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Give ’em Homes, Harry

On Monday, Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian sat in the second row of elected officials in an automotive lab at Hudson Valley Community College as the president of the United States held him up as an example of investment in education: “I was just talking to the mayor of Troy. He was saying that he had studied calculus in the room where we were taking a picture, and I had to inform him that I didn’t take calculus. But he is testimony of what you can do because of an institution like this.”

Tutunjian was beaming. He has reason to be pleased with the president, beyond this casual honor. Troy has benefited considerably from the Federal Recovery Act.

HVCC was awarded $2 million to use for training in green and energy-efficient jobs. The city’s CEO YouthBuild program, which trains at-risk youths in the construction trades, received $687,500. The Troy Police Department received more than $800,000 to hire and pay four police officers for the next three years. There are plenty more examples Troy’s benefiting from the tax-dollar largesse, as anyone who drives through downtown can see in the new curb cuts and street lights.

In May, as reported by the Times Union, Tutunjian announced that the city had received $845,000 from the federal Homelessness Prevention Fund, and he stated at the time: “These funds are being made available through the federal government to be used to those that have fallen on hard times. . . . If you need help, please ask. This program is here for you.”

Yet, last month, his administration abruptly announced that it would no longer be accepting the $845,000, relinquishing the city’s control over to the money to the state. Why? According to the administration, the money was simply going to be too expensive.

According to city spokesman Jeff Pirro, the city is preparing for a possible 19- percent tax increase in 2010. “We are looking to cut money across the city. And from what the costs would have been, immediately it was too much.” He claimed that the city would have to hire an administrator to handle the money, and with that hire would come the benefits, pension, and so on. However, when asked for an estimate as to what the city would pay, Pirro admitted that the administration had made no financial analysis.

They simply believed, he said, that it would cost too much. Which is a baffling claim, when you take into account that 5 percent of the granted money—$42,000—was designated up front to handle the administrative costs

Most of the work administering the grant would have fallen to two of the city’s nonprofits, Unity House and Joseph’s House and Shelter, according to Tracy Neitzel, the executive director of Joseph’s House. To prepare, she said, Joseph’s House already has hired a new employee, and both Joseph’s House and Unity House sent representatives to New York City for three days of training.

It is a poorly hidden secret in Troy that Tutunjian has an uneasy, antagonistic relationship with Neitzel and the nonprofits downtown. For years, the Tutunjian administration has worked, through the courts, to block that agency’s attempt to rehab a former pool hall on 4th Street into a 16-studio apartment building. His critics will point out that it was only days after he lost that battle in court that the mayor turned down the grant.

In turning away this money, Tutunjian has denied hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency homelessness prevention, said Neitzel, assistance to help keep the working poor in their homes.

“It is not for the people we typically deal with in our shelter,” she said. “Instead, it is for people who have just found themselves in trouble. The money was to be used to pay for subsidizing rent, paying a utility bill, and so on. I can’t tell you how many people wind up in shelters because of a one-shot deal. This was for the working class who have caught a bad break.”

“It was an amazing deal,” Neitzel said.

The mayor has gone to the mat before to defend his agenda. He fought bitterly with the Democrats on the City Council to protect the pay raises for his appointees. He led the charge to raze City Hall, and then drove the city into a fiasco of a lease deal with a private developer. Most recently, he courted the owners of the restaurant chain Dinosaur Bar-B-Que with promises of tax breaks, much to the outrage of many small-business owners. In each of these, the mayor did what he believed was right.

And now we are left to wonder, is the mayor just not able to see the benefits that will come from offering the working poor a second chance before falling into homelessness, or was this just a vindictive and petty decision, as his critics charge?

Either way, it’s Troy that loses.

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