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.

 

PROTECTING PRUITT OR THE PLANET?

PROTECTING PRUITT OR THE PLANET?

Apparently this question is a no-brainer for the current EPA administrator. If you also don’t support gun reform, you should be prudent. Perhaps, being paranoid is actually wise just in case time travel becomes possible for a really, really Green California Governor from the future to return to the present to avenge the destruction of Earth by terminating (and I don’t mean firing) Scott Pruitt.

This past week, NPR asked an environmental analyst what is Pruitt’s most egregious action. He didn’t know which to pick first. On the policy front, I can’t decide between the recent proposed rollback of regulations to cut planet-threatening vehicle emissions or on-going efforts to overturn the Clean Power Plan. Among his security obsessions, I put the bulletproof vehicle second to the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth for Pruitt’s office. Makes you wonder who he is talking to.

This past week, PBS’ Nova series premiered “Decoding the Weather Machine.” One segment focused on evangelical meteorologist Paul Douglas on how Faith and climate science are not at odds. Of course, he’s from Minnesota not Oklahoma so what does he know about the weather. The show did reflect on Hope as well and that’s what I offer this Earth Day.

UEC Book CoverEarlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet Ken Leinbach who has grown Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center into a national demonstration of using environmental education as a tool for inspiring urban revitalization. Ken’s new book, Urban Ecology: A Natural Way to Transform Kids, Parks, Cities and the World, shares the stories and the impact of its model. If EPA continues to exist, may be a future EPA Administrator is learning to love nature today at one of the Center’s three community-based sites. Makes you wonder about Scott’s childhood.

Among all of President Trump’s court proceedings, he may want to mark in his calendar October 29, 2018 as the first day of trial in the landmark constitutional climate lawsuit brought by 21 American youth against the U.S. government. Juliana v. U.S. was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in 2015. Their case is simple:

“Our government has known about the dangers of climate change for more than fifty years. Despite that knowledge, the United States has continued to pursue reckless and dangerous fossil fuel development, harming the health of our communities and threatening our futures.”  

They’re talking to you, Scott Pruitt. Can’t wait to hear your testimony.

Trial of the CenturyLed by Our Children’s Trust, this youth-driven, global climate recovery campaign is striving to secure the legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere. A fitting complement to youth-driven, gun reform campaigns that Congress continues to ignore, suing the government for malpractice and malfeasance certainly is overdue.

Their demand is an appropriate Earth Day wish: “We want a federal Climate Recovery Plan that is in line with both the best available science and climate justice.” Shouldn’t we all? Before Pruitt repeals Earth Day 2019.

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?

GOVERNING PAST MIDNIGHT?

GOVERNING PAST MIDNIGHT?

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

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.

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!