HARLEM — Promising that its management troubles were over, the West Harlem Local Development Corporation announced Monday it will use $756,000 to fund at least 500 summer jobs for young people in West Harlem.
The WHLDC had come under scrutiny from elected officials and community members for failing to accomplish basic tasks such as launching a website, organizing as a nonprofit or hiring an executive director since its inception in May 2009.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation of the group after DNAinfo.com New York reported that it had spent more on consultants than on programming. The organization, which is responsible for overseeing disbursement of $150 million as part of a community benefits agreement that came out of Columbia University's expansion into West Harlem, has since hired an executive director and opened headquarters.
The funds, supplied by the university, were intended to infuse and improve the local community with $76 million in cash, while the group was to ensure that Columbia delivered $30 million for the construction and in-kind support services for a new K-8 school, supplied another $20 million for an affordable housing fund, and provided $20 million in additional in-kind benefits.
Kofi Boateng, executive director of the WHLDC, said the group is working with the Attorney General's office to accomplish a list of tasks, such as getting board members with grant-giving experience, and hiring skilled new staff, in order to continue its oversight role in the funds disbursement.
Rep. Charles Rangel slammed critics of the group on Monday, when the jobs creation initiative was announced.
"When we have a decent morning like this, the opponents disappear under some rock or some stone someplace," Rangel said Monday, calling the accusations of mismanagement "foundless."
"You think they would be giving close to a million dollars if it's not cleared? Of course it's cleared," said Rangel.
Sources with the Attorney General's Office said its investigation was "ongoing" and that the agency has been working closely with the group to "get things back on track."
Vincent Morgan, a one-time candidate seeking to run against Rangel, raised issues about the group and its spending and management. In return, Morgan became the target of some of Rangel's criticisms about "would-be politicians" Monday.
Morgan said the fact that the attorney general was concerned enough to open an investigation justifies the community's concern regarding how the group and money was being managed.
"Mr Rangel should concentrate on making sure the organization fulfills the responsibility it has to the West Harlem community," said Morgan.
Various community organizations will be encouraged to hire young people through the program, which is being coordinated with the Department of Youth and Community Development.
Out of the $1,512 that wlll go to pay each employee for seven weeks of work, a $325 fee will be paid to the community organization that hires the young person.
Some of the groups expected to be involved include the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans, the Police Athletic League and the New York City Mission Society.
Boateng said the project is just the first the group will unveil using a strategy of collaborating with established community groups. Next, the group will work on utilizing a portion of the $20 million set aside for affordable housing.
The Rev. Georgette Morgan-Thomas, chair of Community Board 9, said she was excited to see the project getting underway.
"If we allow our community organizations to hire young people, they can move forward with a good, solid work ethnic," said Morgan-Thomas.
Silver Logan, 20, who just graduated from community college and is pursuing her bachelor's degree, said she was hoping to participate in the program because she's been unable to find a job.
"There is little hope out there," said Logan. "I've applied for other jobs and haven't heard anything."