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SEP 23- SEP 30, 2014

Isaiah 61 Storefront Condemned, While Dyster Does God's Work With Casino Cash

By Frank Parlato

September 23, 2014

While taking plenty of public money to teach students how to fix properties according to code, the teachers at Isaiah 61 didn’t practice what they teach: the building where they teach was condemned!

The Niagara Falls Reporter learned last week that the Isaiah 61 Project, the not-for-profit charged with teaching young, underemployed people how to fix properties up to code, was in serious violation of the New York State building code at its storefront on Hyde Park Blvd.

In fact the violation was severe enough that the city's electrical inspector, Eric Palmer, condemned the building for the fire hazard it presented, for the safety of the students, customers and employees of the store.

It seems Isaiah 61 employees - actually teachers of young people - had rigged the electric service at the building by jumping it from a neighboring store and into their own store- something seen in poor neighborhoods when someone's power is shut off and they borrow service from a neighbor.

The problem is that this is a commercial property; there are wires and high voltage; the fact is -- this was a fire hazard.

While the condemnation of the Isaiah 61 store was meant perhaps to be hidden from the media, there is not much that happens at city hall that the Reporter doesn't find out about sooner or later.

We sent a correspondent over and took pictures of the condemned Isaiah 61 storefront.

It is ironic that, within days of the city anointing them as teachers of youth for how to properly rehab buildings, and gifting them a building on Highland Ave with plans for the city to spend more than $500,000 to fix it up for them, they provided the public with a serious reason to doubt their intentions.

The Reporter already had doubts since the group has fixed only one house in more than two years despite their promise to fix many, many houses.

On top of that the Reporter takes issue with the city council approving the mayor's plan to award Isaiah 61 – which is a faith-based inner city housing rehabilitation program – with $500,000 of city casino cash at their council meeting of Sept. 15.

The award of the half-million was wrong for a number of reasons.

For several weeks the Reporter has been harping on the fact that the Dyster administration has no casino cash-spending plan in place. For this reason, we recommended that all casino cash spending stop until such a plan is put in place.

Isaiah 61's mission statement is "to bring the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the mission field known as the City of Niagara Falls, New York. The project will provide repeated exposure to the Gospel through the vehicle of serving the immediate material and vocational needs of the city's residents."

But since Isaiah 61 can't seem to bring the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ without money culled from the losses of gamblers - casino cash that is - and that there is no plan as to how the Dyster administration should address casino cash requests from any person or organization, let alone a religious organization, we are sure that this grant to Isaiah 61 has legally opened a faith-based pandora's box.

Why shouldn't every faith-based organization get casino cash?

Why has Dyster and his director of community development Seth Piccirillo fast tracked the Isaiah 61 organization from day one, two years ago?

Isaiah 61 has secured city funds for the asbestos remediation of the Highland Avenue fire hall. They have secured grants through Piccirillo's office, and through the Oshei Foundation, and landed $500,000 city dollars for new offices and a store, courtesy of the casino cash account. And, surprisingly, they have the right to strip any house that is to be be demolished in this city - taking anything of value out of it - from copper to woodwork, without having to have bid on this.

It is clearly an improper gift from the city to this particular not-for-profit.

This organization has covered an amazing amount of ground since the summer of 2012. They even managed to get Gov. Cuomo on board supporting their efforts via a press release he issued regarding their rehabilitation of their one (and only) rehabbed house in the city. How often do you see a governor wax poetic over the rehabbing of one small house? There is a larger dynamic at work here - political at its core.

Consider: Cuomo is vehemently against pro-life supporters (almost all of whom are working out of a faith-based platform) yet Cuomo went on record supporting this organization and its heavy reception of tax dollars from state and city governments.

The Reporter plans to file a freedom of information request with the city in order to learn how all funds to date, and casino funds for the future, have been and will be spent. We plan to seek information regarding the cost of the Isaiah 61 program, salaries of all executives and employees and who pays these, the cost to administer the program in city government, use of city staff and materials, the true cost to rehab the one Isaiah 61 home on Whitney Avenue and so on.

Oft times the Reporter files a FOIL and we come up empty handed as the city delays, denies, or dumps the request on the back burner. The Dyster administration is probably the least transparent city government in the last 50 years despite the fact that Dyster campaigned on his love of government transparency.

On Sept. 17, Piccirillo wrote on his Facebook page, "we're going to show exactly how the money is spent and not spent at the fire hall, and use council updates as a way to keep the public informed."

We take him at his word. Nevertheless we have a problem with Isaiah 61 and transparency. The problem is: the public isn't supposed to get the facts of "how the money was spent." The public should be shown how the money – before it is awarded – is planned for spending.

In the Dyster administration however things never appear as they actually are. It is not surprising that the money would be appropriated first with no explanation of intended spending. Then they will tell us (as they claim) how they spent it.

Meanwhile, the folks who are supposed to be teaching youth how to do things right, did something wrong. If not for the code enforcement department at city hall, a dangerous fire might have occurred. We were told that Isaiah 61 corrected the problem.

Perhaps it was a one-time mistake.

We'll be watching and let you know.

Despite years of taxpayer support, Isaiah 61 has only managed to fix up this one small house on Whitney Ave.






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Contact Info

©2014 The Niagara Falls Reporter Inc.
POB 3083, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14304
Phone: (716) 284-5595

Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
Managing Editor: Dr. Chitra Selvaraj
Senior Editor: Tony Farina