Well, not exactly. Recently released documents offer clues that ACORN indeed had an impact, though not quite the one Lewis has described.
Lewis said in a 2/14/07 radio interview:
And when Atlantic Yards came up, we stepped in and we said, “Whoa, wait a minute, if this tide is going to wash over us, we’ve got to be able to affect it.” There was no plan to do anything affordable in that project, whatsoever.
...And Atlantic Yards was the only ones where we said, “50/50, let us show you how to do this.” [Ratner] said, “Okay, we’re going to do this.”
An early business plan
A 10/22/03 presentation by FCR to the Empire State Development Corporation, unearthed via Assemblyman Jim Brennan's lawsuit, indicates that the developer planned for rental buildings to be 80 percent market-rate, 20 percent subsidized low-income housing. That's the typical ratio for city-subsidized programs and in fact the ratio required for tax breaks under the 421-a program in certain areas.
At the time, Forest City could have gotten the 421-a tax break without affordable housing. However, it was politically necessary to include affordable housing to justify what was essentially a private rezoning to add an enormous amount of new development rights.
Some negotiation apparently ensued. Less then two months later, when the project was officially announced on 12/10/03, Forest City Ratner CEO Bruce Ratner said that the "housing doesn’t mean only market-rate housing, it means middle income and it means affordable housing—and we will get that done."
The 50/50 plan; who gains?
That later was proclaimed as a "50/50" plan balancing market-rate and affordable housing, or, more accurately, 50 percent luxury, 30 percent subsidized middle- and moderate-income housing (some for families earning over six figures), and 20 percent subsidized low-income housing, as in the 80/20 plan.
Lewis had helped achieve a larger percentage of affordable housing, but at little gain to her constituency, which, as she described it in a 7/31/06 City Limits article, is an "organizing group made [up] of nearly 40,000 low-income families."ACORN had gained institutional prestige, since it would help manage the affordable housing.
Forest City Ratner had achieved a p.r. coup. When it was signed, the 50/50 plan applied only to the rentals rather than all Atlantic Yards housing, as previously promised. And Forest City Ratner was free to add thousands more market-rate condos to make the project work financially.