NEWS N’ VIEWS
Father Richard F. Gorman
Community Board #12 (The Bronx)
BRONX, NEW YORK, September 25- “Turning up like a bad penny” is an age-old, old-fashioned, idiomatic expression probably more familiar to us “bigger kids” than to younger folks. It essentially is an adept and adroit way of saying that someone has arrived at a place where that person is not wanted or welcome. It is moreover an appropriate means to convey my gut reaction to the news that THE ACACIA NETWORK, a considerable conglomeration of Latino-based social service agencies with deep-seated roots in the Borough of The Bronx stretching back to the year 1969, wants to open a fourth homeless facility in Wakefield. ACACIA NETWORK provides assistance to needy individuals and families in the fields of health care, housing, and economic development. It was formerly known as “BASICS/Promesa.”
It would seem logical and rational to suppose that an agency such as THE ACACIA NETWORK would be kept more than occupied by individuals and families in need going to it for help. Apparently, though, such is not the case. Is it that THE ACACIA NETWORK needs to find philanthropic work to do? Does it need to create projects and opportunities that justify its existence as a not-for-profit (N-F-P) organization? Or is it that the individuals and the entities for whom ACACIA NETWORK is on the hunt seeking to assist are those who, far from being needy, are concerned with feathering their own nest with dollar bills?
I pose these questions in all sincerity because, for the second time in approximately two years, THE ACACIA NETWORK is coming to the rescue of an acquisitive developer, Mark Stagg, who is the Founder and the President of THE STAGG GROUP, a Westchester-based enterprise that since 1996 has gobbled up every plot of available real estate it could find in the Northeast Bronx. In this last decade and a half, it has constructed on this real estate over 1,000 units of housing advertised as “affordable,” far too many of which have wound up in Community Board #12 (The Bronx).
To give Mr. Stagg his due, his apartments, that many would consider too small and lacking in sufficient living space, are built to size specifications typical of units being constructed today. Moreover, while many would claim that rents being sought for these apartments are much too high and anything but “affordable,” again, to be fair to Mark Stagg, these rents are determined by Government-funded affordable housing programs, as are, I suspect, their size specifications. I by no means seek to kowtow at this point as an apologist for Stagg and Company. The fact is, however, that the “affordable” housing program established and regulated by Government produces housing that the average person and family sees as neither reasonably affordable nor sufficiently spacious.
Nonetheless, Mark Stagg is no babe in the woods. He gobbles up real state and builds apartments like greased lightning, but often is unable to rent them. In constructing his housing, he seeks and acquires significant tax breaks from Government agencies, such as the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (N.Y.C.H.P.D.). He is smart, swift, and shrewd but not always successful in renting his units. So, what does he do? Like far too many in the private sector -- some, if not most of whom, extol the blessings of such private sector staples as free enterprise, competition, and liberation from Government oversight and restrictions -- he turns to Government to bail him out. This precisely what he sought to do approximately two years ago when he was unable to rent apartments at two of his properties in Community Board #12 (The Bronx) -- viz., “JUSTIN’S PAVILLION,” a 50-unit building between Barnes Avenue and White Plains Road at 753 - 761 East 214TH Street and “MARILYN’S PLACE,” a 30-unit edifice between White Plains Road and Carpenter Avenue at 674 - 678 East 232ND Street. After applying for a generous tax abatement from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (N.Y.C.H.P.D.) for each of these two apartment complexes, Mr. Stagg, unable to market these 80 units, sought to recoup his investment by turning them into transitional housing for the homeless, a palpably cunning move. Cunning, one may inquire? Absolutely say I! If he had gotten away with this insidious idea, Mr. Stagg would have, in effect, been guilty of “doubling-dipping” into the largesse of Government, which basically comes out of your wallet and mine. Specifically, Mark Stagg would have gotten money in the form of affordable housing tax abatements from N.Y.C.H.P.D. in order to build his apartments and then even more Government dollars, for all intents and purposes, from the New York City Department of Homeless Services (N.Y.C.D.H.S.) in the form of rent for the homeless living in them. Of course, he needed a willing “go-between” in the form of a not-for-profit (N-F-P) or charitable group that would serve as a conduit for the cash -- at benefit to themselves, naturally -- from N.Y.C.D.H.S. to THE STAGG GROUP. Such an eager intermediary was found in THE ACACIA NETWORK, then operating under the name of “BASICS/Promesa.” Fortunately, this scheme was sunk by Community Board #12 (The Bronx) working with straightforward public servants at N.Y.C.H.P.D., who squashed this money-grab by informing Mark Stagg that, having received a tax abatement to erect and to market affordable housing, he had better do and could only do precisely that and not get more Municipal monetary munificence from N.Y.C.D.H.S., courtesy of BASICS/Promesa, by housing the homeless. The love of money, though, clothed in the disguise of doing God’s work, like old soldiers never dies, but neither does it, sorry to say, ever fade away.
As I reported to do last week, the cottage industry that has grown up and prospered around the homeless crisis is still up to its usual games. All parties involved -- viz., Government, so-called advocacy outfits, not-for-profits (N-F-P’s) and developers -- continue to barnstorm straight away through local neighborhoods like General Sherman marching through Georgia to the sea. Government gives tax dollars via proposals to N-F-P’s, whose mangers are frequently former officials in the very same Government agencies from which they seek funding and who have been consulted by their former employers in Government in the composition of these proposals for public funding known as “REQUESTS FOR PROPOSALS,” or “R.F.P.’s” Government throws in its lot with N-F-P’s, showering them considerable amounts of taxpayer money in order to build and to manage permanent and transitional housing for the homeless, thus fabricating the façade that the N-F-P sector is doing in its facilities, instead of Government in its facilities, work that the Courts have said Government must do -- i.e., affording shelter to all those who need and want it. Conveniently, this ruse allows Government, in particular that of the City of New York, to escape the constraints of the “FAIR SHARE” provisions of THE CHARTER OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, which mandate that the location of city facilities and the cost that they impose upon localities must be equitably distributed among all 59 Community Boards. Contributing to the public policy predicament as well are advocacy groups who continually raise the bar -- and the cost to taxpayers -- of what must be provided as-of-right to the disadvantaged population whose interests they promote before they eventually get hired by Government. Completing this vicious and fraudulent cycle, are voracious real estate developers, who incestuously get into bed with both Government and N-F-P leaders by delivering sites for homeless facilities while simultaneously destroying neighborhoods, whose taxpaying residents have to fork over the money that Government blithely passes along to the N-F-P sector, which subsequently pays developers more rent than they would have otherwise received for their apartments.
This is the homeless juggernaut that Community Board #12 (The Bronx) faces as once more Mr. Mark Stagg, perhaps unable to market but seeking a sure and certain return on his investment nevertheless, peddles a five-story building with 56 apartments and solar panels affixed on the roof at 4453 White Plains Road as a facility for transitional homeless housing. The dream of Community Board #12 (The Bronx) and of its residents -- who in having White Plains Road and the whole of Bronx Community District #12 re-zoned -- undertook to revive this commercial strip as a vibrant boulevard populated and enlivened with apartment dwellers and small businesses, be DAMNED!
Not surprisingly, who should THE STAGG GROUP dig up to be its partners in crime thrusting yet another stake in the heart of Wakefield than its old buddies at BASICS/Promesa now d/b/a/ THE ACACIA NETWORK! On Thursday morning, 13 September 2012 at Community Board #12’s Headquarters in TOWN HALL, the bosses at the former BASICS/Promesa still in the driver’s seat at ACACIA NETWORK -- viz., its Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O), The Honorable Raúl Russo, former Commissioner of the Department of Probation of the City of New York and its President, The Honorable Hector L. Diaz, former Bronx Assembly Member, Bronx County Clerk, and Clerk of the City of New York -- along with Mr. Fernando Brinn, a Marketing and Community Relations Consultant who is no stranger to the politics of The Bronx, were politely but pointedly informed by “YOURS TRULY” that a fourth facility in Wakefield serving any portion of the overall homeless population is out-of-the-question as far as Community Board #12 (The Bronx) is concerned. Already the victim of a “double-whammy” at the intersection of Bronx Boulevard and East 238TH Street (Nereid Avenue), where PROJECT RENEWAL and THE DOE FUND intend to operate sizeable facilities right across the street from each other, this Community Board Chairman says “NO WAY! NO HOW!” to the creation a near-similar situation on White Plains Road, where a hop, a skip and a jump slightly south of 4453 White Plains Road, PRAXIS HOUSIG INITIATIVES has purchased land at 4339 White Plains Road to construct 61 studio apartments as permanent housing for those who have been homeless, whose circumstances may have been engendered and/or exacerbated by H.I.V./A.I.D.S., chemical dependencies, mental health issues, or special needs. The STAGG property at 4453 White Plains Road should be for what the Community Board had White Plains Road rezoned and for what Mark Stagg originally build it -- viz., a multi-storied, multi-family apartment house. Messrs. Russo’s, Diaz’s, and Brinn’s ideas to the contrary, it is not meant for transitional housing for the homeless, unless, of course, the three of them intend to give our homeless friends motor vehicles in addition to apartments, which can be placed in the building’s underground garage with it 28 parking spaces.
The so-called “ARAB SPRING” of 2011 demonstrated how “people power,” with fellow citizens forgoing personal and petty preoccupations in favor of pursuing the common good, can overthrown even bloodthirsty dictatorships and indulgent monarchies that have existed for decades. Are the people of Community Board #12 (The Bronx) no less capable of being so powerful? Are our public officials ready to supply the leadership needed to overthrow a tyrannical system and an exploitative cottage industry that eats up more and more of our tax dollars in these challenging economic straits even as it abysmally fails to solve the crisis of homelessness that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg promised would diminish, if not disappear, in the course of his second term of office? We shall see . . . . . . We shall see.
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