Yonkers residents look past conflict for housing remedy. Behind low-income housing feud, groups work quietly to unite city

In many corners of Yonkers, citizens say they are seeking to repair the damage from a summer of protests over federally ordered integrated housing. The Yonkers depicted on national television and in newspaper headlines is one of racial tension and chanting citizens and recalcitrant councilmen who refuse to support the proposed housing plan.

Yesterday in a Manhattan courtroom, United States Judge Leonard Sand heard arguments concerning one proposed site for low-income housing east of the Saw Mill River Parkway to remedy what he calls ``intentional segregation.'' Yonkers officials argued that the site would be too costly and infeasible. But if the city cannot come up with a workable plan, some worry Yonkers may again be charged with contempt of court.

The city has a long way to go to settle disputes over where to put the 1,000 units of subsidized housing - 200 low-income and 800 moderate-income. And inflamed and sometimes misleading rhetoric has fanned racist sentiments among some.

Nevertheless, two groups on opposite sides of the controversy, the Save Yonkers Federation and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, have maintained discussions, says State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky.

These groups areworking largely outside the spotlight.

There were no television cameras or crowds as Mayor Nicholas Wasicsko entered the basement of Sacred Heart parish church Oct. 6 to meet with members of YIELD (Yonkers Interfaith Education and Leadership Development). Though the meeting was a spinoff from the conflict of the proposed public housing, the discussion had another focus.

Marion Rutledge, a life-long Yonkers resident, led the meeting on safety in public housing projects.

``We're saying clean up what you have now,'' said Mrs. Rutledge. Drugs and crime in the existing public housing scare the east Yonkers residents, she said, and crack dealers are victimizing families in the projects.

YIELD seeks to take issues behind the housing crisis, such as crime, development questions, and mistrust of local government, and deal with them directly. Its public safety committee has a proposal that would increase police presence in the projects.

For citizens frustrated with the actions of the present city government, YIELD offers a vehicle for involvement, and, ideally, a chance to impact local government.

In the case of their proposal for an anticrime, drug control and prevention task force for the projects, these citizens have done their homework.

With research, they outlined the amount of police manpower necessary and targeted sources of revenue for the program, including current budget requests for overtime and community development block grant funds from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

YIELD members have also met with city councilors and managed to extract a promise that the proposal will be on the council agenda within a month.

YIELD draws from a wide range of Yonkers residents, though primarily from the ranks of churches and synogogues. There are black and ethnic white residents from both sides of town.

``We want to give the nation another side of Yonkers,'' says Paul Robinson, a black resident from Yonkers's west side. Though the proposed new housing does not include the kind of high-rise buildings that have the reputation for drugs and crime, ``The bottom line is that we can't build new housing when we have destructive housing on the same plane,'' Mr. Robinson says.

Robinson adds that housing plans include much more than simply the 200 units that have caused the controversy. YIELD estimates that there are nearly 6,000 units currently being considered for development or conversion in the city, ranging from low-income to luxury apartments.

YIELD advocates programs such as ``yoking,'' which would require developers to build a certain percentage of affordable housing in tandem with luxury development.

Many of these low-profile groups are tackling issues, such as public safety and housing, which are fairly easily addressed. But that's not enough, says Brodsky, when the question of sites still seems to be unsolvable.

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