Can’t Be in the Gulf for the Katrina Anniversary? Watch These Films Instead

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on August 28, 2015

Tomorrow is the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, leading to all sorts of reflections on how far the city has come, what recovery means, and what lessons there are to be learned from how the recovery (the beginning of it, because it isn't over) has been handled. We'll have more to come, but check out our writers' takes on the Road Home program and to make it better, why legal aid services after a disaster are so crucial, the inequitable investment in street cars vs buses in post-Katrina New Orleans, and how to keep flood insurance rates from displacing low-income homeowners in the climate change era.

Meanwhile, here are two great films to watch:

What Is a Just City? is a short (8 min) video from Luisa Dantas, who made the longer film Land of Opportunity, in which we hear from a number of activists and advocates in the city about some of the dynamics of unequal recovery, the needs of the city, and what it will take to make it just. The film is in equal measures positive and a good antidote to those who are touting the recovery's success without acknowledging who it includes and who it leaves out. The Ford Foundation supoprted the film, and on their blog you can find out more about the various organizations featured in the film.

Come Hell or High Water is a full-length documentary that's being streamed for free on World Channel from now to Sept 4--don't miss it! Filmmaker Leah Mahan follows a college friend back to Turkey Creek, a community founded by freed slaves, now surrounded by the city of Gulfport, Miss., as he organizes residents and teams up with preservationists and environmental advocates to fight development that threatens both the creek and the historic community. Then, just after they win a major battle . . . the hurricane arrives. If you need a reminder of the power of persistent activism (or want to be inspired to punch some smug, racist politicians and developers in the nose), check it out!

(Photo from St. Bernard Housing Project, courtesy of Luisa Dantas.)

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Better Loans, Better Laws: Showing Communities What “Home” Looks Like

Posted by Doug Ryan on August 25, 2015

For generations, Americans from across the nation, the demographic spectrum and the income strata have strived for homeownership, working from the premise that it is the key to long-term financial security for them and their children.

For many families, having a home with a safe and sensible mortgage is the primary means to wealth accumulation, stability and access to other asset-building opportunities, such as higher education or entrepreneurship. But now, years after the financial crisis technically ended, we still feel its after-effects, leaving many questioning the value of homeownership as public policy. That perspective is simply wrong.

For low- and moderate-income homeowners, the value of high-quality loans is especially important. Although these families own their homes, they typically do not own significant amounts of other assets. Studies after the financial crisis have demonstrated that such homeowners who remained in their homes often had lower overall housing costs and greater assets as compared to renters. But we also know that homeownership rates vary wildly by race, with white Americans being considerably more likely to own their homes than other Americans. There have been efforts to improve the road ahead, but these efforts have stalled.

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The State of Transit in New Orleans

Posted by Casius Pealer on August 24, 2015

As many visitors and locals know well, New Orleans boasts the oldest continuously operating street railway in the world. The St. Charles Avenue streetcar was started in 1835 and in 1973 was listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. As a result of its landmark status, all the streetcars on St. Charles Avenue look and are operated just as they were in 1920.

Today of course, the key benchmark for all of New Orleans is 2005. Our explicit goal is to move beyond that date, but 2005 marks a common reference point for the city as a whole--including its public transit system and its iconic streetcars.

This past week, a local transit advocacy group called Ride New Orleans (RideNOLA), released a comprehensive report titled, “The State of Transit in New Orleans: Ten Years After Katrina.” As public transit is increasingly explicitly linked to affordable housing and social equity, this report provides data points and recommendations that may be useful for other communities addressing these issues in a comprehensive way. At the very least, these transit issues are an important element of the more comprehensive work and commentary on New Orleans that will be published this week in particular.

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Segregation Conversation Goes National

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on August 19, 2015

The conversation about balancing placed-based revitalization and expanding access to high-opportunity areas has been edging onto the national radar recently, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on disparate impact and HUD's release of the affirmatively furthering fair housing regulations.

The good news is that these are important questions for everyone to be asking in a nation that has absurd poverty levels and is deeply divided by race and class. The less good news is that rather than a united front to present now that housing issues have a wider audience, that wider audience is trying to make sense of the ongoing tension within the field between how these two sides of the same coin should relate to each other, get funded, etc. . .

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Employee Ownership: A Solution that Preserves Retiring Owners’ Businesses

Posted by Steve Dubb on August 17, 2015

Reflecting growing enthusiasm for worker co-ops, the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy—held last month in Worcester, Massachusetts—attracted a record 300-plus participants.

One item on the agenda: the possibility of creating new worker cooperatives through conversions in which employees buy a business from an exiting owner.

The stakes are large—and not just for worker co-op advocates. Indeed, literally millions of businesses will be affected, as the baby boom generation retires at the rate of 10,000 people a day. This means there are going to be a whole lot of business ownership transitions. And how those transitions occur will have very significant consequences for communities everywhere.

As the late John Logue, founder of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center, often remarked: “The failure to plan for business succession is the number one cause of preventable job loss in this country.” Logue also used to remind folks that “only 30 percent of family businesses will pass to the 2nd generation,” even though half of exiting owners think they will transfer their business to family members. 

The employee stock ownership plan or ESOP has long been recognize as a means to preserve jobs while building wealth. But because an ESOP is a pension plan, an ESOP also carries federally mandated compliance costs. This often makes using an ESOP costly for smaller companies. The National Center on Employee Ownership writes, that, “As a rule of thumb, ESOPs work best for companies with over 20 employees.”

But what about the 14 million Americans who work for small businesses with between 5 and 19 employees? Conversion to worker cooperatives might be one important strategy for them.

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Conflict and Placemaking in Humboldt Park: Paseo Boricua

Posted by Daniel Kravetz on August 14, 2015

There is an exceptional amount of public art on Paseo Boricua, a four-block stretch of Division Street bisecting Humboldt Park, in the heart of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community.

In July, I spent about an hour on Paseo Boricua with Eduardo Arocho, a longtime local activist and the Executive Director of the Division Street Business Development Association. Standing under the 56-foot-high mast of one of two huge steel Puerto Rican flags that arch over each entry to the corridor, Arocho catalogued the creative spaces contained in the half-mile stretch: “We have 18 murals on this street alone. . . we have buildings with the colonial architecture of Old San Juan. . . we have five street festivals. The list goes on in terms of how we have continuously been claiming space.”

Claiming space is the lifeblood of Arocho and many of his fellow community leaders; the ascribed importance explains the quantity. The area surrounding Paseo Boricua is not exclusive space, but in a gentrifying part of the city, it is undeniably—and perhaps unavoidably—contested space. . .

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The Gentrification Vaccine

Posted by Rick Jacobus on August 13, 2015

Can a neighborhood be immune to gentrification? If so, can local governments and community organizations work together to build up that kind of immunity over time?

We'll soon find out as a 40-year experiment in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood is about to be put to the test.

The Tenderloin has long been a concentrated area of acute poverty and social distress in the middle of one of the world’s most affluent cities. The streets of the Tenderloin are alive with drugs and crime. Much of the area’s population lives in inexpensive Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotels.

But after decades of neglect, investment is suddenly flooding into the neighborhood.  First, Internet firms like Twitter and Zendesk moved into offices on the edge of the Tenderloin and now a wave of new housing and commercial development is working its way through the city’s planning process.

It is a story that must sound familiar to anyone working to improve any other urban neighborhood in America: decades of disinvestment and neglect replaced almost overnight by speculation and runaway market pressure. But the story of the Tenderloin is taking a turn that is entirely unlike every other American neighborhood.

When disinvested neighborhoods finally start to get significant market activity, we have become accustomed to seeing neighborhood leaders turn and begin focusing their efforts on preventing displacement.

But that is not what is happening in the Tenderloin. . .

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A Historic Partnership in Creative Placemaking

Posted by Frank Woodruff on August 12, 2015

NACEDA recently announced our selection as a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town award recipient. The award will provide resources over two years for NACEDA and Americans for the Arts to collaborate on a Creative Placemaking Immersion Program for state and regional community development associations and their local/regional arts-based partners. Of course, the community development and arts fields already work together to improve low-income neighborhoods, but they approach the work differently and, too often, separately. This program will provide training, technical assistance, and convening support to blend local arts and community development strategies aimed at improving outcomes for low-income neighborhoods.

This is the first direct federal grant NACEDA has ever received. It is also the first time in Our Town’s history that national field-building grants were awarded. The mission of the NEA's Our Town grant program is to transform communities into lively, beautiful and resilient places with the arts at their core. The new field-building grants are designed to foster cross-sector collaboration, spreading creative placemaking to new geographies and organizations.

As an alliance of 42 state and regional associations for community development and affordable housing in 28 states, NACEDA’s network touches almost 4,000 community development corporations and other community-based development nonprofits across the country. These organizations build affordable homes, drive local economies, provide direct services, and organize neighborhoods. NACEDA saw itself as a natural agent to facilitate local and regional partnerships integrating the arts into the long-term community development goals of low and moderate income people and places through its network of associations, and the NEA agreed.

But this $100,000 grant makes a statement that goes far beyond the organizations involved. . .

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Same-sex Couples Can Love, But Where Can They Live?

Posted by Nicole Barden on August 10, 2015

[Note: A version of this aricle originally appeared in Ebony.com in July 2015]

 

Same-sex couples’ right to marry is now protected, but do they have the right to housing? It is not only possible but also legal under federal law to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people when it comes to where they live.

This is the new equality we celebrate—the constant pursuit of obtaining and protecting our rights.

Surely, the joy many LGBTQ and straight people experienced on June 26 when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision was justified; as was the rage some felt regarding violence against communities of color—that same day, our president eulogized Clementa Pinkney, a black preacher and elected official murdered by a white supremacist.

Those events presented a series of ups and downs highlighting the importance of viewing the desires of all groups through a lens of creating opportunity and place for themselves. Even those celebrating marriage equality were forced to take stock when a group of mostly black youth interrupted Chicago’s gay pride parade to hold a die-in and bring awareness to LBGTQ issues that go beyond marriage. These include housing a community that experiences homelessness at high rates and is denied equal access because of their sexual orientation.

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Do Developers Know They’ll Get Old, Too?

Posted by Ted Wysocki on August 6, 2015

Mid-July marked the 20th anniversary of more than 700 Chicagoans dying in a heat wave. When the temperature peaked at 106 degrees on July 13, 1995, it was mostly the poor and the elderly who were the victims. There were many lessons learned from this tragedy; but isolation was one culprit.

Aging in Placeis an important concept, as it means people have a choice to stay in their homes as they get older. But there is growing recognition that “Aging in Community” is the next community development frontier: assuring that there are local housing options for seniors to stay in their community even when it is time to leave home.

There are several key points covered in the current issue of Shelterforce, the theme of which is Aging. It’s worth the time to connect the dots:

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