Lower Manhattan tenants to get grants

By ALEX CUKAN  |  Feb. 22, 2002 at 12:14 AM
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In an effort to lure people to live near where the World Trade Center once stood, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. approved Thursday grants of up to $12,000 to live for two years in Lower Manhattan.

"The proposal is a partial solution for the residents of Lower Manhattan but the clean up has not been addressed," Sudhir Jain, of the Lower Manhattan Tenants Coalition, told United Press International. "Some people are taking some risks because they may be moving into apartments that have not been clean properly and they may not be aware of it."

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp., charged with the rebuilding of the 16-acre site at the World Trade Center, tentatively approved up to $225 million in the residential grants for current and prospective residents of Lower Manhattan.

The money comes from a $2 billion aid package from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for rebuilding Lower Manhattan in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The plan is still subject to the approval by the federal government.

"The residential advisory committee to the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. proposed last week that $100 to $150 million be designated for clean up of the dust that can contain asbestos," Jain said. "There were two people from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. there and they seemed receptive but we see nothing about the clean up in this proposal."

The grants would provide up to $500 a month or 30 percent of a rent or mortgage payment for tenants who sign a two-year lease. Those living closest to Ground Zero would receive the largest grants. Low-income residents will receive minimum grants of $4,000 for those nearest to Ground Zero and $2,000 for those further away.

"Some landlords have already lowered their rent by up to 15 percent and it's my understanding that these grants would be on top of that," Jain said. "This may address the financial issue there is still the health and safety issue and we want the apartments cleaned again, tested afterwards and certified by the city."

More than half of the approximately 20,000 people who lived in Lower Manhattan have returned to their homes, following the collapse of the Twin Towers after being evacuated for a minimum two weeks following Sept. 11. Tenants who lived in their apartment before Sept. 11 and stay can also receive a $1,000 bonus.

In addition to the continuing recovery effort at Ground Zero and the accompanying dust, noise and air pollution the residents will live near a construction site for the next several years.

The residents, many of whom lost jobs at the World Trade Center or had their jobs moved to New Jersey or Connecticut had much of their shopping, restaurants and transportation facilities in the 6-level basement concourse of the World Trade Center.

Last week it was learned that the U.S. Geological Survey found the dust created by the collapse of the World Trade Center had a pH of 12 -- very alkaline -- as alkaline as drain cleaner.

"On Sept. 27 we gave our results to the emergency responders and government agencies including the EPA and then our results went under a detailed peer review and we put the results on our Web site on Nov. 27," Geoff Plumlee, a research geochemist with the U.S.G.S. in Denver, told UPI.

"The dust was largely composed of particles of glass fibers, gypsum, concrete, paper and other building materials so it's not surprising that the pH level was high or that we found high levels of glass fibers."

According to industrial hygienists at the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health which provides training and assistance to 250 unions, highly alkaline dust, when in contact with moist tissue in the body -- the throat, mouth, nasal passages, skin and eyes -- becomes corrosive and can cause burns."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found asbestos in some of their samples taken outdoors near Ground Zero.

More than five months since the attacks the people in Lower Manhattan still do not know whether or not it is safe to live and work in the area, according to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Democrat who represent Lower Manhattan.

"The Environmental Protection Agency has failed in its mission to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment by not exercising its full authority to test and clean all indoor spaces where people live and work," Nadler said last week at a hearing held by the U.S. Senate subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands and Climate.

According to Jain, the government tells people they can go back home and that certified contractors should clean anything that may contain asbestos but no one tests for asbestos so a lot of people cleaned apartments themselves and now they tell us that cleaning incorrectly can be worse that no cleaning at all.

"Shortly afterwards the EPA announced it would conduct some indoor air testing, but so far we have no specifics and we've heard nothing further," Jain said. "The trouble is no one is taking responsibility for the cleanup and it's the number one issue that has to be addressed, it's not just about rent money."

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