“You have people who really believe in what they’re doing, that believe in their community, and they’re truly there for their community.” – Gail Burks, former CEO, Nevada Fair Housing Center & former Chair, National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC]

Gail wasn’t there for the “Past Chairs” photo at NCRC’s 25th Anniversary dinner in DC earlier this month. I wrote a eulogy to Gail in my blog last month. We rose and toasted her when her photo appeared in what is unfortunately becoming a longer “In Memoria” for those champions of justice who have left us.

NCRC Chairs

Left to Right: Irvin Henderson (NC), Hubert VanTol (Rochester, NY), Bethany Sanchez (Milwaukee), Gene Ortega (Albuquerque), Founding NCRC Chair Bart Harvey, Ted Wysocki (Chicago), Current NCRC Chair Bob Dickerson (Birmingham), Lee Beaulac (NY).

But while she wasn’t there for the photo, Gail was certainly there in spirit and her belief in community people. The above quote was published in NCRC’s anniversary report, 25 Years Opening Doors to Economic Opportunity. The retrospective brought back many memories. The conference underscored the challenges we still face in “Creating a Just Economy.” Hopefully, next year we won’t be facing a “Trumped-Up” economy.

One workshop in particular brought this home to me in my current work as CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs in Chicago’s Uptown community. The topic was promoting integration in gentrifying neighborhoods. The question yet to be answered is: Are we fostering another cycle of re-segregation or creating opportunities for economic integration?

The latest luxury apartment project awaiting approval in Uptown promises a contribution of $5+ million to Chicago’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund but will provide only 20 affordable units on site out of 631 apartments. Yes, Chicago’s south and west sides need affordable housing finance. But as Chicago’s most economically and racially diverse neighborhood, Uptown needs affordable units too.

Gustavo Velasquez, Assistant HUD Secretary for Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity, was the closing luncheon speaker. He encouraged the audience with his success on brokering fair housing settlements. However, I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t time for HUD to be filing fair housing suits against City Halls that enable profiteering developers to buy their way out of providing affordable housing on site which only furthers segregation and deny equal economic opportunities. Start dinging federal allocations to cities for failure to meet their mandate to affirmatively promote fair housing and we are likely to see new urban policies or at least new mayors who are committed to equity in community development.

The conference closed with perhaps the most significant plenary in NCRC’s 25 years announcing a landmark $16.5 billion community benefits agreement with KeyBank. Beth Mooney, KeyCorp’s Chairman and CEO, and John Taylor, NCRC’s CEO, were joined at the signing by community leaders from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oregon, and Maine.

NCRC & Key Bank 3.18.2016

The commitment includes mortgage, small business, and community development lending, and philanthropy in low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities over five years, beginning in 2017. NCRC’s CEO John Taylor noted:

“This commitment is the result of a collaborative process with community members and bank leaders after months of give and take, resulting in a substantive and detailed commitment of resources and services to communities throughout the KeyBank and First Niagara Bank footprints. This is in contrast to several banks’ recent announcements of commitments that did not engage community leaders or have a system for evaluating the success of that commitment.”

I’ve written before about Irvin Henderson, my friend and also a former NCRC chair. The 25 anniversary report has a quote and photo of him with President Bill Clinton on the White House lawn from the July 15, 1993 announcement to modernize the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and to create Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs).

“Despite their challenges the poor and underserved of this nation have great potential. They need training; they need access to capital; they need leadership; and they need a chance to participate in the American Dream – a dream that is not dead, but must be revived.”

That’s the political lens we should be applying this election year at every level of government: Am I voting for a candidate who is committed to creating a just economy?


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