Beyond Affordable Housing: Creating Opportunities in Every Community

Cross-posted from Living Cities: This blog post is part of the Living Cities series “Closing the Racial Gaps: Together We Can” which highlights efforts across the United States that show promise for closing racial opportunity gaps and creating a more equitable future.

Nearly 30 years ago I attended a community development conference focused on replacing decrepit housing in poor, mostly black, inner-city neighborhoods with attractive, affordable dwellings. The leaders in the room saw housing rehabilitation and new construction as the way to revitalize poor communities and improve the lives of the people who lived there. I was uncomfortable with the discussion and began asking: Why would community developers build housing in communities cut off from good schools, jobs, transportation, parks—the resources that people need to thrive and succeed? Is better housing the answer to inequality and injustice?

When I raised these issues, the response was not positive, but more like: “Who let her in?” And it was not just the mostly white community development leaders who pushed back. Black leaders and residents resisted my questioning the efficacy of focusing on rebuilding housing in severely depressed neighborhoods as the way to improve life outcomes. I decided to educate myself more about community development and find a better way to express my concern.

Read the full post on the Living Cities website>>>

All-In Cities: Building Momentum in Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Detroit, and Indianapolis

 

As America’s cities experience a comeback, city leaders need to implement bold strategies to ensure no one is left behind or displaced. All should have the opportunity to contribute to building new urban economies that are equitable, sustainable, and prosperous. Through the All-In Cities initiative, PolicyLink empowers city officials, community advocates, and other civic leaders with the policy ideas, data, and hands-on assistance to make racial economic inclusion and equitable growth their reality. We’ve had an exciting week full of milestones:

Pittsburgh: Equitable Development

Today, more than one hundred community leaders gathered at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh for the release of Equitable Development: The Path to an All-In Pittsburgh, produced in partnership with Neighborhood Allies and Urban Innovation21. Mayor William Peduto, City Council Member Daniel Lavelle, and other leaders from government, business, and the nonprofit sector discussed the recommendations. Follow the conversation on social media at #AllInPittsburgh

Indianapolis: Equitable Innovation Economies

Since 2014, New York, Indianapolis, Portland and San Jose have been piloting new approaches to advancing equity in innovation and manufacturing through the Equitable Innovation Economies Initiative, a multi-year project led by the Pratt Center for Community Development in collaboration with PolicyLink and the Urban Manufacturing Alliance (UMA). Yesterday at the UMA national convening in Indianapolis, we released a new report, Prototyping Equity: Local strategies for a more inclusive innovation economydocumenting the groundbreaking efforts of these cities. Join the conversation at #proequity.

New Orleans: #EquityNewOrleans

PolicyLink is advising the city of New Orleans in the development of its citywide equity strategy. On Tuesday, September 13, the city held its second community listening session to discuss how the city can integrate racial equity throughout its activities. Learn about the initiative at www.equityneworleans.org and participate at #EquityNewOrleans
 

Detroit: New Economy Initiative Impact 

On Wednesday, September 14, the New Economy Initiative released a report highlighting its impact. Since 2007, the unique funder collaborative has helped build an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem in Detroit, providing direct support to over 4,400 companies, helping launch more than 1,600 new companies (39 percent of them owned by people of color and 32 percent by women), and creating more than 17,000 jobs. PolicyLink has advised the initiative on its equity strategy since 2009.

Learn more about our All-In Cities initiative and sign up for updates at www.allincities.org.

  

Gender and Racial Pay Gaps Stifle Local and Regional Economies

Cross-posted from the Toronto Star

Though they make up nearly half of the workforce in the U.S. and Canada, women — and women of colour in particular — continue to be marginalized in labor markets. Women make significantly less than men of similar experience and education, are vastly overrepresented in low-wage work, and are underrepresented in management — these are not just civil rights issues, they are fundamental failures within the labor market that are holding back economic growth for cities, regions, and entire nations.

When my mother, a young journalist, moved us from her home town of Montreal to New Jersey in the early 1950s, soon after I was born, she was looking for relatively better opportunities to advance in her profession as a woman, and the grass at least appeared to be greener in the States at the time. It did not necessarily turn out to be the case, and both countries still have a long way to go, but there are also promising changes in attitudes and concrete policy steps being taken on both sides of the border, as the imperative for justice intersects in new ways with strong economic incentives for inclusion and fairness.

Urban and regional economies -- in both the public and private sector — have a stake in seeing gender and racial pay gaps decline. As a group, women in the U.S. and Canada are more educated than their male peers and they are the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs, with women of colour leading the growth in small-business ownership in the U.S. This, in part, is why many local leaders are doubling down on efforts to address inequities in the workplace, seeking to capitalize on the often underappreciated talent and potential that women in the workforce bring to the table. For example, under the leadership of former Mayor Thomas Menino, Boston sought to become the “premier city for working women”, and current Mayor Marty Walsh recently pledged to become the first U.S. city to eliminate the gender pay gap entirely. Boston is home to the largest proportion of young women between age 20 and 34 — and the highest percentage of college educated women — of any major U.S. city, making the economic opportunity of its young women top priority for local leaders. To close the remaining 18-cent pay gap in the city, Mayor Walsh is leading the charge to educate businesses on the economic importance of closing the gender pay gap. One particular business-focused effort, 100% Talent, is a first-of-its-kind initiative that has enlisted 100 companies to voluntarily pledge to help close the gender gap by sharing payroll data (including metrics on gender and race), implementing recommended practices to reduce pay inequities, and participating in biennial reviews to discuss their progress. The Mayor has also spearheaded a $1.5 million project called Work Smart in Boston, which will provide 90,000 women with salary and benefits negotiation training over the next 5 years.

On the opposite coast, in a city home to the largest gender pay gap among major U.S. cities -- local government in Seattle, Washington is taking inspiration from Boston’s example. After a 2013 analysis found that women in the Seattle metropolitan area were earning 73 percent of what men make, with women of colour earning anywhere from 49 to 60 percent, then-Mayor McGinn’s office convened the City of Seattle’s Gender Equity in Pay Task Force, which has led the city to pass a resolution in 2014 calling on several cities departments, including the Personnel Department, Seattle Office of Civil Rights, and the Mayor’s Office, to promote progressive policies in hiring, pay, and benefits that specifically target both gender and racial inequities. Within the private sector, the city’s Chamber of Commerce and the Women’s Funding Alliance launched their own 100% Talent in 2015 whereby businesses will be obligated to identify internal gender equity issues, share lessons learned with other employers, and implement at least three of the 33 best practices identified by the initiative, including flexible scheduling, greater wage transparency, and increased diversity in hiring practices.

Though these efforts are still in their early stages, these leaders are proving that they understand the crucial opportunity facing cities and regions today: the places that will thrive the most in the 21st century economy will be those that embrace inclusion and capitalize on the talent, creativity, and potential of all residents — especially those who have too often been left behind. This dedication to inclusion is at the heart of All-In Cities — an initiative to promote inclusion and equitable growth in cities launched this year by my organization, PolicyLink.

Like the recommendations made by the 100% Talent initiatives above, All-In Cities seeks to support policymakers and businesses within metropolitan areas to foster comprehensive economic and racial inclusion. For gender and racial inequality in the workplace, this means looking beyond the pay gap to the very structure of the labor market — asking not only, how can we lift stifled wages for women, but how can we build work environments that are conducive to the needs of the ever-growing segment of female workers and their families.

In addition to reevaluating wage, hiring, and scheduling practices as mentioned above, this means policymakers and businesses should foster female entrepreneurship and leadership within organizations. They should promote women’s education and recruitment within high-paying fields — such as math, science, and technology — where they are historically underrepresented. Employers should offer paid family leave and sick leave, so that working mothers do not have to choose between a paycheck and taking care of a sick child.

Overcoming an issue as stubborn as the pay gap will require widespread cultural shifts — in classrooms, in boardrooms, in local councils and halls of parliament —but the rewards we will reap in justice and prosperity are well worth the effort. Advocates for equality from an earlier time, like my mother, would have appreciated how much the ground has shifted.

Read the full article in the Toronto Star (page 2).

Power Your Advocacy with New Equity Data

Clean air and high-quality schools are fundamental elements of “communities of opportunity” that allow residents to thrive. Last week, the National Equity Atlas, produced jointly by PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), added three new opportunity indicators to equip local leaders with relevant data to build equitable cities and regions:

 

The National Equity Atlas team was proud to participate in the “The Opportunity Project,” an Open Opportunity Data event held yesterday at the White House where the new Atlas indicators were showcased. The White House effort focuses on facilitating the development of a suite of digital tools that puts neighborhood-level information on access to opportunity at the fingertips of families, community organizers, non-profits, local leaders, and the media.
 
Writing in a letter to the editor published in the New York Times, on March 7, PolicyLink President and CEO Angela Glover Blackwell noted the importance of disaggregating data by race and ethnicity is critical to understanding trends and developing solutions: “Recognizing this ‘people’ dimension of poor neighborhoods — and the complex interplay of race and place — is essential for catalyzing equitable and sustainable economic prosperity for all.”
 
School Poverty Data Highlighted in The Atlantic
The Atlantic is already demonstrating the analytical power of this new data. Abigail Langston and Sarah Treuhaft from PolicyLink are quoted in “The Concentration of Poverty in American Schools,” by Janie Boschma and Ronald Brownstein, who note that in about half of the nation’s largest 100 cities, most Black and Latino students go to schools where at least 75 percent of all students qualify as poor or low-income:
 
“Kids who spend more than half of their childhood in poverty have a high-school graduation rate of 68 percent,” said Abigail Langston, a senior associate at PolicyLink, and a public fellow at the American Council of Learned Societies. “You see how these things compound over time. There is a link between housing policy, economic and racial segregation, you see what those do to schools and to people who grow up in those neighborhoods.”
 
In the article, promising school integration models from Dallas and New York City are lifted up as tools to address these gaps. The Atlantic also uses the National Equity Atlas’s school poverty indicator in the stories “Separate and Still Unequal” and “Where Children Rarely Escape Poverty.”
 
Join upcoming Equitable Development and Environmental Justice Webinar
On Friday, March 11 the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice will conduct the free webinar “New Data Tools for Supporting Analysis of Equitable Development and Environmental Justice.” Sarah Treuhaft, who is PolicyLink director of equitable growth initiatives will present the new air pollution indicators in the National Equity Atlas. The webinar will also feature a demo of the new environmental justice screening and mapping tool. Register here

Equity Speaks: A conversation with Steve Phillips and Angela Glover Blackwell

The dramatic growth of communities of color has laid the foundation for a new progressive American majority with the potential to transform the nation’s politics, policies, and economy, says author, lawyer, and political activist Steve Phillips.

The key is for progressive leaders to recognize and respond to this extraordinary moment in history. But for the most part, they have not, Phillips argues in his new book, Brown Is the New White. Drawing on extensive demographic and electoral data, Phillips shows why it’s mathematically wrong and politically perilous to chase White swing voters by toning down a progressive message. Rather, progressives will win elections by fielding candidates who have strong roots in communities of color; talk forthrightly about issues of race; and embrace an agenda focused on equity, economic inclusion, and opportunity for all. Phillips spoke with PolicyLink President and CEO Angela Glover Blackwell.

Listen to the extended interview below:

Read an excerpt of the interview below:

Angela Glover Blackwell: At PolicyLink, we’ve been saying for a while that with shifting demographics, getting the economic agenda right for people of color is going to get it right for the nation — that equity is the superior growth model. Your book reinforces this. Describe the political opportunity and the economic opportunity you see in this moment in America.

Steve Phillips: For a long time, the assumption around what policy should be and who it should target has been constrained by fears of the role of the conservative/moderate White swing voters. Throughout history, there have been progressive White leaders who tried to move forward a more equitable agenda but they always tempered it — from Thomas Jefferson trying to include references to slavery in the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln trying to ameliorate fears during his campaigns that he would be too pro-Black, to Kennedy. And up to Obama. I believe they thought they were going as far as they could go and still be politically viable. But over the past 50 years, since the Voting Rights Act and the Immigration Reform Act, the numbers of people of color have become large. Those numbers, combined with progressive Whites who want to see a just and inclusive society, are, in fact, the majority. You can now stand for justice and equality and win. And you don’t have to worry any more that a policy agenda focused on justice and equality does not have majority support because, in fact, it does.

AGB: This new American majority has already achieved important victories. Although conservatives control the Congress, progressives — voters of color and White voters together — have elected progressive leaders in several states, and we see a city leadership across the country reflecting a progressive agenda. What are the takeaways in these victories for progressive candidates and their relationship with communities of color?

SP: First, we need people who will be champions of justice and champions of equality. Too frequently, people lead with caution and timidity and try not to alienate the more conservative, so-called swing voters. It’s a downward spiral. Not only do they fail to win those people over, but they also fail to inspire people who are most at risk in our society to come out and participate. Second, we need candidates who come out of communities of color. This is not just a question of identity politics. When a group has been exploited, marginalized, and oppressed for many years and someone comes out of that experience, you feel they understand your circumstance. You're more motivated to put that kind of person in office. That would be democracy as you see it — a leader who reflects your lived experience.

AGB: You're describing what so many of us have seen. But many progressives have been blind to the political potential of the rapidly growing communities of color. You take progressive leaders and funders to task for this. Why do you think they have failed to recognize the power of this remarkable demographic shift?

SP: At the highest level, there’s a history in this country of ignoring and diminishing people of color and their experience. Simultaneously, there’s been a celebration of White people, Whiteness, White intelligence. Even people who are progressives don’t realize the extent to which those biases play out in everything from hiring to policy decisions. I also think that those of us on the progressive side have to better explain that the path that we’re talking about is actually the path to victory. The incontrovertible record at the national level of the past eight years is that when we have put forward a candidate who comes from the communities of color and inspires the communities of color, we have won.

AGB: True! You also point out that an agenda that advances economic equity is a way to win elections. What are some of the policy changes that you believe really get at this agenda?

SP: The focus on minimum wage increases and the campaigns around the country have been interesting in that they have been very successful in lots of different states. It shows that there is agreement, even among sectors of more moderate White swing voters. Now issues around income inequality have become central to the popular debate. It is the source, I think, of a lot of the support and enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders. The next level is to actually go after the wealth inequality in the country. I don’t think we’ve done that sufficiently within the policy-debate realm. That’s when you begin to get at some really significant and potentially transformative approaches.

AGB: In the book you describe how several community organizations are successfully harnessing and channeling political energies from communities of color. What lessons can we extract about what these groups do and the attributes they bring to the work?

SP: California Calls, led by Anthony Thigpen out of Los Angeles, is the gold standard for this work. Anthony has built up an operation and a voter list from around 50,000 people to over half a million people by having a year-round program that is directly connected to the community organizations and the worker organizations that are in touch with and respected by the people of the local community. Groups that do immigrant service or work with domestic violence victims, labor unions who represent workers in those communities — those are the points of contact with voters. The genius of the model is in translating respect, trust, and familiarity into a voter mobilization operation. Building an electoral program on community-based organizations and leaders is far more effective than just running 30-second television ads.

AGB: You know, our demographics will continue to shift — nothing can stop that. Yet it is important for progressives to not sit on their laurels and think that demography is destiny. It depends on what you do with it. You point out in your book that conservatives are doing fairly well at identifying and backing candidates of color. What lessons can progressives learn from this?

SP: When you put your mind to it, you can do it!

AGB: Absolutely — race matters, race matters, race matters! I love how you end the book. You make it clear this is not just about the mathematical calculations of political campaigns; it’s really about the enduring legacy and centrality of race in American life. How do you move the nation to recognize that race matters? And how do we get people comfortable with embracing the idea that achieving a racial equity agenda is good politics, it’s good economics, and it’s good for the future?

SP: One of the things that’s not appreciated is that being forceful, forthright, and unapologetic around racial justice within this country will actually attract a number of progressive Whites to you. That was the subtext of Obama's election. It’s why there was great hope and meaning tied up in his election. I believe you can attract more Whites than people realize by offering a hopeful and inspiring vision that we’ll finally redress the history of racism within the country and the contemporary reality of racism. We can enlist a whole multiracial army of people to change the country. And that army will be a majority of the people.

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