By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
Operators of a state-funded Brooklyn home for the mentally disabled that was allowed to fall into debt and disrepair signed a contract to sell their property days before ordering residents to leave.
Records obtained by the Voice show that Reverend Clarence Norman Sr., The home's politically connected director, executed a contract of sale on June 14 with an Albany-based nonprofit group to sell them the facility.
Under the terms of Norman's deal, all residents would be relocated from the Bedford Stuyvesant facility known as Pacific House. In addition, the sale price to the Altamont Program in Albany would cover all outstanding judgments and liens on the property, an amount that could be as much as $1 million, according to two state officials familiar with the property.
Eight days after the sale contract was signed, residents of Pacific House were called by administrators to an emergency meeting, where they were told that lights and water would be shut off if they didn't leave by the end of the month.
The order panicked many residents who have lived in the home for years. Under an earlier agreement signed by Norman with the state Department of Health, he had pledged to keep the facility open until at least the end of July and to help relocate residents to appropriate facilities.
Residents alerted lawyers from a nonprofit legal aid organization, who were able to obtain a court order to keep the facility open until July 26.
The contract, signed by Reverend Norman and Father Peter Young, head of the Altamont Program and a chaplain for the state senate, indicates that formal closing of the sale of Pacific House will take place on September 1.
In a separate arrangement, the Altamont Program has also been allocated $1 million in special funding by the state legislature. State budget officials said the funding was allocated at the request of the Democratic majority in the assembly, where Reverend Norman's son is a powerful figure.
Clarence Norman Jr., who is both a state assemblyman and chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, said he has had no involvement with Pacific House other than to ask his law partner to represent his father.
A lawyer for the Altamont Program confirmed that negotiations are ongoing with Reverend Norman to acquire the property, which would be turned into temporary housing for homeless adults.
"We are still trying to get a firm figure," said Raul Tabora, a lawyer representing the Altamont Program. He said that Altamont specializes in programs that serve as "stepping-stones to independence" for former convicts and the homeless.
Pacific House was also supposed to be a stepping-stone, serving homeless individuals suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. But in nine years of operation, the facility racked up a dismal record of unsanitary conditions and unpaid bills while ignoring repeated orders to install basic safety features for residents (see "A Ministry of Neglect," July 4).
Reverend Norman has refused to discuss Pacific House, but an attorney for the home said that the program was long plagued by debts. "There was never enough funding for this facility," said Ravi Batra, a law partner of Norman Jr.
This winter Batra was criticized by other Brooklyn lawyers for allegedly receiving court patronage assignments because of his ties to Norman Jr. He has denied benefiting from any influence or favoritism.
But on June 30, Batra represented Pacific House at an informal hearing before Supreme Court justice Richard Huttner, one of the judges who has appointed him in the past.
Huttner signed an order requested by attorneys from MFY Legal Services that Pacific House remain open until July 26 so that residents can be "appropriately" relocated. He also complied with Batra's suggestion that the legal services lawyers, not Reverend Norman, negotiate with Con Edison over an unpaid $50,000 utility bill.