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?



I don’t remember the last time I stayed up past midnight. But on Friday January 19th I did until 12:30 am Eastern. Don’t know why but I thought maybe Mitch McConnell would have something constructive to say about reaching a compromise on immigration. But no it was just the same old blame game. disclosure-oct-1976

Rather than do their job by passing a bi-partisan bill, Congress chose to let our government shut down. They could reach agreement in the coming few days or this drama and sham can play out for weeks.

When I studied political science [BA & MA], I learned that the core of our democracy is embedded in our three branches. Congress can reach consensus to pass legislation and send it to the Sh__ House. The President can then decide what to do with his fancy pen.

More midnights at the impasse are not viable options for the American people. Compassionate immigration is a core American value. It is only fitting for Women’s March Rallies to assemble across the US on the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration and day one of this Trump Sh_tdown.

Women's March B Jan 2018

This coming November we can only hope that thousands of women candidates for local, state and national office will be elected so conversations can flourish and consensus for action can be reached.

However, earlier this week, I heard one woman candidate who does not merit votes. I attended the MLK Day Faith in Action Assembly. I have attended previous ones also organized by the Community Renewal Society. This year our church, Old St. Patrick’s, MLK Assembly Jan 2018hosted the forum. Besides a panel of local aldermen asked to support changes to police union contracts to assure effective reforms, the Action Assembly focused on candidates for the Illinois Governor race.

All five of the Democratic candidates were impressive. The Republican candidate, IL State Rep. Jeanne Ives, not so much and then she really blew it. After a few “No” answers to supporting a few issues, she addressed the final issue of gun violence by replying that the solution is “Fathers in the home.” Sitting next to her was Democratic candidate Chris Kennedy, son of assassinated U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy.

Chris responded, “I didn’t have a father in my life. Somebody shot him.” He then departed to a standing ovation. The Chicago Tribune headline to its story the next morning was “Kennedy criticizes Ives for ‘stupidity’.” That appears to be a prevalent Republican trait these days.

A year ago, I quoted Bobby Kennedy’s April 5, 1968 speech after Dr. King’s assassination as the appropriate counterpoint to Trump’s inauguration speech. The U.S. Senate would have benefited last night from remembering it.

“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



“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.



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.



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.


“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.



“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.