It is rather ironic that Black History Month is witnessing a withering attack on Black Americans no matter where or who they are. Ted Nugent’s comments that President Barack Obama is a “subhuman mongrel” and his subsequent so-called apology, which accused Obama of being a “violator of the Constitution,” is totally disrespectful but no less invidious than those coming from House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Ted Cruz.
At a time when Black Americans have a few weeks for celebration, they discover they are being assailed from every quarter. Whether it’s a woman in Oklahoma saying the president should be executed, to local leaders in communities of color taking fire from mainstream dailies, there appears to be little tolerance of and respect for Black or Latino leadership.
A case in point is a recent article in the Feb. 23 edition of the New York Post with a list of baseless charges against the Greater Harlem Housing Development Corp. (GHHDC) that is mainly centered on a small plot of land that has lain fallow and been an eyesore for 40 years. The article isn’t a sentence old before the writers speculate on what will become of the possible $1.2 million the nonprofit organization will get for the vacant lot at 135th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. They contend that “critics doubt the windfall will actually help needy tenants.”
Who are these critics and why do they “doubt” that the potential money acquired from the sale will not be used, as already agreed to in writing, to serve the needs of the surrounding affordable housing developments, when in fact it was the GHHDC that chose to put the property on the market in the first place to assist their affordable housing mission?
Someone with intimate ties to the sale of the property is Henrietta Lyle, chairperson of Manhattan Community Board No. 10. “The GHHDC made an excellent public presentation to the full board of CB10 and the community, outlining their development plan for the lot sale,” she explained in an email. “Their presentation was overwhelmingly endorsed and passed by a public vote of 25 for approval, one abstention and four nos.”
Moreover, she took exception to GHHDC’s president, Lloyd Williams, being described as a “Harlem power broker.” Williams, in her estimation, “is better described as a highly respected and regarded leader in New York City as well as in the Harlem community and not a power broker. But if what he does makes him a ‘power broker,’ then so be it. We need to have a few more such power brokers.”
Before dealing with some of the unfounded allegations, we should understand that any article in the Post is inevitably laden with mischief and venom when it comes to Black and Latino institutions and their leaders. Williams chose not to dignify the Post’s allegations with any comment. Of course, going after Williams and other Black stalwarts of the community is nothing new from the minions at the Post. Three years ago, there were two hatchet job stories published with no validity and attribution to a number of absurd, undocumented accusations.
Here we go again, as one infamous American once asserted. And like it was three years ago, it’s the same investigative reporter, and it appears that Williams, Rep. Charles Rangel, Councilwoman Inez Dickens, the NAACP’s Hazel Dukes, Assemblyman Keith Wright and state Sen. Bill Perkins are prime African-American leaders who have been placed on the Post’s ongoing Black hit list.
But, for the most part, the paper is on a fool’s errand, because when you read between the lines of the story, they are clearly wasting their time and the paper’s money in trying to subvert the GHHDC. In their writ of particulars, a few basic questions arise: What did the nonprofit organization do wrong? Was there a misappropriation of funds? Did the leaders siphon off money to bolster their personal incomes? In other words, if there’s no evidence of malfeasance, then this is nothing more than a trumped up and futile fishing expedition.
OK, let’s look at some of the fears provoked by this arsenal of insults. They quote Jaron Benjamin, executive director of the Metropolitan Council of Housing, who claims GHHDC is a slumlord that can’t be trusted. That he arrives at this conclusion without ever talking to anyone at the organization or conducting his own research is as troubling as the false steps made by the reporters.
“And Mr. Benjamin has no idea what he’s talking about,” said Assemblyman Keith Wright, who chairs the state’s Assembly Housing Committee. “It’s perfectly all right for folks to open their mouth when they know what they are talking about. When I say the GHHDC has provided affordable housing for people who otherwise could not live in Harlem, I know what I’m talking about. I am immensely proud of the work the GHHDC has done and continues to do, and I proudly stand, without reservation, with them.”
Equally disconcerting is that the reporters secured one disgruntled tenant to support their contentions, and she complained about the condition of her stove, but in the very next line, the reporters state that the very same tenant is over $12,000 due in rental arrears. It would appear that if she was up to date on her rent, the GHHDC would be in a position to buy her a brand-new stove for her and for many dozens of other deserving tenants.
Her complaint has a ring of incredulity and is certainly countered by the impressions from a number of other tenants, including John Patane, whose Patane Press printing business occupies one of the buildings’ commercial locations.
“Let me say from the start that I would not be here in Harlem without the GHHDC, that was gracious enough to offer me accommodations after I was forced out of my previous location,” Patane said in a recent telephone interview. “They made it possible for me to keep my business in Harlem, and they have been unstinting in the maintenance and upkeep of the building, from snow removal outside to the repairs needed on the inside.”
A coterie of other tenants weighed in on the situation, including longtime resident Gilbert Paschall, who observed, “My family is pleased to be tenants at the GHHDC. They maintain my building quite well and are always responsive in a respectful manner and time.”
Similar expressions of support came from a chorus of others such as K. Scott, who spoke of the convenience and the maintenance, the affordability of her apartment as well as the ongoing service provided to her and her family by the GHHDC.
The reporters state that the 13 buildings managed by the organization have accumulated 650 violations, but they don’t specify the time period in which these violations occurred, nor what kind of violations they were or that the vast majority of them have been taken care of many years ago.
What readers have to understand is that the GHHDC is one of the last locally based nonprofit institutions standing. It has sustained a welter of economic setbacks that have virtually eliminated all but a few community-based organizations that accepted property from the city with hopes of developing affordable housing.
One thing the GHHDC has relied on from its inception are resourceful senior consultants such as Charles Powell, who has coordinated countless social and economic relations for the organization with other community institutions.
“GHHDC is now pleased to be working in a very positive partnership with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Community Board No. 10 to assure that not only are there good and affordable apartments, but that we continue to make sure that quality affordable housing is made available in Harlem to reduce the ongoing onslaught of gentrification in our community,” he said. “Over the past two years, our excellent and ever growing working relationship with HPD is providing light at the end of the tunnel for our efforts to maintain quality affordable housing and to properly service our tenants.”
If there remains a violation, a stain on the good works at the GHHDC, it comes from the Post, and while many of the leaders assailed by the iniquitous press have reserved their comments righteously and rightfully believe that at the end of the day, “truth needs no defense,” we of the Black press and in the Black media feel it’s our duty to address these scurrilous insinuations, the bevy of lies that serve to undermine the coalition of communities that is at the heart of the GHHDC.
The Post is a major player in a malicious pattern to destroy the galvanizing of the Black and Latino communities, and the timing of this current attack is clearly one to disrupt the conviviality and assembly many of us cherish and look forward to during Black History Month.
What the enemy of our people has to understand is that their opposition only stiffens the resolve of the Black press, and this recent attack is nothing more than another wake-up call, alerting us of the need to be ever vigilant, to keep our pens poised and our powder dry because, remember, those who come for us in the morning will come for you at night.