Finding and Fostering Entreprenuerial Spirit in Underserved Communities

Posted by Keli Tianga on October 24, 2014

A few years ago, I had what I thought was a great business idea. After much excited Googling and resource combing, I came across a seven-week small business training program being offered through my town. The training, run by the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership (IFEL), was only open to people who were unemployed. I was freelancing at the time and had just had a baby, so I qualified.

My class of 15 budding entrepreneurs was a mixed group in every sense of the word, by race, gender, and education level. We practiced our "elevator pitches," wrote business plans, and listened as special guests including insurance agents, bank loan officers, accountants, and marketing experts told us what we needed to do to get our businesses off to the right start. The information was exciting, terrifying, and necessary, because it helped me realize that not only was I nowhere near ready to launch a business, I was also unsure whether I even wanted to.

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A Look in the Mirror: Do CDFIs (and CDCs) Reflect Their Communities?

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on October 23, 2014

Last year, I wrote about the teeming conference of the Opportunity Finance Network, the trade group for community development financial institutions, with a little bit of awe at how different it was from the rest of the community development world in its growth and optimism, worrying about mission creep rather than survival.

This year the conference surprised me yet again, but in a much different way. After some hard reflection, OFN's director Mark Pinsky explained how the organization decided to take a square look at, and try to do something about, an issue that affects the entire field and is almost never talked about:

The staff and boards of community development institutions are, as a rule, much whiter than the communities they serve.

Now I don't have hard data on this for the entire field, but OFN does for its members. In 2011, according to Pinsky, OFN removed a nominal requirement of membership that staff and board "reflect their communities" in exchange for getting data on how well they actually do so, trading, in his words "intention for transparency."

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The Real Problem with the Model Minority Myth

Posted by Josh Ishimatsu on October 21, 2014

There is a Time article—"The Real Problem When It Comes to Diversity and Asian-Americans"—that has been making the rounds on the Internet. As a card-carrying member of the Model Minority Myth Busters club, I am sympathetic with author Jack Linshi’s piece in that it seeks to discredit model minority mythology. However, there are a couple of (big) points that I wish had been made more clearly and explicitly:

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Do the Roads Belong to All of Us?

Posted by David Holtzman on October 20, 2014

The other day at a planning board meeting, I heard someone claim that all the roads from the nearest shopping center to their house, a distance of at least three miles, were "residential roads." That was a new one to me.

What he based that on was the fact that there are many houses along those roads, but no businesses, at least none that are clearly selling something or providing some sort of service. He made this statement as he was encouraging the planning board to reject a proposed business. The business would interfere with his "quiet enjoyment of his property."

Now I have heard people argue plenty of times that a residential neighborhood is the wrong place for a business to operate. Sometimes in these neighborhoods commerce is very restricted, but people are allowed to have so-called "home occupations," like a small cake-baking business, for instance, or a hair salon in someone's converted living room. As long as there is minimal sign of the business from the street or from neighbors' houses, people are usually ok with it.

But I'd never heard someone stake a claim to a road, or a set of roads, as off-limits to business. Especially in this case, where the roads in question were not even part of a defined subdivision of homes and streets. 

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What’s The Matter With Atlantic City?

Posted by Alan Mallach on October 16, 2014

Over the past few months, there’s been a drumbeat of bad news coming out of Atlantic City. Since the beginning of 2014, four casinos have closed, including Revel, which the state of New Jersey granted $261 million in tax breaks to back in 2011 so they could finish construction and open their doors. A fifth casino, Trump Taj Mahal, is considered likely to close its doors as well, perhaps before the end of the year.

Suddenly, Atlantic City faces a $65 million budget shortfall, and is a city in crisis. No slouch at crises, New Jersey’s Governor Christie summoned 30 politicians and casino executives to a closed-door meeting in September to figure out what to do about it—without apparent results. The fact is, though, that casino revenue and employment have been plummeting in Atlantic City for a decade (see Figure below). Even before the casinos started closing, the number of casino jobs had fallen by 40 percent since 2004, and total casino revenues adjusted for inflation had dropped by over 50 percent. Meanwhile around the country, as the American Gaming (aka Gambling) Association gleefully reported, casino revenues have rebounded smartly from the recession. What we’re seeing now is the end game of a process that began the day the first casino in Atlantic City opened in 1978.

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Ferguson and Reparations

Posted by Josh Ishimatsu on October 14, 2014

Shortly after the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the bill enacting redress and reparations for the internment of Japanese Americans, there was an editorial cartoon in my local newspaper. There were two Native Americans.  One was reading a newspaper. The newspaper had a headline that read “Japanese Americans to get $20,000 each.”

The first Native American says to the second Native American, “Go get the calculator.”

I was a teenager when I read this cartoon, but I still have a pretty vivid memory of it. I remember that when my mother (who used her $20,000 check to help pay for my college education) saw it, she gave a short laugh and said something like, “Yes, Native Americans should be getting reparations too. And more than us.”

This cartoon has popped back into my head over the past few weeks because Ferguson has been on my mind, still.

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Reclaiming America on Columbus Day

Posted by Ted Wysocki on October 13, 2014

As a college sophomore in October of 1968, I marched as part of the ROTC color guard at the front of the Columbus Day parade in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. Those were challenging times for our country. I chose to leave ROTC less than a year later as protests against the Vietnam War called our political leadership into question.

Little did I know then, that questioning political leadership would become a career choice and there would be several significant Columbus Days ahead. You see less than five years later as a graduate student, I met Gale Cincotta.

Gale was a most ordinary working class woman without a formal education who managed to do extraordinary things with other everyday people from different races, cultures, and communities.

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“Inclusionary Upzoning” is Gaining Ground. Here’s Why.

Posted by Robert Hickey on October 10, 2014

Inclusionary housing policies can help with a lot of the issues that many cities and towns struggle with these days, from the dwindling supply of affordable rental options in hot housing markets to the need for a fairer housing market that includes real location choices for lower-income households. These policies, which ask developers to include affordable homes in otherwise market-rate properties, are a tool without peer in helping lower-income households access neighborhoods with good schools and healthier environments. And as more development turns inward toward walkable urban places, inclusionary housing policies help reserve land for lasting affordability in tight, gentrifying or pre-gentrifying markets.

But legal, political and market barriers too often impede the adoption of inclusionary housing in many states.

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Manufactured Housing as a Bridge Over the Affordability Gap

Posted by Doug Ryan on October 9, 2014

Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released an important study called “Manufactured-Housing Consumer Finance in the United States.” For 10 years, CFED, through its Innovations in Manufactured Homes (I’M HOME) initiative, has both promoted manufactured housing as affordable housing, while also supporting fundamental changes to the financing, consumer protections, and public policies that affect the nearly 18 million Americans who call them home.

The report relied on a number of sources, including proprietary industry data, to develop its findings. The bureau reported on numerous areas, including some we know all too well, but bear repeating. For example, manufactured homeowners have considerably lower incomes and less wealth than other homeowners. We also had confirmed that the chattel, or personal property, loans most often financing manufactured homes are much more likely to be expensive than mortgages on other houses. In 2012, 17 percent of chattel loans had interest rates that would have triggered the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act, or HOEPA (as currently enforced), compared to 0.01 percent of site-built loans that actually triggered HOEPA that year (HOEPA did not apply to chattel loans until 2014). HOEPA loans provide borrowers with additional protections, as regulators recognize that the borrowers face higher costs and potential hazards. 

The study also supports what CFED and many others have seen in manufactured housing over recent years. Although the percentage of new manufactured homes placed in manufactured home communities is still relatively low–about 30 percent in 2013—78 percent of the total new manufactured homes were titled as personal property. The disconnect between titling and finance should alarm any housing advocate, but also call us to action to do things differently.

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“Workforce Housing” Is an Insulting Term

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on October 6, 2014

So folks, we need to have a chat about this whole "workforce housing" thing. It's a problem.

Or rather, the way it is often being used these days is a problem, which is as shorthand for housing for people who aren't really low-income, but are still having trouble affording housing in a hot market. Moderate or middle income, depending where you are. ULI defines it as housing for people making 60 to 120 percent of area median income, but I have heard it most often coming up with respect to projects in the upper end of that range (or that range in an area with a very high AMI).

It is meant to be for teachers, cops, nurses. It is being specifically contrasted to "standard" affordable housing.

For example, see this definition from a Business Miami article

Workforce housing policies focus on providing attractive and affordable homes for middle-income service workers, such as police officers, teachers and nurses, in close proximity to their jobs. It is primarily a concern in regions like South Florida with high housing costs. HUD does not distinguish between affordable and workforce housing. But many housing authorities define workforce housing as homes aimed at households earning from 60 percent to 120 percent of the area’s median income (AMI). In contrast, the term affordable housing is generally used for households whose income is less than 60 percent of AMI.

I hope the problem with this is obvious:

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