Spitzer Announces New Board For Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association

Attorney General Spitzer announced that former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer was chosen today to be the Chairperson of a new board of directors for the Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association. The installation of a new board is part of an out-of-court settlement that resolves many of the issues that prompted the Attorney General's office to commence a Banana Kelly investigation in early 2000, which resulted in the resignation of Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer Yolanda Rivera, along with other individuals who had served as directors and officers of the troubled charity.

Banana Kelly controls numerous low-income housing development fund corporations in the Bronx that own a total of 25 residential buildings, which house over 2,000 tenants. The new board of directors will be responsible for the operations of the organization and its affiliates.

Harry DeRienzo, President of the Parodneck Foundation for Self-Help Housing & Community Development, who was a founder of Banana Kelly, will serve as Interim President of the organization. The five members of the new board, each of whom has strong ties to the community served by Banana Kelly and substantial managerial expertise, met for the first time today. Ferrer and his fellow board members have agreed to serve through at least April 30, 2003.

"Our goal here is two-fold. In the short term, we want to make sure that the thousands of tenants in the Banana Kelly buildings live in safe and habitable conditions, and are provided with basic services such as heat and hot water, especially during the coming winter months," Spitzer said. "In the long-term, we want to work with the new board to restore the legacy and viability of Banana Kelly as a leading provider of community-based low income housing and social services."

Banana Kelly was founded in the late 1970s to save crumbling housing, with a motto of: "Don't Move, Improve." The organization took its name from the curved, banana-like shape of Kelly Street in the Longwood section of the Bronx. A handful of local residents first formed the organization and began clearing vacant lots and rescuing abandoned buildings. Over time, Banana Kelly became the owner and manager of dozens of formerly City-owned properties and added a wide array of social services programs in such areas as youth services, health care and employment. In recent years, the charity has fallen on hard times financially, amidst concerns for the deteriorating physical conditions of the buildings it controls.

"I have the utmost confidence that this new board, comprised of people with strong ties to the community, will be able to shepherd Banana Kelly over the coming months as we seek long-term solutions to its problems," Spitzer added.

Spitzer's investigation into the charity is continuing. The Charities Bureau will work with the new board to conduct an internal review of Banana Kelly's finances and programs. As Attorney General, Spitzer oversees all charities in the State and has responsibility to see that they are well run.

Jerilyn Perine, Commissioner of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) said:" I am pleased to work with the Attorney General to restore this important community based organization to firm footing, so that it can serve its tenants and the community with affordable housing resources long into the future. I also look forward to working with the new Board of Directors to insure that the public investment in the neighborhoods housing stock is preserved."

New Board Chair Fernando Ferrer said: "There was a time, not too long ago, when Banana Kelly was an engine of the Bronx' revival. In the past few years, this historic organization has fallen on hard times. Banana Kelly's residents and the community deserve better. That's why I believe it's my responsibility to accept Attorney General Spitzer's invitation to serve on an interim basis as Chairman of the Board. I am also pleased that Banana Kelly's founder, Harry DeRienzo has agreed to serve as Interim President."

Interim President Harry DeRienzo said: "As a founding member and the first executive director of Banana Kelly, as a Bronx resident who raised his family on Kelly Street, and as a father and grandfather whose daughter and three grandchildren still reside on Kelly Street, I am pleased to be able to come back to Banana Kelly. I look forward to working with Freddy Ferrer and the board to turn Banana Kelly around and facing the challenges that lie ahead."

The five new board members are:

  • Fernando Ferrer - President of the Drum Major Institute, a non-profit, public policy organization that focuses on economic and social justice concerns. Ferrer, who was a candidate for Mayor of New York City in 2001, previously served for 14 years as the Borough President of the Bronx. As Borough President, he oversaw the largest urban rebuilding effort in the country, with the construction and rehabilitation of over 66,000 housing units, transforming what was once a national symbol of urban decay into a model for urban revival.

  • Dr. Victor G. Alicea - President of Boricua College, the first private, bilingual-bicultural, accredited senior college in the United States, serving Puerto Ricans and other Spanish speakers. Dr. Alicea, a resident of the Manhattan, earned his doctorate in urban planning, and served for 11 years as Vice Chair of the City Planning Commission, under both Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani. He also previously served as Commissioner of New York State's Energy Research and Development Authority, and as an advisor to Mayors Wagner, Lindsay and Koch.

  • Harry DeRienzo - President of the Parodneck Foundation for Self-Help Housing & Community Development. Parodneck provides financial and technical assistance to self-help housing and community development efforts, to help communities solve their own problems. DeRienzo was one of the founders of Banana Kelly, and served as the charity's first executive director.

  • Alyah Horsford-Sidberry - Partner in Horsford and Poteat Realty, which builds, develops and manages affordable housing in New York City. Horsford-Sidberry has an extensive background in property management, both in the private sector and in a previous position with New York City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, where she was responsible for oversight of city-owned properties developed by local development organizations in the Special Initiatives Program.

  • Mavelin Morales - Family Day Care Network Coordinator for the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation. Morales, who has over 17 years of experience in programs for families and children, served as a social services manager at Banana Kelly from 1992-1998.

The Attorney General's investigation is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Marla Simpson and Sally Blinken, with the assistance of Assistant Attorneys General Judith Kaufman and Charles H. Smith III, of the Attorney General's Charities Bureau.

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