A Tale of Two Infrastructure Projects

Posted by Alan Mallach on April 18, 2014

Living in Central New Jersey, I’ve had a ringside seat for the last few years to one of the largest infrastructure projects currently going on in the United States, the $2.5 billion widening of the New Jersey Turnpike.

                                  (Photo by Don Harrison CC BY-NC-ND)

I’ve found the experience upsetting, not because it has interfered with my life—which it hasn’t—but because it strikes me as an almost perverse waste of a vast amount of public resources for little long term social or economic benefit. Still, I didn’t appreciate quite how perverse until a few weeks ago, when I read the following article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “U.S.-Canada Bridge Funding at Risk”.

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Nonprofit Funding in San Diego Under Threat

Posted by Laura Barrett on April 17, 2014

San Diego’s sunny beaches and beautiful college campuses can be deceptive. The city's soaring housing costs force university students and low-income families to sleep on couches and to depend on free meals. Many, too, end up living out of cars. The waiting list for Section 8 Housing is 10 years long, and as a result,families are being forced to move out of state.

According the the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a renter in San Diego's Metropolitan Statistical Area would need to earn $26.58 an hour to afford a fair market two bedroom apartment, yet, the average renter's wage is just $17.28. Despite this, the City of San Diego is trying to take away federal money that provides a source of relief.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides millions in funding to cities across the country to fight poverty. This year, San Diego will receive roughly $11 million dollars in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).  The money is divided up into four categories: administrative costs, capital improvement projects (CIP), program services, and community economic development. 

In the past, 80 percent of the funding that was assigned to capital improvement projects went to nonprofits and provided critical support for senior centers, affordable family housing, and health clinics. Now the city wants a bigger share of that money.

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Congress Agrees: Collaborative, Comprehensive Care Needed For Rural Vets

Posted by Eric Oberdorfer on April 16, 2014

Rural America has a strong history of protecting our country. In fact, as highlighted in a recent report on rural veterans, veterans are more prevalent in rural America, comprising 11.4 percent of the rural population compared to 9.6 percent of the nation overall. However, providing needed services to veterans in rural America can often be more challenging due to the spread out nature of rural areas. These challenges were discussed in depth at a recent symposium held at the US Capitol.

Attended by Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, each member of Congress noted the responsibility we share to ensure the well-being of our veterans, regardless of where they may live. It was encouraging to hear elected members of Congress discuss and acknowledge the challenges that exist in providing services to veterans in rural America.

The symposium featured a panel with representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Rural Health, USDA Rural Housing Services, Department of Labor (DoL), and HUD Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs. Each agreed that to best serve our veterans, federal agencies must collaborate. HUD, VA, DoL, and USDA must look for ways to work together within their respective programs that will best meet the comprehensive needs of our veterans. This includes housing, employment, and physical and mental health services.

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Casinos are Parasites

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on April 15, 2014

It is not news that communities desperate for jobs and economic development often make terrible long-term decisions, welcoming in development and developers that are damaging in all sorts of ways—environmentally, socially, economically for the long-run.

Casinos are one new face of this: They promise a huge burst of jobs, both construction and staff level, plus tax revenue, and play neighboring communities off each other. Given the dazzling short-term numbers thrown around, casino development in a state where they have been recently legalized, as here in New York, is very, very hard for a local community to turn down.

Bill Sisk Of The Rockefeller Institute Smashes A Slot Machine In Front Of The State Capitol, October 2013. Photo from The Albany Web Log



But if they know what's good for them, they will.

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Housing Finance Reform Doesn’t Need to Start with Congress

Posted by Doug Ryan on April 14, 2014

Later this month, as every reader no doubt knows, the Senate Banking committee will mark up the bipartisan housing finance reform bill put forward by Chairman Tim Johnson and Ranking Member Michael Crapo. There has been a lot of commentary on the bill in these pages and elsewhere by housing advocates, including some rather strong critics of the bill’s complexity, servicing regimes and perceived risk to the economy. As the bill is not, of course, the final word on housing finance, for manufactured housing there are some positive pieces that should be preserved or built upon as the process goes forward.

That the bill recognizes that manufactured housing plays an important role in the provision of affordable housing is a critical, and easily overlooked, milestone. As the Manufactured Housing Institute remarked when the text of the bill was released, manufactured housing loans have made up less than one percent of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s secondary market efforts, which seems woefully inadequate in light of the outsized share the sector makes up as homeownership for low- and moderate-income Americans.

In its direction to the new Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation (FMIC) to develop rules to support underserved markets, the bill cites manufactured housing as an example. The mandate sounds a bit like the yet-to-be-adopted Duty to Serve (DTS) regulations that Congress required the GSEs’ regulator to issue to support manufactured housing, rural markets and housing preservation. So while the paucity of GSE activity on manufactured housing in the past and the fact that proposed DTS rules have lingered for four years should give us pause, we should be hopeful that the secondary market will at some point more fully embrace manufactured homes and their long-ignored owners.

The committee and staff did tremendous work on the bill, regardless of the criticisms of it. Specifically, CFED commends the staff for including manufactured housing advocates and others in its discussions in the run up to the bill’s release. One noteworthy mention is that manufactured housing is explicitly cited as eligible for the Market Access Fund (MAF).

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Land Banks Are Not a Silver Bullet

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on April 10, 2014

We were very excited to hear that after many years of organizing, Philadelphia succeeded in winning a municipal land bank. Karen Black wrote for us here about some of the compromises it took to get it done, and Jill Feldstein of Women's Community Revitalization Project, has written a column for us for the next issue of Shelterforce on some of the organizing lessons that she took away from the process.

But, of course, implementation is everything, and Greg Heller, CEO of American Communities Trust, has an important piece over on Plan Philly about what needs to accompany a land bank to enable it to fulfill its promise, drawing lessons from Philly's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative:

In 2001 Philadelphia launched its $300 million Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI) to reduce blight and rebuild neighborhoods. One of the program’s major goals was, “Improve the City’s ability to assemble and dispose of land for redevelopment and establish a Land Bank...” While NTI had some successes in assembling land for construction of affordable housing, by and large the program’s land bank component was considered less effective than its creators hoped. As NTI was rolling out, a policy report on the program cautioned, “Urban renewal strategies focused primarily on demolition and land assembly have not proven effective.”

In light of the mixed reviews of NTI’s land bank approach a decade ago, what makes us think the current effort will be more effective? . . . Today’s land-bank boosters should learn from NTI’s flaws, but seek to emulate its strong points by again forging a comprehensive, multi-faceted, and data-driven approach.

Read the whole piece.

(Photo by Photo by Egoldin CC BY-NC-ND)

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This Is How We Should Measure Our Work (And Achieve Economic Justice)

Posted by Josh Ishimatsu on April 9, 2014

This is Part 6 in a series about the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.


This year is the 50-year Anniversary of the War on Poverty and depending upon when you start the clock on community development, this year is something pretty close to the 50-year anniversary of community development, too.

The first legislation enacting the War on Poverty was the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act. In 1966, New York Senators Robert Kennedy and Jacob Javits introduced an amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act that ended up creating the first official, federally recognized Community Development Corporations (CDCs). Community development actually has deeper, older roots than this 1966 legislation, but this was when CDCs went official and were taken to a bigger, broader stage.

But, despite this common origin in the Economic Opportunity Act, you can see tensions between community development and the War on Poverty—the tension between the president and his desire to own the poverty issue and Robert Kennedy, the Camelot heir who and presumed prime challenger for the presidential nomination.

On one side you had the Kennedys’ rhetoric around entrepreneurialism, about new ideas, about the mixing of private and public efforts to solve problems (The formulation of community development entities as “corporations,” for example, was said to be something important to RFK in that it was a rhetorical way to bridge community and business interests and to make community action palatable to a wider audience). On the other side, there was LBJ, a former New Deal congressman, who saw things in terms of big, top down entitlement programs (the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the Social Security Act of 1965, which created Medicare and Medicaid) and deals between political players.

Obviously, this is a gross over-simplification. Johnson’s War on Poverty contained many component parts that were directly related to community development (Model Cities, the Office of Economic Opportunity); community development had many roots and traditions long before RFK ever stepped foot in Bed-Stuy; and, RFK, of course, was a political player who did backroom deals. But the larger point stands. Community development and the War on Poverty are deeply linked though not in complete harmony.

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From Food Pantries to Food Justice

Posted by Brent Kakesako on April 8, 2014

Is it possible for a family to be truly self-sufficient and provide all of its own food?

This is a question that the Office for Social Ministry is grappling with as it reflects on how to transition its food ministries, many of which run food pantries, from an emergency mindset to a more sustainable, and nutritious one. As the work has proceeded, this has quickly become clear that this also a community-based approach, which can be best encapsulated by the concept of food justice—access and ability to take advantage of healthy and nutritious food.

Community planting day at St. Joseph’s Parish, Hilo, Hawai‘i

Yet as the work has progressed, it has become clear that a variety of strategies are needed to support the 66 parishes across the state where they are at and to assist them in exploring what food justice means to them. A huge component of this is making sure to “mahalo,” or show gratitude to many of the long committed volunteers while strategizing on how to engage new cohorts of volunteers.

Stepping back, what is the role of a faith-based institution in the food production value chain? The social ministry has begun to take on a kind of "grow, share, and prepare" mission in terms of both social justice and charitable works that transcends any one belief system.

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In Pursuit of a “Both/And” Housing Policy—The Case of Housing Choice Vouchers

Posted by Philip Tegeler on April 7, 2014

Readers of Shelterforce are accustomed to seeing commentary about the perceived tension between community development and housing mobility. Almost everyone agrees at this point that there is a place for both strategies in a balanced, “both/and” low-income housing policy. There is some disagreement about how much “balance” the various players in the system would like to see, and also some disagreement about how much choice the families who are the consumers of federal housing assistance really want. But the basic idea of a balanced policy is a common source of agreement.

But the little secret underlying this ongoing dialogue is that there is almost no “housing mobility” policy being pursued at the federal level. Our four largest low-income housing assistance programs continue to replicate patterns of poverty concentration and segregation in the segregated metropolitan areas where most units are located. There is very little actual balance, and achieving a “both/and” strategy is still a long way off. 

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program is a case in point. This is the one federal housing program that is not tethered to specific physical locations, yet it is not delivering on its promise to give families a wider choice of communities, including neighborhoods with low crime rates, high performing schools, and low rates of poverty and racial concentration (for example, a PRRAC/Furman Center 2012 report on housing and school location found that the median voucher family lived near an elementary school with 74 percent of children receiving free and reduced price lunch, and that less than 7 percent of voucher families were living near elementary schools with less than 20 percent low-income children).  

The impression that we have a “both/and” housing policy probably traces its roots to the highly visible “Moving to Opportunity” (MTO) experiment and the scores of academic articles that have been written about it. It is true that the five-city MTO demonstration provided a magnificent dataset for researchers, but in the end fewer than 2,000 families received the targeted “experimental” vouchers—compared to the now more than 2 million families in the voucher program as a whole. And contrary to widespread misconceptions, these MTO families generally did not move to high opportunity communities. Without active mobility assistance, most of those who actually used their vouchers relocated to neighborhoods within the same city and school district, and many soon moved to higher poverty areas.

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How Will We Care For This Overlooked Population?

Posted by Eric Oberdorfer on April 4, 2014

As I’ve discussed in a previous blog post, rural America is aging faster than the rest of the country. Delving a little deeper into some of the characteristics of this population can provide insights.

One thing that has especially stood out to me through my research on rural seniors is their apparent lack of diversity. Rural seniors are one of the least diverse groups in the nation with minorities accounting for only 10 percent of the population compared to 20 percent of seniors nationally—but looking solely at those numbers leaves some out important details.

An interesting trend emerges when we look at where minority seniors live in rural America. Many minority seniors live in counties where they comprise over one-third of the entire senior population. Let’s refer to these as “minority counties.” So even though few rural seniors are minorities, these individuals are often clustered in very specific regions across the country. Such clustering can make the presence of this already small population even less noticeable if you aren’t looking in the right places.

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