1990-95 follows the building and consolidation of the previous five years. Working at all levels of politics and in every corner of the country, ACORN has parlayed its building efforts into major victories. While some of ACORN's most exciting efforts were in the area of housing, its victories also included health, public safety, education, representation, work and workers' rights and communications concerns.
The 1990 ACORN convention in Chicago focused on the fast-breaking housing campaign. It featured a squatting demonstration at an RTC house which was reclaimed for use in an ACORN neighborhood. Later, ACORN members, in a spirited action on the U.S. League of Savings Institutions, demanded cooperation from banks about providing loan data on low- and moderate-income communities and compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act. The convention also included the ACORN Elected Official Conference which developed strategies for independent electoral organizations. The hard-hitting actions and long-term strategies would pay off in years to come.
The housing issue continued to heat up in 1991, when ACORN fought back against bank lobbyist efforts to gut the CRA. ACORN members staged a two- day takeover of the House Banking Committee hearing room to be sure their voices were heard by Congress. They stood in line overnight and took seats normally occupied by bank lobbyists. As a result, they won the Congressional vote to preserve the CRA in a power move that got national attention.
The national media also listened when ACORN identified and publicized lending discrimination by banks to lower-income and minority applicants for mortgages. Jack Kemp, Secretary of HUD under President Bush, listened, too, when ACORN persistently pursued him. As a result, ACORN won thousands of homes for low- and moderate-income people that the RTC had been auctioning to wealthy bidders before this important victory.
ACORN Housing Corporation, created to service people moving into homes under the housing campaign, rehabilitated hundreds of houses in low- and moderate-income communities around the country. Like many of ACORN's campaigns, this clearly demonstrated the need for more investment in ACORN neighborhoods.
The ACORN convention in New York in 1992, the "ACORN-Bank Summit," was organized to hammer out deals with giant banks like Continental, First Fidelity, Mellon, PriMerit, and Chemical. Representatives signed agreements to establish programs for low- and moderate-income people to qualify for mortgages in their communities. Citibank, the nation's largest bank, did not participate. In response, the conventioneers held a lively action at Citibank's downtown Manhattan headquarters, and won a meeting to negotiate for similar programs. The meeting also led to increased Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac funding from the secondary mortgage market to ACORN neighborhoods. These efforts led to billions of dollars of primary and secondary mortgage money flowing into ACORN communities over a period of several years.
ACORN made major strides in the area of education, too. ACORN parents won victories in New York, creating the Rockaways New School and PS 245, and in Chicago, where they established the Nicholson and Mason 21 schools. These small schools were set up as partnerships between parents and teachers to serve the local communities and improve children's education. Also in Chicago, ACORN members saved Dewey elementary from closing twice and won funding to rehabilitate it. Dewey now has some of highest test scores in the Chicago school system.
ACORN's work on political representation also showed solid results for low- and moderate-income Americans. In Washington DC, Initiative 41, a campaign finance law ACORN put on the ballot, limits campaign contributions to $100, wresting upper-income lobbyists' hold on DC. elections. The ACORN election campaign won passage by a two-to-one margin. An ACORN campaign finance law in Missouri placing a $100 limit on contributions passed by a 3-1 margin. In another election reform effort, Little Rock's ACORN members forced changes in the Little Rock City Board of Directors enabling neighborhoods to elect their own members. As a result, ACORN leaders Gloria Wilson, National Vice President, and Willie Hinton, Pulaski County ACORN.
With a Democratic President and Congress, the national government became more receptive to reforms promoting the political power of low- and moderate-income people. ACORN played an important role in the passage and implementation of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, or "Motor- Voter," Act. After its passage, ACORN members attended President Clinton's signing ceremony
The law itself was not enough to get the job done, however. ACORN follow- up required new registration laws in Arkansas and Massachusetts and lawsuits against governors who wouldn't comply with the federal law in Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania. By 1994, ACORN participation helped Project Vote register 147,000 voters in Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The potential political power of low- and moderate-income people all over the U.S. got a big boost from ACORN efforts.
Democratic control of the federal government meant that ACORN had increased access to top officials with more sympathetic ears. ACORN members began regular meetings with Henry Cisneros, HUD Secretary under President Clinton, on a variety of issues. ACORN organizing began to include more tenant groups under the ACORN Tenant Union (ATU), and Cisneros was increasingly helpful.
In 1993, ACORN began a national campaign to fight insurance redlining, a practice that put the gains made in other housing campaigns at risk. Homeowners in low- and moderate-income communities could not get insurance or paid higher rates. The insurance redlining campaign targeted Allstate, hitting sales offices in fourteen cities and a Sears, Allstate's parent company, stockholders meeting. Allstate agreed to negotiate and signed an agreement in 1994 for a $10 million partnership with ACORN and NationsBank for below-market mortgages to low-income home buyers. Travelers Insurance came on board with a Neighborhood and Home Safety Program, linking access to insurance and lower rates to public safety programs. ACORN proved it could win whatever it took to ensure access to home ownership to low- and moderate-income people.
In 1994 the ACORN national convention, "Taking it to the Top," was held in Washington, DC. Its goal was to meet with top government officials in the executive branch and Congress. Members met with Secretary of Education William Riley, Attorney General Janet Reno, Chair of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan, and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros. As Maude Hurd, President of the ACORN Association Board, put it, "Get ready for action, because while some things have changed, we still have many fights on our hands. From the White House to Capitol Hill to the biggest corporate lobbying groups, our voices will be heard." ACORN voices were heard by members of Congress whom they lobbied on ACORN issues, and especially by Henry Cisneros, who agreed to prevent any HUD interference in ATU organizing. This supplied needed support for ATU work for proper maintenance services, operating appliances, fair representation and the right to organize in Texas, Illinois, Connecticut, Ohio, and New York.