“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!

 

FAILING THE EQUITABLE DEVELOPMENT TEST

FAILING THE EQUITABLE DEVELOPMENT TEST

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR Memorial

I think I’ve attended all the annual conferences of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC] since 1992. This year’s theme was again “Creating a Just Economy” — an appropriate and timely admonition. FDR’s test surely is not being pursued in the first 100 days of the Trump Presidency.

After my countless trips to DC, I finally made time to visit the memorials for Dr. King, FDR and Jefferson. A very reflective hike on which I found particularly relevant quotes at each stop – none using the word “huge.”

The above FDR quote was etched by a sculpture of Americans forgotten in the Great Depression. Not sure those Americans who suffered the injustice of our most recent Great Recession haven’t already been not only forgotten but abandoned by the White House and Congress despite their votes.

But “creating a just economy” is not just a matter of federal policy or tax reform. A just economy is threatened locally by every decision in our communities to forsake those who have too little affordable housing and insufficient employment to raise a family. Equitable development is imperative for a just economy.

Given the challenges confronting Chicago’s Uptown community, where I now work as CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA]-USA, I volunteered to moderate the workshop at this year’s NCRC conference, entitled Equitable Development in Gentrifying Communities. The four panelists shared similar stories from Portland, OR; Roxbury, MA; New York City; and Washington, DC.

Empower DC’s mission is to enhance, improve and promote the self-advocacy of low and moderate income DC residents in order to bring about sustained improvements in their quality of life. The presentation by its Executive Director, Parisa Norouzi, included a historical ICA surprise for me. The historic Ivy City community is re-establishing a strong Civic Association around several issues including the restoration of the Alexander Crummell School. Named for abolitionist, educator and clergyman Rev. Doctor Alexander Crummell whose life’s mission was the uplift of Black people, it was the first public school for African Americans in DC when it opened in 1911.

Ivy City was chosen in 1976 as a site for one of the Human Development Projects initiated by the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA) along with other such initiatives across all 24 global time zones that became known as the “Band of 24.” Two ICA organizers moved into the Ivy City community who, following ICA’s participation model, assisted the community with developing and carrying out a four year Human Development plan. From 1976-1980, ICA and neighborhood residents created the Ivy City Preschool and the Ivy City Corporation (ICCO), which promoted commerce in the community. All activities were centered at the Crummell School, which had been closed in the ‘70s, and were documented in the Ivy City Voice, a newsletter which was published during that time.

More recently, the school building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and listed as one of DC’s Most Endangered Places by the DC Preservation League in 2013. Crummell abandonedResidents of Ivy City have long been on record asking that the school be turned into a multi-use center to serve youth and elders. They have endured years of testifying at hearings, participating in city planning meetings, and mobilizing community participation. They experienced many broken promises, and even had to file a lawsuit to block attempts to turn Crummell into a bus parking lot.

Last year, Empower DC worked with Ivy City residents and partners to submit a proposal that would turn the historic Crummell School and 1 acre of the site into a Community Land Trust, keeping the grounds open for community recreational use (with a playground/splash park, basketball court, walking trail, and garden) and opening the school as a nonprofit Community Center with a mix of programming to meet the needs of youth, adults and seniors. The school building would become a community square surrounded by new affordable housing. Alexander Crummell SchoolUnfortunately, local government is forsaking Ivy City’s community dream and choosing another high-end development striving to be DC’s newest “hot” real estate.

When President Trump tells us in seven days how “huge” his accomplishments have been in his first 100 days, let’s ponder the “huge” decisions being made in Planning Departments and Mayors’ Offices across our country to not provide enough [housing & jobs] for those who have too little. Many politicians are failing the equitable development test. Our civic duty is to grade accordingly.

MAKING PEACE…RESPECTING DIVERSITY

MAKING PEACE…RESPECTING DIVERSITY

“When I first came here, people on both sides of what is ironically called the peace line told me, without any rehearsal, exactly the same thing – that there was direct correlation between the level of violence and unemployment.” – Senator George Mitchell, June 25, 1996

Mitchell & Ted Belfast 1996That was former U.S. Senator Mitchell’s welcoming comment, as Special Advisor to President Clinton and Secretary of State for Economic Initiatives in Ireland, to our delegation in Belfast at a three-day conference on Work, Education & Training for which the US State Department had invited us as participants. As CEO then of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations [CANDO], that quote resonated with me and I shared it in for my article entitled, “Rainbow Over Belfast,” in CANDO’s 1996-97 Annual Report.

Now over 20 years later, there remains a direct correlation between the level of violence and unemployment in Chicago. A lesson repeatedly revealed in every morning’s news headlines.

Senator Mitchell was in Chicago this past St. Patrick’s week as the narrator for Old St. Patrick’s Church’s 21st Annual Siamsa na nGael. This year’s theme was “A Bridge Over the Troubles: The Peacemakers.”

Yes, the choir did sing that Simon & Garfunkel song; but they also sang my favorite hymn, Canticle of the Turning, and my favorite Broadway tune, Make Them Hear You from Ragtime. I have used lyrics from both for previous blog posts.

Senator Mitchell’s narration shared many stories from his “few months” assignment that became five years. I had already read some of them in his memoir, The Negotiator, and look forward to more as I start his book, Making Peace. I particularly appreciated his reflections on John Hume, who not only won the Nobel Peace Prize but also the Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards; the only person to have earned all three.

When the audience entered Chicago’s Symphony Center for the concert, there was a large screen hanging over the orchestra with a quote from Hume’s Nobel acceptance speech. Hume quoteAgain, a lesson learned 20 years ago in Northern Ireland that the US remains in dire need of remembering today: “most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”

Composer Scott Stevenson was commissioned to write the “Hymn of Unity” from Hume speeches with lyrics that ring out as a call even more acute today for us.

In this land, this land of ours, by difference torn apart
We pray for strength and wisdom to discern our common heart.
A heart with ample space for many different minds,
A heart that is open to the whole of human kind.
A heart that breaks down ancient walls,
because we share the same bright sun
by which we walk together towards tomorrow.
From many, we are one!

 

ENABLING CITIZENS COMES NEXT

ENABLING CITIZENS COMES NEXT

Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You’re on your own
Awesome…wow
Do you have a clue what happens now?
Oceans rise
Empires fall
It’s much harder when it’s all your call
“What Comes Next” from Hamilton as performed by King George

I finally saw Hamilton this month and couldn’t help but reflect on our current politics in light of our country’s founding politics. I also was interviewed this month for a book on redlining that sent me back to the ‘70s going thru my file of the national newsletter, DISCLOSURE, which I edited for Gale Cincotta starting in July 1974 thru July 1984.

Government has always required challenging by its citizens. In fact, you can say that’s our job description as citizens. A robust media is essential for enabling citizens to exercise their rights.

Disclosure remains our right to know today as it was as a national demand in 1975 for Congress to pass the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act [HMDA]. As we all start preparing to file our 2016 tax returns, what’s the betting pool on whether the President ever discloses his?

disclosure-oct-1976I still wonder why the US Senate couldn’t have waited a week to see what Scott Pruitt’s emails to the fossil fuel industry disclosed before confirming him as the USEPA chief. Maybe they were afraid for us to know before putting him in charge of policing industries that helped his career.

I’m not even going to speculate on the spy novels and Putin films being written in the absence of full disclosure of what Michael Flynn was up to before he resigned as national security adviser. Congress used to insist on their own right to know as our elected representatives. It should be interesting mid-term elections in 2018 if members of Congress don’t get over their self-imposed “don’t ask the emperor about his clothes.”

Then there is the forthcoming effort to repeal protecting consumers as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is under siege. 2017 marks 40 years since Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to ensure fair and responsive investment. Yet, redlining is alive and will become rampant again if the Trump Administration and Congress collude to deregulate financial services. Our country won’t be great again; it will be broke again by Wall Street greed.

ncrc-2017-conferenceThat’s why I’m looking forward to convening with other community development colleagues in DC at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC] 2017 Annual Conference, Creating a Just Economy, starting on Tuesday March 28 thru Thursday March 30, 2017. It may be “last call” to hear from responsive bank regulators such as keynote speakers: Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve; Thomas Curry, Comptroller of the Currency; and Richard Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It’s not clear who President Trump would nominate to these crucial positions; perhaps the highest bidder?

The effectiveness of CRA has always been subject to vigorous enforcement by its regulators. Not sure those 77,000 voters across three states fully understood that investments in their communities’ futures were at risk in a Trump administration.

Hope your Presidents Day was “HUGE.” The next three may be “TITANIC.”

REBUILDING COMMUNITIES REMAINS THE ANTIDOTE

REBUILDING COMMUNITIES REMAINS THE ANTIDOTE

“If President-elect Trump has his way, we will be standing still on a melting planet. Are we really going to let that happen?” — Sigourney Weaver, Years of Living Dangerously, National Geographic Channel

I finally found time to watch YLD’s season closing episode, “UPRISING,” which weaved Weaver’s exploration of China’s explosive economic growth and its impact on the waukegan-coal-plantenvironment, not only locally but on a massive global scale with America Ferrera’s visit to Waukegan, Illinois. There a still-functioning coal plant, owned by NRG, is creating tension between the community leaders who want to shut it down for the sake of their health and those, including the mayor, who want to keep it open for the jobs. Together the stories connected how climate action requires global attention but must start with local steps.

For over 40 years, SHELTERFORCE has covered the work of practitioners, advocates, and activists for social justice and community development. Some of my November U2Cando blog and some of this month’s blog were posted December 22nd on its ROOFLINES blog website under the title: “You’ve Seen This Movie Before. You Know What to Do.”

I shared how hearing Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, on November 9th served me well as a post-election group therapy. I recalled how his remarks generated flashback memories to my organizing roots with Gale Cincotta, who spoke truth to the imperative of Reclaiming America from big oil and big banks in the Reagan years of deregulation for profits. Yes, the Reagan Years: when the early days of the Community Reinvestment Act were intentionally stifled; when a promising national investigation and organizing campaign on insurance redlining was suppressed by cancelling one of the final contracts of the Carter Administration.

But then I shared how my community development career started when Nixon was President. Yes, the Nixon Years: when redlining was prevalent as “wise” investing for cities-destroyed-for-cashprofit; when under the watch of HUD Secretary George Romney (yes, Mitt’s dad) Cities Destroyed for Cash was the outcome. That is the title of the 1973 book by journalist Brian Boyer, which documented how the federal government itself had become the predatory lender that fueled redlining and the withdrawal of private capital from America’s communities. I’ll refrain from reminding us about the George W Years; except to observe that our communities are still hemorrhaging from an economy destroyed by greed.

Yes, we have seen this new Trump movie before. But I don’t remember the CEO of Exxon Mobil being cast as Secretary of State. Personally, I prefer CBS’ Madam Secretary, Téa Leoni. Her TV experience is better than the President-Elect. She’s been saving the world; not firing people.

The reality of the current previews for the Trump Years is that this is shaping up to be one of those horror movie sequels with more violence and blood than the earlier ones in the franchise. There is a reason to be scared, horrified in fact. But we cannot retreat.

Thanks to an obstructionist Congress eight years after Wall Street crashed our economy and devastated our communities, government officials still can’t figure out how to employ community residents in rebuilding their own neighborhoods by rehabbing vacant foreclosed homes at affordable prices. The potential for green jobs was never really pursued when the demand for residential energy-efficiency was minimized by a Bush-appointee’s blockage of an innovative financing tool, Property Assessed Clean Energy [PACE]. The expansion of solar has been curtailed by public utilities duplicitously working to negate its expansion for residential, commercial and publicly-owned properties; all of which are significant job creating markets.

Our best recourse is to re-engage with our municipal governments to further locally-generated solutions. We must advance the rebuilding of our communities as a core economic strategy to create jobs and assure affordable housing to raise families. It is the antidote to the current plague of hatred. It remains the healing cure for a just and equitable society. We must persevere at the community level, at our roots.

America Ferrera concludes her segment on THE COAL WARS observing:

“The fight against climate change and the transition to clean energy is messy and difficult. But there is so much to be hopeful about. Ordinary people in Waukegan are doing what they can to take on climate change in their corner of the world.”

That’s a theme we should all consider for our New Year’s resolution for 2017 action in our corners of the world.