West Harlem Community Group Used Columbia Funds for Jobs Program

By Jeff Mays on November 8, 2011 5:20pm 

A rendering of Columbia University's Manhattanville campus expansion on West 130th Street would create a public plaza.
A rendering of Columbia University's Manhattanville campus expansion on West 130th Street would create a public plaza.
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Columbia University

HARLEM — A West Harlem community group, under fire over its use of $3.5 million in Columbia University's expansion funds, did spend at least some of the money on a summer youth jobs program, a city agency confirmed Tuesday.

The Department of Youth and Community Development said it received $300,000 from the West Harlem Local Development Corporation to hire 220 Harlem kids for a summer jobs program.

The WHLDC is charged with distributing $150 million in funds from Columbia University's community benefit agreement with West Harlem as a part of its $6.4 billion Manhattanville campus expansion.

The WHLDC has come under scrutiny for a lack of transparency over how it plans to utilize the $3.55 million Columbia has already delivered to the group.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a subpoena last week to obtain records from the organization after DNAinfo reported that the WHLDC has spent $400,000 on consultants and $300,000 in programming.

Congressional Candidate Vince Morgan has called the disbursement illegal because the group has yet to finalize its non-profit status. He has called for an audit of the group and its spending. Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer has also called for a halt to the disbursement of funds.

The WHLDC is responsible for giving away $76 million in cash and making sure Columbia delivers $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.

DYCD said the money was used to help teens within Community Board 9 and West Harlem. The agency says they approached the WHLDC board as a part of their effort to recruit donations to hire as many participants as possible.

It costs approximately $1,500 to fund seven weeks of work for each teen.

"All the kids lived in the district, but may not have worked there," said a DYCD spokesperson.

WHLDC chair Donald Notice said the board made a decision to fund the program because DYCD was an established agency.

But Larry English, who was chair of Community Board 9 when the donation was given, said the board was not notified of the disbursement. Assemblymen Keith Wright, one of several area politicians with a staff representative on the board, also said he was not in favor of the group funding city programs.

Morgan said that a lack of transparency regarding the distribution of funds is the real problem.

"Why is a city agency getting this money and who authorized it?" asked Morgan. "I'm all for creating jobs for kids but someone needs to explain who authorized this money and what was the process for making that decision."

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