Church's Development Arm Under Fire in Harlem

A powerful Harlem church that has expanded its reach into local real estate development is coming under fire from locals who say their projects are damaging Harlem's small-town character and encouraging gentrification.
August 19, 2008, 5am PDT | Nate Berg
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"Its projects include the first high school built in Harlem in 50 years, some of the neighborhood's first national retail chain stores, one of its few full-service supermarkets, a department store and a shopping center. Abyssinian also owns more than 1,100 rental units, nearly all of them for low-income residents."

"As the church's development arm has grown in size and influence, however, it has become a target of critics who say it has ushered in a wave of gentrification that has displaced longtime residents and has been a neglectful landlord of some of its apartment buildings, which have amassed hundreds of unresolved violations. But the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, Abyssinian's pastor, who founded the development corporation 19 years ago, said the organization is a good landlord that has stayed true to its aim of providing affordable housing and offering an array of social services in a neighborhood where more than one-third of the residents live below the poverty line."

"Critics have a list of complaints: that Abyssinian does not keep the community apprised of its development plans; that it has pushed through projects over the objections of the local community board; that it does not ensure the hiring of minority contractors; that it has opposed historic preservation; and that it has virtually ignored small businesses in favor of chain stores that have damaged the small-town character of Harlem."

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Published on Sunday, August 17, 2008 in The New York Times
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