The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Palacio '11 Produces "Million Dollar Block," a Documentary on Housing, Education & Criminal Justice in Brooklyn

Shantel Palacio '11MPPA, alumna of the UMass Amherst School of Public PolicyShantel Palacio '11MPPA, UMass Amherst School of Public Policy alumna.
Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Shantel Palacio '11 MPPA is an alumna of the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy and native of the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Her website, Brownsvillain, is an archive of stories and people Palacio has encountered in Brownsville. These interviews and testimonials help her craft a narrative that defies outsiders’ presumptions about the neighborhood. Her recent independent film project, Million Dollar Block, a documentary co-produced by Palacio, intends to do exactly that. 

Contrary to how it sounds, the phrase “million-dollar block” is not a reference to high-income communities with brownstone-lined streets and luxury amenities. Rather, the phrase is an aloof reference to the millions of dollars local taxpayers spend on incarceration; Palacio’s film explores 3 of New York City’s 17 million dollar blocks, specifically the Van Dyke Houses public housing development.

Van Dyke Houses is home to over 4,000 residents spread across 1,603 apartments in 22 buildings. Van Dyke’s buildings are also among the most policed and surveilled in New York City, which often prompts the media to portray the neighborhood as a hotbed of crime and violence.

Million Dollar Block tells the story of daily life in Van Dyke and examines the institutions of public housing, public education, and the criminal justice system through the eyes of its diverse residents.

Not only do residents have to deal with the stigma perpetuated about Van Dyke, but also with private development and gentrification, and the New York City housing and police bureaucracies. These residents rarely if ever see private investment manifested as community benefits. They live in a constant state of neglect.

According to the film’s artistic statement, “These interviews will serve as a Greek chorus juxtaposed against the verite scenes of everyday life, and together they will devise a portrait that examines the seemingly mundane in an effort to examine the larger external forces that circumscribe the lives and actions of residents - most significantly, the NYPD and NYCHA.“

Palacio graduated from the Master’s of Public Policy and Administration program in 2011 and recently worked for the NYC Department of Education for over eight years. She is currently a PhD candidate in education policy at the University of New Hampshire.

Palacio’s goal is “to research best practices for building greater platforms for parents and community leaders in shaping their schools,” she said. “I want the policy process to be more accessible and less confusing for parents to navigate.”

Since its debut, the documentary has garnered numerous awards and accolades including IFP Fiscal Sponsorship Program 2020, IFP Documentary Lab Fellow 2019, Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant Recipient 2019, Big Sky Film Festival Pitch Participant 2019, Made in New York Women's Film, TV, and Theatre Fund Recipient 2019, Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts Grant Recipient 2018, New York State Council on the Arts Grant Recipient 2018, and the Brooklyn Film Festival Pitch Competition POV Award Winner 2018.