22 Sep ACORN Forest City Ratner and the Atlantic Yards
In our nearly 6 years of working on a film about the Atlantic Yards project, we have taken great pains to avoid using our work to influence the situation. While we are not activist filmmakers, we are also not journalists and it has has not been our goal to cover the story from a “news” perspective. Instead, we see ourselves as working in the tradition of the verite documentary filmmakers like the Maysles Brothers or Fredrick Wiseman.
However, we have been covering a politically charged story and have often struggled to hold our tounges, and our footage, as major news stories have come and gone. With the recent brouhaha over ACORN exploding into the press, and bleeding over into the issue of the Atlantic Yards we thought it was relevant to post a scene from our upcoming film that sheds some light on the relationship between, ACORN, the developer, and the community surrounding the Atlantic Yards project.
This scene comes about 40 minutes into the film. By this point, the audience has witnessed the announcement of the project as well as growing community opposition to it. In addition, the vast majority of condo owners in the footprint of the proposed project have sold their apartments to the developer in order to avoid having them seized via eminent domain. The main character of the film, Daniel Goldstein, has refused to sell and has become one of the main organizers trying to stop it.
In this scene, Daniel attends a press conference announcing an agreement reached between Acorn and Forest City Ratner – in which the developer has agreed to make half of the units in the proposed project “affordable”. Further, it is agreed that Acorn will be involved in monitoring the project as well as marketing the “affordable” units. For this work they will be paid.
At the press conference on May 19th, 2005, Bertha Lewis, the head of NY ACORN (currently the head of the national organization), declares that ACORN is working with the current tenants to make sure that they are not pushed out and treated fairly by the developer. Answering a question, she further states that there will be apartments set aside for those displaced by the project.
After the event, Daniel Goldstein confronts her with the fact that tenants are already being pushed out. She admits that ACORN hasn’t actually talked to any of the tenants yet. She then argues that the developer has nothing to do with greedy landlords forcing out tenants before they buy the property.
This is not a gotcha moment, but instead a small part of a complex tale. We feel that it is relevant to follow up on published reports that call into question the relationship between the developer and ACORN. At issue is the fact that the developer gave a $500,000 grant and $1,000,000 low interest loan to ACORN in the midst of a previous scandal when many long time donors refused to continue supporting them. The financial relationship between the developer and the community group calls into question this arrangement.