.
The development corporation’s board will be smaller and more focused than the LDC’s membership, according to Notice. The nine politicians on the original LDC will become three politicians on the development corporation—City Council member Robert Jackson, New York State Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wrightt, and Congressman Charlie Rangel (State Sen. Bill Perkins resigned months ago)—and community board appointments will be reduced to two.
“The board was unwieldy,” LDC and CB9 member Vicky Gholson said. “Just in terms of numbers, there were just too many people to be able to facilitate decision-making, or more basic than that, to facilitate having all of the people in the same room.”
English said that he will be appointing those two community board members to the development corporation this week.
“We are moving towards a more professional board,” English said. “Once they get organized and have the right people involved, any problems will work themselves out naturally.”
Editor’s note: usually there is some oversight and or sub-committee from the city to make sure these funds labeled for the public.