Monday, September 21, 2009

The New York Post discovers (and downplays) ACORN's deal with Forest City Ratner

Now that the national organization ACORN has been in the news, after a video sting operation exposed some unwise advice from low-level employees, the New York Post mentions, in passing, something far more significant: developer Forest City Ratner's bailout of the national organization, with a $500,000 grant and a $1 million loan.

The article, headlined Group can $core on Atl. Yards, begins with a bit of a non sequitur:
Despite a string of scandals that led Congress to cut off its federal funding, ACORN stands to make millions off its support for Brooklyn's controversial Atlantic Yards project, The Post has learned.

The left-wing organization--longtime boosters of the $4.9 billion NBA arena and residential- and office-tower project--says it expects to market and help decide who gets to live in the 2,250 affordable housing units.

This, after Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner helped bail ACORN out of financial trouble last September with a $1 million loan and a $500,000 grant.


The scandal has nothing to do with ACORN's housing management role, and ACORN's role in helping decide who gets to live in the affordable housing units involves running a lottery. (Yes, there are ways lottery marketers can ensure that certain groups are informed about applying, though it's likely Atlantic Yards housing would get much publicity.)

And it's not news that ACORN would earn fees for marketing the units. As John Atlas reported in the November/December 2005 issue of Shelterforce Online:
The plan, developed by ACORN’s housing expert, Ismene Speliotis, sets rents at 30 percent of the household’s income. Speliotis even insisted that ACORN be given the responsibility of marketing the units. (Another point of contention for critics.) “Nobody is going to care as much as ACORN that the appropriate people are marketed to, reached and housed,” says Speliotis.

Could ACORN earn $5 million to $10 million a year from marketing and leasing the units, as whistleblower Anita MonCrief suggests to the Post? I think a better source on that would be an organization involved in affordable housing in New York. (I'll check.)

The bailout

The $1.5 million bailout is much bigger news, because it shows Forest City Ratner stepping in after major foundations, which had previously supported ACORN, stopped contributing after an embezzlement scandal.

That was first made public by whistleblower MonCrief last year, and confirmed by an ACORN spokesman for this blog last December 2. On April 10, I even wrote an open letter to New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt explaining why the bailout was worth a story.

Now, it is, though the Post gave it just a paragraph (updated) in print, as noted above, though there's more online:
As Ratner was quietly funneling $1.5 million in grants and loans to ACORN last year, his firm was reeling from the economic downtown and laying staff off and bringing in “value engineers” to shave Atlantic Yards' costs.

Critics and some project supporters began questioning whether Ratner could deliver the affordable housing and jobs he promised. But ACORN -- which was embroiled in an embezzlement scandal and owed millions of dollars in back taxes -- remained silent and accepted Ratner’s gift.

The lack of credit

Of course the Post doesn't credit this blog, because Post policy is not to credit blogs, as one ripoff reporter told blogger Heather Letzkus.

When that news went viral, a Post spokeswoman, refusing further comment, insisted to the Nieman Journalism Lab that the newspaper regularly credits blogs. Nope.

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