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Stipends for community activism - New program looks to reward civic involvement at NYCHA sites

In an effort to encourage community involvement among public housing residents, a pair of area legislators have teamed up to secure funding for a pilot program designed to reward active citizens.

Representatives for Assemblymember Vito Lopez, Chair of the Assembly Housing Committee, and Assemblymember Joseph Lentol announced last week the delivery of $1.5 million in state aid for a one-year program that provides stipends for residents who volunteer in state-funded New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments.

Of the city’s 343 NYCHA developments, 15 are funded by the state, with the rest funded by the federal government. Of the 100 NYCHA developments in Brooklyn, four are funded by the state: the Bushwick Houses (372 Bushwick Avenue); the Marlboro Houses in Bensonhurst (2740 86th Street); the Williams Plaza Houses (bordered by Roebling Street and Broadway, Division and Marcy avenues); and the Independence Towers in Williamsburg (114 Taylor Street), the site of the April 3 press conference.

Under the program, residents who volunteer a minimum of 10 hours per week are eligible to receive a $45 weekly stipend.

“This program will serve as reinforcement to the people who are already there out of the goodness of their hearts, and also stimulate more volunteerism,” wrote Lopez in a press release.

(At the time of the press conference, both Lopez and Lentol were in Albany, consumed with both the state budget and congestion pricing debate.)

The bulk of those receiving a stipend will be volunteers for the Tenant Patrol program, which began in 1968 as a way of having residents supplement the work of the housing police.

Tenant Patrol volunteers usually position themselves in or around building lobbies, providing an identifiable law enforcement presence while serving as the “eyes and ears” of the community to alert police of potential criminal activity.

Volunteers report to a Tenant Patrol supervisor, a part-time NYCHA employee who must be a resident of the development. This supervisor then reports directly to the housing police.

Citywide, there are 3,946 volunteers in the 136 NYCHA developments with a Tenant Patrol, though only those volunteers in the 15 state-funded developments will be eligible for a stipend.

“Tenant patrol is a great program for NYCHA residents,” said NYCHA Chairman Tino Hernandez at the press conference.

Residents who volunteer in the senior or community centers provided in every NYCHA development will also be eligible for a stipend.

“We really appreciate what Assemblyman Lopez and Lentol have done under the leadership of Speaker Silver to demonstrate their ongoing support for public housing, and for emphasizing the importance of volunteering in our senior and community centers,” Hernandez said.

Funding for the one-year program was initially announced last year and began on January 1, 2008, but officials have been disappointed in the enrollment in the program. Thursday’s press conference was designed to raise awareness about the available stipends.

Of the approximately 100 people at the press conference, around 25 of them signed up for the program on the spot.

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