HYGGE: BEING NOT HAVING

HYGGE: BEING NOT HAVING

“Hygge (pronounced ‘hue-gah’) is a quality of presence and an experience of belonging and togetherness…. Hygge is an experience of selfhood in communion with people and places that anchors and affirms us, gives us courage and consolation…. Hygge is a feeling of engagement and relatedness, of belonging to the moment and to each other. Hygge is a sense of abundance and contentment. Hygge is about being not having.” – Louisa Thomsen Brits, The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well.”

There I was on my Scandinavian vacation, when I discovered my hygge in a Copenhagen bookstore. With my community development perspective, I embraced it not only as cozy comfortable life style options but as a socio-economic-political paradigm. DSCN4326 (2)I remembered my own hygge moments of watching sunsets and reading in the shade of my backyard. But as previous U2Cando blogs bear witness our country is in dire need of cultural enhancements through better hygge.

Encounters not only in Denmark but also in Norway and Sweden affirmed that while citizens of these countries pay (and complain about paying) exceptionally high taxes, they do so as individual contributions to the common good. A “hygge” tax policy that efficiently supports and facilitates the opportunity for all to enjoy wellbeing.

In Stavanger, Norway, I learned at its Oil Museum about Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund to assure that its citizens benefited from the exploitation of their natural resources. Established in 1990 to invest surplus revenues [mainly from taxes on oil companies and payments for licenses to explore for oil], it now has over $1 trillion [US dollars] in assets, making it the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. In May 2018, those assets were worth about $195,000 per Norwegian citizen.

DSCN4153 (2)

Outside the Nobel Peace Prize Museum in Oslo

Visiting Oslo, Norway, I reflected on how my career vocation was shaped in college by reading The Structure of Freedom by Christian Bay. His 1959 University of Oslo PhD dissertation was a study of the quest for freedom. I had the personal privilege of studying with Bay at the University of Toronto in the winter of 1973 for my Master’s degree research. His imperative that politics should be the profession of serving human needs not wants remains my mantra and remarkably relevant today. It seems to be a core “hygge” value.

 

“To hygge is to build sanctuary. The most basic security that we can provide each other is shelter – physical and psychological…. Ideally buildings and cities would be designed with our enduring human needs in mind.”

That’s a good summary of equitable development and the urgency of my current efforts in Chicago’s Uptown community. I was especially pleased and inspired to read Louisa Thomsen Brits’ final note in her book:

“Hygge is dependent on having our most basic human needs met. Without security and shelter it’s hard to survive. For every copy of this book bought a donation will be made by the author to a charity in support of the homeless.”

Sure glad I bought her book and not the more popular book profiled on the Today Show in March 2017 as a cute trend.

 

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BINDING THE WOUNDS

BINDING THE WOUNDS

“Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and women. Surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and sisters, countrymen and countrywomen once again.”  — Robert F. Kennedy, April 5, 1968

I went to sleep the night of June 5, 1968 having watched the projected returns from the California Democratic Primary. Having completed my college freshmen year, I dreamt that night about the changes coming and what they might mean for me.

Earlier that April, perhaps the same date that RFK sounded the call above, flying home for Spring Break, I observed the west side of Chicago, my hometown, in flames after Dr. King’s assassination. How could I have known then how quickly tragedy would strike two months later?

I would still spend another year in ROTC but the questions that Bobby Kennedy was raising about the Vietnam War were already resonating with me.

SHELTERFORCE RFK 2007 40th
SHELTERFORCE Winter 2007

His calls to combat poverty and embrace civil rights were an awakening that six years later would become my 44-year vocation for equitable community development.

I did not foresee all those changes ahead for me, let alone our country, the morning of June 6th when I arose to learn of his assassination. Yet, I was profoundly moved to search for meaning and new ways to serve my country and my brothers and sisters.

This is not the first time I have used this RFK quote from his “Mindless Menace of Violence” speech in Cleveland the morning after Dr. King’s assassination. I did so in a blog after Trump’s inauguration speech. In my alternative history, I envisioned these simple words as the core value message of the inaugural speech that President Robert F. Kennedy could have delivered in January 1969. Given the continued onslaught of hate tweets, they should be considered imperative for the duration of the Trump Administration.

Binding the wounds will be a challenging task. Conversations are a start but underlying contradictions are pervasive obstacles to even approach the beginning of consensus. Demonstrating the possible is an appropriate response. But that too is no easy initiative.

Here at the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA] we have launched a new series of Conversations on Social Justice. The first topic was Immigration Reform. Hearing from the opening panelists on the urgency of their respective initiatives, it remains incomprehensible to me that a country founded by immigrants can’t reconcile welcoming policies and practices.

Future topics such as addressing homelessness and assuring equitable development implore action plans not only locally here in Chicago but also nationally and internationally. When designing for change, we must imagine a better world as Bobby did 50 years ago.

 

WAIT, WAIT… DON’T TELL ME… REDLINING LIVES?

One of my two favorite NPR shows is “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” Two special weekly segments are “Bluff the Listener” and “Not My Job”— pertinent portrayals of the Trump Presidency.

The other is Marketplace. My work schedule often has me driving home when it airs at 6:30 pm CT. Those who know my community development origin story can imagine my surprise when on February 15th, the first words I heard on my car radio were:

“this law — the Community Reinvestment Act — did not foresee a lot of the urban dynamics that we have today.”

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal was interviewing Aaron Glantz, a reporter at Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, who was sharing his new article, “Kept Out,” which explores how redlining lives on in today’s economy.

April 11th this year will be the 50th Anniversary of the federal Fair Housing Act that banned racial discrimination in lending. Yet, as this article reveals, African Americans and Latinos continue to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts.

I started my community development career in 1974 researching lending discrimination and sharing stories of communities throughout the US who were organizing against redlining. On May 5, 1975, Chicago’s Gale Cincotta joined community leaders from Milwaukee, Oakland, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Boston and Providence who testified before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee in support of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act [HMDA], passed by Congress later that year.

Philly redlining_1937

A 1937 map of Philadelphia shows redlining of neighborhoods.

Reveal’s yearlong analysis, based on 31 million records, found modern-day redlining persisted in 61 metro areas even when controlling for applicants’ income, loan amount and neighborhood, according to a mountain of HMDA records analyzed. It found a pattern of troubling denials for people of color across the country, including in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Antonio. African Americans faced the most resistance in Southern cities – Mobile, Alabama; Greenville, North Carolina; and Gainesville, Florida – and Latinos in Iowa City, Iowa.

In addition, Glantz told Marketplace that there are a “lot of neighborhoods where banks are making a ton of loans to white newcomers at the same time that they’re denying a large proportion of people of color who want to buy or refinance or get a home improvement loan to stay in that same neighborhood.” Nothing like financing gentrification and reverse block busting to make housing even less affordable.

Given how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is already being dismantled, we can anticipate that all Trump financial regulators will be “bluffing” when it comes to enforcing the Community Reinvestment Act [CRA] while encouraging a Republican Congress to repeal it and not even bother replacing it. We can also be certain that building local economies and encouraging racial and economic diversity will be regarded by Trump as “Not My Job!”

That’s why it’s still our job. It’s why you should attend the Just Economy conference of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC] on April 9 – 11 in DC.

NCRC & Key Bank 3.18.2016

NCRC Conference March 2016

Our communities can’t afford to be “kept out” any longer. It’s time for a #JustEconomy

Oh by the way, Happy President’s Day?

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.

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

“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.