Chattanooga Is Densifying Its Downtown—Will It Diversify Too?

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on March 30, 2015

Chattanooga, Tenn., has done some impressive things over the past few decades, being forward looking first in terms of investing in going green, and then in offering the fastest Internet service in the country.

As this CityLab article points out, it's now trying to densify its downtown, which had lacked "adequate" housing to sustain the kind of urban culture of innovation it hopes to cultivate to go with its "Gig City" success.

But there's not a single word in that article about affordability. Not a single word to acknowledge that if you have tech jobs downtown, and tech workers living downtown, with the attendent businesses that cater to them, then you also have low-wage service sector jobs downtown. And maybe it would be a healthy thing for your city if those folks could live near their jobs and the attendent amenities as well.

But it's not too late. Chattanooga has proven itself forward looking before. Perhaps it can do so again, and become the leader in inclusive, equitable tech development.

(Photo credit: Downtown Chattanooga, Flickr user nateClicks)

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What If Community Developers Held a Congress and Everyone Showed Up?

Posted by Steve Dubb and Gar Alperovitz on March 25, 2015

The question we pose captures some of the feeling emanating from the People & Places conference, which took place in Washington, D.C. earlier this month. Of course, Local Initiatives Support Communities (LISC), NeighborWorks, and Enterprise Community Partners all hold conferences on community development, as does the Federal Reserve, whose community affairs biennial conference will take place in April. But this gathering was different, as Miriam Axel-Lute rightly observed, “the difference was in who planned it, who was there, and the subjects they were open to talking about.”

A practitioner-driven agenda provides a unique lens for addressing challenges facing community economic development. The People and Places conference represented a joint effort by four organizations: NACEDA (the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations), NALCAB (the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders), National CAPACD (the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development), and the National Urban League.

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Harnessing Immigrant Entrepreneurship for Economic Growth

Posted by Eva Wingren on March 24, 2015

Last week’s release of Bread for the World’s new paper on immigrant small businesses was marked by racial tension from unexpected quarters, as audience members and presenters at a joint panel discussion took on the question of who it was politically palatable for the government to support.

The event, titled "Harnessing Immigrant Small Entrepeneurship for Poverty Reduction and Economic Growth" and co-sponsored by the New America and Bread for the World Institutes, focused on the potential of immigrant-owned small businesses to grow the economy and reduce poverty, and the challenges that may prevent them from doing so.

According to Bread for the World Senior Immigration policy analyst Andrew Wainer, immigrants represent 13 percent of the population, but are 18 percent of entrepreneurs. Lack of documentation to work legally is likely a major statistical driver, though small business may also be an opportunity for individuals to use skills from back home or fulfill a need within an immigrant community. President Obama’s executive action that granted deferred deportation and work permits to millions of unauthorized immigrants provided Bread for the World the opportunity to suggest policies to better serve them. Their suggestions included dedicated funding from the Small Business Administration along the lines of that provided for women-owned, minority-owned, and rural businesses; connecting immigrant entrepreneurs to resources through the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) initiative; and broad legalization. Amelia Lobo, who runs a CDFI for small businesses, also mentioned the important resources provided by USDA, the CDBG program, and the CDFI Fund.

We heard from Betty Garcia, an entrepreneur who helped grow her family’s tortilla business ...

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Local Leaders Just Gained a New Tool to Address Inequality

Posted by Sarah Treuhaft on March 23, 2015

A new Brookings Institution analysis confirms what we are feeling: inequality continues to climb in cities, and large income gains at the top are not lifting up incomes near the bottom. In the face of such inequitable growth, cities need to use every tool at their disposal to connect their low-income residents to good jobs that offer opportunities to move up those rungs. One piece of good news is that the federal transportation department made a big move to expand that toolkit earlier this month by launching a new Local Hire pilot program.

As Laura Barrett has written about on this blog, local/targeted hire is a no-brainer. In short, it’s a no-cost way for local leaders to connect unemployed or underemployed people in their communities to the growing pool of quality jobs being created by transportation investments. Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta and many other regions are ponying up billions of dollars to build 21st century transit systems, and every $1 billion they spend will translate into some 50,000 jobs. There will also be many replacement job openings in transportation in coming years, since a large share of transportation workers are nearing retirement age. Transportation jobs are generally good “middle-skill” jobs that pay well and provide benefits (largely because of high levels of unionization), and are available to people who have some level of postsecondary training but not necessarily a college degree. But despite the potential for transportation jobs to expand economic mobility, women and people of color—especially African Americans—have long been underrepresented in the sector’s middle-skill jobs, and locked out of jobs on the transit lines and roads being built right in their own communities.

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People and Places 2015: Not Your Average Community Development Conference

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on March 19, 2015

I go to a lot of conferences. I enjoy them, generally, as places to get to talk to all the great people doing great work in the field. But also sometimes they can blur into one another.

People and Places, which took place March 4-6 in Washington, D.C., was different.

In many ways it looked like a fairly traditional conference—plenary panels, tracks of workshops, keynote speakers at meals.

But the difference was in who planned it, who was there, and the subjects they were open to talking about. The conference was planned and hosted jointly by four national organizations: National Alliance for Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA, the national membership group for state and regional community development networks), National Coalition for Asian Pacific Islander American Community Development (CAPACD), National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), and the National Urban League.

This partnership was truly exciting. While the leadership of NACEDA, CAPACD, and NALCAB knew each other and had collaborated before somewhat, their members had less cross-over. And with the National Urban League, the overlap has been even slimmer, so there were a lot of new relationships being started in those halls.

On a very basic level, the partnership of these organizations meant no more looking around a conference room and thinking "Why is this panel/audience so white?" It meant experienced, talented organizers and community developers speaking to audiences who hadn't seen their organization go by on conference panels several times before. It meant that discussing "leadership development" and future of the field evoked a sense of optimism, not hand-wringing, given the evidence of new leaders all around us. And it meant that we talked about race—openly, seriously, both in sessions devoted specifically to the topic and other times when it just came up.

At one a session, for example, on small business lending and immigrants, an African-American woman asked the panel about dealing with tensions among merchants of different ethnicities along a commercial corridor, including between native-born people of color and immigrants. 

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Transforming Communities Through Residential Energy Efficiency

Posted by Jonathan Reckford on March 18, 2015

Many of us have been shocked by a particularly high utility bill following a bitterly cold month or a series of brutally hot days. Imagine, however, that your energy costs consistently totaled as much as half of your total monthly income.

That is a reality for many low-income Americans, who face a disproportionate energy burden and spend 17 to 50 percent of their paycheck on utility costs. Too many people are forced to choose between paying to heat and cool their homes or paying for medicine, food and other necessities.

Many low-income families and older Americans living on fixed incomes cannot afford to live in newer, more energy-efficient homes. Instead, they often live in older homes that lack adequate insulation and have outdated appliances and heating and cooling systems that are expensive to operate. Those who rent often live in units where owners have made few investments in energy improvements since the tenant bears the responsibility for utility costs.

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Citizenship is an Economic Asset for Communities

Posted by Bob Annibale on March 17, 2015

If New York’s legal permanent residents all became U.S. citizens, the city’s economy could grow by up to $4.1 billion.

That’s more than half the budget for the City of Chicago and nearly 10 percent of the entire GDP of the Miami-metro area. Across the U.S., if the 8.8 million eligible legal permanent residents became citizens, they’d provide a $50 billion boost to the national economy over the next ten years, according to the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California.

In other words, citizenship is a major economic asset, both for individuals and our local economies, and access to naturalization resources for those who qualify is a powerful tool for community development.

The list of reasons is long.

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Court Decision Paves Way for Affordable Housing Revival in NJ

Posted by Staci Berger on March 16, 2015

Moribund.” That’s the term New Jersey’s Supreme Court used when referring to the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) in its unanimous decision to strip the government agency of its authority to set affordable housing regulations for New Jersey municipalities. The decision, handed down last week in In re Adoption of N.J.A.C. 5:96 & 5:97, allows low- and moderate-income families and their advocates to challenge exclusionary zoning in court, rather than having to wait for the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) to issue rules that may never come.

When a subordinate is unwilling to meet their responsibilities, an employer typically lets that person go. It was no surprise COAH was given a pink slip after ignoring the Court’s numerous orders and simply shrugging its shoulders when asked for an explanation.

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Bridging the Age Divide with Clicks, and Bricks

Posted by Keli A. Tianga on March 12, 2015

When you take a moment to ponder the technological leap humankind has made in just the past ten years, it's pretty unbelievable. But if you never made that leap and are watching the world around you move forward with increasing speed, what does that feel like?

For every aging generation, I imagine feeling "out of the loop" comes with the territory—you are aware that you've slowed down, after all. But previous generations of families weren't as busy or as scattered as we are today, and keeping in touch with one another relies more and more on the Web.

As part of Social Media Week in New York City last month, I attended a screening of the documentary Cyber Seniors. It follows the experiences of participants in a program created by the director's sisters as a school project, in which residents of two senior living facilities were paired with teenagers to receive one-on-one training on the Internet, and social media in particular. Beyond the practical goals of Cyber Seniors, which were to help bridge, in the words of one of participants, "the greatest generational divide since the Rock and Roll era," the program was an interesting social experiment. Both age groups experienced frustration with the other on the pace of progress, but it also became clear that several of the pairs developed friendships that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

Each of the individual stories made plain the importance of maintaining a feeling of connectedness to the outside world. One man, prior to his training, would set aside one full day each month to make the long trip by public transportation to take care of his banking needs. His partner helped him set up online access, shaving the process down to minutes. Another woman who shared with her teenaged partner how nice it was to be around young people, and the connections—and reconnections—made, with children and grandchildren via Facebook and Skype. Another created a YouTube video series titled "Living With Purpose in Your Retirement Years."

At Shelterforce, we're working on an aging issue, and it's raised questions and assertions about how well the community development field is handling the "age wave."

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Innovations in 1-to-4-unit Multifamily Developments

Posted by Janis Bowdler on March 11, 2015

Last month, we co-hosted with the National Housing Conference a forum on promising strategies for neighborhood revitalization in Detroit.

The daylong event brought together a small group of high-performing nonprofits from Detroit and across the United States to share innovative redevelopment models and brainstorm how best to apply them given the city’s unique strengths and challenges. You can read all about it on Ethan Handleman’s February 10th column on NHC’s blog.

The day was jam-packed with great content, but the session that stood out most for me was the panel on developing 1-to-4-unit buildings in heavily blighted communities. Small multi-family projects–in particular the 1-to-4-unit buildings–continue to vex community development practitioners. They are often owned by “mom and pop” landlords, are notoriously difficult to manage at scale, and may require an amount of rehab that makes them cost-prohibitive for nonprofit developers aiming to maintain affordability.

During the panel discussion, Michael Braverman of Baltimore Housing, Jack Markowski of Community Investment Corporation, Robert Rose of Chicago Community Loan Fund, and Tayani Suma of Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership came together to share their experiences developing these types of small, 1-to-4-unit properties. It was so helpful to hear the strategies of the leaders in the field and to consider how innovations in one city may be transferable to another.

Here are a few key takeaways that I heard:

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