Book Review: How to Do Creative Placemaking

Posted by Joyce Fernandes on March 17, 2017

How to Do Creative Placemaking is billed as “an action-oriented guide for making places better.” The book was recently published by the National Endowment for the Arts, a government agency that is currently sharing space on the Trump administration's chopping block.

How to Do Creative Placemaking's collection of essays and case studies offers a scan of the field, along with a diverse range of opinions on what constitutes “creative placemaking.” Early on, I was reminded of a story about the blind men and the elephant in which a group of blind men each touch a different part of an elephant and come to a variety of conclusions about what stands before them. I think the book can be read either as having a lack of clarity or a rich sense of possibility. I choose the latter.

Ideas around place, livability, and identity are explored through a cultural lens. The benefits of engaging artists in planning, economic development, and community building are illustrated by a wealth of diverse examples of work that is taking place throughout the country in both rural and urban areas. In Portland, Maine, an unlikely collaboration between police officers and poets led to an overall boost in morale across the department as well as a collection of photographs, personal stories, and performances. In Philadelphia, free criminal record expungement clinics include an artistic component; participants convert their expunged paper records to paper pulp in a blender, forming the basis for a revised portrait of themselves without a criminal record. In Boston, a pilot program embedded artists in 12 different city agencies to actively engage in the “development and implementation of government practices and policies.” Essays about the development of cultural districts and artist housing are also included in the collection.

Appropriately, How to Do Creative Placemaking begins with a letter about New Orleans from Shaun Donovan, who was the director of management and budget in the Obama administration.

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Context for the Racial Wealth Divide May Free American Minds, and Mindsets

Posted by Keli A. Tianga on March 16, 2017

Recently there has been broader discussion about the Racial Wealth Divide—the current (and shockingly large) difference in wealth between Blacks and whites, along with the history of how it got to be this way. This discussion is extending beyond academic and policy settings and into a more mainstream media because it’s clear that far too many Americans—of all races—do not know the story behind what we see in communities around the country. Pulling the curtain back may provide the context needed to make concrete amends, as well as catharsis for an entire group of Americans.

In the 20th century, a common political talking point was that poverty was a moral failing that just needed a good bootstrapping lecture and some tough love. In these new conversations, we’re moving on from that to acknowledging that our government and many major American institutions were instrumental in stripping Black people of wealth. For example, Black people were excluded from many of the income and wealth-building programs that helped build the foundation of white Americans’ wealth today—programs like Social Security (which when created in 1935 excluded farm and domestic work, which were the majority of jobs black people held at the time), and the GI Bill, which helped provide financial aid for education, mortgage loans, and small-business loans to World War II veterans.

Former New York Times writer Bob Herbert’s new documentary, Against All Odds, The Fight for a Black Middle Class, provides a timeline of the discrimination and economic setbacks Black people suffered at the hands of white America from Emancipation Proclamation through the Great Recession. The timeline of events in the documentary positions the “fragile” state of the Black middle class as one that operates perpetually in a series of considerable gains but even larger losses.

Speaking as keynote at a conference earlier this month at Harvard that explored the relationship between the nation’s colleges and slavery, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates praised Georgetown University’s announcement in 2016 that it would give preferential status in its admissions process to the descendants of slaves whose free labor the university profited from, as well as the 272 individuals who were sold off when the school was struggling financially.

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Tax Credits Play A Critical Role in Economic Development

Posted by Bill Bynum on March 15, 2017

In his recent speech to Congress, President Trump included this pledge: “Every American child should be able to grow up in a safe community ... and to have access to a high-paying job.” However, the main priorities for tax reform touted thus far—cutting corporate tax rates and providing tax relief for the middle class—offer little to help people living in economically distressed communities. Indeed, there are people in this country who will never see a single benefit from the cutting of taxes on corporations or people with middle incomes.

This administration must not forget that "every American child" includes people living in places where the promise of new jobs based on corporate growth has been a myth for decades.

"Every American child" includes people in between the two coasts, in mid-sized southern cities like Memphis, and in the tiny towns and hamlets of the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia, areas of this country with the highest concentrations of persistent poverty.

Previous Republican and Democratic administrations and members of Congress have worked together to forge tax policy that advances the well-being of those who struggle economically. These tax policies included tax credits for corporations that invest in distressed areas that advance economic growth and prosperity, bringing much-needed capital into these communities for affordable housing, to start and expand businesses, and to upgrade essential infrastructure.

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Tenant Organizing From the Ground Up

Posted by Causa Justa :: Just Cause and Tenants Together on March 10, 2017

California is home to over 16 million renters— about 45 percent of the population—and the majority are low-income people of color. A disproportionate number of women with children and people of color are targeted for eviction and displacement every day. That number increased with the foreclosure crisis and continues today as speculation on land and housing intensifies.

Early this month, tenant leaders and organizers from throughout California gathered in Los Angeles to align our visions of housing justice, share strategies to build power, and move together across networks, organizations, and issues for a powerful response to the housing crisis.

Hosted by Tenants Together, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Homes for All California, Right to the City, and Homes for All national, our convening drew 125 tenant leaders and organizers from over 35 organizations across the state that are fighting for renters’ rights. The room was packed with folks eager and determined to put an end to evictions and rent increases, and demand (from the local, state, and federal government) investment in deeply affordable housing.

We’ve had some wins. Last year we passed three new rent control and just-cause for eviction laws for the first time in decades, and we plan to build on them.

Tenant organizers from rent control campaigns in 2015 and 2016 in Santa Rosa, Richmond, the City of Alameda, and San Mateo shared with us what they'd learned, which is especially important as tenants in Los Angeles County, Sacramento, and the San Diego area beginning to organize their own campaigns.

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Preliminary HUD Budget Shows Carson Lied in His Confirmation Hearing Too

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on March 9, 2017

The Washington Post reported today that a preliminary HUD budget cuts $6 billion—eliminating Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and the HOME program, and cutting the already inadequate public housing operating and capital funds. (Remember the good old days when we debated the best way to deal with the maintenance and repair backlog in public housing, instead of having to point out that refusing to make any investment in its upkeep would be disastrous?)

The Post also reported that the proposal would cut Housing Choice and VASH vouchers for homeless veterans by at least $300 million, to $19.3 billion (though oddly earlier in the article they describe this as maintaining “the same level of funding to rental assistance programs”); the Section 202 program for senior housing by $42 million, nearly 10 percent (Note: 202 funds currently go to maintaining existing buildings, not to building new ones); Section 811 housing for people with disabilities by $29 million, nearly 20 percent; and Native American housing block grants by $150 million, more than 20 percent.

Not to state the obvious, but not only will these cuts hurt people and bring any attempts to improve our homelessness and affordability crises to a screeching halt, they will in short order cause rent increases and loss of support for many people who were using these programs to lift themselves up, and cause long-range problems as deferred maintenance reaches crisis proportions with no new housing to replace those lost.

I remember watching Ben Carson’s confirmation hearing. I remember that despite some classically offensive and terrifying comments about public assistance and dependency, he sounded fairly moderate much of the time, like someone who wasn’t salivating to dismantle the agency:

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Millennial Women and Retirement Savings: Start Where You Are

Posted by Lillian Singh and Joanna Ain on March 8, 2017

While history can be interesting to learn about, it’s more important to learn from. How can millennial women learn from previous generations? Know that just 100 American years ago, women were forced to rely on the men in their lives for income, savings, and end-of-life care. In fact, until the turn of the 19th-century, it was illegal for women to even hold assets in their own names. Today, most women have the autonomy and ability to take charge of our finances, but we don’t all do it. Statistics indicate that a small percentage of women aged 21 to 34 are actually deliberately planning for their futures.

As millennial women, we have a personal responsibility to protect ourselves, and cannot afford to ignore that retirement is another part of our life cycle. 

Millennial women have many advantages when compared to previous generations of women. For example, a higher percentage of millennial women have bachelor’s degrees compared to our male counterparts. The wage gap, though still present, is narrowing. In 1980, women made just 64 cents for every dollar a man earned. Thirty years later, women are earning 84 cents for every dollar.

Unfortunately, while we are making gains in education and employment, we’re still not hitting the mark with retirement savings. Millennial women have half as much savings in retirement accounts as do men, and only half of millennial women have started to save at all for retirement, while 61 percent of our male counterparts have already begun. Overall, in terms of wealth, women only have 36 percent of the assets that men do.

It’s a steeper climb for millennial women of color, who have a much thinner cushion for financial emergencies.

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Disclosure Remains Our Right

Posted by Ted Wysocki on March 6, 2017

Black and white cover scan of magazine from 1976 shows a picture of the capitol building partially obscured by trees, with the words I was interviewed last month for a book on redlining that took me back to the ‘70s. Going through my file of the national newsletter DISCLOSURE, which I edited for Gale Cincotta from 1974 to 1984, got me thinking: government has always required challenging by its citizens. In fact, you can say that is the citizen's job. This and a robust media are essential for enabling citizens to exercise their rights.

Disclosure remains as much our right today as it was as a national demand in 1975 for Congress to pass the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, or HMDA. (As we all prepare to file our 2016 tax returns, what’s the betting pool on whether the president ever discloses his?).

I still wonder why the U.S. Senate couldn’t have waited a week to see what Scott Pruitt’s emails to the fossil fuel industry disclosed before confirming him as head of the EPA. I’m not even going to speculate on the Russian spy novels being written in the absence of full disclosure of what Michael Flynn was up to before he resigned as national security adviser. And now, there’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Congress used to insist on its own right to know as our elected representatives. Midterm elections in 2018 should be interesting if members of Congress don’t get over their self-imposed “don’t-ask-the-emperor-about-his-clothes” behavior.

Then there is the forthcoming effort to repeal consumer protections, as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) sits in the crosshairs. This year marks 40 years since Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to ensure fair and responsive investment, yet redlining is alive and will be rampant again if the Trump administration and Congress collude to deregulate financial services. The effectiveness of CRA has always been subject to vigorous enforcement by its regulators. Our country won’t be "great again;" it will be "broke again," by Wall Street greed.

For all these reasons, I’m looking forward to convening with other community development colleagues in Washington, D.C., at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) 2017 Annual Conference, Creating a Just EconomyIt may be “last call” to hear from responsive bank regulators, like keynote speakers Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve; Thomas Curry, comptroller of the currency; and Richard Cordray, director of the CFPB. It’s not clear who President Trump will nominate to these crucial positions; perhaps the highest bidder?

In this new era of "fake news," the inherent value of independent journalism institutions like Shelterforcethe nation’s oldest continually published community development magazine, is even more imperative. Since 1975, it has been our forum as organizers, advocates, practitioners, and policymakers. Shelterforce remains a place where we can share, on a weekly and quarterly basis, our strategies and stories in addressing the challenges and advancing best practices in affordable housing, equitable economic development, neighborhood revitalization, and community organizing for those most vulnerable.

We must persist in doing so if our communities are to endure a Trump administration. As Gale would remind us, the next move is always ours.

(Image: A cover of the Disclosure newsletter, courtesy of the author)

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Carson Confirmed. So About Those Other HUD Jobs…

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on March 2, 2017

Ben Carson has been confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to the weak congratulations of housing organizations that didn’t want to waste their political capital fighting a done deal and did want to make the case for their concerns on the off chance that something might get through.

But the lay of the land looks different now than it did when Carson was first nominated and vetted by the Senate.

At the time, many observers tried to put a silver lining on Carson’s total lack of relevant experience by noting that the assistant secretaries could make a huge difference.

“Regardless of the chosen secretary of HUD, there will be much less to fear if assistant secretaries come with credentials like [Pam] Patenaude’s. Cameras may focus on hearings for secretary nominees, but all of us should focus on the next tier in each federal agency,” wrote Martin French in a comment on my first post about the HUD secretary nominations.

“If he surrounds himself with good people, [his lack of experience] becomes less important,” Laurie Goodman, co-director of the Housing Policy Finance Center at Washington’s Urban Institute, told The Real Deal. “You need the expertise within the agency.”

And HousingWire noted on Dec. 7, 2016, “As the country at large debates the readiness of former neurosurgeon Ben Carson to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, housing insiders are closely watching nominations for the position that could prove even more pivotal at HUD—the deputy secretary.”

The short list for that nomination, revealed by HousingWire, which claimed it might "reassure" people worried about Carson's credentials was (is?):

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Arts in Public Schools: Essential. Life Saving.

Posted by A. Adar Ayira on March 2, 2017


This is dedicated to that Little Girl
who experienced the first part of life in such a hard way
who used to retreat to her world of books and daydreams just to help her survive the day…



Schools are not always emotionally or physically safe spaces for children, and the lower-resourced the community, the more stressors there are for children to deal with. The lower-valued the school and community, the truer this statement becomes.

When I was a primary school student, literature and the arts were understood to be essential to the overall growth and development of a child. They were understood to provide value to the educational experience, and teachers and administrators knew that the world was not all math and science. Imagination, along with the ability to think critically and analyze, were just as important to the development of society and industry as the “3 Rs,” and that literature, arts, and physical fitness were non-negotiable building blocks in nurturing well-rounded individuals.

This is dedicated to her
the one who traded in words until life
choked the voice out of her
The one who, mute, closed her eyes and began to
paint on the masterpiece that would become her blueprint for life
using all the words on which she choked and left unspoken
This is dedicated to that Little Girl …

With the rise of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), the testing rigors of No Child Left Behind, and budget cuts, academic electives such as music, drama, and the visual arts have been reduced or dropped altogether in schools, although in a 2011 study, an overwhelming majority (83 percent) of teachers affirmed the belief that “… electives are necessary–they give students something to look forward to and are essential to a well-rounded education."

As tragic as it is, being relegated to the back burner of the educational experience (or out of the curriculum entirely), and further removed from all students' experiences in general, cuts to the arts are particularly devastating for public school children in under-resourced communities.

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VASH and LIHTC Can Work Together to Support Veterans in Housing and Beyond

Posted by Quinn Gormley and Flynann Janisse on March 1, 2017

Earlier today, the U.S. Senate advanced Ben Carson's nomination to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), setting up for a final vote later this week. As we await this vote, it's a good time for those of us in the field to carefully assess existing housing programs in an effort to effectively advocate not only for their continuation, but enhancement. An example of this is the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher (VASH).

The VASH voucher program is a partnership between the Veterans Administration (VA) and HUD. VASH enables not only housing rental assistance through the Housing Choice Voucher program, administered by local Public Housing Agencies, but also provides essential case management and clinical services through the Veterans Administration at participating VA medical centers and authorized community-based outreach clinics.

Combined with the Housing First approach, VASH’s primary goal is to not only end veteran homelessness overall, but to sustain veterans in permanent housing. Overall, the program has been extraordinarily successful in meeting these goals. Since its inception, over 85,000 vouchers have been awarded, motivating Congress to provide new funding in 2012, making an additional $75 million available that fiscal year. Per the latest data available, 80 percent of those enrolled in the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program were transitioned to permanent housing.

In light of this accomplishment, the continued careful execution of this program should be a priority for HUD. More than 700,000 veteran households are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing—an unsustainable percentage. Such a burden results in high housing turnover rates which harms the financial performance of a housing asset, and leaves unstable communities in its wake. This is where VASH proves to be instrumental.

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