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MAY 19 - MAY 26, 2015

Collapsed House Puts Spotlight on Mysterious Isaiah 61
Who's running the program and is it
costing city, federal taxpayers?

By Frank Parlato

May 26, 2015

It left us scratching our heads -Isaiah 61 fixed this one up and how.

Isaiah 61 store was condemned.

Borrowing electricity by hot wiring the service from a neighbor can get you in hot water. It can also burn your store down.

Rev. James Haid left our city.

A fire hall of dubious value will be fixed at great expense but no one, except a secret few, know why.

When the Rev. Haid moved to Utica, Mayor Dyster chose not to tell a soul.

When a house on Centre Ave. collapsed in Niagara Falls NY, with its roof dropping into the basement, and its walls bowed outward and fell down, the occurrence impacted more than a modest 95 year-old house.

It raised a challenge to the future existence of Isaiah 61 Project, the well publicized and oft praised not for profit housing rehabilitation and educational program - with a Biblical twist and touted lavishly by Mayor Paul Dyster and city officials.  

Last year the Reporter questioned the program's arguably meager accomplishment of rehabbing but one smallish, home on Whitney Ave., in three years of much publicized efforts, and despite trumpeting its motto, "Isaiah 61 is changing lives, and indeed the City of Niagara Falls, one house at a time."

With only one house every three years, the change they call for in this aging, rustbelt, high poverty, former industrial based city with an estimated two thousand homes needing either serious rehab or demolition, it will be many a lifetime before anyone's lives will be changed.

The Reporter made some simple calculations as to what it cost to rehabilitate the tiny home on Whitney, a home which sat on the market for more than a year, despite lowering its price from $40,000 to $30,000. 

Isaiah 61 received about $300,000 in foundation, corporate, public utility, federal and city taxpayer grants - in connection to this house - and got another $40,000 or so in free materials to fix it.

Isaiah 61 however had a charismatic founder and leader, The Rev. James Haid, whose charm had produced the buzz about the project. A master at making the simple picking up of a hammer into a press event.

Haid charmed the media, local officials, private businessmen and women and institutions eager to get their corporate names as sponsors of this wonderful project, as photographers snapped pictures, reporters scribbled his words and TV cameras rolled, capturing on camera not only Haid but his gathering of prominent officials.

Haid talked about the resurrection of the city.

And despite the fact that he hadn't  gotten much of anything done, his energy and enthusiasm and the same story - one year to the next that this could be the start of something momentous - a movement that could change a lot of lives and transform a city - even if the message was always the same: The dozens of hopeful stories of faith, hope and ultimately charity  in the form of grants and gifts to Rev. Haid's noble project. He was selling the future.

Rev. Haid did not leave any who gathered to see him without the impression that here was a man who worked with his hands, a carpenter, who would work rather than preach.

When this follower of the Nazarene declared, as it is written in the Bible - in Isaiah chapter 61, quoted, "we will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. " then add his own signature ending, "One house at a time," it didn't matter that it had only been one house. They wanted to believe.

While not opposed to his marvelous presentation, the Reporter came to doubt the reality of his plan. For example Rev Haid claimed Isaiah 61 had employed while fixing the tiny house on Whitney some 70 student/workers who with direction from him and other qualified instructors not only fixed the house but in so doing learned enough about the construction trade that almost every one of them secured a living wage employment in the construction industry.

He told his story so convincingly that without verifying the veracity of this incredible accomplishment Mayor Dyster went to Gov. Cuomo and the two men issued a joint press release heralding the fact that Niagara Falls performed a miracle - through fixing up house(s) 70 students learned a trade and got a job. And the miracle man was Rev. James Haid.

We had cause to write our first cover story about Isaiah 61 when their modest storefront offices, which doubled as their re-use store and  classroom, was condemned by the City Department of Code Enforcement because the electricity that powered their storefront came not from their own service but the neighboring property.

Someone had hotwired it to provide Isaiah 61's unmetered electricity.

Learning more about their store we found out that the city council at the request of Mayor Dyster, authorized Isaiah 61 to have exclusive access to all city homes to be demolished to cherry pick anything of value and take it for free to be sold in their store.

Leaded glass, stained glass windows, rich old oak frames, maple flooring, fireplace mantle pieces, fixtures, copper plumbing, brass door knobs, and ceramic toilets and pedestal sinks were gifted to a not for profit without inventorying or accounting without bidding.

We were further intrigued when came a late summer request of the council by Mayor Dyster for $500,000 of casino cash to be spent to renovate a long abandoned fire hall on Highland Ave., that seemed to be more expensive to repair than to demolish and build new.

It became more of a mystery when Dyster explained that he wanted the $500,000 to fix up the firehouse in order to give the restored property to Isaiah 61 to further their work of teaching  and fixing  up house(s) and enlarging their re-use store.

The firehouse would be the new home of Isaiah 61.

In the midst of this, a source called us with a tip: Rev. James Haid had moved out of town and abandoned the Isaiah 61 Project.

The founder, the executive director, the face, the inspiration, the man whose photo and his inspiring quotes appeared in every story, Rev. Haid moved to Utica, NY, to become the director of the historic Utica Gospel Rescue Mission.

The Isaiah  61 store was closed; the school was shut. The offices locked. No one answered the phone.

But more curious than Haid quitting  - for he had the right to move on if he chose  - was that Dyster and Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo, before the council pitching to win  support of giving Dyster full control of $500,000 to help the urgent needs and worthy goals of Isaiah 61, chose not to tell that Haid had left.

The council approved the $500,000 for the mayor to use to benefit Isaiah 61 without knowing Haid had left.

Follow the money, they say.

It was not Haid, and not Isaiah 61, now faceless and leaderless, that got the money.

Haid left town and took another job. He didn’t take any city money. He did not mislead the council, or the mayor.

All $500,000 went into Dyster's control.

Why did Dyster want to fix this fire hall so badly that he was not forthright with the council?

Which brings us full circle.

Now that Haid has left, who is running this agency?

Who was directing students at Centre St. when the house was abandoned after Isaiah 61 students were instructed to remove its bearing walls?

What became of the salvage culled from city properties and  stored at the Isaiah 61 “re-use” store?

One house collapsed already.

Is the Highland Avenue fire hall stable?

The one and only house Isaiah 61 ever rehabbed was put up for sale but didn't sell.  Who owns the house?

Who is paying utilities? Has the house become part of the Community Development leased housing program?

Will there be other houses to be rehabbed? If they cannot be sold is there a purpose in continuing the program?

Will the city end up owning these unsold houses?

One councilman told us the total enrollees at the latest  Isaiah 61 class was a meager six students - a far cry from the 70 who allegedly worked on Whitney Ave.

How much money has the city or Community Development paid to Isaiah 61 both before and after Haid left?

And finally, the only question that ever really mattered: Who is actually running Isaiah 61: Isaiah 61 or City Hall?


All that was left was a pile of wood when Isaiah 61 was done.






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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