Skip to main content

Just as Bertha Lewis is back, so is the resurrected ACORN, now New York Communities for Change (and that could nudge de Blasio on Atlantic Yards)

Just as former New York ACORN head Bertha Lewis, the key partner/cheerleader for Forest City Ratner's affordable housing plan within the Atlantic Yards project, has become a key player in Mayor Bill de Blasio's circle of power, so too has the resurrected ACORN, now known as New York Communities for Change.

And that gives Forest City a key contingent of supporters--and, perhaps, mild critics--as the affordable housing rolls out. And that contingent may help lobby de Blasio for tweaks in the program.

The Observer's Ross Barkan, in NYCC, Reincarnated Acorn, Rises in de Blasio’s New York, writes:
“I am so appreciative of not just the support I received and my campaign received, I’m appreciative of all the people who were given hope by New York Communities for Change, who were shown their own power,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio at a recent fund-raiser for the group, which endorsed him during the primary, long before his electoral surge.
Unwelcome during former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s reign, NYCC has been reborn in Mr. de Blasio’s orbit. Ex-Acorners helped elect Mr. de Blasio and his ally, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, lending ground troops and organizational firepower to both the mayoral race and the backroom speakership contest.
NYCC, which is battling to raise the wages of low-income workers and eventually unionize them, increase affordable housing and beat back the charter school movement, is also entwined with the influential Working Families Party.
NYCC launched in early 2010, as I reported. Barkan identifies the dues-paying membership at 20,000 in the city and Long Island--which is less than the 35,000 reported by author John Atlas late in the previous decade--and a budget that's grown from $200,000 to more than $2 million.

NYCC's role

NYCC  helped get the vote out "in predominantly black areas in central Brooklyn and southeast Queens" and gave de Blasio a boost at campaign events.

NYCC and the Working Families Party are deeply intertwined, occupying offices one floor apart and with NYCC leader Jonathan Westin, who succeeded the late Jon Kest, serving on the WFP’s executive board, according to the article. 

NYCC assigned top staffer Amelia Adams to the campaign to get Mark-Viverito elected, and she was later hired the the speaker as a senior adviser.

Role of MHANY

From Forest City presentation re B2 tower
I'd add that Mutual Housing Association of New York, or MHANY, led by former ACORN housing head Ismene Speliotis, is in the same building. While I've written that NYCC is Forest City's formal partner on the affordable housing, I believe instead it's MHANY, as indicated at right.

At the groundbreaking in December 2012 for the B2 tower, Bruce Ratner offered effusive thanks to ACORN, Mutual Housing of New York, New York Communities for Change, and members of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).

At a 2/27/13 hearing on the draft scope for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, Adams, then of NYCC, said "we really need to push the tiered income and mix of apartments. We cannot get a whole bunch of one-bedrooms and studios. We really need to push for two- and three bedrooms so that actual families can call Downtown Brooklyn their neighborhood.”

As I wrote, it wasn't clear who she was pushing: Forest City Ratner, which failed to follow its promise of 50% larger units (in square footage), or city funders who allocate subsidies on a per-unit, rather than per-bedroom, basis. 

If NYCC has some clout, we may see some tweaks in city funding so the next Atlantic Yards towers fit that promise.
Lewis' role

Lewis was an early backer of de Blasio. The article notes that, while Lewis, who runs The Black Institute, has no official role with the NYCC, she discusses the group using the pronoun “we.”

Indeed, she remains the face of the affordable housing program.