“Women- and Minority-Owned Businesses” Is a Meaningless Category

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on February 26, 2015

How many times have you seen the phrase "women- and minority-owned businesses" or seen an organization list a single number to account for all the "women- and minority-owned businesses" supported?

If you've been reading the same things I have, I'm guessing the answer is at least occasionally.

Now, I expect that most of those organizations are actually keeping track of the two things separately. I know that programs to increase diversity in subcontracting generally have different and separate target percentages for each.

And yet they are also too often conflated when they are reported publically.

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New Report Dampens Outlook for Would-Be Homebuyers

Posted by Doug Ryan on February 24, 2015

While few housing advocates have unbridled hopes for truly affordable homeownership in Manhattan—where in order to live “comfortably,” a family of four needs nearly $170,000 in income—the recent reporting of the New York Times on the super-rich’s use of shell corporations to buy $19 million apartments should still at least startle us.

For far too many of everyone else, homes are beyond their budgets, and the hope of homeownership is compromised by largely stagnant earnings and damaged credit.

In January, CFED released its annual Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, which measures 135 policy and outcome areas in five different categories: Financial Assets & Income, Businesses & Jobs, Housing & Homeownership, Health Care and Education. Many of the measures rise and fall with the national and local economies, but also reflect on how narrow and shallow the recovery has been.

The major findings of the report suggest that the rebound has not extended evenly across demographics. As in 2013, the national poverty rate last year was 14 percent, reflecting the lack of wage growth and good employment opportunities in certain communities. Another hangover of the recession has been the hit Americans’ credit has taken: 56 percent of consumers have subprime credit, making borrowing an expensive choice to finance life’s necessities let alone anything even vaguely entertaining.

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Can We Bend the Sharing Economy Toward Equity?

Posted by Sarah Treuhaft on February 19, 2015

We’ve all heard the stories. Homeless Homejoy cleaners. Uber drivers on food stamps. Grad students Airbnb-ing their extra rooms in gentrifying neighborhoods to cover their own rent.

For all of its promises to increase prosperity and sustainability, the so-called “sharing economy” has a serious dark side. As the sector undergoes explosive growth (25 percent in 2013), it is a force that those of us working to build more equitable and resilient cities need to be engaging with—and helping to shape. Experience shows that new tech platforms will not automatically plug low-income communities and communities of color in to their regional economies. Connecting the most vulnerable to this newfangled form of capitalism in positive, beneficial ways—and preventing the deepening of exclusion—can only come about through targeted strategies, policies, and campaigns.

Now is the time to start thinking creatively about how to bend the nascent sharing economy toward equity. Inclusion is not just the right thing to do—it is the key to building strong companies and sectors and a robust and resilient economy. Business owners, city leaders, workers, and community advocates all have a stake in making inclusion the reality. Here are some questions to start the conversation:

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Financial Incentives Encourage New Partnerships in Housing and Health

Posted by Colby Dailey on February 13, 2015

If you watch Downton Abbey, as I do, you know that Lord Grantham is becoming an affordable housing developer—much to his consternation. He’s been called on to help build a slate of new homes on a piece of his property in the wake of The Great War.

But it was his answer to a question asking why the need for quality housing that caught my ear last week. The country, he said, needs more high-quality housing because of the shockingly unfit condition of the recruits in WWI, summed up best in a post-war poster of the era: "you cannot expect to get an A1 population out of C3 homes.” Health and housing, it turns out, have been linked through history.

Fast-forward to last week’s Healthy Neighborhoods regional convening sponsored by the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation in Oakland, CA, where the focus had expanded beyond housing to encompass healthy neighborhoods and the opportunity for new partnerships (and new funding streams) between community development, housing, and health care to improve the “upstream” social determinants of health. As most in the room would agree, treating illness without treating the root causes of poor health is costly on many levels.

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Three Takeaways from the President’s 2016 HUD Budget

Posted by Douglas Rice on February 11, 2015

Here are three key facts to understand the President’s 2016 budget request for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in its broader budget, policy, and political contexts:

1. The proposed funding increase is much more modest than it may initially appear.

The President’s $41.0 billion HUD request for 2016 is $6.2 billion, or 18 percent, higher than 2015 funding. But $2.3 billion of that $6.2 billion reflects the expected decline in income from HUD’s mortgage insurance programs as the mortgage credit market continues to recover and HUD reduces its fees for insuring Federal Housing Administration mortgages. Income from the mortgage insurance programs helps fund other HUD programs.

Apart from those changes in net receipts, the budget would raise HUD’s 2016 program and operations budget by $4.0 billion or 8.7 percent, relative to 2015. And even with this increase ...

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Promising News from the Post-Civil Rights Suburbs

Posted by Deirdre Pfeiffer on February 11, 2015

The passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act promised greater suburban housing opportunities for people of color in the U.S. Yet, progress has been slow. Over half of African Americans, Latinos, and Asians live in the suburbs, but the typical middle-income African American household still lives in a neighborhood with a higher poverty rate than the typical low-income White household.

There is concern that the Great Recession widened these gaps, since minorities were more likely to have risky loans and undergo foreclosure.

A problem with existing research on the outcomes of the Fair Housing Act is that it reports conditions experienced by people of color across places that matured prior to and after the legislation. It is reasonable to expect that gains in racial equity will occur slowly in older central cities and suburbs, where there is an engrained history of who lives where based on race. The places that should exhibit greater racial equity are the post-Civil Rights suburbs—places that matured after the passage of the 1960s Civil Rights legislation.

To test this theory, I examined how the neighborhood conditions of similar income households by race differed among central cities, older suburbs, and post-Civil Rights suburbs in 88 regions nationwide in 2000 and 2012. I defined post-Civil Rights suburbs as places that 1) had 75 percent or more of their housing built in 1970 or after and 2) were located within commuting distance of one large city but were not the largest cities in their regions. Central cities were the largest city in the region, and older suburbs were all remaining places after subtracting the central city and post-Civil Rights suburbs. I collected data on neighborhood indicators associated with a host of social, economic, health, environmental and other conditions: the percent of families in poverty, the percent of adults with college degrees, and the homeownership rate.

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Control of Farmland, City Style

Posted by David Holtzman on February 9, 2015

I have thought a lot lately about the issue of land ownership for farmers, and the barriers they face to buying land so they can plan for growing their business and serving more food consumers.

This issue really matters on the edges of metropolitan areas, where farmers can find lucrative markets for their products and yet, with ever escalating land prices, face daunting odds in securing land to grow on or even to get started. Many farmers settle for a lease instead, which sometimes only lasts a couple years before the relationship between owner and farmer sours.

It's interesting to see that control of land for farming is an issue in urban agriculture, as well. At a recent farming conference in Richmond, Va., a board member of the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville [UACC] talked about a city-sponsored plan to redevelop her neighborhood, which would include relocating the farm she and her neighbors have worked on for seven years. 

Community gardens have fallen victim to a lack of land tenure before, notably in New York City where former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani took many neighborhood gardens back for redevelopment in the late 1990s. (Successive mayors have carried on the trend he started.) Many politicians (and their developer friends) see agriculture as merely a cute placeholder until the time is ripe for construction.

In Charlottesville's case, the area proposed for redevelopment was renewed once before, in the 1960s, during the height of Urban Renewal across the country. The new plan calls for mixed-income housing rather than affordable housing, which naturally has long-time residents worried that the fabric of their community will be destroyed. Their concerns were magnified when the city made what to them was a token effort to involve them in the public process. 

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Funding the City

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on February 6, 2015

At a regional forum on inequality earlier this month, the mayor of Albany, N.Y., Kathy Sheehan made some remarks that jumpstarted some regional discussion about regional equity, commuter taxes, and the like.

As reported by Jimmy Vielkind at Capital New York, Sheehan argued that “the funding mechanism for cities—property taxes—was set up at a time when cities were regional centers of wealth and industry. Times have changed, she said, and so should financial structures.”

As an Albany resident, and as a regional equity advocate, this makes me very happy. In 2007 I wrote a column for the Albany weekly Metroland called “The Unapologetic City,” in which I argued that our municipal neighbors were getting a ton of benefits from the city without paying for them, but it seemed like a pipe dream then to be hearing others talking about what to do about it in earnest. Answers aren’t easy, but they do exist.

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Shelterforce Poll Results: Community Developers Feel Conflicted About Police

Posted by Rooflines on February 5, 2015

When the conversations surrounding the Michael Brown and and Eric Garner cases were at their strongest late last year, Shelterforce conducted a survey, asking our readers how they felt about the relationship between law enforcement and the communities in which they work and live.

The answers we received ran the spectrum, from “Police presence is always a good thing,” to police interaction is “one of our biggest areas of calls, complaints from people seeking help.” But what was most interesting were the responses in the middle from the large number of people working in community development who said they need and appreciate the protection police provide to residents, but have seen firsthand the sometimes unequal and unfair treatment their constituents receive in their dealings with police. The majority of respondents said they felt "conflicted” about the police’s presence in their neighborhood/service area.

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Keeping an Optimistic, Yet Watchful Eye on the Ball

Posted by Laura Barrett on February 4, 2015

It looks like President Obama and his administration kept most of the great ideas explored with the Grow America Act, last year's transportation initiative.

The total investment is increased to $478 billion and expanded to six years in the latest iteration of the budget released yesterday.

A few of the best pieces for low-income communities include:

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