Bush Housing Secretary Jackson In Bed With Islamist Philly Developer Kenny Gamble
February 4, 2008
Bush Housing Secretary Jackson In Bed With Islamist Philly Developer Kenny Gamble
February 4, 2008 - San Francisco, CA - PipeLineNews.org - As noted here in a January 1 piece - Muhammad and Mrs. Jones - Kenny Gamble's Philadelphia Muslim Enclave - music impresario Kenny Gamble is, "the architect of a planned stealth Islamist enclave in Philadelphia where he is better known in Muslim circles as Brother Luqman Abdul Haqq. Gamble has admitted that he intends to bring about the Muslim community in South Philadelphia through his "Universal Companies" and proclaims that his state and federally subsidized funded building endeavors are part of an Islamist blueprint, 'We are not down here just for Universal-we are down here for Islam.'"
Another aspect of this matter, revealed today by Washington Post writer Carol Leonnig [source, HUD Official Accused of Retaliation, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/03/AR2008020303107.html?hpid=topnews], is that Bush HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson has been accused of applying unwarranted pressure on Philadelphia city officials in an effort to aid Gamble. In that piece, Johnson is referred to as a "business friend," of Gamble's
The controversy centers on a request allegedly made to the Philadelphia Housing Authority by the HUD Secretary demanding that it transfer at less than market value, a parcel of land worth $2 million to Gamble.
Jackson is alleged to also have applied pressure to Philly's mayor in 2006 and the housing authority's director Carl Greene is contending in court papers that because the city refused the Secretary's request that it is being retaliated against, removing its authority to spend certain categories of federal funding.
According to the Washington Post report, Jackson is currently under investigation by both the HUD and the Justice Department over similar ethics questions.
MIM: Update 3/2/08
Suit Says HUD Chief Tied Funds to Favor
By MARYCLAIRE DALE – 20 hours ago
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A seemingly ho-hum rules dispute between Philadelphia's public housing agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has led to accusations of favoritism and corruption against a member of President Bush's Cabinet.
According to the city housing authority director, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson has threatened the agency's funding since it refused to award a vacant lot worth $2 million to Kenny Gamble, a soul-music producer-turned-community developer.
Jackson, forgoing protocol, toured the site with Gamble in September 2006 without inviting local officials to join them, and later personally called Philadelphia's mayor at the time for help, according to an amended federal lawsuit filed against HUD last month by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
"This is extraordinary. He's the president's representative, and he's personally coming out, on his own, to take a firsthand look into a contract dispute?" housing authority Director Carl Greene said Thursday.
Over the past 18 months, HUD has cited the Philadelphia agency for a series of alleged shortcomings and is threatening to pull the agency from a pilot program that gives it far greater autonomy over its $350 million budget and various programs. The rebuke would cost the authority millions of dollars a year and would lead to staff layoffs and rent increases for some of its 84,000 low-income clients, Greene said.
"It's this kind of planned, deliberate harassment that adds up to retaliation," Greene said.
HUD spokesman Jerry Brown declined to comment on the accusations this past week, saying the judge presiding in the lawsuit has asked the parties not to speak to the news media. Trial is set for May 20.
In earlier news reports, Brown and several HUD officials have denied any link between the Gamble matter and the allegation of rule violations, which include handicap accessibility.
Gamble's office referred The Associated Press to Abdur-Rahim Islam, the president of the developer's enterprise, Universal Companies. Islam did not return phone messages left over the past week.
Gamble and partner Leon Huff wrote and produced "Love Train," "Me and Mrs. Jones" and other 1970s-era soul hits that embodied the "Philly Sound." In recent decades, he has devoted his time to community activism and redevelopment in South Philadelphia, where he grew up.
According to the Web site of Universal Companies, Gamble has spent more than $7 million of his own money renovating run-down homes in the area.
His Universal Community Homes, started in 1983, has twice partnered with the Philadelphia Housing Authority on redevelopment projects — but the authority said it had to take over each time.
In one project, Universal Homes and another firm built just 82 of the 236 planned units before the housing authority stepped in to finish the job, an authority spokesman said.
Under the contract, Universal was to receive a remaining lot free of charge so it could build 19 market-rate homes. But Greene and his lawyers concluded that Universal had defaulted on the deal.
Jackson, after visiting the site with Gamble, called then-Mayor John F. Street, the housing authority's chairman, the lawsuit charges.
In March 2007, three officials called Greene to seek an early response to HUD's inquiry about the lot. That prompted Greene, on March 19, to ask HUD's inspector general to investigate the HUD secretary's conduct. Greene said he presumes that investigation is ongoing.
Universal Companies also has government contracts to operate four charter and public schools and provides support services for welfare and public-housing recipients.
City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who sits on the housing authority board, said she feels that anyone who wants to develop that vacant parcel should pay for it. And she fears that the conflict will jeopardize the housing authority's work.
"I'm really frightened about it," Blackwell said. "I'm really hopeful that people that have well-meaning objectives can come together and work it out."On the Net:
The director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority has accused the federal housing secretary of ordering the city to turn over a $2 million property to a politically connected developer, then threatening to withhold millions of dollars in federal aid after his directive was refused, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the city.
But officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development denied those charges Monday, saying that the secretary, Alphonso R. Jackson, had no personal, political or business relationship with the developer who was seeking the $2 million parcel of vacant land, Kenny Gamble, the soul songwriter and producer. A spokesman for Mr. Jackson, Jerry Brown, also said that Philadelphia's financing was in jeopardy because the city had failed to meet the requirements of a decade-old housing plan.
The accusations against Mr. Jackson by Philadelphia officials, first reported Monday in The Washington Post, come as the housing department's inspector general and the Justice Department are reportedly investigating whether he improperly steered government contracts to friends in New Orleans and the Virgin Islands. Department officials did not address those accusations, but they were vehement in disputing the charges in the Philadelphia lawsuit.
"There was no retaliation," Mr. Brown said in an interview Monday. "These two things had nothing whatsoever to do with each other."
Neither Carl R. Greene, the executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, nor Abbe Fletman, a lawyer representing the authority, returned calls requesting comment.
The lawsuit, filed by Philadelphia housing officials in December, involves a long struggle over the city's efforts to overhaul the blighted Martin Luther King Jr. projects. Mr. Gamble's company, Universal Community Homes, was part of a partnership selected to build the first phase of the project in 1999, in a deal that promised to reward the developers with a parcel of vacant land in return for building 236 low-income units and providing counseling services to incoming residents.
Only 80 units were built when Universal's partner withdrew from the project, forcing the authority to help with the rest of the construction. And Mr. Greene said Universal never fulfilled its obligation to provide counseling so he turned down its request for the $2 million parcel of land, where the company intended to build 19 homes at full market rates.
The dispute continued in 2006, when Mr. Jackson called John F. Street, who was the mayor of Philadelphia at the time, to urge that the land be turned over and the project advanced. In an affidavit, Mr. Greene said federal housing officials had continued to exert pressure on behalf of Mr. Gamble, whom it described as having political connections. Housing officials said Mr. Jackson's call was an effort to move the project forward, not to bestow a favor on Mr. Gamble.
"The call wasn't motivated by any desire to help Kenny Gamble," said Mr. Brown, the HUD spokesman. "The secretary is closer to Carl Greene than he is to Kenny Gamble."
As the city housing authority rebuffed Mr. Gamble's effort to get control of the property, it was also in a dispute with housing officials in Washington about whether Philadelphia had failed to meet a federal requirement that 5 percent of its public housing be made accessible for the disabled.
In the lawsuit, Philadelphia officials said that they had exceeded that by 1 percent and provided detailed studies by experts who contend that federal housing inspectors had undercounted the city's efforts. Mr. Greene's affidavit stated that he and other Philadelphia housing officials had repeatedly urged federal officials to reconsider, even traveling to Washington last summer to make the case in person. But in his affidavit, Mr. Greene said that Mr. Jackson's deputies told him that Philadelphia would get credit for its efforts to provide housing for the disabled — and qualify for millions of dollars in federal aid — only if the city agreed to transfer the property to Mr. Gamble.
MIM: Puff piece about Kenny Gamble
Kenny Gamble dreams big for his hometown
A friend to his old haunts, he has ventured into upscale housing.
By Jennifer Lin
lastline">Inquirer Staff WriterKenny Gamble, 64, is many things to many people: R&B legend, black community activist, record producer, music promoter, political contributor, champion of the poor, real-estate developer.
> This year, he is to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
> Last year, he helped to rally African American men against violence in Philadelphia.
> He dreams big for his hometown. Gamble is trying to create a National Center for Rhythm and Blues here that would tout the city's music heritage.
> He gives big to local politicians. Gamble has given more than $250,000 either directly or through his political action committee, New Urban Reform Inc., to local politicians. Mayor John Street received $115,000 in 2002 and 2003.
> But it's Gamble's role through his nonprofit to build high-end housing that has him entangled with the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA).
> The nonprofit that Gamble started in 1993 began venturing into upscale housing five years ago as a way to finance its affordable-housing projects.
> Universal Cos., an umbrella redevelopment nonprofit that includes a real estate division, says on its Web site that its efforts to sell houses at whatever prices the market can bear help to pay for building homes for poor families.
> In 15 years, Universal Community Homes has built more than 200 low-income apartments and houses, and has more than 80 other units in development.
> Critics in government and community development have questioned why a nonprofit has gotten city help to build expensive homes.
> Universal has two projects for market-rate housing, both of which have hit delays.
> The first was a deal to renovate 25 abandoned rowhouses in the area known as South of South, which is south of South Street, west of Broad Street, and north of Washington Avenue. The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority condemned the properties for Universal and arranged financing.
> But the effort fell behind schedule. Some of the homes have sold for as much as $435,000, but about seven renovations are unfinished.
> "Many people in the neighborhood were concerned that so much city money was going into paying for market-rate housing when private developers already were developing market-rate housing," said David Feldman, who was acting director of the South of South Neighborhood Association in 2005.
> Feldman said an effort by the association to build affordable housing for residents was having a hard time finding sufficient funds.
> On the other side of Broad Street, in the Hawthorne section of South Philadelphia, Universal had a deal with PHA to develop 19 market-rate homes.
> It was part of a redevelopment agreement in 2000 for the former Martin Luther King public housing project. However, Carl Greene, head of the housing authority, said yesterday that Universal failed to live up to its end of the agreement to provide job and employment services to tenants.
> The authority decided in 2006 to deny Universal the land for the 19 homes.
> Carl Dranoff, a Center City developer who has worked with Universal, said Gamble has had a "substantial impact" in turning around borderline neighborhoods - in particular the South of South and Hawthorne areas.
> "I give him great credit for being an entrepreneur and catalyst," Dranoff said. "He's come in early and invested his own money not only in housing, but also job training and education.
> "He's ahead of the pack and takes risks," Dranoff said.
> The Universal Web site says that since 1980, Gamble has spent more than $7 million of his personal funds to buy 120 run-down properties around his old neighborhood at 15th and Christian Streets. According to real estate records, he owns at least two dozen properties in the area.
> In 1989, Gamble took things one step further and moved out of his Gladwyne home to return to his neighborhood.
> Through his nonprofit, he started a charter school, offered employment and business training, and began building homes for low-income families.
> Universal also bought the landmark Royal Theater on South Street, hoping to turn the shuttered landmark into a revitalized entertainment district west of Broad.
> When Gamble returned, the predominantly African American community was called South Central. The neighborhood battled drugs and was scarred with decaying and abandoned houses. Today, the area is called South of South. New construction and renovations are moving at a fast clip.
Homes sell for close to a half-million dollars and attract newcomers. Gamble derives much of his wealth from a lifetime in songwriting and record-producing. He and partner Leon Huff have 3,000 soul and rhythm-and-blues titles to their credit. On March 10, the pair will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with such artists as Madonna and John Mellencamp.
They created the lush Sound of Philadelphia, found in such songs as "Wake Up Everybody," "Me and Mrs. Jones," and "Love Train."
Last month, however, one of their star groups, the O'Jays, sued the pair for $3 million in overdue royalties. Eddie Levert Sr. and Walter Williams claim that Philadelphia International Records failed to comply with a 2006 court order for back payment. http://www.philly.com/philly/news/nation_world/20080205_Kenny_Gamble_dreams_big_for_his_hometown.html
City agency: HUD angered by Gamble snub
By Craig R. McCoy and Mark Fazlollah
lastline">Inquirer Staff WritersPresident Bush's housing czar pressured the Philadelphia housing agency to transfer land worth $2 million to Kenny Gamble, the music producer turned developer, and retaliated when the agency would not knuckle under, a lawsuit says.
The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) says the top federal housing official, Alphonso Jackson, improperly sought to steer the land to Gamble at a big discount.
In court filings, Carl Greene, PHA's executive director, says Jackson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, called Mayor John Street twice to lobby on Gamble's behalf.
HUD confirmed yesterday that Jackson, a friend of Gamble's, had made the calls to Street. It denied it had in any way retaliated against the Philadelphia agency.
In the federal suit, filed in December, Greene contends that HUD is threatening to impose new controls on how Philadelphia spends millions in federal housing grants as payback for Greene's refusal to help Gamble.
Greene said the federal crackdown could force PHA to lay off hundreds of workers, raise rents, and halt millions of dollars in construction work on low-income housing.
HUD says it is moving against PHA only because the agency failed to make enough of its buildings handicapped-accessible, as required by federal law.
Greene said "the menacing letters, the abusive conduct" followed his refusal to release the land. He acknowledged he could not cite a document or a remark that explicitly tied Gamble's land deal to HUD's fiscal crackdown.
The tenure of Jackson at HUD has been marked by investigations and questions about whether he has allowed political considerations to interfere in the agency's business.
The FBI and the Justice Department, along with HUD's inspector general, reportedly are investigating allegations that he arranged lucrative HUD deals for his friends in New Orleans and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In 2006, Jackson caused a stir when he told a Dallas audience he had once canceled a contract because the company's boss criticized Bush. He later apologized and said he made up the story.
Jackson has insisted that HUD contracts were never "awarded, rejected or rescinded" to reward Republicans.
In Philadelphia, the dispute between PHA and the federal agency is being waged over the South Philadelphia ground that once was dominated by the Martin Luther King housing project.
PHA razed the four King towers in 1999 and began spending $67 million to build 236 townhouses and apartments on the site near 13th and Fitzwater Streets.
Gamble grew up in South Philadelphia and became a dominant creative force in 1970s R&B, helping to create such hits as "If You Don't Know Me by Now" and "Back Stabbers."
Later, he became a player in city politics, giving at least a quarter of a million dollars in political contributions since 1988, and turned his attention to redeveloping his old neighborhood.
While most of his contributions went to Democrats, he also gave to some Republicans, including Sen. Arlen Specter, former Sen. Rick Santorum, and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
His nonprofit housing group, Universal Community Homes, was named by PHA to provide social-service help to the residents of the 236 new units.
In return, PHA agreed to give him pieces of the land at a steep discount, with permission to use it to build 19 "market-rate" houses.
With the projects gone, and the surrounding neighborhood undergoing a boom, the land has dramatically increased in value.
In 2006, Greene told Universal it would not be getting the land. Greene said yesterday that Universal failed to hold up its end of the deal and deliver the social services it promised, such as jobs and school counseling.
According to Greene, Gamble was confident that he would prevail. He said Gamble told him as they left a June 2006 meeting with Street in City Hall that he did not need to hire a lawyer to fight PHA.
"He said he didn't need any lawyers because he had friends - and Alphonso Jackson is his friend," Greene said.
Gamble did not return requests for comment. Senior executives at Universal Community Homes also did not return calls.
Greene said the HUD secretary called Street at least twice to lobby for Gamble.
According to Greene, Street did not push for him to help Gamble, but was worried about the clash with HUD.
"He was saying he didn't want any trouble out of these people," Greene recalled.
Though no longer mayor, Street remains chairman of PHA's board. No one answered Street's home telephone yesterday.
The news of the PHA civil suit against Jackson and HUD was reported by the Washington Post yesterday. The Post story quoted unnamed HUD officials as saying Jackson and Gamble often socialized together.
Steve O'Halloran, Jackson's press secretary, said Jackson was not available yesterday to talk to a reporter. "The secretary knows Kenny Gamble and has been to Philadelphia to view his redevelopment work," he said.
One such meeting took place in September 2006, according to Guy Ciarrocchi, HUD's former director for this region. Jackson visited Gamble at Universal's office on South 15th Street.
Ciarrocchi joined them later, and all three went to look at the land Gamble wanted. Gamble told Jackson that Universal would do good work in the neighborhood.
"I got the sense that Universal was pitching," said Ciarrocchi.
PHA officials were not involved in the meeting, and Greene said he only heard about it later.
"The secretary decided to come down and get personally involved in this dispute," Greene said. "He never talked to us. He just came down and took their side."
Immediately after the meeting, Ciarrocchi said, Jackson instructed him to get Greene's views on the dispute. Ciarrocchi said Greene told him Gamble was not willing to pay enough money for the site. He said that was the last he heard about the matter.
"It seemed reasonable to me," he said, referring to Jackson's request that he talk to Greene. "It seemed fair."
O'Halloran, the HUD spokesman, said Jackson called Street to complain about lagging plans to open a recreation center and park on the grounds of the former King project.
Asked whether Jackson also spoke with the mayor about Gamble's issues, he replied: "Not that I'm aware of."
In a separate interview, Orlando Cabrera, HUD's former assistant secretary for public housing, disclosed that he, too, had called Street.
Cabrera said he also was unhappy that Greene's agency had not followed through on the plans for the King site. Cabrera said he was particularly peeved that the agency had not yet installed a promised plaque to honor a spot where King had given a speech.
Cabrera, who stepped down from HUD last month, said he did bring up the parcel of land but was not necessarily trying to help Gamble. His goal, he said, was to make sure the land was used for some kind of housing.
"I don't know Kenny Gamble," Cabrera said. "I have never spoken with him or communicated with him in any way whatsoever. The only issue we ever had with Carl was this: Carl, go do what you said you would do."
Greene has a different view of HUD's actions: "It's what you get when you say no to power."
HUD provides PHA with more than $300 million yearly. In recent years, Washington has granted PHA an unusual amount of freedom in how it spends that money, and Greene has used much of it to leverage housing construction.
Now, HUD has threatened to strip away that autonomy and resume the tight controls over spending.
The agency says an audit shows PHA is not meeting a HUD requirement that at least 5 percent of apartments be handicapped-accessible.
Kim Kendrick, a top HUD official involved in the handicapped-access issue, said: "There's absolutely no connection. We don't know anything about the Kenny Gamble issue."
Greene said that the audit is mistaken and that the agency more than meets its requirement. If the changes take place, Greene said, he would be forced to make cutbacks in construction programs.
A PHA spokesman said the land Gamble wants was still vacant. The plan, he said, is still to build 19 houses.
Read the lawsuit (.pdf) at http://go.philly.com/