A Land Trust Q&A

Posted by James Tracy on May 21, 2015

Tracy Parent, the organizational director of the San Francisco Community Land Trust, was kind enough to answer some questions I had about SFCLT's work and where she thought the land trust movement is headed.

Through her guidance, SFCLT has done what many thought was impossible: saving at-risk housing by converting it into permanently affordable, shared management homes. Not only does the Land Trust provide housing in neighborhoods hard hit by displacement, it also provides a concrete example of long-term solutions to the housing crisis.

Ms. Parent's approach to affordable housing is unique. While she has formidable financial acumen, she also is an ardent support of the housing movements. She writes the budgets, pro-formas, and finance plans that put teeth into the idea of the right to the city.

Read on for her interview ...

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Making Sense of the New Economy: Rethinking Community Economic Development

Posted by Steve Dubb on May 20, 2015

The phrase “new economy” can mean a variety of things to different people. To some, the phrase still refers to the adoption of new technology or the growth of the tech sector. Among progressives, however, it has generally come to mean, as John Cavanagh and Robin Broad put it a while back in The Nation, the movement to achieve “holistic, systemic change” in our economic structures. In a 2011 Nation article, Democracy Collaborative Cofounder Gar Alperovitz noted that new economy advocates seek “an economy that is increasingly green and socially responsible, and one that is based on rethinking the nature of ownership and the growth paradigm that guides conventional policies.” In the few short years since the term “new economy” has entered our lexicon, community economic developers have begun to consider how to incorporate community business ownership and other new economy concepts into their work.

The rise of what I’ll call the “new economy idea,” is, of course, directly related to the impact of the Great Recession. If there had been no Great Recession, quite possibly few would be talking about a new economy today. The Great Recession, among other things, provided a wake-up call that building wealth through homeownership, while important, was grossly insufficient as a strategy for community economic transformation.

Our field has yet to fully adjust to this trauma, which, among other things, wiped out more than $2 trillion of household wealth, about half of it in communities of color. Yet there are signs of change afoot, such as the themes of community ownership and control at last March’s People and Places conference.

A central idea stemming from that conference was the importance of inculcating the principles of “holistic, systemic change” into the heart of the work. This means, effectively, combining housing with business development to achieve more lasting and transformative results. Whether the mechanism is worker cooperative development like that done by the Center for Family Life in Brooklyn or a community-oriented business accelerator like Inner City Advisors in Oakland, there is clearly new energy in building community-based business capacity. Linking community development to health also has gained greater prominence, as more and more people, including researchers at the San Francisco Federal Reserve, have come to realize that health outcomes and community economic development outcomes are inextricably linked.

The response we received at the Democracy Collaborative for The Next System Project, which we launched only at the end of March calling for a national conversation on system change, also illustrates the hunger for new approaches.

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Riots and Resilience in Baltimore and Beyond

Posted by Denise Fairchild on May 19, 2015

I remember reciting the Langston Hughes poem Harlem (“What happens to a dream deferred?”) to my students in South Los Angeles two days before the 1992 civil unrest. Who knew then that the answer was imminent, with the reading of the Rodney King police trial verdict?


The city exploded in flames. Lives were lost. Billions of dollars’ worth of property was destroyed. Businesses were shuttered, forever. The dreams of aspiring Asian merchants were also crushed in a community uprising against persistent poverty and injustice.

What we witnessed in Baltimore is, in many ways, the same as in 1992, sparked by the recent string of events in Florida, Los Angeles, Ferguson and New York. It was certainly a response to dreams deferred—for too long, and for too many. It was also a provocation, a frontal assault against injustice. And when the Humvees roll away and the volunteers have finished sweeping up the broken bottles—it will become a test of that city’s resilience.

Resilience is a word we hear a lot lately, most often applied to communities devastated by weather-related disasters like Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, which have become increasingly common in the era of climate change. It also applies to cities, like Baltimore, that are reeling from civic unrest.

But what does resilience mean, exactly? How can our cities prevent—and recover from—disasters, whether natural or human-made? As we confront the existential threat of climate change in a world of widening inequality, it is a question with urgent relevance.

So, here are a few answers worth considering, gleaned from decades of work in community development and from the newer field of climate resilience. They relate to the three phases of resilience planning: mitigation, response and recovery.

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What Would It Look Like to Win?

Posted by Rick Jacobus on May 6, 2015

In case you haven’t seen it, the Urban Institute has been organizing a great series of online conversations. The latest focused on Housing and Economic Mobility. Urban asked eight national experts to identify changes to federal policy that could promote economic mobility.

While these experts laid out in a very concise way the argument for reorienting federal housing policy to explicitly promote economic integration, their recommendations left me with the sad feeling that we are not playing to win on this issue.


Marjory Turner nicely summarized the challenge:

“A growing body of evidence argues that growing up in a disinvested community, where crime and violence are commonplace and public schools are ineffective, undermines a child’s long-term life-chances, other things being equal. In contrast, higher cost communities with safe places to play, high-performing schools, and an abundance of enrichment opportunities boost a child’s prospects for future success.”

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An Industrial Revolution Comes to Indianapolis

Posted by Samuel Dolgin-Gardner on May 5, 2015

Abandoned factories have been an economic albatross for Midwestern cities since the 1990s, when American manufacturers moved overseas or to suburban industrial parks, leaving behind rusty hulks too big to reuse and too expensive to demolish.

Left to decay, they spoiled the commercial appeal of neighborhoods and, sometimes, entire cities.

While government leaders in cities like Pittsburgh, Chicago and Milwaukee led the charge to invest in redeveloping the sites and retraining workers, many other cities have been unable or unwilling to raise the revenue to fund such investments. Instead, non-profits and grassroots community groups are stepping up to save neighborhoods and encourage new businesses to develop.

After three tours of duty in Iraq, Marine Sgt. Travis Barnes was back home studying law at Indiana University when he heard the state was issuing its first distiller’s permits since the end of Prohibition. Barnes had recently bought a custom still and dreamed of opening his own artisan distillery. Together with his wife, Hilary, and some school friends as business partners, he bought a boarded-up 19th-century buggy factory in southeast Indianapolis and threw himself into a new profession.

“The building was a shell,” says Barnes, who bought the place in 2013 with visions of a neighborhood bar and lounge with an historic vibe. “There were no doors, no windows, no electric and no plumbing. But we really wanted to be here.”

They also knew the space was eligible for nonprofit grants. So after sandblasting away the lead paint and tackling a massive rewiring, Barnes and company applied for a grant from a local nonprofit that transformed the dilapidated exterior with new windows and signage.

In September, the Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery—a name created from the NATO phonetic alphabet codes for H (Hillary) and T (Travis)—opened its doors to an eager clientele. By February, they had nine employees and were expanding their product line.

Even small businesses like Hotel Tango can have dramatic multiplier effects on the local economy. In addition to creating nine full-time jobs, the distillery’s grains and other raw ingredients come from Indiana farmers.

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The Swiss Army Knife of Community Development

Posted by Bill Bynum on May 4, 2015

Across America—in inner city neighborhoods and rural towns alike—the level of economic and social distress is rising. Although these places differ in many ways, the community development challenges confronting them are strikingly similar.

Decaying infrastructure. Blighted buildings. Transportation gaps. Food deserts. Social unrest.

But stabilizing these communities doesn't require rocket science. Many examples exist that demonstrate the transformative role that community development financial institutions (CDFIs) play in catalyzing housing, education, business development, access to quality health care. I firmly believe the presence of a strong CDFI is a necessary element to ensuring brighter futures for struggling places across America.

Consider the dramatic progress that has taken place along the O.C. Haley Corridor in New Orleans’ Central City in the decade since community residents and leaders came together to organize a Hope Credit Union branch (infographic follows).

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Community Development and #BlackLivesMatter: What’s Our Role?

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on May 1, 2015

There is a lot to be processed and mourned, celebrated and condemned about what has happened in Baltimore recently, starting with the death of Freddie Gray (although, of course, that is many ways an arbitrary breaking point in a long line of injustices), proceeding through the protests, and today the announcement of charges against the officers.

The violent history of segregation in Baltimore is an important and often overlooked factor in conditions there, enabled and enforced all along by police violence. People from the protestor who chastisized Geraldo Rivera for not covering the stories that mattered to his neighborhood before now to the Economic Policy Institute have been stepping up to try to raise these crucial points of context. Shelterforce contributor Dr. Mindy Fullilove was quoted by the Washington Post's Emily Badger in her article about the "long, painful, repetitive" history of policies like redlining and urban renewal that led to this point:

Yes, the outright racism that motivated many of these historic policies has eroded with time. "But we have to understand," Fullilove says, "the machine can work without the operator."

The protesters in Baltimore, she says, are expressing their rage against that machine, which is a thing much larger than the death of one man, or even the singular issue of police-community relations. To call the unrest this week a "riot," the people behind it "thugs"—as Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did this week—misses all of these interrelated pieces that Baltimore gives us a chance to reconsider.

I think this does raise the question of how community development—a field that is often described as having originated in response to urban rebellions/"riots" in the 1960s (or later)—relates to what's happening in Baltimore right now (and Ferguson and basically everywhere).

Right to the City, a coalition of housing justice organizations, wrote (before the Baltimore uprising), in a piece called "We Can't Win a Right to the City Unless Black Lives Matter,":

Working to win a right to the city for all puts us in direct opposition with the process of urban restructuring (popularly known as gentrification) that the free market enforces on our communities. It’s a process that is heavily reliant on the policing of working class, black and brown communities to impose destabilization and displacement. Police violence—and the threat of it—is an intimate part of our daily lives.

This question came up a few times at the People & Places conference in March. Many of the answers I heard tended to hover somewhere around "we should help put these problems of police violence in the context of the larger structural issues around investment and disinvestment patterns, the racial wealth gap, etc."

Especially given the historically decontextualized way so many people are viewing what's going on, that that is crucially important.

But is it enough?

Does the community development field also have an obligation to (1) directly and actively support those protesting for justice against a law enforcement system that victimizes them with impunity and (2) face the tricky ways in which policing and "neighborhood improvement" intersect? (See also "Austerity's Billy Club.")

What does it mean that many young people involved in these movements have told me that they look upon community developers with suspicion, as likely to be agents of displacement and control and "personal responsbility" as they are to be on the side of justice?

Is our mission as a field/movement to clean things up and calm things down, or is our mission community ownership, equity, and justice? And if it's the latter, what does that mean in practice in explosive times like these—and in the times that build up to them?

(Photo credit: 'Minneapolis rally to support the people of Baltimore,' by Flickr user Fibonacci Blue, CC BY 2.0)


Affordable Housing Strikes Back

Posted by Keli A. Tianga on April 30, 2015

George Lucas seems to be on a mission to be an affordable housing developer—or at least to use affordable housing to get back at his cranky neighbors.

The Star Wars creator recently filed a pre-application with the Marin County Community Development Agency, located in San Rafael, Calif., to build an affordable housing development on property he partially owns (he deeded the majority to the Marin County Open Space District over a decade ago) in Lucas Valley (not named for him). This comes on the heels of his proposal several years ago to build a new production studio on the same site, which his neighbors fought against until he withdrew it.

Lucas, backed by a group of developers and funders, then proposed an affordable housing development in 2012, but that project fizzled out. He is back, this time with the intention of funding the project himself.

So, is this the ultimate NIMBY payback, or actual altruism?

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A Bigger, Better Vision for the Left

Posted by Laura Barrett on April 29, 2015

What would full employment look like? Minority contractors, pastors, and faith leaders flew to the Capitol last week to get Congress and the Obama administration to wrestle with that very question.

United Congregations of the Metro East (UCM) brought more than 1000 postcards asking the Department of Labor to update 30-year-old affirmative action regulations that could move millions into good paying jobs.

Other organizations, including MOSES from Detroit, MICAH from Milwaukee, Gamaliel of Metro Chicago, and Faith Coalition for the Common Good, brought thousands more. In addition to updating affirmative action policies, these activists want the U.S. Department of Transportation to encourage cities and states to use the new year-long “Local Hire” program on as many highway and transit projects as possible.

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New Data on True Cost of Voucher Administration

Posted by Eva Wingren on April 27, 2015

HUD is trying to get better data on the true cost of administering the Housing Choice Voucher program, but is a new formula enough to make up for the fact that voucher administration has been intentionally underfunded for years?

Officials from HUD’s Departments of Policy Development and Research, and Public and Indian Housing were recently on hand to answer questions from industry stakeholders about a new report they commissioned from Abt Associates on administrative fees for Housing Choice Vouchers. Also known as “Section 8,” Housing Choice Vouchers could play a major role in cementing HUD’s identity as the “Department of Opportunity” because they assist people in renting units on the open market, meaning they can move to areas with better schools, less crime, and other features associated with leaving poverty.

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