News

Community Development under President Trump: Six Issues to Watch and Engage

February 24th, 2017 by Joe Kriesberg

In the four months since the election, I have been asked countless times what I think the impact of the Trump Administration and the Republican Congress will be on community development.  I have had a hard time developing a coherent answer to this question, or even a coherent path to finding an answer.  In part, like many Americans, I have been more focused on dozens of other concerns like the future of our planet and our democracy.  The first month has given us many reasons to be fearful, but also reasons to be hopeful, as so many people have raised their voices in opposition to regressive policies.  So, having had some time to reflect, I thought I would offer a few thoughts about what the future may hold and what we can do to shape it.  I believe there are six areas that should be of top concern to community developers:

1. Domestic Spending:  It is abundantly clear that the entire domestic budget is at risk. The President and Congress want a dramatic increase in military spending and large tax cuts.  Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are consuming larger and larger portions of the federal budget and any reductions in those programs are also likely to hurt low-income people the most.  The bottom line is that the so-called Non-Defense Discretionary Budget is vulnerable to massive cuts, especially in light of statutory spending caps that need to be lifted.

Community developers are rightly concerned with many specific budget line items, such as Section 8, CDBG, HOME, Homeownership Counseling, the Community Economic Development program, the CDFI program, NeighborWorks America, AmeriCorps, HUD Section 4 and more. Each of these requires attention and we must fight for them on their own merits. But all of these programs are competing with other vital programs in a zero-sum game unless we can join forces with others to protect overall domestic spending.  We must fight to lift the cap on domestic spending.  In fact, our best hope might be to secure a continuing resolution (CR) for the balance of this fiscal year and for future fiscal years.  A CR would likely impose relatively modest (albeit still damaging) cuts across the board, rather than a new budget that eliminates, or slashes key programs. 

2. Tax Policy:  I refuse to call the proposed changes to our tax laws “Tax Reform” unless and until we see that the changes will make our taxes more equitable and fair. Sadly, such an outcome is unlikely with tax cuts likely to favor the wealthy and drain resources from key programs (see issue #1 above!).

For community developers, there are both threats and opportunities in a potential overhaul of our tax laws.  The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) is already negatively impacted by the mere prospect of lower corporate taxes.  Ultimately, I think it has strong support in Congress, but we need to fight to expand and improve this program and mitigate the unintended impact of other potential changes in corporate taxes.  Thankfully, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch is a lead sponsor of the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act. Because of the leadership of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there also appears to be growing momentum to reform the Mortgage Interest Deduction to focus it more effectively on low- and moderate-income homeowners. This is essential.  We need to make sure that any savings is reallocated to affordable housing.  A tax bill would also be a chance to permanently extend the New Market Tax Credit. Finally, we need to fight to preserve, if not expand, the Earned Income Tax Credit.

3. Infrastructure:  President Trump said he wants a major infrastructure program, although there seems to be less immediate appetite for this in Congress.  If this does gain momentum, we need to fight to ensure that housing and community development are part of the program.

4. Financial Regulation – It is clear that President Trump and Congress want to eliminate many of the safeguards and regulations established after the Great Recession. We need to aggressively fight to preserve some of the most important protections, in particular, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Community Reinvestment Act.  Thankfully, while the CFPB is under a full-scale attack, at the moment, I have not heard too much about CRA being threatened.

5. Immigration – Immigrants have been at the heart of the community development movement for decades, as we work together to create welcoming communities for everyone. That said, immigration policy has not been on our agenda – at least not during my 20+ years at MACDC.  It is time for that to change.

Community developers need to join with the immigrant community to fight for smart, fair, humane policies.  That is why MACDC has endorsed the Safe Communities Act in Massachusetts to make sure the Commonwealth supports our immigrant neighbors.

6. Voting Rights – There is a clear agenda to restrict voting rights across the country.  False allegations of voter fraud are merely a ruse designed to justify new restrictions on voting. Inevitably, these restrictions impact low-income communities and communities of color the most.  Voter suppression combined with politicized gerrymandering could distort our democracy for years to come. If we cannot protect the right of people to vote in fair elections, our work on these other issues may not matter.

To shape the outcome of these debates, community developers must find common cause with those who share our values of community, inclusion and opportunity.  We must nurture civil discourse locally and nationally that is grounded in facts, respect, compassion and humility.

MACDC will be making its voice heard as a member of the New England Housing Network through which we will be meeting with our Representatives and Senators locally and planning trips to Washington, DC.  We are also bringing a large contingent to the People and Places Conference in the Washington, DC area from May 31 to June 2, where we will join with hundreds of our colleagues from around the country to make our case directly to Congress and the Administration.

We hope many of you will join us.

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Group pushing on an array of issues, not just affordable housing

February 15th, 2017 by Joe Kriesberg

THE ARTICLE “Affordable housing groups want in on Preservation Act” (Metro, Feb. 12) mischaracterizes the implementation of the Community Preservation Act in two significant respects. First, it describes the Yes for a Better Boston committee as a coalition of affordable housing advocates. In fact, Yes for a Better Boston, of which we are all leading members, is composed of advocates for housing, parks, green space, historic preservation, youth, arts, and a wide array of other issues. Cooperation among all causes has been and remains the coalition’s strength.

Continue reading on the Boston Globe 

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Mass Development Reopens Brownfields Redevelopment Program

January 18th, 2017 by Joe Kriesberg

Mass Development has announced that its long-standing and highly successful Brownfields Redevelopment Program is once again open for business thanks to a $2.5 million capital investment authorized by the Massachusetts Legislature and approved by the Baker Administration.

The investment follows a persistent effort by MACDC, CHAPA, the Mass. Smart Growth Alliance and many others to secure bond authorization for the program in last year’s Economic Development legislation and the subsequent allocation by Governor Baker.  The program funds both the assessment and remediation of contaminated land with the goal or creating jobs and homes for Massachusetts communities.  As part of a strategy to ensure the long-term sustainability of the program, Mass Development and the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development have announced the following changes to the program.

The new provisions are as follows:

•            Municipalities will make annual repayments to the Fund in an amount equal to 15% of the new municipal revenues from new growth on sites that have received BRF grants. The repayment obligation will apply to all grants, regardless of whether the grantee was a CDC or a municipality. The first $100,000 of a site assessment grant to CDCs for a site it does not yet own and that is not owned by a municipality will be excluded from this repayment obligation. 

•            Annual repayments would commence in the first year that new municipal revenues are realized, and stop after the earlier of 30 years or full repayment of the grant. If no redevelopment of the site commences within 30 years after the grant agreement, the repayment obligation will expire. 

•            Before closing on a grant agreement, MassDevelopment must receive a vote of the governing body of the municipality agreeing to budget for and make the contingent annual repayment, subject to annual appropriation.

•            Grantees will continue to be required to repay the Fund from net proceeds of a sale of the benefitted site; which repayments would reduce the amount to be recovered from the new municipal revenues.

“We are thrilled that this critical tool is once again available for CDCs and others seeking to put these properties back to productive use,” said Joseph Kriesberg, President of MACDC and a member of the state’s Brownfields Advisory Committee.  “We will continue to advocate for the program’s full funding so economic growth and opportunity can reach every community across the state.”

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Baystate Medical Center Announces $500,000 CITC Investment

January 9th, 2017 by Joe Kriesberg

Baystate Medical Center, based in Springfield announced earlier this month that it had made a $500,000 investment in Revitalize CDC and HAP Housing in Springfield to support their efforts to improve community health through improved housing and community development activities.  The three-year investment marks the largest CITC investment ever made by a health care institution and represents a groundbreaking milestone in the growing convergence between the community development and public health fields.

Revitalize CDC will receive $250,000 to support a three-year effort to improve housing conditions for children with asthma and to make home improvements that allow seniors to safely remain in their home.  The project will leverage Revitalize CDC’s remarkable volunteer network, enabling these home improvements to be done with high quality and low cost.

HAP Housing will also receive $250,000 to support a three-year effort to improve health in the Old Hill Neighborhood of Springfield.  These improvements will be achieved through a combination of physical improvements to parks, sidewalks, and bikeways as well as healthy lifestyle programming designed to activate the newly improved areas and advocacy to help local residents advocate for these and other health maximizing improvements in the neighborhood such as a new food store.

The investments are part of Baystate’s Better Together grant program. Baystate is able to utilize the CITC even though it is a not-for-profit without any tax liability because the CITC is refundable.  Therefore, Baystate has already announced that it will use their $250,000 CITC ”refund” to support additional community health programming in the coming years.

MACDC President Joseph Kriesberg spoke at the grant announcement and remarked that “this is a groundbreaking announcement that demonstrates the power of the CITC program to leverage new private investments.  I am so excited to see Baystate lead the way in using CITC to leverage the power of community development for improved health outcomes.  I can’t wait to tell health care institutions across the state about what is happening here in Springfield.  Congratulations.”

 

Learn more about Baystate's Community Health Needs Assessment 

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Structural racism is a pollutant that threatens the community development ecosystem.

November 14th, 2016 by Joe Kriesberg

“Too many Community Development Corporations have abandoned their roots and don’t empower local residents,” said one Community Development Corporation (CDC) leader, noting that the professionals on staff were driving the agenda, not residents. “That’s unfair” said another, who added, “we have to attract investments from banks and work with City Hall to get things done.” This was the summer of 1993, at my very first MACDC board meeting. This particular debate–and various versions of it–has animated community development for the past 25 years. As our movement’s founding father, Mel King, often asks: “in whose interest” are we working? Having just graduated from law school and starting a career in community development, I wondered what precisely I had walked into.

The debate manifests itself around three related but distinct tensions faced by CDCs across the country:

  • Should we focus our efforts on places or on people?
  • Should we adopt a comprehensive approach or specialize in a single area to achieve greater scale and impact?
  • How do we balance power between professional community developers and resident leaders?

Continue Reading on the Living Cities website...

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CPA passes in Boston and many other cities in Massachusetts

November 9th, 2016 by Joe Kriesberg

By a resounding margin of 73.6% to 26.4%, Boston voters approved the Community Preservation Act to enable the City to raise $20 million dollars annually for affordable housing, parks and open space and historic preservation.  MACDC and its members played an active role in every aspect of the campaign along with over 200 community oganizations, representing housing, parks, historic preservation, arts & culture, health, faith institutions, labor and business. The proposal – Question 5 on the ballot – was also strongly support by Mayor Marty Walsh and nearly all of our city’s couniclors and state legislators.

The CPA was first established by the state legislature in 2000 as a way for cities and towns to address the needs for more housing, parks and historic preservation.  Since that time, 161 cities and towns have voted to adopt CPA for their communities. Yesterday, Boston was joined by Chelsea, Springfield, Holyoke and Pittsfield in adopting CPA creating new opportunities to improve neighborhoods across the state.

For more information on the Boston CPA campaign, go to Yes for a Better Boston’s website.

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Massachusetts Celebrates the 30th Anniversary of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit

October 26th, 2016 by Joe Kriesberg

MACDC staff and members joined with hundreds of colleagues to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program at an event hosted by the Department of Housing and Community Development on October 21.  The event featured remarks from Secretary Jay Ash, Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay,  and the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Housing, Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and Rep. Kevin Honan.  All of the speakers celebrated the collaboration, commitment and talent of affordable housing professionals and community leaders who have enabled the Commonwealth to build or preserve 58,855 affordable rental homes across the state over the past 30 years.

The event also featured interesting and thought provoking remarks by David Smith of the Affordable Housing Institute who talked about why the LIHTC is such a powerful tool – and the largest federal affordable housing program ever. He also pointed out that the program does not currently meet all of our housing needs and that new creativity and tools are needed to address the full range of housing challenges we face.  David Gasson from Boston Capital talked about the improving prospects of Congress passing the Hatch/Cantwell bill that would expand the LIHTC by 50% over five years and allow developers to serve a broader range of incomes.  He also noted that the success of the LIHTC depends on also increasing funding for rental subsidies and the HOME program, as well as local and state subsidies that are needed to fill financing gaps and fully leverage the tax credits.

Throughout the celebration, there was a recognition that for many of us in the room, affordable housing is both a personal and professional passion.  Perhaps no one made that point more powerfully than Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay who shared some reflections in this short statement.  

MACDC wishes to congratulate DHCD and our many friends, colleagues and partners for using the LIHTC to create better homes and neighborhoods for so many of our neighbors.

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Boston Rally for Community Preservation Act

October 7th, 2016 by Joe Kriesberg

MACDC and several CDCs joined with Mayor Marty Walsh and the Yes for a Better Boston Committee at a Campaign Rally for the Community Preservation Act in Dorchester last week.  The Rally (watch VIDEO here) was designed to gain support for Question 5 on the ballot this November.  Passage of Question 5 would enable Boston to benefit from the Community Preservation Act and generate $20 million annually to fund affordable housing, parks and historic preservation.  The CPA is already operating in 161 cities and towns and is on the ballot in several more municipalities this year including Boston, Chelsea, Watertown, Springfield, Holyoke and Pittsfield.

 

MACDC’s President Joe Kriesberg is serving as Chair of the Yes for a Better Boston Committee and spoke at the rally about the need for everyone to spread the word to voters who may not yet know about the benefits of CPA and the importance of voting Yes on 5.

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Cleveland Rocks

September 8th, 2016 by Joe Kriesberg

It has been a big year for Cleveland, Ohio – the Cavaliers won the NBA Championship bringing a title to the city for the first time since 1964.  The Republicans held their national convention there. And last week, more than 200 community developers and public health advocates convened on the city for the 9th Annual Summit of the National Alliance for Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA).

I was lucky enough to join eight others from the Bay State- two MACDC staff, four members and two of our allies from the Mass. Public Health Association – and we were treated to three exciting, educational and inspirational days.  We now understand why The Drew Carey Show used the song “Cleveland Rocks” for the title sequence.

The primary focus of the summit was a day long Symposium on the growing convergence between community development and community health.  We heard from national leaders like Dr. Doug Jutte from the Build Healthy Places Network and Kevin Barnett from the Public Health Institute and learned about the cutting edge work of CDC associations in Philadelphia, South Carolina and Arizona.   We also learned about how CDCs can more closely partner with hospitals in their communities – something that MACDC will be focusing on during the coming year with training and technical assistance for our members.

For me the highlight of the conference was learning about the amazing work of community developers in Cleveland.  It is easy for those of us who don’t live in Cleveland to embrace the negative stereotypes that persist about this city – the so called “mistake on the lake”.  And the city has serious challenges with thousands of vacant and abandoned properties stemming from the foreclosure crisis – and decades of population decline (from more than 900,000 people to less than 400,000 today).  But virtually everyone we met had a positive attitude – seeing assets where others don’t. 

The good people at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress led us on a terrific tour of the city’s diverse neighborhoods.   We saw new market rate housing being built downtown and in some neighborhoods as urban living gains popularity. We learned that the City is demolishing 3,000 vacant homes a year, setting the stage for redevelopment.  When possible vacant lots are being given to adjacent homeowners to expand their lot and ensure their maintenance.  While Cleveland’s low housing prices are a challenge, they are also an opportunity.  ESOP Reality – a non-profit social enterprise - told a story about a 24-year-old woman making $22,000/year who was able to buy her first home.  Boston certainly can’t offer that sort of opportunity.

We also met the founders of Upcycle Parts Shop, another social enterprise that uses recycled materials to create art.  In their first year of operation they diverted 6 tons of waste, crafted with 2,500 program participants and welcomed 956 visitors to their store.  Conference attendees were among those participants as we were led through an ice breaking exercise in which we used recycled materials to build a mini city. Where some see garbage – these community developers see art supplies, education, social capital and neighborhood uplift.

We heard from Mansfield Frazier who transformed the vacant lot across the street from his home into a vineyard growing grapes that now produce award winning wine – yes a vineyard in the middle of a Cleveland neighborhood.  His vision for urban farming includes a reentry program for people coming out of prison.  What an inspiration!  Learn more by watching his Ted Talk: http://www.tedxcle.com/mansfield-frazier/.   His vision:  A “green city on a blue lake”.

While we were in Cleveland for business, most of us took some extra time to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where in addition to learning about the history of Rock music we also saw a great exhibit about the role of music in social movements.  And of course several of us went to watch the Cleveland Indians beat the Minnesota Twins as they continue their march to the American League Central Division title.  Actually, given the positive momentum in this city, maybe, just maybe, the Indians will win it all.  

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Joe Kriesberg Response to Shelterforce Article: "Getting Beyond the Developer Fee"

August 12th, 2016 by Joe Kriesberg

Read "Getting Beyond the Developer Fee" by Jake Blumgart and Miriam Axel-Lute

This article accurately portrays the state of the community development field . . .and it should worry those who are committed to resident-led community development.  A strong community development eco-system needs strong CDCs, as well as larger nonprofits, effective government agencies and other players. But we can’t sit passively and hope that strong CDCs survive. We need intentional policies to enable them to survive and thrive.  A few thoughts:

1. Over the past 20+ years there has been an intentional and dramatic investment in building the CDFI sector through certification, grants, technical assistance and access to capital. There has been nothing comparable for CDCs.  This needs to change.
2. Our housing finance system has become dominated by tax credits – LIHTC, NMTC, Historic.  More flexible and easier to use funds like HOME and CDBG have been slashed. These policy decisions have had significant impact not just on who develops housing but on what we develop.  Community scaled rental projects, homeownership projects and rehab programs have suffered at the expense of larger, more complicated deals.  In Massachusetts, over 80% of our flexible funding is used to fill funding gaps on tax credit deals, leaving almost nothing for other projects. This means our field is less able to meet the diverse housing needs of our diverse communities – and it has hurt smaller developers.  And contrary to conventional wisdom, these smaller projects are often cheaper on a per-unit basis than larger deals.
3. We need to structure real estate deals so that owners have the financial incentive to steward those properties over the long term and have access to stable cash flow, year over year.  This will help all of us move away from the boom/bust cycle of large developer fees once every several years.
4. Those who argue that smaller CDCs should focus on organizing, resident services, and other non-real estate activities, need to identify sustainable business models to support these activities. The reality is that there is no substitute for owning real estate, even though we have tried to find a partial solution with the Massachusetts Community Investment Tax Credit.

CDCs cannot do this work alone. But I cannot imagine an effective community development movement without CDCs.  We should not leave their survival to chance.

 

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