PATERSON, NJ – Mayor Jeffrey Jones has waived a controversial new plan to require nonprofit groups to spend $300 on training at William Paterson University (WPU) in order for them to be eligible to get federal housing money through the city.
City officials say the plan was designed to improve give private groups the training they needed to improve their chances of getting the grants. But some community leaders and officials say the training costs were creating a hardship for cash-strapped nonprofits.
Moreover, Councilman Kenneth Morris said the training should be provided for free by the city using administrative funding it gets from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Some critics were particularly upset about the fact that Paterson’s Community Development director, Lanisha Makle, originally had been scheduled to teach one of the classes in WPU’s “Non-Profit Management” program that she was requiring grant applicants to complete. Makle eventually ended up not teaching the class, according to a spokesperson for WPU.
Makle did not respond to several phone messages and emails seeking her comment for this story.
Paterson Business Administrator Charles Thomas said on Friday that Jones decided to waive the new requirement that groups complete the WPU program in order to apply for the federal grants. Thomas said Jones’ decision was based on two factors. The first, he said, was that the city’s nonprofits suffered financially from the remnants of Hurricane Sandy that hit the region in late October. Secondly, Thomas said, the city might be able to secure technical assistance help for its nonprofits through a proposed agreement with HUD.
Jones was waiving the new requirement for this year, Thomas said. It was not clear whether the groups would have to get the WPU training if they applied for funding next year.
Also, it seems some nonprofit groups may have already spent money participating in the WPU training program, which consists of eight three-hour classes that run from October 10 and until December 5, according to the college’s registration material. In order to complete the program, groups would have to attend four core classes and two electives, each of which costs $50.
The training was being required of all groups seeking money through the city under the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), Home Investment Partnership, and Emergency Shelter Grant programs.
City activist David Gilmore raised the issue of the new Community Development training requirement during the public portion of a City Council meeting in late October. “Who authorized this?’’ asked Gilmore, who has been a frequent critic of Makle’s performance. “Where did this come from? These programs and training come out of HUD for free.’’
Morris, who is chairman of the council committee that oversees community development, agreed with Gimore’s concern. Morris said Makle had not informed the council’s CD committee that she was planning to impose the new requirement.
“Most of these applicants are not well-financed,’’ Morris said. “We should be able to provide this training to them for free.’’
PatersonPress.com interviewed representatives from three nonprofit groups who were upset about the new requirement. None of them wanted their names published for fear it would hurt their chances at getting HUD money through the city.
The need for improved training for nonprofit groups seeking HUD funding came to light during the summer when Integrity Lodge #51 ended up withdrawing its request for $300,000 in CDBG money when officials cited flaws in its application.
Morris said Makle should have set up the nonprofit training program through the Paterson Restoration Corporation instead of through William Paterson. The fact that Makle was listed among the instructors in the WPU program “raises even more concerns for me,’’ Morris said.
Morris called the new training requirement “a veiled attempt to provide financial resources to connected individuals, which I find abhorrent.’’
WPU did not say exactly why Makle did not teach her class “Grant-Writing for Non-Profits,” which had been scheduled for October 17. Nor did the college say how much she would have been paid. The college spokesperson did say that Makle had taught classes at WPU in the past.
Thomas said that Makle had received less than $200 for teaching other seminars at WPU in the past.