Monday, November 08, 2010

ACORN founder says AY opponents "not moved by the need for affordable housing," loves that ACORN stiffed Ratner, thinks developer's still smiling

ACORN founder Wade Rathke, on his Chief Organizer blog, is bemused by ACORN's filing of bankruptcy, but offers some reflections on the AY angle:
The biggest debt was the controversial $1M loan from Forest Ratner, the Atlantic Yards and Nets arena developer in Brooklyn that has been so contentious. ACORN had negotiated a community benefits agreement [CBA] there for badly needed affordable housing, which unfortunately has not been built in the downturn. Opponents of the project are legion among the vast community who were not moved by the need for affordable housing in Brooklyn for a host of regions.
He's typing a bit fast--"regions" for "reasons," "Forest Ratner" for "Forest City Ratner"--and misses the central point: the CBA won't guarantee the affordable housing. Only sufficient public funding will do so.

Forest City Ratner essentially achieved a private rezoning by promising affordable housing, then got the opportunity to delay it based on lack of subsidies. Project opponents who supported the Extell bid for the Vanderbilt Yard supported a plan that would have included significant affordable housing.

And project critics/opponents include some established housing groups like the Fifth Avenue Committee and the Pratt Area Community Council.

Note that, while Rathke calls it a controversial loan, it was controversial more inside ACORN than outside, since it was essentially ignored by the media.

Internal tactics

Rathke continues:
In a shrewd move to consolidate support for her candidacy as the chief staff member of ACORN, Bertha Lewis in the fall of 2008 negotiated a combination deal with Ratner to prove her fundraising prowess involving about $400,000 in grants and $1M in loans, despite onerous repayment and penalty terms. With the voter registration crises swirling around ACORN, Bertha pulled the one string where she had leverage from her New York base — damn the torpedoes — realizing that Brooklyn was so polarized around Atlantic Yards and ACORN that it would hardly matter much more, and the likely criticism was secondary to her desperate need for bridge money while she waited for funders to grow a backbone. I love the fact the fact that in the end, she stiffed him, and I bet he’s still smiling in spite of himself. He’s a big time developer, so he knows what it means to go bankrupt and short folks when the pieces don’t come together, and a million plus was still a fair deal to have a friend in Brooklyn in the scale of things.
Rathke's right that, during the tough times, Forest City Ratner owed ACORN as much as anyone.

And he's right that Ratner's probably still smiling. After all, Forest City Ratner executives were all chummy with Lewis at a public meeting last week.

Note: the total in grants was $500,000, not $400,000.

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