Did a housing group's heckle transform Mr. Giuliani into Dr. Jekyll? The head of ACORN's housing development group says the Giuliani administration has unexpectedly pulled out of two multimillion dollar projects it had agreed to fund–because the controversial organizing group jeered Mayor Giuliani at a recent housing conference.
Last month, city officials informed executives at New York ACORN Housing Company and its sister organization, the Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY), that they had been dealt out of the $6 million Neighborhood Redevelopment Program in Washington Heights and had also lost a $2.5 million stake in the new Neighborhood Homes first-time homebuyers project.
In recent months, officials at the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development had been working out logistics of both projects with ACORN.
When ACORN's top development staffer Ismene Speliotis asked for a status report in mid-September, officials told her the organization had been kicked off the projects. According to Speliotis, the officials said the severance was purely political: ACORN members had interrupted Mayor Giuliani's speech before a national conference of development officials in July 25 with chants of “Housing for the needy, not for the greedy!”
“The people from the city told me, 'We've been told not to do any more business with you,'” Speliotis told City Limits. “We were given no other reason apart from our organizing activity. This is completely not fair.”
The city's decision comes at a particularly bad time for ACORN. Earlier this year, the city scrapped the fourth phase of MHANY's overall development plan, citing budget restraints. That leaves the organization with only a few projects left in its pipeline and little hope for new work at a time when development money is increasingly scarce. “We are looking for other sources, maybe HUD,” Speliotis added.
In the last decade, MHANY and ACORN have received $27.7 million in city contracts and rehabilitated some 500 units in 150 mostly small buildings, many of them scattered throughout the East New York section of Brooklyn. Experts consider construction and organizing efforts in small run-down buildings to be among the toughest urban housing initiatives.
At the same time, however, ACORN's organizing efforts among city tenants have aggravated many in the administration. Over the past year the group has especially targeted the New York City Housing Authority, helping to force authority chairman Ruben Franco to withdraw an application to the federal government that asked for permission to move a greater number of working-class tenants into housing projects previously reserved for the poorest applicants.
Press representatives at the mayor's office and HPD did not answer messages.