Stick around L.M.D.C., we still need you

By Bob Townley

Recently, there’s been some nonsensical rambling in other papers questioning why the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation exists. “A barrel of pork” is how it is described, but I must differ.

Seven and a half years after the devastation of 9/11, we are fortunate that the L.M.D.C.’s Community Enhancement Funds are flowing into Lower Manhattan at a critical time to address critical, legitimate needs. 

The final distribution of these funds and other tasks require the L.M.D.C. to stick around.  To move these function elsewhere would create problems and delay. From my perspective, the problems of switching agencies may not save money and all parties should negotiate a reduction in the L.M.D.C. role as time goes by.  While I am not totally familiar with all the functions of the L.M.D.C., it seems from my seat on the community board they are engaged in a number of projects that can’t stop right now.

Certainly it is important to question whether government spending is legitimate, useful and helpful.  An honest debate about what really helps must always be part of the agenda. But in the course of the current debate it must be remembered – especially in this economic climate – that L.M.D.C. funds will help thousands of people and create lots of jobs – now!  While there are no new funds for community groups, there are existing funds the L.M.D.C. must distribute to groups now.

Every day, requests for help with childcare from financially-strapped families come across my desk.  We have never seen so many mid-school-year requests for free or subsidized child care in the two-decade history of Manhattan Youth’s Lower Manhattan Family Fund. As unemployed parents scramble to restructure their livelihoods and their lives, I am proud to say Manhattan Youth is here to help soften the impact of family disruptions.  Stable families and the availability of high-quality child care help hold our community together, and the L.M.D.C. is providing critical help to Lower Manhattan on both counts.

This year, our own grant from the L.M.D.C. Community Enhancement Fund is backstopping the introduction of new and expanded services at our brand-new Downtown Community Center — Lower Manhattan’s first community center. Throughout Manhattan Youth’s history, we have relied on parents for most of our support, while most corporations and foundations have perceived Lower Manhattan as a wealthy community that didn’t need their help. It may be hard for some to believe, but most of our families are not wealthy, and they need child care because it takes two incomes just to live here. City Hall and the State Assembly surely recognized this along with other community needs when they partnered with us to get our Downtown Community Center built.  The L.M.D.C. also recognizes these needs as it is now helping us build our programming in this great new community amenity. 

The L.M.D.C. was created in response to 9/11, but serendipitously it is still with us and arguably may be needed more today.  The past seven years saw our community’s population surge while infrastructure investments in schools, youth programs and senior programs lagged behind.  The current round of L.M.D.C. funding will help take us and many other organizations in our community through this recession, help our families in their time of need, and keep our community’s social services infrastructure intact.

I find it ironic that the paper that has criticized the L.M.D.C. the most is the same one that gave me a medal of honor for Manhattan Youth’s leadership after 9/11. Well, we’re here to lead again! I invite these naysayers to come for a visit to see our very well-utilized and happy community center.  Our L.M.D.C. funding now is more useful than it would have been five years ago.

No one asked me to write this letter, but it is critically important that citizens have a clear picture of what their hard-earned tax dollars are accomplishing.  With our new president, I hope such transparency will become the norm.  I am certain one day the L.M.D.C. will close its doors, and it will leave behind a stronger neighborhood. Its legacy will largely be found in the jobs created through the many organizations it helped, and the many individuals and families who have benefited from its grants programs. Our community was attacked on a scale not seen since the Civil War, which has given rise to diverse disruptions and other phenomena that still linger. On the merits, we still need the L.M.D.C.

Bob Townley is executive director of Manhattan Youth and a member of Community Board 1.