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Can We Build Our Way Out of Crime?

February 21st, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

Consider:

  • The Olneyville neighborhood of Providence, RI achieves a 53% reduction in crime.
  • The Druid Hills Neighborhood of Charlotte, NC achieves a 58% reduction in crime.
  • The Phillips Neighborhood in Minneapolis, MN achieves a 90% reduction in drug-related crime

What do these three neighborhoods have in common that enabled them to achieve and sustain such extraordinary reductions in crime? Each has had an intentional, pro-active partnership between the local CDC and the local police department. And according to a new book that highlights these and other success stories from around the country, such results could be achieved throughout the country if more CDCs and more police departments would join together.

Building Our Way Out of Crime: The Transformative Power of Police-Community Developer Partnerships, by Bill Geller and Lisa Belsky, is one of the most exciting books to come along in some time as it demonstrates with hard data and compelling stories the amazing results that have been and can be achieved.  Geller and Belsky have worked for decades to foster such partnerships largely as part of LISC’s Community Safety Initiative (which is now run by Julia Ryan, a former MACDC staff person.)

By working together, CDCs and the police can deploy their respective tools and assets in a coordinated way to attack high crime areas. According to the forward written by Paul Grogan and Bill Bratton, “these collaborations work – they reduce crime; replace problem properties with quality, affordable housing; attract viable businesses in previously blighted commercial corridors; make more strategic and efficient use of public and private sector resources; and build public confidence in and cooperation with local government and private organizations.”  

How does this happen? Police help CDCs prioritize development opportunities and design new developments in ways that make it easier to prevent crime (e.g. “put eyes on the street.”) CDCs eliminate blighted properties that consume a disproportionate share of police resources. Together, the police and the CDCs advocate for public and private investment that neither could attract on their own. The key, according to Geller and Belsky is to make the relationship intentional and long term. It is not enough for CDCs and police to function in parallel – they must work together and they must stick together for the long haul.

The report also helps to disprove the notion that locating new affordable housing in lower income communities will somehow make those neighborhoods worse. Indeed, what this book demonstrates is that carefully planned and designed affordable housing can not only improve the economic well being of its residents, but the overall quality of life for everyone in the community. Such a strategy will ultimately benefit many more people than simply trying to help a few lucky residents move to higher income and lower crime communities.  We need to fight crime in these neighborhoods – not give in to it.

Many CDCs in Massachusetts have also seen the power of such partnerships, so much so that officers from the Boston Police Department recently testified at the State House in support of the Community Development Partnership Act.  Boston LISC is supporting these efforts through its Resilient Communities/Resilient Families program.

What this book shows is that those efforts can and must be expanded because Geller and Belsky have shown us that we can indeed build our way out of crime.

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Attorney General Coakley Gets it Right on the National Mortgage Settlement

February 21st, 2012 by Don Bianchi

On February 9, 2012, the Federal Government and Attorneys General from 49 States reached an agreement with the five largest mortgage servicers for $25 billion in payments to resolve violations of state and federal law and to implement comprehensive new mortgage loan servicing standards.  The five servicers are Ally Financial, Inc. (formerly GMAC), Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo.

After much deliberation, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley decided to join the national settlement, so the Commonwealth will receive its $46.5 million share of payments to the states to be distributed by the States’ attorney generals to “foreclosure relief and housing programs, including housing counseling, legal assistance, foreclosure prevention hotlines, foreclosure mediation, and community blight remediation.”

Here’s why the Attorney General’s decision to join the national settlement is, on balance, a good decision for Massachusetts:

The foreclosure crisis shows no signs of abating. Foreclosure petitions were 67 percent higher in September than they were in May.  The Massachusetts Housing Partnership’s Foreclosure Monitor's assessment of real estate data and economic trends indicates that foreclosures in Massachusetts will increase, there are still thousands of properties in the foreclosure pipeline, and we will not likely see a full real estate recovery until 2014 or later.  In this context, getting help to homeowners now is vital.

Resources to address the foreclosure crisis are drying up.  In response to the crisis, Massachusetts has made resources available for foreclosure prevention and for the redevelopment of foreclosed properties.  The MA Division of Banks continues to make annual awards for foreclosure prevention counseling under Chapter 206 of the 2007 law that MACDC was instrumental in passing.  However, as the mortgage licensing fees that fund these grants have declined, so have the awards: from $2 million in 2008 to $1 million in 2011.  The primary funding source for redeveloping foreclosed properties, the federal Neighborhood Stabilization (NSP) Program, which has been used to purchase and rehabilitate over 1,300 units statewide, is completely spent.  We need the resources generated by this settlement and we need them now.

Massachusetts is more likely to gain from the national settlement than from going it alone.  Under the national settlement, in addition to the $46.5 million going directly to the state for various programs, Massachusetts homeowners will receive $224 million in loan modifications and other direct relief and $32.7 million in refinancing of underwater homes.  Borrowers who lost their homes and suffered servicer abuse will gain $14.7 million.  Furthermore, the five banks agreed to implement unprecedented changes in how they service mortgage loans, handle foreclosure, and ensure the accuracy of information. Not everyone likes the Agreement; some take the attorneys general to task for not holding out for a better settlement.  It’s true that Attorney General Coakley could have conceivably obtained more resources for MA by declining to join the national settlement, but this is by no means certain, and what is certain is that the resources would be longer in coming.  Plus, this settlement does not preclude federal and state pursuit of further criminal enforcement actions.  Given the options and uncertainties, I believe that the Attorney General made the right decision for Massachusetts.

To ensure that the resources best address the foreclosure crisis in Massachusetts, MACDC and its allies need to engage, advocate and negotiate with the Attorney General on behalf of the families and communities most impacted by the ongoing crisis.  We need to be aggressive in speaking out about the uses for the $46.5 million, when the money flows, and how it is spent.  Our task is just beginning.

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Six dates to put on your 2012 calendar

February 16th, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

We all know that our schedules fill up quickly with meetings, events, and appointments so I want to make sure that our readers put these five important dates into your calendars now - so you don't miss out!

March 5 & 6 - The Institute for Comprehensive Community Development will be hosting the second "Getting It Done II" conference in Chicago, Illinois. This conference will bring together practitioners from around the country who are pursuing comprehensiev community development efforts and will offer great workshops, speakers and networking opportunities. If you are serious about comprehensive community development, you need to be in Chicago for this event. 

May 3 - MACDC's 2012 Lobby Day promises to be one of the biggest and most important in years as we   will be making our final push to pass the Community Development Partnership Act (if it passes before May 3, we can celebrate together!)  Lobby Day is also a great opportunity for our members to show off their great work with display tables, meet with legislators, network with each other, and visit with other guests and friends who also attend. Everyone is welcome so please come to the State House.

June 21 is the day that the Mel King Institute will be celebrating its 3rd anniversary with a celebratory event in downtown Boston. The King Institute continues to grow each year and is quickly establishing itself as the "place to go" for community developers who want to gain new skills and knowledge.

July 31 is the last day of the legislative session. All major legislation, including the annual state budget, must be enacted by this date so this is the ultimate deadline for our campaign to pass the Community Development Partnership Act - otherwise we have to wait at least one more year or longer.

November 16 is the month that we plan to celebrate MACDC"s 30th Anniversary!  Founded in 1982, MACDC is the oldest and one of the biggest CDC associations in the country and this event will be a great opportunity reflect on our history, and more importantly, highlight our plans for the future.  We expect to release a new strategic plan at the event so plan to be there - once we settle on an actual date!

November 6 is election day when voters will elect a new President and a new Congress. Without a doubt this   will be the most important day of the year and given the expected avalanche of T.V. commercials for the U.S. Senate race I suspect that none of us will miss it!  Be sure to vote as if the future of your community and your country is at sake. Because it will be. 

 

 

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Are You a Data Geek or a Data Poet?

February 2nd, 2012 by

By: Julianna Tschirhart
Program Coordinator, The Mel King Institute for Community Building

I have a confession to make: I am a data geek. I have been known to kill time by looking at the American Fact Finder website, exploring various zip codes in the New York Times Interactive Census Map, or planning hypothetical journeys on Google Maps. I find something fascinating about the link between numbers and geography, and it was comforting to know that I was in good company at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s Data Day last Friday, Jan. 27th.

Data Day is an annual conference co-sponsored by MAPC, the Boston Indicators Project at The Boston Foundation, and Northeastern University. The conference objective is to “help organizations and municipalities expand their capacity to use technology and data in innovative ways to advance their community and organizational goals” (About Data Day). The conference topic this year was “Using Data to Drive Community Change,” and over the course of the day, it became clear to me that data are powerful tools to wield in our fight to build equitable communities. In a combination of panels and workshop-sessions, I learned of the various initiatives of participating sponsors to make data more accessible, easy-to-use, and impactful in an effort to achieve a more equitable Greater Boston and nation.

One example is the MetroBoston DataCommon, a partner program of MAPC and the Boston Indicators Project, which offers a platform to analyze data and make maps on a novice to expert level. Users can check out preexisting visuals in the Regional Map Gallery on topics from public safety to education, or create their own maps by selecting preexisting data sets or importing their own. Adding to this democratization of data for the public, MetroBoston DataCommon gives users the option to edit or add to the maps made by others. Allowing your visualization to be public enhances the collaborative nature of the data exchange promoted by the website.

Using data to tell the stories of our communities was a prominent theme at Data Day. “Numbers are narrative” remarked John Davidow, Executive Editor of WBUR during the morning panel on the connection between data and storytelling. Data used skillfully can lure in listeners, give evidence to support claims on social justice issues, and help connect people to one another. In conjunction with the democratic media available at all our fingertips—Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. —data become even more influential tools for community builders. With data and grassroots storytelling, people can create a buzz and get legislators and other important players to take note of their issues.

The world of journalism and community organizing is changing. Advances in technology are allowing us access to the data we need to achieve equity in our communities. When we have the capability to translate reliable data into a narrative, we can create a movement. Rather than be content to look at data as a data geek, simply in awe of the numbers, I urge everyone to take advantage of the data available to us and become ‘data poets’—utilizing numbers to tell your community’s unique story and bring about change!

For more on data and community organizing, consider the upcoming Mel King Institute training, Making Use of Local Census Data.

Follow the Mel King Institute on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Could 2012 be the best year for Massachusetts CDCs since 1982?

January 3rd, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

Starting in the mid 1970s, Mel King and other visionary leaders of the community development movement worked systematically to build a support infrastructure for CDCs in Massachusetts. They understood that such a system could grow what was then a nascent movement of community based development organizations, largely in Boston, and transform it into a robust, statewide field that could achieve impact at scale. So they created CEDAC, CDFC, the CDC Enabling Act, Chapter 40F, the CEED program, LISC and ultimately, in 1982, the Massachusetts Association of CDCs. These institutions laid the foundation for what quickly became one of the strongest community development sectors in the country and left a legacy from which we continue to benefit today – 30 years later.

The past few years have seen a similar wave of system building for the community development field. Starting with, and emerging from, the Community Development Innovation Forum that MACDC launched with LISC in 2008, we have seen the creation of the Mel King Institute for Community Building, the transformation of CDFC into the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, and the modernization of the 1977 CDC enabling law into Chapter 40H, which creates, for the first time, a formal CDC certification process. We have also seen a wave of efforts to lift CDC practice in areas as diverse as community engagement (LISC’s Resilient Communities/Resilient Families program), financial management (MHP’s efforts to promote Strength Matters) and asset management, real estate development and small business development (through programs at the King Institute.)  And we have formed new cross-sector partnerships between the community development movement and sister movements in transit equity, smart growth, public health, and energy, enabling us to move toward more comprehensive and systemic change.

These efforts have the potential to culminate in 2012 with the passage of the Community Development Partnership Act. This ground breaking and game changing legislation would leverage up to $12 million in new, private philanthropy for high impact community development efforts. The program is “community centric” rather than “real estate centric,” opening the door for CDCs to pursue broad, comprehensive community development strategies. The legislation has garnered widespread support both inside and outside the State House, with House Speaker Robert DeLeo recently indicating serious interest in moving the legislation forward. If we can pass the CDPA this year, in 2012, it will allow us to build on all the great work of the past three years and the past thirty-plus years and take it to a level of scale and impact we have never seen. And by passing it this year, we can ensure the program is implemented by the Patrick Administration and its outstanding new Undersecretary for Housing and Community Development, long-time friend Aaron Gornstein.

While the economy continues to struggle and our communities fight to recover from the recession, we have a chance to do something big, bold, meaningful and lasting by passing the Community Development Partnership Act.

And when we come together this fall to officially celebrate MACDC’s 30th Anniversary we will not only be able to celebrate our field’s extraordinary history, but also its exciting and bright future.

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Bulldozing Out of Foreclosures

January 3rd, 2012 by Don Bianchi

On December 18th, CBS’ 60 Minutes broadcast a story entitled There Goes the Neighborhood about the impact of abandoned properties due to foreclosures and declining home values.  The piece focuses on Cleveland, Ohio where Cuyahoga County officials have demolished more than 1,000 homes this year - and plan to demolish 20,000 more - rather than let the blight spread and render nearby homes near worthless.

Although I grew up just outside of Cleveland, I’ve lived away long enough to appreciate that I am in no position to make an informed judgment about whether the decision to demolish these homes is in the interest of Cleveland’s citizens.  I know that the market context in Cleveland is very different than in Boston, and perhaps the neighborhood is served by demolishing vacant homes before they become vandalized and blighted, or worse.  Deeding the resultant vacant lots over to abutters for open space or community gardens may well help stabilize the value of surrounding properties.

However, there is something so sad that all these homes, many of them sound structures, are being demolished, especially when so many people in Cleveland don’t have a decent home.  Beyond that, I believe that aggressive demolition as a defensive response to homes becoming vacant represents a failure in public policy nationwide.  We, as citizens, are collectively responsible for this failure.

First, stable homeownership requires appropriate financing, and we failed to provide the necessary oversight and regulation of the lenders, brokers and appraisers who knowingly sold predatory loan products to families who could not afford them.  Second, when homeowners got into trouble, whether due to the loan products they bought or the economic calamities they faced, they appealed to lenders who too often refused to modify loans to payment levels borrowers could afford and adjust principal amounts to reflect a home’s current value.  We have failed to enact laws that can require lenders to negotiate in good faith with borrowers, and to enact federal bankruptcy reform that will allow homeowners to restructure their debts.

Third, when foreclosure occurred, we failed to protect the residents, both renters and owners, from being evicted.  Fourth, we failed to enforce building codes to require the foreclosing lender to better maintain the properties they acquire after foreclosure (or control prior to foreclosure).  And fifth, we failed to provide the funding and technical assistance so that nonprofit organizations and individual homebuyers can acquire, renovate, and maintain foreclosed properties so they become an asset to rather than a blight on the neighborhood.

By the time the City of Cleveland, or any other City, is faced with the option of leaving a vacant home to deteriorate or demolishing the home before it deteriorates, we have already lost five opportunities to intervene.  Unless we are assured that there is sufficient quality, affordable housing to meet everyone’s needs- and I don’t know of a place where we can have that assurance- demolishing homes rather than preserving and improving them represents a fundamental failure in public policy: in laws and regulations, in code enforcement, in resources, and in political will.  The public tools are there if we choose to prioritize them.

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Five (six) websites to bookmark in 2012

December 26th, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

With so much information available to us all the time, most of us could use some help sorting through the noise to find interesting and helpful information on the internet. While there are countless websites related to community development and affordable housing, here are five (well, O.K., six) that should be on your list:

1. The Institute for Comprehensive Community Development provides information, stories, and tools for practitioners looking at comprehensive community development strategies, a movement that is gaining momentum across the country.

2. Shelterforce magazine remains the pre-eminent publication in our field and its website offers a host of interesting stories, links and blogs that thoughtful community developers should be reading on a regular basis.

3. Non profit quarterly  is not geared to community developers per se, but it is essential reading for anyone in the nonprofit sector who is trying to adapt to changes in foundation fundraising, government programming, non-profit competition, regulation, human resources or any of the other challenges facing the “third sector.”

4. Community-wealth.org seeks to provide the web's most comprehensive and up-to-date information resource on state-of-the-art strategies for democratic, community-based economic development. The resources offered here include directories, breaking news, publications, and conference information, as well as cutting-edge initiatives from cities, states, community development corporations, employee-owned firms, land trusts, non-profit organizations, co-ops, universities, and more.

5 (and 6.) Finally, I could not write a blog like this without promoting our own websites at MACDC and the Mel King Institute.  Both websites offer important information for community developers in Massachusetts, including updates on important policy issues, professional development opportunities and the dates of important events in our field.

You can find more helpful websites here.

What websites do you find helpful? Please post your ideas in our comment section so others can see your suggestions!

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Ticking Time Bombs

December 19th, 2011 by Allison Staton

Back in October, in the pouring rain, a group of people got on a small school bus and drove around different neighborhoods in Worcester. The Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business had sponsored a tour to examine community economic development throughout Massachusetts. The tour took legislators, municipal officials, small business owners, housing advocates and others to Springfield, Beverly, Kingston, Brewster and Boston.

But an organizer from Main South CDC in Worcester said something on the bus that cold rainy day that predicted a sad story in months to come.

Casey Starr knelt on the school bus seat so everyone could hear her as she talked about the transformation of the Kilby-Gardner-Hammond neighborhood across the street from the leafy green campus of Clark University. She told tales of crime, vacant homes and frightened residents. During the tour she pointed out new homes with solar panels, a gleaming Boys and Girls Club and tree lined streets. Even under the gray clouds the neighborhood was inviting and bright. But this transformation did not happen overnight. It is part of a multi-decade plan to revitalize nearly eight acres of inner city streets and vacant industrial land. It was led by community residents and Main South CDC.

As the bus was leaving the neighborhood, she pointed out several homes which were the opposite of inviting and bright. These privately owned houses were falling apart. Casey told of frequent 911 calls because of squatters’ illicit activities. She told of concerns when the crime spills into the neighborhood and the fear of a fire starting in one of the buildings. Her face changed as she said “we worry that something really terrible could happen.”

A few months later, that terrible something happened in another neighborhood of Worcester. On December 8tha fire roared through a blighted property in the Oak Hill neighborhood, killing a firefighter and injuring his partner. The Oak Hill neighborhood surrounds Worcester Academy, a private day and boarding school founded in 1834 that sits on an elegant campus encased in grand iron gates. Outside those gates is a neighborhood reeling from foreclosures, struggling to keep small businesses open and coping with crime and poverty.

The fire in Arlington Street building that killed the firefighter was blocks from the leafy private school campus. A building that had generated frequent calls to 911, that had squatters and caused neighbors to worry had become the place where “something really terrible” actually happened.

The transformation of neighborhoods like Main South and Oak Hill continues – led by dedicated neighbors unwilling to give up. But it takes time, resources, and capacity to reclaim blighted buildings that are dragging down neighborhoods. Blighted buildings that are really ticking time bombs. Time bombs that can devastate.

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Four key ideas that I heard at the New England Housing Network Conference

December 3rd, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

The New England Housing Network held its annual conference in Needham, MA yesterday and the speakers and workshops provided a tremendous amount of information and insight into the current state of affairs in Washington, DC.  

Four ideas that stood out for me:

1. It's bad - but it could get worse:  The budget situation in Washington is terrible with significut cuts on the way in FY 2012 and further cuts likely in the coming years. The Super Committee's failure to reach a deal means automatic cuts of about nine percent in FY 2013, but those cuts might actually have been worse had the Committee reached a deal.  Under the default plan, the military will aborb a much greater share of the cuts than under any other likely budget scenario.  And long term budget pressure will likely force deeper cuts in housing and community development funding, absent a broad budget deal that includes both new revenue and reductions in spending on health care.

2. Revenue, revenue, revenue :  All of the national housing advocates made it clear that housing programs, and more importantly the people those programs serve, will be hurt badly without an increase in revenue.  Housing advocates will need to speak out on the need for more tax revenue issue and not simply lobby for our own programs.

3. Housing is a platform for "care" as well as "opportunity:"  MIT Professor, Xavier Briggs, spoke at lunch about the emerging data that documents how the Moving to Opportunity program achieved dramatic outcomes for low income families in the areas of public safety, health, and mental health.  These outcomes dramatically improve the quality of life for these families and reduce the need for public expenditure in other areas, in particular health care. Briggs emphasized that these results are important, even if families did not always see a dramatic increase in their income or economic security. Briggs encouraged housing advocates to more strongly and effectively articulate the value of housing as a platform for "care" as well as "opportunity."  If we can better document how housing investments reduce the cost of health care, we may be able to win more support - and more dollars - for our agenda.  Look to hear much more about this topic in the coming months.

4. Mortgage Finance Reform is happening:  While advocates are forced to largely play defense on budget issues, and most legislation is stuck in gridlock, our national advcocates do believe that Mortgage Finance Reform will happen - probably in 2013 after the election.  This could be the biggest and best opportunity in the near future to advance progressive housing policy (and block regressive policies) so advocates should be fully engaged in this debate now as the proposals advanced in 2012 will form the basis for legislation in 2013.

To learn more about these and other issues discussed at the conference, click here.

 

 

 

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Must See T.V.

December 3rd, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

60 Minutes did a very powerful piece on family homelessness recently.  I can't say anything that would add to what the kids in this segment have to say about their lives, their parents and their dreams.  I simply ask that you watch it:

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7389750n&tag=contentBody;storyMediaBox

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