Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church Cut From $3.1M

October 1, 2015

rev butts in harlemAbyssinian Development Corp., the sprawling housing and social service arm of Harlem’s most influential black church, was cut off from $3.1 million in city contracts two weeks ago after it failed to submit three years of overdue tax filings and independent audits to the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, the Daily News has learned.

The Rev. Calvin Butts, founder and board chairman of the development group and longtime pastor of its parent organization, Abyssinian Baptist Church, acknowledged to The News that his group hasn’t filed required financial reports since 2011 and conceded the de Blasio administration was justified in requesting those reports.

But the development group, Butts revealed, is in such dire financial condition that “we didn’t have money to pay for the audits until recently. We’ve even missed a few payrolls for our staff and have had to lay off employees.”

The suspension of city funds, he warned, may lead to the “imminent” shut down of programs for the homeless and senior citizens, he said.

“We have expressed to Mr. Butts on multiple occasions that we cannot provide city funding until their organization complies with the most basic legal requirements to receive public money,” de Blasio spokesman Peter Kadushin said in a statement. Abyssinian Development’s financial crisis, Butts claimed, stems from several factors:

“We had some bad leadership,” he said. “We spent money on some things we didn’t need to spend money on, and we made some bad decisions.”

The city’s actions and Butts’ admission of poor management will surprise many in this town, given the enormous impact Abyssinian Development has wielded in Harlem for 25 years, and given the stature of Butts himself, who also serves as the $200,000-a-year president of the State University at Old Westbury.

“This is devastating,” said Harlem State Sen. Bill Perkins. “Abyssinian is an iconic institution. If they are not doing right, who is doing right? Are we talking about incompetence here or something worse?”

Abyssinian Development manages more than 1,500 affordable housing units, sponsors two public schools, and operates a gamut of services for senior citizens and the homeless, in addition to afterschool, headstart and employment programs.

“I’m not going to call him (de Blasio) a racist just yet,”

The new revelations come only weeks after Butts issued a stinging public rebuke of de Blasio. “I’m not going to call him a racist just yet,” Butts told Vanity Fair magazine. “I just think that his posture shows great disrespect for the black and brown communities. Great disrespect.”

Well, it turns out there was a lot more going on behind the scenes between Butts and the city than we knew about at the time. Butts believes his statements prompted a reaction from City Hall.

“I’ve accused him (de Blasio) of divide and conquer, and I’m sure he’s not happy,” Butts said. “I consider it (the suspension of funds) rather cold-blooded when you consider the good we have done in Harlem and our history.”

But it turns out the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services notified Abyssinian back in July 2014 that the group had to improve its governance and provide all required financial reports.

“We will absolutely not clear any organization that has repeatedly not fulfilled its basic required filings,” one city official said. “And Abyssinian is no exception.”

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