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NYCHA Tries to Transform Mott Haven With Federal Grant

By Patrick Wall | April 16, 2013 7:38am

MOTT HAVEN — How do you breathe new life into a neighborhood?

Can security cameras, playgrounds, grocery stores and health clinics rejuvenate a community? Could job training, small-business support and new buildings rekindle a local economy?

The city’s Housing Authority plans to use a two-year, $300,000 federal planning grant to find out.

NYCHA won the grant last fall through a White House initiative designed to bring together residents and service providers in high-need neighborhoods to forge local improvement plans.

The agency decided to target Mott Haven, a neighborhood with more than 80 public housing buildings spread across five developments, which has long contended with high crime and unemployment, struggling schools and poor health.

 A map of the section of Mott Haven that NYCHA and other agencies will analyze using a federal grant, then create a "transformation plan" to improve.
A map of the section of Mott Haven that NYCHA and other agencies will analyze using a federal grant, then create a "transformation plan" to improve.
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U.S. Department of Housing and Development

Of Mott Haven's 46,000 residents, some 17,000 live in public housing and more than half of households live in poverty, according to NYCHA.

The agency chose Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a nationwide nonprofit with decades of experience in The Bronx, to coordinate the planning efforts.

Officials from LISC and other agencies will explain the program and seek locals’ input at a public kickoff meeting Saturday at Betances Houses, a focal point of the initiative.

“The residents in the neighborhood are really the community experts,” said Zarana Sanghani of LISC. “If they’re involved, then we can create the right plan for the community.”

The federal grant program, called Choice Neighborhoods, is overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is part of a larger White House initiative aimed at revitalizing high-poverty neighborhoods.

The idea is to unite the private and public agencies working in a particular community with its residents, business people and other leaders to formulate a broad plan to improve the local housing, schools, parks, public safety, economy and other elements that shape neighborhoods.

The Mott Haven study will focus on a portion of the neighborhood that extends from Morris Ave. east to Jackson Ave. and from 149th St. south to 132nd St. During the two-year period of the grant, several committees will speak with locals and look at data to figure out what issues most concern residents, what services already exist to address them and whether those programs can be improved or new ones are necessary.

These findings will then be folded into a neighborhood-wide “transformation plan,” which will include specific steps for carrying out the recommendations.

“Rather than looking at a single solution, we’re looking at a range of solutions for a specific community,” said Natasha Lifton, director of NYCHA’s Office of Public-Private Partnerships.

As part of the study, the research and advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks will conduct a block-by-block analysis of the neighborhood’s open spaces, including its playgrounds, ball fields, community gardens and more.

“Once we have that data, then we can work with the community to think about how you interpret that and apply it to real recommendations,” said Holly Leicht, the group’s executive director.

LISC, the coordinating agency, has already met with nearly 100 different groups that work in Mott Haven and started speaking with residents, said Jessica Guilfoy, LISC’s New York deputy director.

Certain issues emerged early and often, Guilfoy said, including high crime, the difficulty of finding healthy food and the lack of job opportunities.

Residents around three developments — the Betances, Mott Haven and Patterson Houses — cited similar concerns Monday.

One elderly Patterson resident who declined to give her name called safety a serious issue and said that when police are not around, youths in the development “go wild.”

Isaac Alvarez, 19, a Mott Haven House resident, mentioned the long waits for NYCHA to make building repairs and the chaotic conditions in some local schools.

“It’s a whole bunch of kids from different projects who don’t like each other, then they put them all in the same schools,” Alvarez said. “It’s not a good idea.”

Adrian Davis, 31, who lives with her 3-year-old son near Betances, said more programs were needed for local children, especially boys, such as free karate or boxing classes, Boy Scouts and mentoring.

“Where is all of that?” she asked.

Wallace Hasan, the president of Patterson’s tenant association, said a range of improvements are needed throughout the development and the surrounding neighborhood.

“There’s a mountain of things,” he said, before suggesting that the planning grant could help address them. “There’s a lot of things that are possible.”

The public kickoff meeting will be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on April 20 at Betances Community Center at 547 E. 146th Street. Another meeting will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on April 24 at the Brook Houses Community Center at 455 E. 148th St.