The city spent $180,000 in federal grant money to renovate the privately owned church building on Montgomery Street to allow former governor James McGreevey to expand his renowned reentry program to the Silk City.
McGreevey’s announcement on Tuesday to relocate the program to Church Street in next year due to a need for more space and the federal investigating into the renovation expenditures was not welcome news for the city.
“We disagree with that. As far as we’re concerned that is where the program is going to be,” said law director Domenick Stampone on Wednesday afternoon. He said the city expended great resources, energies, and efforts to allow the program to operate out of that location.
“You can’t just up and decide that money spent for your program now doesn’t go to that purpose,” he said. He said there does not seem to be any basis for the move other than the program “feels” like moving to a different location.
Stampone said the city is sending a letter to the New Jersey Reentry Corporation to make known its position. Some have said if the program relocates to a different location city taxpayers may be on the hook for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money expended to renovate the church property owned by the Grace Gospel Church.
McGreevey said the program is moving from 147 Montgomery Street to 52 Church Street in his announcement. He said the reentry program called the “Center of Hope” will begin operating out of the downtown Paterson building at the start of January.
McGreevey did not respond to a message for comment for this story.
The former governor’s reentry program sparked controversy in the city. Some city residents opposed the program and did not want it in their neighborhood. McGreevey attended a council meeting at the start of the year to assuage concerns and fears raised by residents and officials. His program began operating at the site in late February.
Milagros Mercado, who lives close to 147 Montgomery Street, said for the past nine months her front steps have been occupied by ex-prisoners. She recalled one incident involving her husband. A group of men were sitting on her stairs, her husband came home, and asked the three men what they were doing on his property.
Three men told Mercado’s husband they were there for the reentry program. “My husband had an argument with them,” she said.
Mercado said she was “very happy” to hear the program is moving out of her street. She last year called the mayor to protest the program, but was rebuffed. She said the mayor ended up hanging up the phone on her.
With FBI raids at City Hall, Community Development Department, and the Health Department as a result of the renovation work at that building to make way for the reentry program, she said maybe it would have been prudent for the city to have listened to neighborhood residents opposed to locating the program in their midst.
“He should have listened,” said Mercado of the mayor. She is not opposed to the reentry program, but the location of the program.
“I don’t want it to shut down. I know some people need it. It’s just in the wrong area,” she said. The program was located in the 4th Ward due to the immense need there, officials said at the time. The largest number of former prisoners returning home reside in the 4th Ward.
The program has helped 350 former prisoners since it opened. 67-percent of them were connected with employment. The program had a recidivism rate of 9-percent, according to McGreevey.
McGreevey has four – Newark, Jersey City, Toms River, and Paterson — reentry programs in New Jersey. The Paterson program has had a greater success rate in getting former prisoners jobs than any of the other three.
Stampone said the city is working on a number of solutions to ensure the reentry program remains at the location. He also said the city may even take legal action against McGreevey’s nonprofit.