Latinos Lose Another Nonprofit

(Photo by Susan Sermoneta, Creative Commons license

The Washington Heights-Inwood Coalition is the latest Latino nonprofit in Upper Manhattan to shut down. (Photo by Susan Sermoneta, Creative Commons license)

Like Alianza Dominicana and the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans, the Washington Heights-Inwood Coalition was forced to walk the financial plank when its board of directors decided to shut it down after 34 years of serving the community.

The coalition, located at 652 West 187th Street, had programs for children from kindergarten through 8th grade, a parent resource center, and a mediation and resolution program that saw more than 300 cases a year, with around 20 percent being conflicts between tenants and subletters.

Although the organization officially closed its doors September 20, Juan Félix and three other volunteers continue to run the housing program, which provides assistance to residents of Upper Manhattan, mostly elderly tenants, in cases like evictions or disputes with negligent landlords.

According to Félix, the board of the Washington Heights-Inwood Coalition had economic problems and ended up owing the employees more than $180,000.

“They decided to shut down so they wouldn’t keep accumulating debt. We have kept the housing program going and we are providing services on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” said Félix. “We help 15 people a day, and we counsel them on issues related to housing, which is our specialty.”

The agency received $402,909 in city funding for its housing programs in 2009-2010, which dropped to $299,674 in 2010-20011. This year, the city granted the organization only $130,409 for its housing assistance programs.

The lack of housing assistance programs particularly affects neighborhoods such as Inwood and Washington Heights, where 90.8 percent of residents rent their homes, according to the American Community Survey.

Community activist Mary Ely Peña-Gratereaux, who used to work in the mediation program, lamented that because of a small deficit, “the community had to lose one of its oldest agencies.”

The coalition’s mediation and resolution program was the first community mediation program in New York City; the others were inside the courts.

“Instead of burdening the courts with civil cases, they got resolved within the community with help from an expert mediator,” explained Peña-Gratereaux. “When the coalition tried seeking help from elected officials, the only response they got was that there wasn’t any money.”

Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez said that in the case of the Washington Heights-Inwood Coalition, they chose to shut down, “and when they did, they had funding for various programs, such as after-school programs, which were transferred to another organization they recommended.”

“The process of applying for funding from the City Council starts in January and lasts until July 30 when the city’s budget gets approved,” said Rodríguez. “We suggest to these organizations that they apply for this funding on time, which they can do through the Internet. Our office has an information session at the beginning of January, in which we explain all the details of the submission process.”

State Sen. Adriano Espaillat said he met with members of the coalition’s board; when they brought up their financial dilemma, he proposed the idea of helping them organize a fundraising event to get out of debt.

“The government doesn’t grant funding to pay off agencies’ debts; the government gives money to provide programs to the community,” said Espaillat. “My office is still evaluating the situation and we are going to give the coalition all the help we can so they can continue to provide their services.”

Residents like Marina Peña, who has received assistance from the coalition, lament that it closed.

“I had problems with a subletter and they helped me resolve the problem without having to go to court,” said Peña. “If the politicians don’t help, we’re going to be left without community agencies.”

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