By Alec Pruchnicki
“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”—Eric Hoffer
The great cause of preventing housing on Elizabeth Street is slowly transforming into a business, although with nonprofit pretensions. On December 8, 2017, Council Member Margaret Chin’s office released an announcement that developers for the site had been picked—Pennrose LLC, Habitat for Humanity NYC, and RiseBoro Community Partnership. They will also be working with SAGE, as many of the residents will be formerly homeless, LGBT individuals. The development will have 121 affordable and low-income apartments, designed with significant environmental features, and will be called ‘Green Haven.’
The original garden supporters had been organized as Friends of the Elizabeth Street Garden (elizabethstreetgarden.org) but a new garden advocate, Joseph Reiver, writing in WestView (“A True Win-Win Solution” published in the January 2018 issue), and described as the Executive Director of Elizabeth Street Garden, Inc. (elizabethstreetgarden.com), joined in. The new organization is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, but it was specifically formed to raise money and initiate legal action to stop the housing proposal.
But, the transition from a ‘.org’ internet domain to a ‘.com’ one, along with an incorporated structure, comes with many other initiatives. Not only do the Elizabeth Street Garden supporters want the housing stopped and the garden preserved completely intact, they also want to change the site from city-owned land to a Community Land Trust, which will actually own the property. This is straight-forward privatization of public land. The corporation will have complete control of the property, rent it out for private events (you can apply on the website right now), and control all funds. On paper, it might be a nonprofit, but it can easily operate the same way a business does and there are many ways to make money as a nonprofit.
One way to siphon cash from a nonprofit is to contract sweetheart deals with outside vendors and companies for services and fees. Conveniently, right next to the site is the Elizabeth Street Gallery, owned by Joseph Reivers’ father, Allan Reiver. About 20 years ago, when the plot of land was an unused space, Reiver cleaned it, decorated it, and rented it for $4,000 per month as a showroom for his antique statues and outdoor furniture. In a neighborhood where one-room apartments go for $2,000 to 4,000 per month, $4,000 for 20,000 square feet of space in a prime location seems like a fantastic deal. If some soft-headed judge agrees with Joseph Reiver’s suit stopping the housing project and giving control of the land to him, or if there is a successful establishment of a Community Land Trust, then Joseph Reiver could end up negotiating financial deals with his father, Allan. A conflict of interest of this size does not necessarily turn this business into a racket, as predicted by Eric Hoffer, but the potential is certainly there.
There is one way to stop this privatization and potential conflict of interest. Build housing on Elizabeth Street already.