Monday, March 29, 2010

City Hall News article accepts claim of ACORN Housing's successor that it's unaffiliated with ACORN; AY housing murky but Lewis says role continues

City Hall News reports, in an article headlined ACORN Housing Arm, Battered by Federal Funding Ban, Lives On that, yes, Mutual Housing New York will continue to work on the Atlantic Yards affordable housing deal.

However, the article credulously accepts the explanation that ACORN Housing Corporation was always separate from ACORN and fails to mention crucial elements in the Atlantic Yards deal, such as ACORN's pledge to publicly support the project and Forest City Ratner's $1.5 million loan/grant to national ACORN.

Not an affiliate?

The article begins:
The nationwide community organizing group ACORN may be shutting down, but its non-profit housing developer, ACORN Housing Corporation, lives on.

The organization, which manages and develops affordable housing units in New York, has gone through a re-branding of its own, changing its name to Mutual Housing NY. Ismene Speliotis, the group’s executive director, said that was ACORN Housing Corporation’s original name when it was founded in 1986.

Speliotis said the group is neither an affiliate nor a subsidiary of ACORN, but that it has nonetheless been hurt by Congress’s decision last year to ban federal funding for ACORN or any of its “allies,” a term Speliotis said is overly broad. A court has since deemed Congress’s decision unconstitutional, though the Obama administration is appealing.

“We’ve tried to make it clear to the government that MHANY is a separate entity, that it’s always been a separate entity,” Speliotis said. “If the law says ‘don’t fund ACORN,’ and then we say, ‘we’re not ACORN,’ and then somebody decides that we are ACORN even though we’re not ACORN, then it’s a bit of a problem.”
Not an affiliate? See page 20 of the 7/23/09 report (below) by the Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (Whatever the politics behind the report, the documents cited speak for themselves.)

Steven Kest, Executive Director of ACORN, explains to a funder that Mike Shea: Executive Director, ACORN Housing Corporation, is among “the following people... working for affiliated organizations."

(Emphasis added)

Transactions with CCI and ACORN

Also cited in the report, the Washington Examiner reported 5/19/09:
Association of Community Organizers for Reform leaders deny having ties to legions of affiliated state and local organizations, but federal tax documents examined by The Examiner show concrete financial links between four such groups and the national ACORN office.

Project Vote, ACORN Institute, ACORN Housing Corporation and the ACORN American Institute for Social Justice included financial transactions with Citizens Consulting Incorporated [CCI] on their tax documents.

Current and former ACORN officers and members who are unhappy with what they describe as a lack of transparency and accountability in the group’s national leadership say those leaders use a New Orleans-based non-profit, Citizens Consulting Inc., to maintain centralized financial controls over affiliates.
Arm's length?

Also, the House report, on p. 63, cites a 1995 report from the Office of the Inspector General of the Corporation for National and Community Service, in which a federal audit of the ACORN Housing Corporation’s (AHC) activities:
We determined that AHC and ACORN are separate corporate entities, but that they do not always operate at ‘arms length.’
The report then cites a 1997 House Committee report, which stated:
Most notable in this regard is . . . the apparent cross-over funding between ACORN, a political advocacy group and ACORN Housing Corp. (AHC), a non profit, AmeriCorps grantee . . . . [I]t was learned that AHC and ACORN shared office space and equipment and failed to assure that activities and funds were wholly separate . . . . [I]t was revealed that AmeriCorps members of AHC raised funds for ACORN, performed voter registration activities, and gave partisan speeches.
Cross-transactions

Also see p. 18 of the Feb. 18, 2010 report (bottom) from House Republicans, which indicates numerous transactions between ACORN Housing and ACORN and between ACORN Housing and CCI. The report states:
The financial data within these audits shows that ACORN received large amounts of money from its nonprofit affiliates while giving significantly less back in return, suggesting wide-spread subversive accounting practices.
The Atlantic Yards deal

The article states:
MHANY will also be charged with leasing and marketing the roughly 2,250 units of affordable housing built at the controversial Atlantic Yards site in Prospect Heights. Advocates say ACORN’s shuttering has thrown the Atlantic Yards plan—which has already changed several times—into disarray.

“One of the big issues of course is that nobody has any idea when this affordable housing might be built,” said Jo Anne Simon, a lawyer and activist with the Brooklyn Speaks coalition, which is lobbying for accountability at the Atlantic Yards site. “And of course ACORN was there to ensure not just that it was built, they were going to be managing that property.”

Bertha Lewis, the CEO of ACORN, said in an interview that she was unsure how the Community Benefits Agreement the group signed with Forest City Ratner would have to be amended to reflect the change in organizations. But she insisted that ACORN would continue to live on in some way in order to enforce the housing provisions in the agreement.

“I don’t know what we would have to technically do,” she said, adding, “ACORN still exists, and Bertha Lewis still exists.”
ACORN's not doing much enforcing, given that the Development Agreement requires only 300 units in 12 years.

And ACORN, not merely required by the Affordable Housing Memorandum of Understanding to publicly support the project, gained $1.5 million from the developer to limp along, bailed out temporarily, and folding only after the groundbreaking for the Atlantic Yards arena.


Acorn Report House of Representatives July 23, 2009 Acorn Report House of Representatives February 18, 2010

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