In Memoriam: Pete Garcia

Posted by Rooflines on May 25, 2017

The community development world lost a leader on May 3. Pete Garcia, who was the director of Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) from 1984 to 2008, passed away at the age of 71.

Started in 1969 at the inspiration of leaders like Cesar Chavez, CPLC is now the second largest nonprofit in the state of Arizona, with dozens of programs, including housing and homeownership, education programs, health-related partnerships, community lending, and even for-profit subsidiaries. CPLC’s current leaders credit Garcia with much of the inspiration and leadership that grew CPLC to the size and force that it is today. CPLC modeled partnerships and thinking beyond narrow silos for the rest of the field.

Garcia had started a local foundation when he retired from CPLC. He was also a founding member of the National Association of Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), and active throughout the field at a national level. “Pete was a tireless activist for low-income people across the globe,” wrote Noel Poyo, director of NALCAB. “His generosity, leadership, commitment to equality, and service to the community has inspired generations of activists and community asset builders."

Here are some memories of Garcia, also known as “Big Dog,” submitted by Shelterforce readers:

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A Jobs-Housing Fit

Posted by Max Arnell, Fernando Marti, and Peter Cohen on May 25, 2017

A Jobs-Housing Fit seems like the simplest of ideas: the housing that a region plans for and builds should match the needs of the people that live there now and in the future. But as we, the Bay Area’s residents, policymakers, advocates, and leaders, struggle with the housing affordability crisis, the housing that is being built doesn’t always meet this simple rule. We can benefit from a clearer framework for understanding what the housing needs of our region actually are and evaluating how housing production is meeting those needs. Jobs-Housing Fit is that framework.

Quite simply, a Jobs-Housing Fit analysis compares how our population is growing at different income levels to the affordability of housing within the same geography, allowing us to evaluate the fit between housing needs and housing production. The geographic scale of Jobs-Housing Fit analysis, a technique pioneered by Dr. Chris Benner of UC Davis, is a consideration in itself, and is a policy discussion that we encourage in thinking how this framework can be practically applied. 

The virtues of a fit are obvious and intuitive: If housing is available and affordable for all residents in a region, households at all income levels will have a stable place to call home, leading to increased job security, higher community engagement, potentially shorter commutes and reduced greenhouse gas footprints, and a generally increased quality of life. Conversely, communities that build for only the highest income levels create economic segregation, to the detriment of the region as a whole.

It is an incontrovertible fact that our region is growing, and that our growing population demands more housing. However, this need cannot be sufficiently addressed by talking only about numbers of units built. The affordability and geography of housing production are essential factors that are too often left out of policy discussions. To create a Jobs-Housing Fit, where everyone can find and afford housing, policymakers need to remember the wide range of incomes that housing must serve, now and in the future.

As part of our continuing series of infographics, the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations breaks down what a Jobs-Housing Fit would look like in the Bay Area.

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Plans for Housing in the Age of Climate Change Should Include This Tool

Posted by Keli A. Tianga on May 24, 2017

As extreme weather patterns in our country become less of an anomaly, the plight of people living in storm-prone places is of increasing concern. Emotional ties to place and family history aside, many people who survive storms and must clean up and dry out with greater regularity often cannot afford any of the options to move, make their homes more flood-proof, or pay high flood insurance premiums. With this scenario, insurance becomes a place where equity and climate change hit up against each other.

On the East Coast, homeowners and renters alike still feel the effects of Hurricane Sandy, four years later. Residents of public housing in New York City’s outer boroughs complain of still-roped-off construction areas, leaks and mold in their apartments, and the impact “temporary” boilers have on noise level and air quality. And earlier this month in Missouri, flooding due to rain that caused historic highs of several of the state’s rivers led to several deaths, hundreds of local road closures, and over 70 miles of closures on I-44. Storm season is indeed getting longer, stronger, and affecting larger swaths of the country.

As Armando Carbonell of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy said at a Journalists Forum last month, “All urban planning needs to account for sea level rises. We need to do scenario planning.” A mandate like that means planners, advocates, and policy makers need the right tools, but what they have had up to now has been inadequate.

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4 Reasons to Retire the Phrase “Inner City”

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on May 23, 2017

On a recent trip to Seattle, I picked up a copy of the weekly paper The Stranger. As I was browsing the news briefs, one sentence in an item on drinking water violations jumped out at me: "When you think of problems with safe drinking water, you might think of an inner-city environment like Flint, Michigan, before identifying Seattle, King County, or Washington State's many rural communities."

I was, at that moment, like most of The Stranger's regular readers: sitting smack in the middle of an unquestionably urban Seattle, surrounded by high-rises, rapid transit, and the third-worst homeless problem in the country. It’s clearly the core part of its larger region. And so I found it striking that the writer (and editors) considered “inner city” an appropriate adjective with which to describe Flint, but one that they figured everyone would agree did not apply to their own city.

What actually sets Flint apart from Seattle? Well, I think we can all answer that question: its economy is weaker, and it has a lot more Black people.

I've long been uncomfortable with the term “inner city,” though when I took a look, I saw that it has still come up in Shelterforce more often than I would have expected. Many people in the field have stopped using it—choosing “center city” or “core neighborhoods” when they are actually talking about proximity to a major downtown, or a certain threshold of urban density and connectivity. But it still floats around, and not only as an intentionally racist dog whistle. I’m thinking it might be time to more officially swear it off.

To start with, what it says and what it’s taken to mean don’t align. If you take "inner" to mean "closer to the downtown," many (though not all) of those neighborhoods are becoming increasingly wealthy in many (though not all) of our cities, causing displacement of longtime residents to more far flung locales (or the streets). While poverty is still distressingly concentrated (as is, we should always mention in the same breath, affluence), the places where poverty is concentrated are spreading out, as people with means head back into the downtowns.

So what does it mean? "Inner city" has always been a racially loaded term. When the current president used the "inner cities" repeatedly in debates (and really, isn't that enough of a reason to retire the phrase?) he linked it explicitly to African Americans (and lies about poverty and crime rates), even though African Americans no longer primarily live in cities, and their populations are going down in many parts.

"Inner city" is a euphemism that lets us ignore history by making the results of long-term racist policies sound like an accident of geography (“you know those Americans just like their suburbs”) at best, and by blaming the victim at worst (“the people left behind must have been the ones causing the problems that made everyone else leave”).

"Inner city", in effect, has meant the areas to which Black Americans were—and in many ways still are—long confined by redlining and other forms of legal and illegal housing discrimination, and then subjected to substandard services, isolationist planning moves, and aggressive containment policing. So in New York City, the Bronx was the quintessential "inner-city neighborhood," despite it being, literally, in an "outer" borough, with much wealthier neighborhoods between it and the center of the city. (There’s a reason we don’t hear about “inner-city Portland” very much, and it’s not their urban growth boundary.)

"Inner city" means, I’d argue, places where Black people have been kept "in."

The very fact that the term has become less common as white people with means “rediscover” core urban neighborhoods speaks volumes about what it actually meant to begin with.

It's true that at least a few community development organizations have reclaimed the term with pride, even putting it in their names, as a way to signal that the places that once got that label can actually be thriving, healthy neighborhoods, worth of respect and investment. I respect that sort of reclaiming. 

But I do think that outside of that context, the euphemistic nature of "inner city" could be specifically dangerous to the community development field—its imprecision could both let us overlook how much our work is needed in areas that have not traditionally gotten that label, and sidestep the root causes of the distress the field tries to alleviate. In other words, if we imagine we're working on merely fixing an accident of geography and migration patterns, we could find ourselves picking tactics and strategies that don't sufficiently challenge the long-term structural causes of spatial inequality.

And in any case, the association with a racist dog whistle is getting too strong.

What are other racially loaded terms that you wish we'd stop using? "Minority"? "Transient"?

(Image: By Support PDX, via flickr, CC BY 2.0)

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Despite What Bankers Say, Data Is Indispensable

Posted by Josh Silver on May 18, 2017

The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) provides indispensable data to assess whether lenders are meeting consumer credit needs, and to protect against discrimination. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) enacted a final HMDA rule in 2015, implementing enhancements that were mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Dodd-Frank additions included information about important loans terms and conditions, loan types, and borrower characteristics.

Recently, the American Bankers Association (ABA) issued a white paper, “HMDA—More Really is Less: The Data Fog Frustrates HMDA,” maintaining that the CFPB exceeded its mandate under Dodd-Frank, including adding unnecessary data variables to HMDA that increase regulatory burden for banks and putting consumers at risk for identify theft and predatory marketing. Full of rhetoric, the white paper makes a number of unfounded allegations about HMDA data and the CFPB final rule.

The Benefits of HMDA Data
HMDA data has been essential in achieving the statutory purpose of facilitating an assessment of housing and credit needs, particularly for modest income and minority borrowers and communities. Dodd-Frank increased the volume of information in HMDA data because changing lending practices necessitated an update. For example, lenders responded to the growth of the middle-age and elderly populations by dramatically increasing their reverse mortgage and home equity lines of credit in the 2000s. Yet a significant amount of this lending was high cost and abusive in the years preceding the financial crisis. Therefore, Dodd-Frank required that HMDA data include the age of the borrower and authorized the CFPB to collect additional data. The CFPB responded by including reverse mortgage lending and home equity lines of credit in the enhanced data so that the public can know whether the credit needs of the middle age and elderly were being met responsibly.

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Developers: Organize Your Residents for 2018

Posted by Michael Bodaken and Ellen Lurie Hoffman on May 16, 2017

On May 4, we applauded Congress’ dismissal of the Trump administration’s request for $18 billion in cuts to non-defense discretionary programs. Those cuts would have eliminated critical funds that support affordable housing, including the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the Community Development Block Grant program, the Weatherization Assistance Program, the Energy Star program, and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Congress firmly rejected the administration’s proposals and (finally) approved a bipartisan spending bill for 2017, funding the government through Sept. 30. The lights will stay on in the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, and our worst fears that low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled might be literally left out in the cold are allayed … for now.

But like all things Trump, the legislative firmament remains highly unstable.

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High Cost of Affordable Housing Is Not CDCs’ Fault

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on May 12, 2017

It’s expensive to build housing. And we need more of it. Figuring out ways to reduce costs reasonably is something on everyone’s agenda.

We’ve talked about it recently in our roundtable on zoning and regulation, and in Alan Mallach’s provocative piece “Don’t Build Mixed-Income Communities, Buy Them.” There are ongoing conversations about how green building affects affordability, depending how long term you look.

But you know what doesn’t help lower the cost of affordable housing? Spuriously blaming some of the organizations that are working hardest to create it in the most difficult situations, or implying that new affordable housing in booming central cities isn't worth it.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened in the recent CityLab piece “Why Is Affordable Housing So Expensive?,” in which regionalism advocate Myron Orfield claims one of the problems is “the high overhead costs of CDCs” and is quoted as arguing that “central city development programs are inefficient, spending much more per unit of new affordable housing in the central cities than comparable housing costs in more affluent, opportunity-rich suburbs” and that “many of the leading developers working in the poorest parts of the region also pay their managers very high salaries.”

Joe Kriesberg, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of CDCs, expresses the frustration that many housers felt in response to these assertions:

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Entrenched Poverty, Juxtaposed Against Occasional Pockets of Progress

Posted by Bill Bynum on May 11, 2017

Recently, more than 150 people from across the nation rolled along the backroads of the iconic Mississippi Delta, peering through bus windows at scene after scene of entrenched poverty juxtaposed against occasional pockets of progress that had been achieved against seemingly insurmountable odds.

The tour was part of the NeighborWorks America “Hope in the Delta: Turning the Tide on Persistent Poverty” conference, where community development professionals and supporters convened to share and develop strategies to tackle rural poverty. 

While there were signs of advancement, such as small businesses that had been financed, dilapidated housing units that were being redeveloped, new credit union branches that had replaced closed bank branches, and many dedicated local leaders working to improve their towns, these elements of promise were set against the backdrop of conditions that disproportionately plague these places—substandard housing, underperforming schools, inadequate access to quality health care, and limited private and philanthropic investment. 

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How To Do Affordable Housing When Your Government Is Being A Jerk

Posted by Keli A. Tianga on May 8, 2017

The “proposed” cuts to federal spending on affordable housing programs have become promises in the weeks since preliminary FY18 budgets were presented in March. HUD’s budget—with its promised cuts to public housing and Housing Choice vouchers, and the elimination of CDBG funds and the HOME program—harms those most in need of stable and safe housing, and was both shocking and unsurprising. But even before Donald Trump, our eyes were open to the downward trend.

We’ve written about municipalities and states going at it alone when federal funding was scarce, but there is promising news from some groups that are working on innovative financing mechanisms—and some that shift the focus from development to acquisition, which is often a stumbling block.

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Solar Installation Gives New Power To A Community

Posted by Timi Lewis and Kirsten Rumsey on May 5, 2017

Located in the southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C., Parkchester Apartments was not unlike some other affordable housing developments in the city. Property owners had come and gone without making adequate investments in the nine-building complex, and residents had all but given up when its tenant association voted to bring in its current owner, The NHP Foundation (NHPF), in 2015.

Within months, residents began to see signs of improvement that were part of the nonprofit real estate developer’s mission of commitment to its properties and communities. Top on the list of changes was the realignment of Parkchester’s environmental footprint, which some argued, “Why focus on efficiency when there are plenty of bricks-and-sticks issues to tackle?” But NHPF recognized that cost-effective renovation is not at odds with prioritizing sustainability.

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