Friday, December 01, 2006

ACORN past president on AY: (white) AMBIENCE vs. (black) SURVIVAL

Isn't the most important color in the Atlantic Yards debate green, as the Daily News' Michael O'Keeffe wrote back in June? O'Keeffe pointed out that some prominent supporters of the project received financial support from developer Forest City Ratner and emphasized the importance of analyzing the project's costs and benefits.

And the racial rhetoric has diminished, right? In an 11/12/06 New York Times article, ACORN executive director Bertha Lewis of ACORN was quoted:
“Everybody said crazy things on both sides,” Ms. Lewis said. “I’ve apologized to folks and folks have apologized to me.”

But there, in the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement, are some rather polarizing comments from Gloria Waldron, past president of ACORN, a group that stands to benefit by managing the affordable housing aspect of the plan and has received donations from Forest City Ratner.

The remarks differ significantly in tone, if not content, from Waldron's oral testimony at the August 23 public hearing. (All emphases are in the original.)

AMBIENCE for the white folk

In her written testimony (right), Waldron said, in part:
I have been here for previous debates and if I had to give it a title it would be AMBIENCE versus SURVIVAL
The all white people with token blacks are against the project, their qualms AMBIENCE
--The building is too tall and would case a shadow on the other buildings
--There would be too much noise when the games are going on
--We would not be able to use our parks
--And two legitimate ones traffic and eminent domain which is being addressed.
Also those that lived there would have first choice to return.


Waldron's summary is a truncated, conclusory, and dismissive list of the environmental concerns identified by numerous community groups and the Empire State Development Corporation.

And, of course, there are many other concerns. Black folk nearby have testified about their concerns about asthma. (City Council Member Letitia James got booed when she mentioned asthma!).

City Council Member Charles Barron, who along with James probably takes issue with being called a "token black," has criticized the project as "instant gentrification."
(Graphic from the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods. Click to enlarge.)

Note that, while ACORN members polled supported the project after they were told it would include affordable housing, most would not qualify for most of the AY affordable housing because their incomes are too low. Other long-established housing advocacy groups, including the Fifth Avenue Committee and the Pratt Area Community Council, have criticized the affordable housing component for not accommodating a broader income range.

SURVIVAL for the black folk

In her written submission, Waldron continued:

Then there was the all black with a token white contingency, their qualms SURVIVAL
--JOBS: There are 56% blacks that are not in prison and out of jobs, without jobs the prison number could raise. Also the contractors that are assured that for a change minority and women contractors would be given contracts.


--HOUSING: There is need low cost housing, this is one of the few known housing projects of the numerous that is going out all over the country that has even considered low and middle income housing.

There is indeed a need for subsidized housing; the question is: where do the subsidies go? Is this the only alternative? How many jobs would by generated by the public investment?

... But He [Jesus] considered the many as opposed to the few. The few who would be the residents of the area of the Atlantic Yards, the many is Brooklyn, the youth especially....

The building got taller with the inclusion of the low and middle cost housing; hence the other projects could be shorter because they did not include low and middle income homes. Gentlemen and Women we cannot have our cake and eat it too....


Waldron touches on an important issue--there can be tradeoffs between affordability and livability, and Forest City Ratner and ACORN's Lewis justify the size of the project because it includes affordable housing. But without any sense of the developer's bottom line (a billion dollars in profits?) and the total of the subsidies included, there's no way to assess the argument, only to know that the state is overriding zoning.

Also, the buildings were tall to start with, and the market-rate units would help cross-subsidize not just affordable units but also an arena.

Oral testimony

In her oral testimony (p. 330 of PDF; note that the transcription is inexact), Waldron was far less inflammatory:

I'm Gloria Waldron, the Executive Director of the new American Chamber of Commerce, that encourages black men and women to start their own businesses because the jobs are not here. The jobs are in China and India and what's here is downsize or legal. And we have so many black men in prison and they be left outside. Fifty-six percent are unemployed, that is why I support the Atlantic Yards.

She doesn't try to analyze how many people actually would be helped, and how many jobs would go to the people she cites.

I start by thanking New York ACORN. We asked about Atlantic Yards. We went around and found out what was the project in the area, they said eminent domain and getting the houses back. So we said we will address that and you can tell ACORN if you have a problem with that, call us because we want to address that. And the number is 718-246-7900 or just look up ACORN. And I want you to know that it is important for us to have this project. I live in East New York. Some of the schools are using oil heat, but there's a big prison there for children seven to fourteen years old, no hearing, you know.

I can't -- if Atlantic Yards -- if the Atlantic Yards had failed to be a process I suggest you putting up a building, a building like everybody else, we would not be here today. But they choose to call the entire community in to see that everybody gets a fair deal and that is why we are here today.

For the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement, signed by eight groups, most of them fledgling, "the entire community" was not called in.

I say we need the community benefits agreement to be sure that everybody got a fair deal. And if you have a problem with that, talk to us, we still -- we still will work with you, but the project must go on for Brooklyn, for our young people -- (Audience participation) -- for our black men that are unemployed. We need the project. (Audience participation.)

The "audience participation" consisted of cheers.

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