It’s either a straightforward struggle over low-income neighborhood development or a highly political personal vendetta, depending on who describes it. But in any case, a long-brewing dispute between a community board officer and the executive director of a large Brooklyn housing organization has blossomed into a fight that endangers a $7.8 million supportive housing project and has already led the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to pull one small but critical organizing contract, City Limits has learned.
The argument started over a rehab project at 218 Gates Avenue in Bedford Stuyvesant. More than a year ago, Pratt Area Community Council (PACC), a Fort Greene-based organizing and development group, began working out a deal to buy and fix up the derelict building, converting it to permanent supportive housing that would primarily serve AIDS patients.
But a coalition of about eight local block associations rallied against it, saying the neighborhood was already over-saturated with shelters and clinics. “We feel like we’ve been inundated with social programs,” explained Demetrice Mills, a nearby homeowner who has campaigned against the plan. “The area has been bleak for a while. Now there’s a rise–why not let that rise continue?” Although there is currently no permanent AIDS housing in Bed-Stuy–which has an AIDS rate 30 percent higher than the city average–a similar project is poised to break ground about ten blocks away.
Community Board 3 housing committee chair Sharonnie Perry took up the fight, charging that PACC are outsiders with no staff or board members from the neighborhood. She vows to oppose all of the group’s projects and file suit if necessary to block their work. “Because of lack of respect to the community…the board took the position to support the community 100 percent against the project,” Perry said. “There are other organizations in the neighborhood that have a development background that have not been considered.”
Perry, whose god-daughter formerly worked for the organization, makes no secret of her animosity for PACC executive director Vivian Becker. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, difficult is not even the word for her,” said Perry. (Becker would not comment on the matter.) But others in the community point to Perry’s political ambitions. Perry was formerly chief of staff for local Councilwoman Annette Robinson, and says she intends to run for the seat in 2001.
Perry now has Robinson’s support, as well as the backing of other local politicians, including Assemblyman Roger Green. This may give the efforts to stop the project more weight.
As far as the AIDS housing goes, HPD staff familiar with the development process maintain that there is little that community boards can do to stop projects underway on privately-owned land.
Yet the conflict has had an impact. It lead the housing agency to pull another PACC project, a $50,000 organizing contract that is the first phase in the agency’s Safe-at-Home initiative, and offer it instead to a Bed-Stuy housing group. Triumphantly launched last August by the mayor and the housing commissioner, the new $88 million Safe-at-Home project links up drug enforcement, community organizing and housing development in Bed-Stuy and the South Bronx.
“This [fight] is not about the merits of the project,” said one source close to the project who asked not to be identified. “A lot of Bed-Stuy groups are losing contracts, and there’s a lot of resentment.”