Posted by Michael McQuarrie on December 4, 2013
There I argued that our ideas and practices about housing and community development tend to become telescopic; that is, they tend to get involved in very detailed thinking about a narrow scope of concerns. The cost of this is that we lose a sense of the forest for the trees. In looking at slums in Mumbai, and the policies designed to deal with them, I emphasized the tremendous capacity of slum dwellers to solve many problems collectively without heavy reliance upon professionalized experts. Instilling this sort of capacity was one of the original goals of American community development, but it is a goal that has largely been abandoned. The contrast with Mumbai is one that illustrates the degree to which American community developers rely upon large formal organizations to get things done while also suggesting the price to be paid for such reliance.
Here I want to illustrate another contrast that was explored in some research I conducted in Berlin with the support of the Poiesis Fellowship. Germany is, like the U.S., a society in which formal organizations have replaced many functions that were once performed by communities; likewise, formal transactions have replaced many informal ones. Also, like many cities in which community developers are active in the United States, the challenge in many German cities is one of decline, not rapid growth.
In order to survive as a city during the Cold War, Berlin required government subsidies of local industry. The labor force provided a population to be defended by NATO troops, but it was mostly Turkish. Guest workers settled with poor bohemians, artists and students in the shadow of the Wall dividing East and West Berlin. In 1989, when the wall came down, the government withdrew economic subsidies which resulted in rapid population decline—Berlin was, economically speaking, part of Germany’s new and expanding Rust Belt despite becoming, at the same time, the new capital of a united Germany.
Posted by Steve Dubb on December 3, 2013
A recent article in Atlantic Cities by Richard Florida, titled "Where 'Eds and Meds' Industries Could Become a Liability," has caused a bit of a stir. The article warns that relying on anchor institutions such as local universities and hospitals (also known as “eds and meds”) for economic development is chancy.
In large measure, Florida takes on a straw man. Few would dispute his contention that anchor institutions, by themselves, are not “the ticket to economic growth.” Florida’s statistical finding that “eds and meds employment levels were uniformly negatively associated with nearly every single important measure of regional economic performance: income, economic output per capita, and high tech industry concentration” is also not so impressive. After all, many eds and meds are legacy institutions – remaining in disinvested communities after industry left and income and output fell (example: the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio). So it is no surprise their presence negatively correlates with these variables.
Nonetheless Florida does make one important point: No industry is immune to restructuring. Will Internet-based instruction reduce the size of the higher education sector? Will the United States ever succeed in reducing health care costs as a percentage of GDP? Decline is possible. Yet prediction, as Yogi Berra once noted, is hard, “especially about the future.”
Posted by David Holtzman on December 2, 2013
Last winter I wrote about a possible trend in which dollar stores were moving into older downtowns, filling vacant spaces abandoned decades ago when stores left for the interstate exits and strip malls. I thought I'd spotted an intriguing trend in small towns across the country, but I hadn't actually seen too many examples.
Then, over the summer, Family Dollar proposed to locate on a narrow lot in downtown Mineral, Va., a town of 450 or so a few miles away from where I live. The reaction to this proposal wasn't quite what I had anticipated.
Posted by Josh Ishimatsu on November 27, 2013
This is part two of my post on community development and community organizing. In my first post, I argued that community development corporations needed to revitalize their relationship to community organizing to survive. In this post, I'll discuss why organizing is important for CDCs in their reach and to see results.
Earlier this year, we (National CAPACD) released a study about Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) poverty. One of the findings of the report is that AAPI poverty is growing the fastest in parts of the country where there is the least AAPI community-based organization community development infrastructure (i.e., in the South, the Mountain West, parts of the Midwest). Similarly, the Brookings Institution has released a book, Confronting Suburban Poverty, about the dramatic growth of poverty in the suburbs—another place outside the typical reach of traditional CDCs. In our current economy, poverty is growing everywhere, but is growing fastest in places where there are no CDCs or limited CDC capacity.
I think growing poverty in places with no CDCs means we need more CDCs. But most people chortle dismissively when I say we need new CDCs. Lots of community development practitioners and thinkers say that the field is saturated. If anything, they say, there needs to be more consolidation, not expansion.
But if community development is not expansive, if it is not producing new CDCs, if it is not extending the reach of the field to places where need is growing, then it is a dead end field. Maybe not a dead end, but a niche or boutique field. Something exclusive and limited and expensive. It means that, despite whatever achievements CDCs make in the places where they are, it will not be enough to address the leading edge of the problem.
If community development is to take seriously the value of community empowerment and control and the value of meeting people where they live, community development needs a set of programming that is applicable to these places and that can be adopted and adapted by indigenous organizations already existing and starting up in these places.
Here again, community organizing shows a way forward. A renewed commitment to community organizing as central to community development represents a model of community development that is more broadly applicable (it doesn’t matter if there are no traditional housers in the area and it doesn’t matter as much if the municipality is full of suburban NIMBYs or if it has a miniscule HOME and CDBG allocation) and is cheaper to start up.
Most of the trepidation about new CDCs comes from the assumption that new CDCs mean new affordable housing/nonprofit real estate developers. As described in my last post, community development funding for capital projects is already stretched thin. On top of that, most emerging organizations don’t have the balance sheet to be bankable or the cash to put at risk in order to carry a project even to the point where it could get predevelopment financing. For these and many more reasons, it would be dumb to recommend to a start-up CDC that it take up affordable housing development. But, as described above, community development is not and should not be centrally defined by affordable housing production.
Posted by Laura Barrett on November 26, 2013
In the last few years community organizers have learned it's in their self-interest to become astute Vatican watchers. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) which is run by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has long been one of the most consistent and generous supporters of community organizing in the U.S. And since the election of Pope Francis, eradicating poverty is suddenly center stage.
Unfortunately, for the last several years, small but well-funded groups like Reform CCHD Now have targeted this venerable organization. Reform CCHD Now wants to stop support for social justice groups like Building One New Jersey, which trains grassroots leaders to create walkable, livable, and vibrant communities.
But this week a group of more than 50 pre-eminent Catholic leaders, including retired Bishops, ambassadors to the Vatican and past directors of the U.S. Catholic Bishops anti-poverty campaign joined the debate.
Posted by Jeffrey Lubell on November 25, 2013
HUD and the Department of Transportation recently released the Location Affordability Portal, a new website designed to share information on the combined costs of housing and transportation. The site includes a wealth of data on housing and transportation costs in different communities and for different household configurations and two creative applications for accessing the data. It also provides a series of “vignettes” designed to illustrate how one might use the data. But—perhaps to reduce controversy—it stops short of providing clear guidance on the strengths and weaknesses of different policy applications of these data.
This is a critical gap I would encourage the field to fill. To get the conversation rolling, I present six initial ideas on how to use (or not use) the information in the Location Affordability Portal. I’ll look forward to readers’ feedback on how to expand and improve this working guidance.
Three Ways to Use Data from the Location Affordability Portal to Inform Policy and Practice:
Posted by Dan Letendre on November 22, 2013
It has been a big year for community development financial institutions (CDFIs), the innovative, mission-driven organizations that provide much-needed financial services in underserved, low- and moderate-income communities across the United States.
In June, the U.S. Treasury Department’s CDFI Fund announced the new CDFI Bond Guarantee program, a potentially transformational program both because of its scale and because of the terms on which it makes capital available to CDFIs. The program could dramatically grow the amount and strengthen the impact of capital reaching communities that need it to build charter schools and community health centers, improve affordable housing, and undertake other critically important revitalization efforts.
First, consider the scale of the program. At full strength the CDFI Bond Guarantee can provide $1 billion of capital for CDFIs each year. By the end of this decade, the CDFI Fund, through the bond guarantee, stands to have more capital invested in CDFIs than the combined CDFI portfolios of the ten largest banks in the United States. Anytime a new capital program is larger than the entire existing private sector industry, it’s transformational. But it’s not just the scale that matters. It’s also the term of the capital: Thirty years, fixed rate.
That means that CDFIs will no longer have to finance long-term loans using short-term debt. They will be able to fund 30-year loans—loans that finance critically important community assets like health centers—using 30-year capital, instead of the 7-year capital that leaves them hoping that interest rates won’t go up when it’s time to refinance. For the first time, thanks to the bond guarantee, CDFIs will be able to practice true asset-liability management.
Posted by Josh Ishimatsu on November 21, 2013
There has been a lot written about the uncertain future of community development and the way forward for community development to survive—about capital flows, about the need for scale, for quarterbacking, for economic development, for consolidation, for diversification, about neighborhoods, about regions—and there has been a lot of good thinking, good ideas embedded in all these pieces. But I keep circling back to one thought.
Community development is dying for lack of community organizing. Community development is dying for lack of an active base.
I don’t mean this in a causal sense. Community development is struggling because, in our current economic and political environment, all funding for anything having to do with poor and low-income people has been systematically slashed. This has been a trend for years and has been accelerated in the current sequestration/debt limit crisis. The cuts have not been about community development or community organizing per se, but about a larger moral austerity.
In addition to this larger narrative about our country turning its back to people in need, there might be a sub-argument about how community development, more so than other programs that serve people in need, is at risk of collapse because of the current cuts in funding.
Community development, more so than other parts of the social safety net, is dependent upon a healthy pipeline of real estate development projects. The complexity of projects and the layers of financing require armies of attorneys, financial consultants, architects, and other expensive technical specialists who can navigate the tangle of private, local, state, and federal regulatory schema that come with each project’s mix of funding. The ecosystem of public and private technical experts that supports and is supported by community development requires a certain scale of activity.
Without enough capital funding for community development projects, without a large and consistent and predictable enough pipeline of projects, technical expertise to do deals could become too scarce/expensive and transaction costs would become too much in comparison to other ways in which public resources could deliver equivalent social benefits.
That is, if the total investment in community development is not large enough, the entire industry is threatened. Here again, this dynamic is not about community organizing in a direct way.
But I keep coming back to the fractured relationship between community organizing and community development. I keep thinking that a renewed commitment to community organizing is just the kick in the pants that community development needs.
In this series of posts, I'll discuss how community organizing matters for relevance, reach, and results.
Posted by Jodi Weinberger on November 20, 2013
The most important part of The Atlantic Cities' piece, "Has Germany Figured Out the Way To Keep Rents Affordable?" isn't whether Germany has figured out the way to keep rents affordable, it's why they care about keeping rents affordable.
As described in the piece, rents in German cities have been on the rise, causing evictions for longstanding tenants. It's also created a situation where aging tenants who want to move into a smaller unit can't because it's more expensive than their current rate, reducing the availability of larger apartments for the people that need them.
But when the German government recognized this problem, something unusual happened—they stepped in and made new rules:
"In Germany's three largest cities—Berlin, Hamburg and Munich—landlords will not be able to charge more than 10 percent of the average rent for comparable housing in the area. Instead of the usual 20 percent cap, rents must rise by no more than 15 percent in three years, with the rise-free first year kept in place.
Some smaller changes are also afoot. From now on, real estate agents' finder's fees must be paid by landlords, not tenants – previously they could cost renters up to around six weeks rent. And while landlords are currently allowed to add 11 percent of any renovation costs to their tenants' rental bill, now they will be allowed to add a very slightly smaller 10 percent"
I don't know if this answers the question posed in the title of the piece, but the article's author, Feargus O'Sullivan realizes it's not the rules themselves that's most critical to keeping rents affordable, it's the mindset in Germany. He writes, "[There's a] tentative national consensus that housing is an essential public resource first, a speculative good second."
Said another way: Housing for people, not for profit,
As Chester Hartman wrote in 2006, the need for a Right to Housing has not been accepted by the political powers, and without that, it's unlikely the holes of in the current solutions for solving the problem of affordability in this country would ever be filled in.
Posted by Alan Mallach on November 19, 2013
While the answer to that question in the title of this piece is obvious, there’s a strong case to be made that a lot of the buildings that make up America’s older cities may have to go, if these cities are to find a path to a new, better future. That was brought home recently by a NY Times article with the misleading title of “Blighted Cities Prefer Razing to Rebuilding.”
The title is misleading, because I know a lot of people in these cities, and I can’t think of a single one who actually prefers razing to rebuilding. At the same time, the article made an important point: for cities like Detroit, Cleveland or Baltimore, demolition has started to become a strategy, not an intermittent response to the individual problem building. This is a tough conclusion to reach, especially for those of us who love old buildings and admire the individual efforts that have saved many of them over the years, but an inevitable one.
Demolition has actually been going on for a long time. Detroit had 60,000 fewer housing units in 2010 than it did in 1990; these buildings didn’t just disappear, they were demolished. The problem is that, after two decades of knocking buildings down, Detroit had over 40,000 more vacant units by 2010 than they had in 1990. What the people working in America’s cities are finally realizing is that they have a basic problem of supply and demand.
It goes beyond what Justin Hollander said in the Times article, that there “just too many structures for the population we have;” the gap keeps growing larger, as populations continue to decline. The numbers in Detroit may be bigger, but almost every older city—other than booming cities like Washington, Boston or Seattle—saw the same trend between 1990 and 2010.