JOINING IN A GREAT EXPERIENCE

JOINING IN A GREAT EXPERIENCE

“It was my destiny to join in a great experience.” – Herman Hesse, The Journey to the East

When a director of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA-USA] shared this mantra at a November 2017 board meeting, I remembered Hesse’s famous book from college days, but was uncertain I had read it. Picking up a copy in ICA’s Archives, I discovered I hadn’t. Now that I have, this opening line serves as an appropriate opening refrain for 2018.

My first 2017 blog offered reflections on the relevancy of Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here.” My March 2017 blog, “MAKING PEACE…RESPECTING DIVERSITY,” was inspired by Senator George Mitchell’s role as narrator for Old St. Patrick’s annual Siamsa na nGael concert. No doubt, my most formidable experience in 2017 was the tour of Auschwitz.

Pope at Auschwitz

Pope Francis enters the Auschwitz gate.

One personal revelation is that I do check my daily horoscopes [in both the Chicago Tribune & Sun-Times] and save my annual birthday ones. One from last week’s birthday prediction claims 2018 will be a “year full of excitement and change!” The other noted: “Family, friends and community groups can accomplish more together.” This is not fake news; these are real horoscopes.

MI Sunset Nov 2017

Lake Michigan 11/25/2017

ICA-USA’s thank you note to 2017 donors quotes Margaret Mead on its cover:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

As the sun has set on 2017, best wishes for a Just 2018.

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ENDANGERING COMMUNITY INVESTMENT WITH TAX “REFORM”

ENDANGERING COMMUNITY INVESTMENT WITH TAX “REFORM”

There is a significant divergence in meaning between “endanger” and “glimmer.” This may even be the first time that these two words have been used in the same sentence. They also capture differing perspectives on the economic outcome likely to result from tax “reform.”

“GOP’s tax measures endanger a preservation success story” was the original and more appropriate Chicago Tribune headline in my home delivery edition on November 24. Don’t know who at the Trib read the column by Blair Kamin, the Trib’s Architecture Critic, and thought the headline should be rewritten for the on-line version as a “glimmer of hope.” I’m only seeing a little glimmer, while feeling that the Institute of Cultural Affairs’ GreenRise Historic Restoration may be endangered.

We are layering multiple sources of capital for a $15.29 million dollar restoration of the Chicago landmarked building that ICA has owned since 1971 in Uptown.

1927 building pic

Uptown’s Lawrence & Sheridan 1927

One key piece is the Historic Tax Credit (HTC). This financing tool encourages private investment in the rehabilitation of historic buildings. Since its inception [initially enacted in 1978 and made permanent in the tax code in 1986], the credit has attracted $131 billion in private capital to revitalize often abandoned and underperforming properties that have a financing gap between what banks will lend and the total development cost of the transaction.

 

Uptown has been and hopefully will remain Chicago’s most economically and racially diverse community. The tenants in our 166,000 square foot building serve 1,000 disadvantaged individuals per week. It is a community anchor for those in need. Restoring our facility for its diverse users is an appropriate use of HTCs. Urban and rural communities throughout the US have historic buildings that can be preserved and repurposed for multiple community needs.

In addition to revitalizing communities such as Uptown and spurring local economic growth, the HTC returns more to the US Treasury than it costs. According to a study commissioned by the National Park Service, since inception, $25.2 billion in federal tax credits have generated more than $29.8 billion in federal tax revenue from historic rehabilitation projects. The credit generates new economic activity by leveraging private dollars that not only preserve historic buildings but also create jobs; through 2016, the rehabilitation of 42,293 historic buildings has created more than 2.4 million jobs, according to the Historic Tax Credit Coalition.

While HTCs were preserved in the tax bill passed by Congress, their value was diminished. Instead of allowing investors to take the full value of the credit when a building opens, as they can now, it parcels out the credit over five years. Historic preservationists fear this change will decrease the attractiveness of the credit and consequently negatively impact its pricing. A project seeking $2 million of Historic Tax Credit investments could lose as much as $400,000 in valuable capital. Historic rehabilitation projects frequently have higher costs, greater design challenges, and weaker market locations—all of which can already cause lender and investor bias against such investments.

Another casualty of Tax “Reform” is the demise of tax credit bonds. While Private Activity Bonds survived the final assault, key new tools such as Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds [QECB] did not. The ICA GreenRise had approval by the Illinois Finance Authority for a QECB of $755,000; but now the clock to issue the bond has been stopped by an act of Congress.

ICA Green Rise Solar Roof

Chicago’s 2nd largest solar array on ICA’s GreenRise generates 25% of building’s power.

An additional stopwatch has been started on New Market Tax Credits [NMTCs], which thanks to Tax “Reform” are now set to expire in 2019. Perhaps, there will be two more rounds of NMTC allocations with a 2018 announcement expected soon and also anticipated for the ICA GreenRise Capital Stack. In Chicago, 123 NMTC projects have been financed since 2001 for a combined cost of $1.6 billion.

A Chicago Sun-Times editorial on December 18th starts:

“If we’re going to give a tax break to billionaires so they can buy more private jets, we should also give a tax break to businesses in cities trying to breathe new life into hard-up neighborhoods. Is that too much to ask?”

Guess, there wasn’t one Republican Senator who was willing to answer that. Tax reform aimed at growing our economy should augment, not diminish community investment.

Blair Kamin concluded his column asking: “Why break what doesn’t need fixing?” I’ll go further: “Why not enhance investors’ tools that can preserve buildings, promote energy efficiency and rebuild communities?”

In their holiday rush for a present to themselves, Republican Senators and Representatives have endangered community investment in their own states and districts as well as our country’s economic future. The divergence between the needs of the many and the wants of the few is only growing for the New Year and the next decade. Any glimmer of hope for community development is itself endangered.

EMPOWERING HUMAN DEVELOPMENT LOCALLY ACROSS THE GLOBE 40 YEARS AGO

EMPOWERING HUMAN DEVELOPMENT LOCALLY ACROSS THE GLOBE 40 YEARS AGO

Two and a half years and 40 blogs ago, I noted that one blessing of my job as CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs is the wealth of human spirit and wisdom of our Living Archives. “Their aim is to share the experiences and tools from an energetic 20th century peoples’ movement for social justice and human development with today’s citizen activists, civic leaders, thinkers, and students.”

Band of 24 LogoEarlier this month, 50 former ICA colleagues and current volunteers reunited for the 2017 Fall Archives Sojourn to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of their “Band of 24”. Launched in the early 70s, Human Development Projects [HDPs] were participatory community-building initiatives and coordinated regional development, which by 1977 were in locations across every one of the world’s 24 time zones.

I categorize the Band of 24 as a non-governmental Peace Corps with the aim to empower through measures such as motivating residents, releasing their creativity, and building leadership skills to enable comprehensive change. Each project began with a week-long consultation during which residents and volunteer consultants from around the world shared their expertise in building a plan to meet the community’s needs.

First, the consultation elicited from the community a picture of its hopes and dreams for the future. Then the major factors blocking this vision were identified so that practical proposals and specific tactics, unique to each community, could be created by residents to ensure the implementation of their plan for comprehensive socio- economic development.

Band of 24 10-12-17This month’s Sojourners shared stories, reflected on lessons learned and challenges addressed, stopping to remember those no longer present to share. Video interviews now swell the treasures of ICA’s Global Archives. The origins of ICA’s Technology of Participation [ToP] structured facilitation methods can be discovered in these stories from:

Majuro (The Marshall Islands) / Oyubari (Japan) / Oombulgurri (Australia)

Kwangyung Il/ JeJu-do Korea) / Sudtonggan (Philippines) / Hai Ou (Taiwan)

Nam Wai (Hong Kong) / Kelapa Dua (Indonesia) / Sungai Lui (Malaysia)

Maliwada (India) / Kawangware (Kenya) / El Bayad (Egypt)

Shantumbu (Zambia) / Termine (Italy) / Kreuzburg Ost (Berlin)

Ijede (Nigeria) / Isle of Dogs (London) / Caño Negro (Venezuela)

Ivy City (Washington DC) / Lorne de l’Acadie (Canada) / Fifth City (Chicago)

Delta Pace (Mississippi) / Inyan Wakagapi (North Dakota) / Vogar (Canada)

Band of 24 group photo

ICA Human Development Training Institute for local leadership in Maliwada India (late 1970s)

I am thankful for their past service and their persistent commitment to social justice. Their work forty years ago remains relevant for today’s challenging times. We must re-embrace the value of community-led development if we are ever to attain a just and equitable society.

Singing is a core of ICA’s organizational culture so there were copies of the ICA Songbook in each Sojourner’s packet and numerous songs sung during the course of the week. I offered the following lyrics in my welcoming remarks that I thought were appropriate for the journeys they shared and for my on-going search:

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
From the mountains of faith
To a river so deep
I must be looking for something
Something sacred I lost
But the river is wide
And it’s too hard to cross

And even though I know the river is wide
I walk down every evening and I stand on the shore
And try to cross to the opposite side
So I can finally find out what I’ve been looking for…

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the desert of truth
To the river so deep
We all end in the ocean
We all start in the streams
We’re all carried along
By the river of dreams
In the middle of the night

The River of Dreams
by Billy Joel

HEEDING A WARNING TO HUMANITY

HEEDING A WARNING TO HUMANITY

I had some expectations when we decided to tour Auschwitz on our first day in Poland. But I’m still processing the experience.

First, I did not know that the first to be rounded up by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz were the Polish intelligentsia, who could be resistance threats. So if I had been a college graduate in 1939, I very well could have been among the 150,000 Poles interned and exterminated there along with 1.3 million Jews.Auschwitz PlagueThere were several staggering exhibits: the collections of shoes & luggage; the firing squad Wall of Death; and the gas chamber and crematoria. But even more shocking was when the tour moved to the Birkenau Camp and I comprehended the scale of mass extermination that was designed and implemented over the course of only six years. Yes, let this place forever be “a cry of despair and a warning to humanity.”

There were other museums and sights on our tour of Central Europe that bore witness to Nazi terrors as well as the decades of Soviet domination. There were also stories of hope and persistence such as the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and the rebuilding of Warsaw from rubble.

This was one of those lifetime trips. I joke that my wife Lynne and I watched so much Masterpiece Theater on PBS that we finally gave in to those Viking River Cruise ads.

Danube from the Cruise

Cruising the Danube

We are glad that we did. The cruise itself was great. Our pre- and post- cruise nights in Budapest and Prague added those cities to our favorites list. The Parliament in Budapest and the Charles Bridge in Prague are major photo opps.

Budapest Parliament

Parliament in Budapest

Looking at a map of our Viking itinerary, we realized that we had never been this close to Poland, where my father’s family emigrated from in the early 1870’s fleeing from domestic policies in the German part of partitioned Poland, where poverty, unemployment, and official discrimination aimed at Catholics were prevalent. So we added six more nights in Poland to our itinerary.

Krakow Square

Cloth Hall in Krakow’s Market Square

We especially enjoyed Krakow with all its buildings that avoided destruction in the war. Its Market Square is the largest medieval square in Europe, set out in 1257. Located in the center of the Square, the Cloth Hall is a former and present place of trade, where we did our souvenir shopping.

Throughout our guided tours, the history of these places was pervasive. Standing in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, one can imagine, among all of today’s retail options, where in 1989 hundreds of thousands of Czechs gathered for days and launched the Velvet Revolution, jangling their key chains and telling their communist oppressors — “It’s time for you to go home.”

Getting off the tram in Krakow on our way to Schindler’s Factory, Krakow Memorial chairsthere were the 33 memorial over-sized chairs in Ghetto Heroes Square, another historical testament and warning to humanity.

God knows; these are again times to be heeding such historical warnings.

“GREEDING OUT” AFFORDABLE HOUSING

“This is about the moral center. This is about our humanity.” — Rev. William J. Barber II

There have been a number of distinct stories in the papers over the last two months that from my perspective are connected. Unfortunately, their common denominator is the demise of affordable housing caused by the malignant neglect of government at all levels.

On June 10th, I was again inspired by the front page New York Times story by Laurie Goodstein, Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game. I have blogged before about the visionary and prophetic Rev. Barber. Rev Barber 2015Having keynoted the annual conference of the National Community Reinvestment Conference twice, he has become the harbinger for nationalizing state movements.

I respectfully suggest there is an imperative to also nationally coordinate movements focused on city planning departments.

Here in Chicago, the last weeks of July offered three strikes against communities by developments without moral centers. Strike one was a fast ball thrown in the community where I work, Uptown – still Chicago’s most economically and racially diverse community. One of my favorite columnists, Mark Brown captured the play-by-play in his Chicago Sun-Times’ July 21 article, Sale of ‘cubicle hotel’ in Uptown puts residents at risk.

“One hundred and 47 men reside at the Wilson Men’s Hotel — for decades one of the lowest cost housing options for Chicago’s down-and-out…. On Tuesday, the Uptown building was sold to a developer who plans to remove the tenants and remodel the decrepit flophouse to appeal to a more upscale clientele… remodeling the property into 75 to 82 studio apartments, with 20 percent of them set aside as affordable — for individuals with annual incomes of up to about $33,000. That’s just 16 spots in a place that currently shelters 10 times that many on a cold winter’s night.”

Single Room Occupancy [SRO] are now easily “remodeled” into units for single hipsters, who because of student debt and inadequate job opportunities are not able themselves to pursue affordable family home ownership.

Strike two was a splitter catching the “insider” corner, where I used to work in Chicago’s North Branch Industrial Corridor. This Chicago Sun-Times’ headline from July 26 captures the real estate frenzy ready to descend: Council unleashes North Side land rush despite infrastructure concerns.

The final “score” was 46-2 to open up 760 acres of previously protected (for 30 years) North Side industrial land for residential and commercial use, despite “lingering concern about a shortage of park space and infrastructure to accommodate an avalanche of new residents that nobody at City Hall is prepared to quantify.” Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward) said he’s excited about the opportunity to preside over development “on a scale rarely seen, probably since the Great Chicago Fire.” northbranchfreedomcenterThe City’s public stance is that there will be three kinds of developer fees: for parks and infrastructure improvements; industrial development elsewhere in the city; and development of retail corridors in impoverished South and West Side communities. All those are commendable, but nowhere has anyone said “Affordable Housing” will be a mandate for “gold rushing” developers.

Strike three is an outside curveball in the neighborhood I have lived for 38 years, Logan Square. A July 28th DNA Chicago on-line story, Getting An Affordable Rent Apartment Under City Program Isn’t Easy, reports that developers continue to skirt Chicago’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance by writing their way out of actually producing affordable housing with checks for units not in their building and most often not even in the same community.

Two years later, the new rules have applied to 61 developments. But despite the effort, most developers are still choosing to pay millions of dollars rather than set aside units as affordable housing. Just 202 affordable units have been created under the provision so far, which means the city’s on pace to create about 500 units over the course of five years, well below its goal of 1,200 units.

Developers have paid almost $39.5 million in fees since the ordinance passed, which capitalizes the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund for affordable housing and rental assistance. While the south and west sides of Chicago can benefit from such investments, there remains a major moral dilemma being ignored – the continued economic and racial segregation of our city.

Unfortunately, this same game is being played in communities throughout our country. The pitches are being called by City Halls shirking their duties to plan for the future of their citizens and children in order to chase development at any cost, but to developers’ profits.

We are once again watching the “Greeding Out” of Affordable Housing. There will be no affirmative action on fair housing unless local action is taken project by project. Shark Week may be over but developers are still circling.

RECALLING A LEGACY LEADER

In the early 1960s, the Ecumenical Institute moved into an abandoned seminary in Chicago’s East Garfield neighborhood in order to facilitate ‘a model community’ in which all members cared for each other, regardless of economic circumstances. While Fifth Avenue is an obscure diagonal street on Chicago’s west side, the name “Fifth City” originated from the Institute’s goal to reconceive the nature of community organization and development. To go beyond the four geographic “cities” composing the urban setting of downtown, inner city, neighborhoods and suburbs in order to empower citizens. 5th City aimed to be a replicable demonstration of the capacity of local people to transform their own communities.

“Rebirth of the Human City” described the process: “Community residents began meeting in a dilapidated basement, patiently covering blackboards with lists upon lists of the community’s problems and the possible solutions…. The decision to build 5th City gave birth to songs and rituals and to the Iron Man.” Iron Man Plaza

This statue still stands today as a witness to those residents who decided to drive their very lives like stakes into the ground of the city and take responsibility for its rebirth. Plans are being proposed to refurbish the Iron Man Plaza at Jackson & Homan.

Ruth Carter was a dynamic teacher and director of the Fifth City Preschool, the first 5th City project, chosen to address the “victim image.” The following is an excerpt, written in 2000 from the book The Circle of Life.

“In the early 1960s, I was a mother with small children, and I was eager for them to have the best chance in life. I shared that concern with others in my neighborhood, and we decided to do something about it. We heard that there was an idea to organize some kind of day care in our neighborhood, and we were invited to be a part of it. We worked with the staff of the Ecumenical Institute to develop the curriculum.

Ruth Carter & 5thCity PreSchool

Ruth Carter [right] & 5th City Preschoolers

We knew that our kids were smart and that with help, we could be teachers. In those days, there were no books to tell us how to set up a school for infants and toddlers. This was all before Headstart and there were not even guidelines for care for three and four year olds. We wanted to care for all the children, so we created our own road map.
 

After all this hard work and fun focused on our own kids, you can imagine how surprised we were when we were asked to come to New York City to give our advice to a group that was planning a new television show. We went and had a wonderful time telling those folks what we had done with small kids and how we had done it. Their show became “Sesame Street.”

Working with a whole family methodology, the Fifth City Preschool continues to provide excellent quality care. With a current enrollment of 60 children, the Preschool is regenerating the next generation of community leaders.

On May 4, 2017, the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA] had the privilege of hosting a performance of My Soul Cries Out: Stop! This grassroots play seeks to spark community transformation throughout Chicago. It was written, directed and produced by Denise Gathings, a Chicago Police Officer and lifelong resident of the Fifth City neighborhood. She is the daughter of Ruth Carter and the multi-talented cast are descendants of Ruth.

My Soul Cries Out Cast

Denise Gathings [in white jacket] at the podium with cast

The stories in Gathings’ play draw directly from her day-to-day interactions with local youth as a community police officer. The raw, powerful scenes authentically capture the pressures on the street that too often build to violence and its painful aftermath. There performing and singing in ICA’s GreenRise 5th City room were Ruth Carter’s legacy of community leadership.

The play closes with the hymn I Shall Wear A Crown by Thomas Whitfield:

I shall wear a crown.
When it’s all over
I shall see His face
When it’s all over
I’m going to put on my robe, tell the story how I made it over

An inspiring story and play for which Ruth can be proud.

REVERING THE BIG DOG

We all knew his nickname; so it wasn’t surprising to see it in the headline of his obit.

Pete Garcia 2017I first met Pete “Big Dog” Garcia in 1989 when Chicanos Por La Causa hosted the National Congress for Community Economic Development [NCCED] annual conference in Phoenix. Little did I know at the time that it would become such a rich relationship.

My next encounter with Pete was as travel companions in 1991 on a NCCED tour of Scotland, Belfast, Dublin and Wales. Visiting community development initiatives in these countries furthered the bond of professional and personal connections.

Only a few years later, Pete and I would become fellow board directors for over two decades of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC]. Too many meetings to count; many good meals to remember.

Pete and his wife Sarah always welcomed us as family members. Pete went out of his way when our son TJ was doing his college search tour with lunch at ASU’s golf course and tickets for the USA vs Mexico World Baseball Classic game. His love abounded.

I invited Pete to be a keynote speaker at the 15th anniversary conference of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations [CANDO] on March 8, 1994. His remarks then remain relevant today: Pete Garcia 1994

“Community development has to start at the community level. It doesn’t start at the mayor’s office or at the top of a bank building. It has to start in the community if it’s going to succeed. It has to have those partners with political and financial resources. Communities, at a certain point, have to develop themselves and the sophistication to be able to develop these partnerships with business and government in order to be successful.”

Pete’s been called home, after living true to his calling. Bless you Big Dog

We are called to act with justice,
We are called to love tenderly,
We are called to serve one another;
To walk humbly with God!