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

Transportation, Jobs, and Civil Rights for the 21st Century: An Interview with Faith-Based Leader Ana Garcia-Ashley

For Ana Garcia-Ashley, living out the values of her Catholic faith is about more than helping one's neighbor, or caring for those in need — it’s about dismantling systems of oppression and racism that have left so many Americans cut off from opportunity. As executive director of Gamaliel, a national network for faith-based community organizing, Garcia-Ashley has helped engage congregations across the country around a range of political issues — from predatory lending to immigration reform to congressional spending. The first woman of color to lead a national community organizing network, she has brought a relentless activist spirit to the faith-based work of her organization.

Advocating for a more equitable transportation system, both in terms of access to quality transportation and access to jobs in the transportation industry, is a core part of Gamaliel’s work.  Leveraging 44 Gamaliel affiliates in 17 states and the grassroots Transportation Equity Network that includes over 300 community organizations, the organization advocates for transportation as not only a civil right, but a crucial driver of upward mobility — a link bolstered by a recent Harvard study that identified lower commute times as the single strongest predictor of escaping poverty for low-income families. This connection between transit and economic opportunity can also be seen in Gamaliel’s recent work to promote the Department of Transportation’s local and targeted hiring pilot — a one-year initiative launched last March that allows city and state governments to prioritize the employment of local, low-income workers for contracts to build roads, bridges, and transit facilities.

Garcia-Ashley spoke with America’s Tomorrow on the importance of transportation access — a sector of Gamaliel’s work that has taken center stage following the approval of the local and targeted hiring pilot. 

Q: Why is local and targeted hiring important for building opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color?

A: You have these multibillion dollar highway projects that could provide quality jobs with benefits and career pathways into construction jobs. And these projects are often being built in neighborhoods with high unemployment, often that are communities of color. It’s a no-brainer that these projects should be used to have positive impacts on the communities where they’re being built by ensuring that a portion of the construction jobs go to local workers in that community. And we already see that they have been successful when implemented on a local basis. But for decades, there was essentially a moratorium on local hire for federal projects, because unions, developers, and others in construction felt that there wouldn’t be ready labor and it wouldn’t be cost-effective to hire locally. So we were very emotional and excited when, after years of advocating for local hire, Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the pilot of local hire in March. Of course, now it’s up to advocacy groups like PolicyLink and Gamaliel to go into the communities where we have a footprint and ensure that they put this pilot to use, that we document best practices, and show how all the fears about efficiency and cost-effectiveness aren’t actually a problem.

Q: What has been the most crucial element within the organizing that Gamaliel does to promote local hiring?

A: We need community members to be able to talk about these policies and their impact – not just policy wonks. We need to have the housewife, the preacher, the young person being able to talk about local hire and regulations and transportation access — just like they talk about Beyoncé! Young people always seem to know what she’s doing, but not what the Department of Labor is doing — but the DOL affects their lives a lot more. It’s about building awareness and civic-mindedness in the young generation, building these local champions who can talk about what it means to them, what it means to their communities.

Q: Can you give an example of where local hiring as a policy in transportation projects has been a success?

A: In the building of the I-64 bridge in Missouri, advocates were able to get 1 percent of the budget to go into training and hiring single moms and people of color. So they spent $2 million to not only hire locally, but to train people to take on these jobs — and the project came in under budget. We need more opportunities to implement projects like this, and we need to collect data about them to back up their success and make the case for these policies being applied more widely. Then, hopefully, we can institutionalize local hire into all infrastructure projects and maybe expand it to other federally funded projects. We should be using federal money — tax payer funds — to empower all Americans, not hold up a system that oppresses them, that builds highways that divide low-income communities and displace homes, without giving anything back to the people who live there.

Q: A crucial part of Gamaliel’s work is advocating for access to public transportation as a civil rights issue for low-income people and people of color. Why do you view transit access as a civil right?

A: During the Civil Rights movement, advocates were looking at the immediate and urgent ways of gaining basic rights as citizens, but transportation was always a piece of that larger picture. Rosa Parks did not just sit on the bus because she wanted to sit anywhere she wanted on the bus — it was a symbol of the dignity of people of color, the right to have access to the bus, to have a job to go to on that bus. Victories like the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act provided us a platform, and a responsibility to make sure that people can move to opportunity — because the structures of our society were not designed to serve women, people of color, or the poor. Instead, these structures have created and preserved hyper poverty areas where people literally cannot leave their neighborhoods because of lack of transit.

But when we hear transportation, the dominant narrative is always the highways, the two-car garage. This is reflected in a transportation budget that has been so focused on the creation of highways and connectors that have historically destroyed and divided communities — especially communities of color. Countless highways have cut through Black communities, displacing residents and destroying Black businesses. We need to move away from just thinking about highways and cars and start thinking about a transportation system where everyone, no matter how poor or elderly or young you are — you can get where you need to go.  Because equal opportunity includes being able to get to where you need to go without having to spend $10,000 to own a car. That’s why we feel that transportation is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. It’s essential we expand our conceptions of civil rights to include it.

Q: Gamaliel is a faith-based advocacy group — how do you see the issues of the church intersecting with transportation and civil rights?

A: It’s not a connection that everyone makes right away. I still get push back from people — “Why is a faith-based network so obsessed with the Department of Transportation and how highway dollars are spent, and what does that have to do with living out your faith?” But we see transportation and infrastructure as determining the quality of life people can have, and we see public transit as protecting the planet because, for every bus, you're taking hundreds of cars off the road. People want to know where in the scripture it talks about public transit, but the scripture talks about caring for your neighbors, being a steward of the earth, and living in a community that respects the dignity of people — and we see quality, affordable transportation access as central to living up to these values.

Oakland Army Base Is a Model for Equitable Development

Nearly three years ago developers, unions, community leaders, and government officials in Oakland, California, came together to make sure the city’s biggest construction project in decades would create jobs and apprenticeships for residents who need them most. By every measure, the agreement for redeveloping the old Oakland Army Base is a resounding success.

It is meeting ambitious targets for local hiring and far exceeding targets for connecting people facing employment barriers to career-path training. It has inspired a similar agreement on a $178 million construction project for Bus Rapid Transit from downtown Oakland to San Leandro. Perhaps most importantly, the Army base deal demonstrates what it takes to translate large-scale urban investments into equitable economic growth — and why it matters.

“This has changed my life,” said Sadakao Whittington, who landed an $18.29-an-hour apprenticeship with Laborers Local 304 a few months after he was paroled from state prison at age 40. After working on demolition at the base, he moved on to similar jobs around the Bay Area while earning certification in welding, heavy machine maintenance, and more than a dozen other skills. Now a member of Sprinkler Fitters Local 483, he earns $24.42 an hour plus full benefits. His wage will rise to $60 within five years.

“I have a nice apartment that’s fully furnished,” Whittington said. “I have a good credit score and a bank account. I pay taxes and spend my paycheck inside my community. I have a sense of achievement. I feel valued.  All these things happened because all these people came together in a collaborative and cohesive way to provide opportunity to someone trying to get somewhere.”

The labor and community benefits agreement covers the first phase of an $800 million public-private venture to transform the shuttered Army base into an international trade and logistics center at the Port of Oakland. The deal pertains to the city-owned portion of the project; a similar agreement is in the works for the port’s piece. The project broke ground in late 2013. It is expected to create more than 1,500 construction jobs over seven years and 1,500 permanent jobs in operations. About 500 new hires currently work there.

Read the full story in Next City.

Worker Ownership Behind Bars: The World’s First Co-op Run Entirely by Prisoners

Roberto Luis Rodriguez Rosario with his book, Corazon Libre, Cuerpo Confinado.

By David Bacon

It was a cooperative in Puerto Rico's Guayama prison that changed his life. Growing up, Roberto Luis Rodriguez Rosario was surrounded by violence, and lived most of his pre-teen years in foster homes. "By the time I was a teenager, I was filled with anger," he remembers. "I became a rebel, and lost my way in drugs and alcohol. I stopped going to school at 14, and began getting arrested at 15. By the time I was 17 I was doing things that could get you locked up for life. Then, when I was 19, I saw what a disaster my life had become."

There were arrest warrants out for him, and Rodriguez made what he calls the most important decision of his life. He turned himself in. His sentences totaled 125 years, and even served concurrently, they still added up to 35 years behind bars. "But I began to work on my life," he reflected. When he was transferred from a maximum-security institution to the medium security prison in Guayama, Puerto Rico, he joined a worker-owned co-operative run entirely by the inmates.

"I was looking for tools to help me work on my problems,” said Rodriquez. “I thought at first [the co-op] was just a way to reduce my sentence, but once I got involved, and started practicing the principles of co-operativism, I realized it was making a big change in my life."

The co-op, started in 2003, has helped dozens of inmates reduce their sentences and return to their communities. Of the 50 co-op members who have been released from prison in the past ten years, including Rodriguez, only two have gone back to prison, and one of them is again out on parole. The recidivism rate elsewhere in Puerto Rican prisons is over 50 percent per year according to Lymarie Nieves Plaza, director of marketing at a local credit union. Today, the co-op has 40 active members, in a prison with a population of roughly 300. And cooperative projects have sprung up in three other prisons throughout Puerto Rico, where they plan to make everything from children’s clothing to renewable energy products.

“These are jobs that are much better than the slave labor the prison itself offers,” said Jessica Gordon Nembhard,  professor of community justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, where she studies how cooperatives can empower communities of color, prisoners, and returning citizens (read our interview with her about her latest book Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice). “There are many benefits from co-ops that extend beyond their market value. They promote leadership development, financial education and literacy, high level social skills, and collective decision-making that extend beyond the operations of the co-op.” 

The culture of cooperatives and democratic decision-making has had a big impact on the lives of many prisoners, Rodriguez explains, and cites his own history. The co-op meetings are run democratically, and every member has a voice. That creates the basis for trust in each other. "I can have an opinion in a meeting, but the members decide everything," said Nieves who has been working as a co-op educator and marketer with the prison co-ops.

“The co-op provides a different point of view,” said Gordon Nembhard. “It's not ‘me against the world’. It’s the co-op and my fellow members working and thinking together. They can now afford to pay for the things they need and help to support their families even though they are in prison. That is transformational.”

Changing laws and changing lives

Creating the co-op took several years and a change in the law. In 2000, a small group of prisoners in the Guayama state prison began to create craft items in an art therapy program. Some combined clay figures of Don Quixote or of saints, on a carved wooden base, holding a brightly painted Puerto Rican flag. Some inmates were leather workers, and made portfolios, belts, hats, and sandals. Others carved boats, or made pencil portraits.

None could be sold outside the prison, however. One of the inmates, Hector Quiñones Andino, began to investigate how prisoners might organize themselves so that their work might find a market. He looked at two possibilities. One was to form a corporation. "But they didn't like that idea much," Rodriguez says, "because it focused too much on individual profit." Quiñones found a book about cooperatives, and that provided another alternative. So he asked for an orientation from the Co-operative League of Puerto Rico, according to Rodriguez.

Discovering that they faced a legal prohibition from participating in cooperatives because of their criminal history, Quiñones and fellow prisoners in the art program wrote a letter to the governor at the time, Sila Maria Calderon, asking her to modify the law. She was moved by their story, met with some of the prisoners, and in 2003 she worked with the legislature to amend the law.

The co-op they established, the Cooperativa de Servicios ARIGOS, was the first co-op ever organized exclusively by prisoners themselves, with a board of directors made up solely of inmates. To become a member, a prisoner has to buy a $20 share, and inmates without the money up-front can work off the cost in about two months. After that, each co-op member has a voice in meetings, and one vote.

Most of the craftwork is sold in assemblies or public events organized by other cooperatives or associations. Inmates themselves can go to present their work, but they must pay for transportation and the prison guards who accompany them. They have recently expanded their work to include a nursery growing cucumbers, bell peppers and tomatoes used in the food eaten by inmates.

Rodriguez is not much of an artist, he says, so he became the co-op's secretary, responsible for keeping the books and seeking new markets. Of the money received in sales, 15 percent goes to the prison for the cost of the space and services, and 10 percent is invested by the co-op in capital expenses. The other 75 percent is divided among the co-op members. "For us, this is so much better than working for the prison itself, where they only pay $25 for 160 hours you work in a month," he explains.

The co-op has to defend its existence to the prison, often in strict economic terms. Rodriguez smiles at the way they have been able to meet objections that the co-op costs the prison money. "We showed that the prison was getting $10,000-$15,000 from its share of our sales," he recalls. "That made them much more interested in supporting us."

After serving just over 14 years of his sentence, Rodriguez was released on parole, which he completed a year ago. Life outside, however, has been challenging. Rodriguez would like to start a co-op for ex-co-op members, but it's difficult to get people together, and parole restrictions bar socializing among ex-inmates, a law they hope to change soon. Rodriguez recently released a book on his experience, entitled Corazon Libre, Cuerpo Confinado (Free Heart, Confined Body).

"We've learned how to run a business, and some former inmates now have their own small businesses outside as a result,” said Rodriguez. “If you can change the way people think in prison, you can do anything. It is a model for social change."

How the Proposed Fair Housing Rule Will Boost the Economy

Strong and effective fair housing laws are essential for building prosperity — for people struggling to get by, for local and regional economies that benefit from thriving communities, and for the nation as a whole. That’s why a proposed rule by the Department of Housing and Urban Development is so important. As inequality soars and neighborhoods of concentrated poverty are on the rise in most American cities, the rule would push municipalities to deliver on the promise of fair housing. By helping to connect low-income families to neighborhoods of greater opportunity, the rule has the potential to spur economic growth not only within these households, but within cities and regions.

The rule, due out this summer, is called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). It would sharpen the tools that equity advocates and public sector leaders can use to increase investment in high-poverty neighborhoods, fight racial discrimination in the housing market, and add more affordable housing choices in neighborhoods with jobs, good schools, and other essentials. It would do this in three important ways:

(1)  It would make municipalities more accountable to community member needs by requiring resident engagement on fair housing and community development issues.
     
(2)  It would require a data-driven analysis (an "assessment of fair housing") of community conditions and impediments to fair housing, including factors that contribute to areas of racially concentrated poverty and high unemployment (e.g., school performance, transportation access, and toxic exposures).
     
(3)  It would require jurisdictions to tie federal funding — such as Community Development Block Grants and HOME funds — to addressing the fair housing challenges that are identified.

Taken as a whole, the proposed rule would mean that cities, counties, and states must be proactive to ensure all people can live in neighborhoods where they have access to the opportunities and resources we all need to succeed.

This rule is long overdue. It will help turn around the lasting negative impacts of historically discriminatory practices that contributed to the creation of poor neighborhoods of color, and it will reduce barriers that cut millions of Americans off from economic opportunity. This rule can be a powerful tool to advance equitable economic growth for the nation, and here are five reasons how:

(1)  Reducing growth-limiting racial and economic exclusion: Research shows that families living in disinvested and low-income communities have limited economic mobility and reduced future earnings. This effect creates generational cycles of poverty and limited opportunity: For example, two-thirds of Black children raised in the poorest quarter of U.S. neighborhoods a generation ago are now raising their children in similarly poor neighborhoods. This proposed rule has been proven to help direct more investment to neighborhoods that need them and help low-income families move to neighborhoods with more resources. Both the Puget Sound and the Twin Cities regions built off of their fair housing assessments – part of a pilot for the proposed AFFH rule – to focus new infrastructure investment in Native American, African American, African immigrant, Latino and Southeast Asian communities in need of investment. When St. Louis conducted a fair housing assessment, the city found that Housing Choice Vouchers were being used primarily in low-income neighborhoods where there were few jobs and community amenities. This assessment helped the city revamp its program to help residents find diverse housing choices that better met their needs.
     
(2)   Connecting people to job opportunities: By encouraging more job investments in high-unemployment communities and promoting transit investments that connect these communities to jobs elsewhere, this rule would help people previously isolated from employment opportunities better engage in the regional workforce and contribute to local economies. For example, Puget Sound used its fair housing assessment to strategically plan for a new food distribution hub and job incubators within historically disinvested neighborhoods where job growth was needed. And a New Orleans assessment that found transit was not serving late-shift schedules for hospitality and healthcare workers led to realignment of services to better meet low-wage, transit-dependent workers’ needs.
     
(3)  Creating jobs:
Places that support the development of quality affordable housing and new infrastructure in disinvested neighborhoods also create new jobs both in the short- and the long-term for communities. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that building 100 affordable homes can lead to the creation of more than 120 jobs during the construction phase and roughly 30 jobs in a wide array of service industries once homes are occupied. When coupled with job training, inclusive hiring and contracting practices, and provisions for good wages and benefits, these jobs can help put low-income and unemployed residents on a pathway to good careers and financial stability.
     
(4)  Attracting new employers: Lack of quality affordable housing that connects to transit makes it more difficult for employers to recruit and retain employees, putting the local economy at a competitive disadvantage. In a national survey of more than 300 companies, 55 percent of large companies reported an insufficient level of affordable housing in their area, and two-thirds of these respondents cited this shortage as negatively affecting their ability to hold onto qualified employees. Other survey data suggests that affordable housing availability plays an important role in where new businesses decide to build or expand their operations. In Boston and Chicago, fair housing assessments helped these cities support new affordable homes around growing job centers in order to attract more employers to the area.
     
(5)  Providing low-income families with more disposable income to invest and save: The disproportionate housing burden on low-income communities and communities of color makes it hard for them to save for emergencies, make long-term investments, or spend money within the local economy on necessary goods and services. Affordable rent and mortgage payments, and access to affordable transportation, can substantially decrease household costs, in some cases by as much as five hundred dollars a month. When families can save on housing and transportation costs, it bolsters their resiliency and financial stability and allows greater spending on health care and education. These investments contribute to greater stability not only for these households, but for the broader economy: a recent study found that every extra dollar going into the pockets of low-wage workers actually adds about $1.21 to the national economy.

The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule is powerful only if we understand it and put it to use. Learn more about the rule in our upcoming webinar.

How the Proposed Fair Housing Rule Will Boost the Economy

Strong and effective fair housing laws are essential for building prosperity — for people struggling to get by, for local and regional economies that benefit from thriving communities, and for the nation as a whole. That’s why a proposed rule by the Department of Housing and Urban Development is so important. As inequality soars and neighborhoods of concentratedpoverty are on the rise in most American cities, the rule would push municipalities to deliver on the promise of fair housing. By helping to connect low-income families to neighborhoods of greater opportunity, the rule has the potential to spur economic growth not only within these households, but within cities and regions.

The rule, due out this summer, is called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). It would sharpen the tools that equity advocates and public sector leaders can use to increase investment in high-poverty neighborhoods, fight racial discrimination in the housing market, and add more affordable housing choices in neighborhoods with jobs, good schools, and other essentials. It would do this in three important ways:

(1)  It would make municipalities more accountable to community member needs by requiring resident engagement on fair housing and community development issues.
     
(2)  It would require a data-driven analysis (an "assessment of fair housing") of community conditions and impediments to fair housing, including factors that contribute to areas of racially concentrated poverty and high unemployment (e.g., school performance, transportation access, and toxic exposures).
     
(3)  It would require jurisdictions to tie federal funding — such as Community Development Block Grants and HOME funds — to addressing the fair housing challenges that are identified.

Taken as a whole, the proposed rule would mean that cities, counties, and states must be proactive to ensure all people can live in neighborhoods where they have access to the opportunities and resources we all need to succeed.

This rule is long overdue. It will help turn around the lasting negative impacts of historically discriminatory practices that contributed to the creation of poor neighborhoods of color, and it will reduce barriers that cut millions of Americans off from economic opportunity. This rule can be a powerful tool to advance equitable economic growth for the nation, and here are five reasons how:

(1)  Reducing growth-limiting racial and economic exclusion: Research shows that families living in disinvested and low-income communities have limited economic mobility and reduced future earnings. This effect creates generational cycles of poverty and limited opportunity: For example, two-thirds of Black children raised in the poorest quarter of U.S. neighborhoods a generation ago are now raising their children in similarly poor neighborhoods. This proposed rule has been proven to help direct more investment to neighborhoods that need them and help low-income families move to neighborhoods with more resources. Both the Puget Sound and the Twin Cities regions built off of their fair housing assessments – part of a pilot for the proposed AFFH rule – to focus new infrastructure investment in Native American, African American, African immigrant, Latino and Southeast Asian communities in need of investment. When St. Louis conducted a fair housing assessment, the city foundthat Housing Choice Vouchers were being used primarily in low-income neighborhoods where there were few jobs and community amenities. This assessment helped the city revamp its program to help residents find diverse housing choices that better met their needs.
     
(2)   Connecting people to job opportunities: By encouraging more job investments in high-unemployment communities and promoting transit investments that connect these communities to jobs elsewhere, this rule would help people previously isolated from employment opportunities better engage in the regional workforce and contribute to local economies. For example, Puget Sound used its fair housing assessment to strategically plan for a new food distribution hub and job incubators within historically disinvested neighborhoods where job growth was needed. And a New Orleans assessment that found transit was not serving late-shift schedules for hospitality and healthcare workers led to realignment of services to better meet low-wage, transit-dependent workers’ needs.
     
(3)  Creating jobs: 
Places that support the development of quality affordable housing and new infrastructure in disinvested neighborhoods also create new jobs both in the short- and the long-term for communities. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that building 100 affordable homes can lead to the creation of more than 120 jobs during the construction phase and roughly 30 jobs in a wide array of service industries once homes are occupied. When coupled with job training, inclusive hiring and contracting practices, and provisions for good wages and benefits, these jobs can help put low-income and unemployed residents on a pathway to good careers and financial stability.
     
(4)  Attracting new employers: Lack of quality affordable housing that connects to transit makes it more difficult for employers to recruit and retain employees, putting the local economy at a competitive disadvantage. In a national survey of more than 300 companies, 55 percent of large companies reported an insufficient level of affordable housing in their area, and two-thirds of these respondents cited this shortage as negatively affecting their ability to hold onto qualified employees. Other survey data suggests that affordable housing availability plays an important role in where new businesses decide to build or expand their operations. In Boston and Chicago, fair housing assessments helped these cities support new affordable homes around growing job centers in order to attract more employers to the area.
     
(5)  Providing low-income families with more disposable income to invest and save: The disproportionate housing burdenon low-income communities and communities of color makes it hard for them to save for emergencies, make long-term investments, or spend money within the local economy on necessary goods and services. Affordable rent and mortgage payments, and access to affordable transportation, can substantially decrease household costs, in some cases by as much as five hundred dollars a month. When families can save on housing and transportation costs, it bolsters their resiliency and financial stability and allows greater spending on health care and education. These investments contribute to greater stability not only for these households, but for the broader economy: a recent study found that every extra dollar going into the pockets of low-wage workers actually adds about $1.21 to the national economy.

The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule is powerful only if we understand it and put it to use. Learn more about the rule in our upcoming webinar.

B Corporations Deliver on Equity, Sustainability

Benefit corporations provide a way for businesses to make profit without having to slash wages or resort to environmentally destructive practices. Ben & Jerry's, for instance, is one of the world's most popular ice cream brands with an annual sales revenue of $132 million. Its lowest-paid worker makes $16.13 an hour, which is 46 percent above the living wage in home state Vermont, and the company offsets more than 50 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions. More than 40 percent of the board and management are from underrepresented populations, such as women, people of color, lower-income individuals, and people with disabilities.

In a time when U.S. corporate profits are soaring but wages remain stagnant, Ben & Jerry's and hundreds of other companies, including Cooperative Home Care Associates profiled below, are choosing an alternative business model – benefit corporations – driven not just by profits but also by fair working conditions, diverse leadership, and environmentally sustainable practice.

One of the fundamental challenges to growing more "triple bottom line" businesses is the legal requirement to maximize profits that applies to corporations. Anything that takes away from profits, such as higher wages or more sustainable environmental practices, leaves the corporation vulnerable to being sued by its shareholders. This limitation hinders companies from advancing any values beyond profit making.

In response to this limitation, a movement was started to pass legislation allowing for a new type of corporate entity called the benefit corporation. The benefit corporation provides legal protection for businesses that choose to treat their workers well, protect the environment, and invest in their communities, even if it means their annual profits are not as high. As of 2013, 19 states plus the District of Columbia passed benefit corporation legislation, including Delaware, which is home to 50 percent of all publicly traded companies and 64 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

In 2012, Ben & Jerry's took a step beyond being a benefit corporation and became a Certified B Corporation, as conferred by a nonprofit organization called B Lab. There are currently more than 1,000 registered B Corps. A Certified B Corp voluntarily meets higher standards of governance, workforce treatment, environmental impact, and community involvement. Companies must score at least 80 points on a scale of 200 to be eligible for certification.

Certified B Corps are part of a community of socially responsible companies and span a large spectrum of goods and services. In 2012, Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) in the Bronx, New York, became the first home care company to become a Certified B Corp. Their overall B Score, at 154, is nearly twice the median score.

One of the reasons CHCA scores so high in the B Impact Assessment is because it is a worker-owned cooperative with the vast majority of the workers and worker-owners being from the Bronx. In an industry where good-paying jobs are hard to come by, CHCA deliberately chose a different business model, one that prioritizes workers over profits, and has flourished for nearly 30 years. The company has grown from 12 people to now over 2,000 employees, 70 percent of whom are worker-owners.

"When we started, a lot of for-profit home-care companies were established and were seen as a way of making a lot of money in a short time," said Michael Elsas, president of CHCA. "You didn't have to pay workers that much, you didn't have to train them that well, and you could move in and make a killing. And, in that environment we wanted to establish something a little different, more socially responsible."

Treating the workers well was not just a social mission, but it made good business sense. Elsas said, "Many of the people we were seeing were women, particularly women of color. The thought was if we train people longer and really spend time with them, if we prepare them for an entry-level position and get them ready to work and remove those barriers to work, and, if we provided a lot of support for those workers both before and after they were trained by us, we could create quality, full-time jobs. And then as a result of that quality job, we would be providing quality care that we could, in fact, provide better services."

CHCA has been a co-op since the company started in 1985. Going from a co-op model to also certifying as a B Corp was an easy decision and made a lot of business sense, Elsas said. "Distinguishing ourselves as a B Corp would be helpful in marketing to be able to say we are the only B-Corp certified home care company. We thought that would be helpful for those entities that want to do business with a B Corp. Quite honestly, it was a natural for us. There was very little that we had to do to get certified because we were already a worker-owned company, we already had everything in place."

Elsas said that CHCA is successful not because it is a co-op but because of the best practices they employ. Currently, 90 cents of every dollar that comes into the company goes to the worker. While paying workers less would result in higher profits and better dividends, Elsas said higher dividends is not what has made the company successful for 30 years. Instead, what makes CHCA successful is "how we train, how we supervise people, how we respect people, how we let people participate in what we do."

Companies like CHCA and Ben & Jerry's show that businesses can make a profit and embrace socially responsible practices. Higher wages and better work environments help working families reach economic security. Consumers can support B Corps and environmentally and socially conscious businesses by buying their products and services. A full list of B Corps can be found here.

New York City Invests in Worker Co-ops — and Equitable Growth

Before Yadira Fragoso became a worker-owner at Si Se Puede, a housecleaning cooperative of immigrant women in New York, she earned $6.25 to $10 an hour in various jobs. She had no control over her hours or schedule and sometimes had to bring her children to work.
 
Now she earns $20 to $25 an hour. Along with the cooperative's 50 other worker-owners, she shares decision making for all business policies and operations. Most importantly, she says, she has greater economic security and job flexibility, so she can spend more time at home with her kids. Joining the co-op "changed my life," she recently told the New York City Council.
 
Stories like this and determined organizing by advocates for a fairer, more inclusive economy have persuaded city officials to invest $1.2 million this year in developing worker-owned businesses in low-income communities and communities of color. It's the largest investment in such businesses ever made by a city government in the United States (though only a tiny fraction of the city's $75 billion budget).
 
The initiative aims to support the creation of 234 jobs and bring training and financial resources to 20 existing co-ops and 28 start-ups. It promises to raise the profile of worker-owned cooperatives as a strategy for equitable economic growth.
 
How worker co-ops spur the growth of good jobs
 
Job growth in New York City since the Great Recession has been concentrated in low-wage industries. Black and Latino communities are unemployed or underemployed at double the rates of Whites. Economic barriers have left more than one in five New Yorkers in poverty and driven income inequality to a historic high. A recent report by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA) documents these trends and says they threaten the city's economic growth.
 
The report points to small businesses — the city has about 200,000 — as the largest job creator, and to worker-owned businesses as an effective model for closing income and wage gaps by moving people from joblessness or precarious employment to dignified jobs. Worker co-ops tend to provide higher wages, good benefits, training, and career pathways, particularly in typically low-wage industries like housecleaning and home care.
 
At the eight-year old Si Se Puede, for instance, worker-owners receive 100 percent of the pay for their work — there are no agency fees or middlemen — and receive training in the use of safe, eco-friendly cleaning products.
 
Most successful co-ops provide financial returns to worker-owners, creating avenues to accumulate wealth. And because they are democratically owned and managed, they empower workers, build dignity, and inspire engagement in civic society. "There's no greater medicine for apathy and feelings of living on the edges of society than to see your own work and your voice make a difference," says the FPWA report.
 
A beacon for the burgeoning worker co-op movement in the city and across the country is Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) in the South Bronx. Founded in 1985 with 12 workers, it employs more than 2,000 people, making it the nation's largest worker co-op and a significant driver of employment in the Bronx. Wages and benefits for CHCA home care aides have increased more than 40 percent in the past five years, and turnover is 15 percent, compared with more than 60 percent for the industry overall.
 
New York is also home to several dozen young worker co-ops, mostly in immigrant communities. Occupy Sandy — an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street that mobilized to aid cleanup in the Rockaways after Superstorm Sandy — has seized on co-op development as an important growth strategy for the area, which was struggling even before the storm. The group has partnered with The Working World, a nonprofit organization that provides investment capital and technical assistance to co-ops, to incubate worker co-ops in the area, particularly in the large Central American community.
 
A bakery and a construction co-op have launched, and three more co-ops — juice bar, landscaping, and screen printing — are in development, said Pablo Benson, a consultant for Worker-Owned Rockaway Cooperatives.
 
"A huge component of the long-term recovery effort is to help develop a more democratic form of economic redevelopment," he said. "It's remarkable what can be unleashed when people have the power to make decisions."
 

Building a Worker-Owned Innovation Economy

Tucked between the steep mountains and rugged coast of northern Spain, a vast network of worker-owned businesses is producing everything from electric cars to advanced robotics. It's also inspiring equitable growth strategies in low-income neighborhoods in the United States, from Cleveland, Ohio, to Richmond, California.

Mondragon Corporation is a network of over 100 worker-owned cooperatives and businesses with nearly $20 billion in revenue and 74,000 employees. Its home province, where the corporation employs one in 14 workers, is an economic driver for the nation, and has the highest per capita income in the country. Mondragon is an impressive business model to build an equitable innovation economy.

Economic resilience in action

Growth and innovation have been central to Mondragon’s mission and success, but for reasons different from most companies. “Our purpose is to create wealth and jobs in society. Work with dignity, this is the goal,” said Mikel Lezamiz, director of cooperative dissemination at Mondragon.

Executive pay is capped at eight times that of the lowest-paid worker in the company. “And we still attract top talent,” said Lezamiz. Worker-owners are involved in major decisions in their companies, and annual profits are distributed among them. Wages before profit sharing for entry-level workers are roughly equal to industry averages, according to Mondragon.

The bulk of Mondragon’s companies are in advanced industrial manufacturing and services. The corporation also runs a major local bank, a national grocery store chain, several vocational schools and universities, and over a dozen research and development centers. While headquartered in a small town in the Basque region of Spain, the corporation generates over half of its jobs outside of the region, including a growing number of manufacturing subsidiaries around the globe (at present, 122 plants employing 12,000 workers, who are not worker-owners).

Solidarity across the businesses has allowed most workers, if not the companies themselves, to weather the economic crisis that has crippled much of Spain. Unemployment in the area is less than half that for the rest of Spain. And when staffing at one company needs to be reduced, the cooperatives help each other place workers in job openings elsewhere. During the recent recession, over 1,000 workers in struggling cooperatives were moved to jobs in more stable ones, according to Lezamiz.

However, businesses are not immune to exposure to risk. Last year, Mondragon’s first and oldest cooperative, a household appliance manufacturer that was hard hit by the housing foreclosure crisis, filed for bankruptcy, threatening the jobs and investments of 1,800 worker-owners. The cooperative group is trying to relocate affected workers to other cooperatives.

Humanity at work

Mondragon’s slogan — “humanity at work” — is a marriage of its social justice roots and business smarts. It represents a business model that places workers as the strongest asset of a company, not a cost to be minimized. A growing number of American business leaders are recognizing the competitive advantage this approach can bring to companies, particularly ones competing in a global marketplace.

In practice, at Mondragon, this means a commitment to worker-owner participation at the highest levels of governance. Members meet annually to set the overall direction and mission of the business group, and they elect representatives to the governing council that oversees management of the businesses. All members are given full access to internal financial documents of their companies, and time during work to read through them and discuss with co-workers.

It also means a strong investment in education. Mondragon runs three community colleges and a university that offer degrees in engineering, cooperative business, humanities, and more. Students from low-income families get preference for scholarships and access to jobs to make it more affordable for them to attend, according to Lezamiz.

Spreading the model

Fifty years ago, Mondragon began with a technical school and one small factory. Soon after, they started a local bank to keep workers’ wealth in the community and reinvest it in new cooperative ventures. Today, the bank has over $32 billion in assets.

This is perhaps the greatest lesson from Mondragon. What began as a tiny venture 50 years ago is today a global powerhouse. And this was accomplished by building community wealth and maintaining a commitment to worker dignity and empowerment. In recent years, Mondragon staff have worked to spread their business model to new places, including in the formation of the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, Ohio, an initiative in Richmond, California to start several worker co-ops, and a new partnership with the United Steelworkers to develop a union-cooperative model. If these projects can replicate Mondragon’s success, they may become important drivers of an equitable economy in the United States.

In June 2014, Angela Glover Blackwell, Anita Hairston, and Chris Schildt from PolicyLink traveled to Bilbao, Spain, to participate in a German Marshall Fund summit on urban transformation, and visited Mondragon Corporation headquarters in Gipuzkoa Province, Spain. To learn more about the German Marshall Fund summit, read this blog post.

Collective Courage: Jessica Gordon Nembhard on Black Economic Solidarity

Worker cooperatives and other cooperative enterprises can spur neighborhood revitalization and equitable, sustainable growth. That's because they create meaningful jobs and build community wealth while grooming local leaders and inspiring democratic participation. So argues scholar and activist Jessica Gordon Nembhard, whose new book, Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, reveals the rich, hidden history of African American cooperatives. The 30,000 co-ops in the United States today have helped create 2.1 million jobs and contributed more than $150 billion to our total income, according to a study from the University of Wisconsin. In an interview with America's Tomorrow, Gordon Nembhard explains how the lessons of the past can foster an even stronger, more inclusive cooperative movement.

Let's start with basics: what is a cooperative?

It's an enterprise, a business model, based on a set of values and principles that are grounded in economic democratic participation. It's about supplying and supporting economic activity based on need, not based on profit, and about building assets that will stay in the community, because it is owned by the community.

How can co-ops advance community revitalization and build a stronger economy?

Cooperatives address problems created by market failures, discrimination, and underdevelopment. They help people collectively to get the goods and services they need that they can't get anywhere else or that they can get only under inferior conditions. For example, many African Americans started credit unions because banks wouldn't serve them or charged unfairly high interest rates. Co-ops are a way for groups that have faced discrimination to gain some amount of economic stability, and from there you are in a much stronger position to gain political and civil rights. Fannie Lou Hammer said you can't have civil rights if you don't have economic independence, and that's still true today.

The biggest problem is that people don't know enough about this model. We're all brought up to operate as individuals and to compete individually. But the problems we face are too big to solve individually. Cooperatives are a way for people to come together, to pool together what they do have to get something for their community, for themselves and their families. You get all these interlocking benefits, more dignity of work, more connection to the community, social and human capital development, in addition to a viable business that is stabilizing a community.

How far back can African American co-ops be traced?

I began my research by reading W.E.B Du Bois. He wrote a book in 1907, Economic Cooperation among Negro Americans. He starts reporting about enslaved people working together to save enough money to buy somebody out of slavery, or to do a community garden so that they all can get some extra vegetables and fresh food to eat. And the roots of collective action and pooling of resources go back even further. Every society, every group in the world through history has used some form of economic cooperation. To say it came only from a European tradition, which I sometimes hear, is unfair and untrue.

But what is true is that this work — actually doing alternative economics in black and other communities — was always very dangerous work, which is why I titled this book "Collective Courage." I've documented how there was physical violence and many times there was economic sabotage against these businesses. I often found instances of people getting killed, co-ops being burned down, commercial banks not lending or providing financial services to these businesses.

You describe hundreds of fascinating examples of African American cooperative activity through the centuries.

Right. I thought this book would take two years and I'd find maybe 10 examples. Fifteen years and hundreds of examples later, I'm still finding new information. I didn't expect that I would find such a rich history of African American cooperatives and cooperative activity, from slavery times to today. And I found that in each of these periods, there were black organizations that were deliberately promoting co-ops. So in the 1880s it was integrated unions, like the Knights of Labor, and black organizations like the Colored Farmers' National Alliance and Co-operative Union. In the 1930s and 40s it was the Young Negroes Cooperative League — which had Ella Jo Baker as the executive director — and the Ladies Auxiliary to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, led by Halena Wilson, with support from A. Philip Randolph. And then in the 1960s and 70s, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party started cooperatives; and the major civil rights organizations created the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which is still around today promoting cooperative development in the South.

In each of these periods, having strong black organizations that were deliberately doing co-ops seems to have really made a difference. And today, we have a resurgence of cooperatives, especially worker cooperatives, among immigrant communities, young people, and people of color. And again, this is being led by strong organizations, like the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, which I helped to start 10 years ago. People also start cooperatives during bad economic times, such as during the Great Depression and during the Great Recession.

What surprised you the most in doing this research?

One of the biggest surprises for me was how many black leaders were actually talking about and creating co-ops, but that's not what they were famous for. W.E.B Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph, Marcus Garvey, Ella Jo Baker, and others all spoke or wrote about, and were involved in black cooperatives and democratic ownership. African American cooperatives grew side by side with the European American cooperative movement, and grew side by side with the long civil rights movement.

Ten years ago, I'd go to co-op gatherings and find very few black people in the room. Urban African Americans felt like the co-op movement had nothing to offer them and was not relevant to them. I still get people who tell me that blacks don't have this tradition, that this is not an indigenous model. Part of my work is to remind African Americans of our long and strong history of cooperative economic activity. And once they hear some of the examples I've researched, people start to realize that this is in their own family history, and start sending me stories of their aunts or grandparents who were involved in a co-op.

Tell us about a cooperative that's around today.

One of my favorite examples is about a 25-year-old co-op, Cooperative Home Care Associates in the South Bronx. It was started by a nonprofit with the purpose of giving low-skilled women, mostly black and Latina women, much better jobs. There are over 1,000 worker-owners today, and they provide themselves with health care, good pay, a matched savings programs, and annual dividends. They really galvanized the home care industry throughout the city to get better wages for everybody and to provide better training and job-ladder support.

What's needed to advance cooperative development?

First is education. We really need more people to just understand the option, understand the model. We need to be teaching it to kids in middle school and high school. Second, we need more financing, especially if we want to do co-ops with low-income people. We need bridge loans, start-up funds, and grants; we have to educate and interest the funding community, whether it's foundations or municipalities or workforce development programs. Third, what we need is strong, uniform co-op laws. Some states have great co-op laws. Some states have none. For example, you can't license a worker co-op through Mississippi state law. We need to fix that.

What's next for you?

My book came out less than a month ago, but I have many more stories and materials that didn't fit in the first volume, and I am learning more every day. So I'm working on volume two.

To learn more about starting or supporting cooperatives in your community, go to the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives , the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, and Grassroots Economic Organizing Newsletter.

Read the rest of the May 7, 2014 America’s Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model issue.

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