California Needs to Do More to Advance Climate Justice

Tomorrow launches a week of global action and gatherings to deepen commitment and accelerate action to tackle climate change. Around the world, indigenous people, frontline communities, and their allies, will be gathering in thousands of cities and towns to demand that our leaders commit to building a fossil free world that puts people and justice before profits.

This call to action comes at a critical time for California, which is why PolicyLink will be joining partners in our home state to Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice! While California has been lifted up as a leader on climate policy and inclusion, the reality is that for low-income communities and communities of color, we have a long way to go to deliver on equity and ensure that all Californian’s can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.

Today, approximately one third of our state’s residents, more than 14 million people who are disproportionately of color, are living at or below 200 percent of the poverty level. By just about every health indicator (asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity) communities of color fare worse than their white counterparts. For decades studies have told us that people of color are disproportionately exposed to harmful air pollution and a recent national study found that the pollution exposure disparity between White and non-white communities in California is among the starkest in the nation. In fact, a report by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessmentfound that one in three Latinos and African Americans live in census tracks ranked as having the highest pollution burden and vulnerability in California. In contrast one in 14 Whites live in these census tracts.

These disparities are not accidental. They are the result of historic and ongoing racial bias and discrimination in policy and practice that have segregated people of color in communities that lack the basic characteristics of a healthy place, have cut individuals and entire communities off from economic opportunity, and have used our political and justice systems to isolate and criminalize people of color.

Climate change, and the devastating impact it is already having on low-income communities and communities of color is another manifestation of these structural inequities. While California has made some important strides in addressing climate change we have not done enough to ensure that our policies advance equity and climate justice. It is time for California to step up to this challenge.

  • Transition to 100 Percent Renewable Energy. California has led the nation in its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, our state institutions continue to put forward policies, investments, and programs that perpetuate our dependence on fossil fuels. The time for fossil fuels is over. For too long our communities and our planet have suffered the negative consequences of fossil fuel extraction, refining, transport, burning, and disposal. California needs to join Indigenous and environmental justice leaders to accelerate a full transition to a fossil free clean energy future.
     
  • Build Community Resilience. Reducing carbon emissions is critical to slowing and minimizing the impact of climate change but climate change is already here, and low-income communities and communities of color are suffering the consequences. California needs to move beyond thinking about climate adaptation as disaster recovery and needs to tackle the systematic and structural inequities our communities experience. This will require significant, immediate, and sustained investment of public resources to reduce social, economic, and health disparities and ensure that all communities have the physical infrastructure, social institutions, and economic opportunities required to thrive before, after, and despite climate change impacts.
     
  • Ground Solutions in Community LeadershipThe people closest to our State’s challenges have the solutions to solve them. When the voice, wisdom, and experience of impacted communities drive policymaking processes, profound transformations happen. Policymakers need to partner with impacted communities to eliminate the climate gap and secure a future where all can flourish.

Join us in San Francisco tomorrow, or in your own community, as we call on our elected leaders to commit to a just and fair transition to 100 percent renewable energy.

The Next Chapter for PolicyLink Begins

Today marks the official beginning of the next chapter in the PolicyLink story as Michael McAfee becomes the new President and CEO of PolicyLink. As Founder in Residence, Angela Glover Blackwell will continue to serve as a resource to the organization and the national equity movement.

"I'm honored and excited by the opportunity to lead this talented organization at such a critical moment in history, and I'm deeply humbled to follow Angela, who has been the guiding light and force behind the national equity movement for decades," says McAfee. "I'm eager to build on the many successes of PolicyLink and to work with our partners to make racial and economic equity a reality for every person living in America."

"Today marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for me and for PolicyLink," states Glover Blackwell. "I'm looking forward to having time to write, speak, and pursue new equity endeavors under Michael's fresh and inspirational leadership."

Join us in celebrating this exciting time for PolicyLink. Connect with
@PolicyLink, @mikemcafee06, and @agb4equity on Twitter or Facebook, and sign up for our issue-based emails.

For more information, read the full press release.

Baltimore Reckons with Its Racist Past—and Present

Crossposted from The American Prospect


Just over a century ago, in 1911, the Baltimore city council adopted the first residential segregation law in the country, forbidding black people from living in predominantly white neighborhoods. Though the Supreme Court ruled such policies unconstitutional seven years later, the consequences of the law, as well as the consequences of subsequent racist policies and practices like redlining, the displacement of black families, and mass incarceration remain. Today, Baltimore is one of the most segregated cities in the nation, where black residents make up a majority of the population but do worse than the average black American—and far worse than the average white Baltimore resident—on almost every measure of general well-being.

But over the past decade, Baltimore and other city governments have taken active steps to reverse the centuries of inequality that remain embedded in policy and practice. After all, if inequality was written into law, can’t it be written out?

Last week, Baltimore’s Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh signaled that she would sign two bills that would incorporate racial equity practices into city government. One bill requires agencies to assess the equity of proposed and current policies and address disparities, while the other allows voters to decide in November whether an equity fund will be established in the city charter. Such a fund would provide money to projects fighting racism. The legislation received unanimous support from the city council, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Read the rest of the article in The American Prospect>>>

Guiding Principles for Opportunity Zones

As the U.S. Treasury Department begins the process of implementing Opportunity Zones under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, it is essential that Opportunity Zones and Opportunity Funds benefit low-income residents and small businesses within the Zones — protecting the interests of those most susceptible to displacement that too often result from private investment.
 
Investments in Opportunity Zones should improve the lives of people living in or near poverty within the Zones, and allow all residents to fully participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Using the following recommendations, city and state officials, equity advocates, philanthropic leaders, investors, and developers can ensure that investments are equitable and help prevent displacement.

We also encourage you to send your governor and/or the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury a letter to urging them to adopt these recommendations to ensure that investments in Opportunity Zones benefit low-income community residents.

Counting a Diverse Nation — Disaggregating Racial/Ethnic Data to Advance Health Equity

How we measure America's rapidly expanding diversity has critical implications for the health of the nation. Too often, the data used to drive policymaking, allocate resources, and combat health disparities is based on broad racial and ethnic categories that can render the unique needs, strengths, and life experiences of many communities invisible.

That is why PolicyLink is excited to release Counting a Diverse Nation: Disaggregating Data on Race and Ethnicity to Advance a Culture of Health, a multifaceted investigation that explores the leading issues and opportunities of racial/ethnic data disaggregation, and its implications for advancing health equity. The report provides a comprehensive assessment of racial and ethnic data disaggregation practices today, and concrete recommendations for improving research methods and promoting government policies that enhance and enable data disaggregation in the future.

READ THE FULL REPORT AND RELATED MATERIALS

Findings and recommendations in the report encompass two areas:

  • Best practices for collecting and analyzing data about race and ethnicity at more detailed levels, including research innovations and special considerations for studying marginalized populations;
  • Government policies and practices that can enhance and enable data disaggregation, including recent campaigns and policy wins across the nation that are supporting increased representation across racial, ethnic, and cultural identities.

Developed as part of a multiphase project commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the report reflects two years of collaborative research and input among a diverse set of experts, demographers, practitioners, decision makers, and advocates. Reviews by these researchers of the state of data disaggregation for each major U.S. population group, along with a comparative study of seven other countries, accompany the new report

To learn more about the critical importance of disaggregating racial/ethnic data from researchers, advocates, and other experts who contributed to this report, join our upcoming webinar.

Counting a Diverse Nation: Disaggregating Data on Race and Ethnicity to Advance a Culture of Health and Equity

Tuesday, September 11
9:00 - 10:00 am PT / 12:00 - 1:00 pm ET
Register Now

Featured Speakers:

  • Victor Rubin, PolicyLink (moderator)
  • Meghan Maury, National LGBTQ Task Force and National Advisory Committee to the U.S. Census Bureau 
  • Kathy Ko Chin, API American Health Forum 
  • Adrian Dominguez, Urban Indian Health Institute 
  • Tina Kauh, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 

Take Action: Oppose the Citizenship Question on the 2020 Census

The question about citizenship proposed for the 2020 Census by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would create enormous problems and result in a systematic undercount in lower income communities of color that would significantly undercut fair political representation, allocation of federal funds, and our basic understanding of who lives in the United States.

Electoral districts for all Congressional, state, and local offices would be biased for a decade, and the needs and eligibility of key population groups for federal resources would be underestimated, at a point when major demographic changes are underway across the country. Recent evidence has shown that the plan for the citizenship question was not an earnest effort to help enforce the voting rights but just the opposite: a deliberate strategy to politicize and undermine the accuracy of the Census. The lawsuits brought by human rights and civil right advocates and state governments are an important defense against the citizenship question, but the government also needs to hear from all of us!

The Commerce Department is taking public comments through August 7, and the Census Counts campaign has created an online portal through which everyone can easily submit their views. Please take a moment today to join PolicyLink and hundreds of other organizations in defense of a fair Census that counts everyone. For further information, see PolicyLink Vice President Victor Rubin’s blog post, which includes many useful resources.

PolicyLink Leadership Transition

Dear Friends:
 
While many of you have heard about the impending leadership transition at PolicyLink, I am delighted to announce to all that effective September 1, 2018, Michael McAfee will become the organization's president and CEO. An eight-year veteran of PolicyLink with a strong track record for improving the lives of vulnerable people, Michael has demonstrated radical imagination and passion for equity as well as unwavering dedication to achieve results commensurate with the nation's challenges. His leadership will help guide the equity movement to claim its power and further accelerate the implementation of a transformative solidarity agenda to establish a nation where all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.
 
Also, effective September 1, I will become PolicyLink founder in residence, working between the Oakland and New York offices. This opportunity allows me to focus on three things that I see as essential to extend the reach and power of equity. I will amplify issues of race and equity through writing, public speaking, and multimedia; consult and collaborate on strategy with partners old and new; and help nurture the next generation of leadership. While my role is changing, my life's mission continues: working with those who are trying to build a fully inclusive society.
 
Bold, stable, effective organizations are crucial for the equity movement. I humbly believe that over the years, PolicyLink has proven to be one of those institutions. When a founder leaves, partners, supporters, and friends often wonder whether the organization will survive and thrive. Emerging wisdom posits that, when carefully planned and structured, founders can remain active and present and contribute to the organization's impact. Michael and I are committed to ensuring that PolicyLink will continue to flourish and push the edge of the equity movement.
 
Twenty years ago this summer, I sat at a table with a few trusted colleagues and the first PolicyLink hires to shape an organization that would drive policy change grounded in community wisdom. We determined at the outset that PolicyLink would not shy away from long-taboo issues of race but instead confront them head-on. We would advance an exhilarating vision of an America that taps the talents of all its people instead of leaving millions behind. We would bring new frames to policy debates by articulating principles and practices based on a nuanced understanding of racial dynamics and the interconnectedness of issues affecting low-income communities and communities of color. I truly value what I have learned from the struggles, encouragement, critiques, pushbacks, and partnerships that have sharpened and honed those early ambitions. I am grateful to the thousands of partners — from local communities to philanthropy to government — who inspire and support PolicyLink and allow us to contribute.
 
Growing an organization and being a part of the equity movement has been a wild, exciting, fulfilling journey, one that I will continue to travel with you. There is so much more to accomplish.
 
ONWARD in friendship and solidarity,
 
Angela

 
 

PolicyLink Leadership Transition

(Announcement made on July 20, 2018)

While many of you have heard about the impending leadership transition at PolicyLink, I am delighted to announce to all that effective September 1, 2018, Michael McAfee will become the organization's president and CEO. An eight-year veteran of PolicyLink with a strong track record for improving the lives of vulnerable people, Michael has demonstrated radical imagination and passion for equity as well as unwavering dedication to achieve results commensurate with the nation's challenges. His leadership will help guide the equity movement to claim its power and further accelerate the implementation of a transformative solidarity agenda to establish a nation where all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.
 
Also, effective September 1, I will become PolicyLink founder in residence, working between the Oakland and New York offices. This opportunity allows me to focus on three things that I see as essential to extend the reach and power of equity. I will amplify issues of race and equity through writing, public speaking, and multimedia; consult and collaborate on strategy with partners old and new; and help nurture the next generation of leadership. While my role is changing, my life's mission continues: working with those who are trying to build a fully inclusive society.
 
Bold, stable, effective organizations are crucial for the equity movement. I humbly believe that over the years, PolicyLink has proven to be one of those institutions. When a founder leaves, partners, supporters, and friends often wonder whether the organization will survive and thrive. Emerging wisdom posits that, when carefully planned and structured, founders can remain active and present and contribute to the organization's impact. Michael and I are committed to ensuring that PolicyLink will continue to flourish and push the edge of the equity movement.
 
Twenty years ago this summer, I sat at a table with a few trusted colleagues and the first PolicyLink hires to shape an organization that would drive policy change grounded in community wisdom. We determined at the outset that PolicyLink would not shy away from long-taboo issues of race but instead confront them head-on. We would advance an exhilarating vision of an America that taps the talents of all its people instead of leaving millions behind. We would bring new frames to policy debates by articulating principles and practices based on a nuanced understanding of racial dynamics and the interconnectedness of issues affecting low-income communities and communities of color. I truly value what I have learned from the struggles, encouragement, critiques, pushbacks, and partnerships that have sharpened and honed those early ambitions. I am grateful to the thousands of partners — from local communities to philanthropy to government — who inspire and support PolicyLink and allow us to contribute.
 
Growing an organization and being a part of the equity movement has been a wild, exciting, fulfilling journey, one that I will continue to travel with you. There is so much more to accomplish.
 
ONWARD in friendship and solidarity,

-- Angela

Voices and Choices for Children Share Their Equity Summit Experience

Cross-posted from Think Small Blog and written by May Esperanza Losloso, Senior Organizer, Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota

From April 11-13, 2018, eight members of the Voices and Choices for Children Steering Committee attended the PolicyLink 2018 Equity Summit in Chicago, IL. The theme of the Summit was “Our Power, Our Future, Our Nation”.

The Equity Summit was an opportunity for members to experience the seven elements of racial equity in action, which we discussed in our first blog post. Although the Equity Summit did not focus specifically on early childhood education, all seven policy components were present throughout the summit. These 7 elements of racially equitable public policy are to:

  1.   Prioritize the needs of low-income children, children of color and American Indian children
  2.   Ensure services and programs are provided in a holistic and high quality manner
  3.   Address the full needs of a family
  4.   Invest in families and communities over time
  5.   Allow for flexibility, portability
  6.   Build on family and community assets
  7.   Hold cultural relevance and specificity as central to how services are provided

Read the full blog post>>>

Take Action to End the Incarceration of Families

We share your rage and devastation over the inhumane separation of children from their families at the nation’s borders and the proposed indefinite incarceration of immigrant families. We see your courageous resistance. We are grateful to those of you fighting to abolish oppressive immigration policies and to serve those victimized by them. And we share your burning desire to show up in solidarity with and for our immigrant families.

If you are not already engaged in advancing justice at the border, will you and your organizations join us to end these atrocities? Together we can end the incarceration of our families once and for all.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Contact Your Elected Officials: The American Immigration Lawyers Association has an online action center that directs calls, tweets, Facebook posts, and emails to members of Congress.
  • Volunteer: Many organizations in border states are actively looking for volunteers, especially if those volunteers are Spanish-speaking and have legal experience. If you’re an immigration lawyer, the Dilley Pro Bono Project (a partner in the CARA Family Detention Project) is searching for volunteers who can help represent people with their asylum screenings, bond hearings, ongoing asylum representation, and other needs. Nonlegal volunteers are needed too. Email caya@caraprobono.org to volunteer.
  • Sign These Petitions: The ACLUMoveOnCREDO, and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) have petitions to Secretary of Homeland Security Nielsen. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has a petition to President Trump.
  • Speak Up: Submit a letter to the editor or an editorial to your local newspaper about why you care about justice for immigrants and refugees.
  • Use Social Media: We Belong Together's demands for the Administration can be retweeted here. Sample tweets can be found here. For additional information and updates, follow the conversation at #FamiliesBelongTogether and #KeepFamiliesTogether.
  • Vote: Your 2018 primary election may be coming up soon. Ultimately, we need decision makers who will advance equity for all. Vote if you have the privilege to and mobilize others to join you.

Building Communities of Opportunity by Reducing Barriers to Housing

Parks. Transit. Quality schools. Safe streets. When people imagine the core infrastructure of a healthy community, these are the elements that likely come to mind. Rarely is housing part of the picture. Yet, safe, affordable housing—near good schools, parks, transit, and healthy food options—ensures that individuals can access jobs, obtain the education and training necessary to earn a living, and lead a healthy lifestyle. Increasingly, however, low-income people of color across the state are being priced out of their neighborhoods, relegated to substandard housing, and pushed into areas that lack quality community infrastructure. To ensure that all Californians have an opportunity to reach their full potential, the state must take more aggressive steps to ensure that it’s vulnerable populations have adequate housing.

California’s Housing Affordability Crisis Is Driving Displacement

California is facing an escalating housing crisis. Driven in part by enormous wealth created by the tech industry, corporate investment in local and regional housing markets, and supply constraints, housing costs have soared. At the same time, real wages have been stagnant or declined. These twin challenges – rising rents and inadequate wages – have left the state’s low-income residents and residents of color struggling to meet their housing costs. More than eight in 10 low-income households cannot afford their rent (i.e., they pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent), and close to 60 percent of Black and Latino renters have unaffordable housing costs, versus just less than half of their White counterparts.  Moreover, skyrocketing costs are spreading throughout the state, particularly in the coastal regions, leaving families with limited housing choices. In the Bay Area, for example, two minimum-wage workers can find affordable rent in just 5 percent of the region’s neighborhoods.

The lack of affordable housing options, combined with other factors like inadequate protections for tenants, are driving people out of communities. More than six of every 10 households living across 13 counties in Northern California are now at risk of displacement, according to the University of California–Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project.  In the Bay Area, cities like Oakland are underdoing extreme gentrification. 

Displacement comes with costs – longer commutes, poorer educational outcomes for children, high stress levels for families, and the loss of access to important community infrastructure. In fact, when low-income households leave their homes, they often move to lower-income, under-resourced neighborhoods. A recent study of households displaced from communities in San Mateo found that those families moved to areas with fewer health-care facilities, less jobs, and poorer air quality, substantially reducing their quality of life.

The State Must Do More to Protect Vulnerable Populations

After years of failing to address the housing crisis, in 2017 California took action to increase the supply of affordable housing. The state established a permanent source of funding for affordable housing through a new real estate transaction fee expected to generate $250 million annually and placed a $4 billion housing bond on the November 2018 ballot. 

While a good first step, these efforts, alone, are not sufficient to address the housing crisis. It may take years for projects funded by the real estate transaction fee and affordable housing bond to be built. And even if such projects could be brought on line immediately, more funding is required to meet the state’s affordable housing need.  Meanwhile, rents continue to rise and growing numbers of residents are being displaced from their communities. 

The need for additional action is especially urgent given recent changes to federal housing policy. In January, the Trump Administration effectively suspended the implementation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, and enacted corporate tax cuts that are expected to reduce funding for affordable housing and, in turn, decrease the number of new affordable units built in California by 48,000 over the next decade.  Perhaps most callously, Representative Dennis Ross recently unveiled legislation that would raise rental costs for low-wage workers receiving federal rental assistance, by $500 per month for some. 

What more should California do to ensure that all Californians have access to quality housing?

  • Strengthen tenant protections. There are a range of reforms the state could enact to enhance protections for tenants, including repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which would allow local jurisdictions to establish stronger rent control policies, and strengthening eviction protections for renters. Fortunately, several tenant protection policies will likely be voted on by the electorate and California Legislature this year, such as the Affordable Housing Act of 2018 (repeals Costa-Hawkins), AB 2343 (provides tenants with more notice before eviction proceedings can be initiated and additional time to respond to eviction complaints), AB 2925 (statewide just cause eviction), and AB 2364 (Ellis Act reforms). Policymakers and voters should support these important measures.
     
  • Prevent discrimination against especially vulnerable populations. Some populations face unique barriers to accessing safe, affordable housing.  For example, individuals with criminal records and Housing Choice Voucher holders are routinely discriminated against by housing providers.  Immigrant families, sometimes faced with the threat of deportation of family members, are also subject to mistreatment by landlords. The state should address barriers faced by these populations, by passing legislation that prevents a landlord from discriminating against voucher holders, restricting landlords’ use of criminal records in the evaluation of housing applications, and providing additional protections for immigrant families.
     
  • Support the rehabilitation of California’s aging housing stock. Due to the lack of affordable housing options, low-income Californians are often forced into substandard, aging, unhealthy housing. Unhealthy conditions found in hazardous housing can lead to cancer, lead poisoning, and mold-related conditions likes asthma, resulting in missed school days and poor school performance for children, as well as missed work days for parents.  The state should work to improve the condition of existing housing for low-income Californians by providing more resources for rehabilitation, strengthening local jurisdictions’ capacity to enforce their housing codes, and passing innovative policies like proactive inspections.
     
  • Facilitate the construction and preservation of affordable housing. California needs 1.5 million additional units to satisfy the demand for affordable housing. To meet the need, the state should work to preserve existing affordable housing, support community land trusts and other tools that facilitate community control of housing, and significantly increase the state’s investment in the creation of new affordable units. Several policy proposals pending this year would provide additional funding for affordable housing, including the Veterans and Affordable Housing Bond Act of 2018, which would provide $3 billion in funding for affordable housing, and SB 912 (Beall), which would provide another $1 billion for affordable housing.  In addition, legislators have requested a state budget allocation of $2.5 billion to support affordable housing and homelessness programs.

Resources

Leveraging California’s Transportation Investments to Achieve Triple Bottom Line Return

At all levels of government the transportation infrastructure sector comprises one of the largest arenas of public spending.  In California, state transportation dollars are estimated to grow more than $20 billion in 2018-19, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office 2018-19 Budget Report.  This is in part due to the recent passage of SB 1 (Beall), the Road Repair and Accountability Act, which increases our transportation funding by $54 billion over the next decade for “fix it first” highway and road projects, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, public transit, and other uses. With many new transportation projects underway in California, and more on the horizon, now is the time to leverage these massive investments to achieve triple bottom line returns and maximize positive mobility, safety, and economic outcomes throughout the state.

Transportation plays a powerful role in shaping access to opportunity and creating healthy, socially vibrant communities. The type and location of projects that our state and regional transportation agencies choose to fund directly determine whether communities are able to access critical amenities and resources and breathe clean air, which impacts the health and productivity of all residents.

With the passage of SB 1, California has taken an important step to provide much needed resources for public transit and active transportation, and target planning dollars to our communities of highest need.  California should build on this momentum by further aligning state transportation programs with equitable investment goals and prioritizing the mobility and safety needs of low-income people of color living in neighborhoods that lack adequate transit service and basic pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. State investments should also be mandating strong public participation requirements to ensure that resources are supporting projects that provide meaningful, effective transportation solutions to community identified priorities, and to ensure that displacement, increased traffic pollution, and other harmful impacts, are avoided.  This is especially important as SB 1 contains a harmful provision that exempts diesel trucks from stronger air quality regulations, allowing them to continue polluting in communities already overburdened by poor air quality.

New investments in transportation infrastructure also provide an opportunity to bring important economic benefits  to disinvested communities in the form of workforce development, well-paying jobs and contracting opportunities. As low-income communities and people of color continue to struggle with persistent poverty and high levels of unemployment, the state can and should do more to target transportation jobs and careers to individuals facing multiple barriers to employment. SB 1 includes an annual investment of $5 million for pre-apprenticeship programs that focus on the recruitment of people of color and disadvantaged youth, which will support their preparation and pathway into apprenticeships and other credential attainment programs.  While this is a critical on-ramp to good paying jobs in the construction industry, the real economic impact of these workforce investments won’t be fully realized unless we ensure that these same communities are connected to the employment opportunities that are created from building, operating, and maintaining our transportation system. This is critical for strengthening our families and neighborhoods, and boosting regional economies through the increased purchasing power of women and men who secure and maintain employment.  It also comes at a time when we need California to assert leadership and commitment toward equitable employment outcomes and protect against the current federal administration’s decision to eliminate the Department of Transportation Local Hire Pilot program in 2017.

To increase job access in the transportation sector for those that need it the most, the state should prioritize projects that employ effective strategies for recruiting, training, and hiring local, low-income, underemployed, and underrepresented youth and adults such as community workforce agreements, project labor agreements with targeted hire commitments, and partnerships with community based training programs. An additional component that a targeted hire policy should address is the widespread racial discrimination and implicit biases in hiring that exists throughout our institutions. Based on the demographic breakdown of many jurisdictions, specific populations, including the African American community, are often underrepresented in industries such as construction, even when workers have successfully completed their training programs. Therefore, these policies must include criteria and/or a status for underrepresented workers to ensure that the workers who are recruited and hired reflect the workforces of our regions.  Lastly, in order to foster strong accountability and ongoing monitoring of these policies, they should require a minimum of 30 percent of the work hours to be performed by individuals with barriers to employment, and robust project reporting data on worker demographic information and job quality.

California has an opportunity to lead the nation in advancing a more equitable public infrastructure system that ensures everyone has the resources and supports they need to contribute and thrive.  By taking advantage of our state’s enormous transportation arena to achieve multiple benefits in all communities, we can secure a future of shared prosperity.

Resources:

California’s Infrastructure Needs a Makeover for a Climate Resilient Future

The science is clear. Our climate is changing. In California, we are already feeling the impacts of climate change in the form of more regular and longer lasting droughts, flooding, wildfires, higher temperatures, and impacts on our fisheries, forests, wildlife, and other natural resources. As global temperatures continue to rise, all Californians will feel the impacts. However, communities of color and low-income communities, those who have born the negative consequences of our fossil fuel economy, will be hit first and worst by climate change.

This fact has serious implications for our state’s future.  While the United States is projected to become majority people of color by 2042, California hit that mark decades ago. To secure an equitable and prosperous future for California, implementing strategies that allow our communities to thrive—even in the face of a changing climate—is critical.

As our earlier blog noted, smart, targeted investments in infrastructure can build community resilience by expanding economic opportunity, improving community health, and connecting people to critical services.  Unfortunately, California’s infrastructure is crumbling, and we need significant investments over the next decade to repair, upgrade, and expand our infrastructure. Last year, state lawmakers committed to getting started by making new investments in transportation, climate infrastructure, and housing. This year, the legislature and voters are considering a range of proposals that would create another set of investments in water, parks, and housing. While this represents a fraction of what is necessary, they present real opportunities to innovate and think about how we build infrastructure that can physically withstand climate change, and, lift up disinvested communities so that they are able to thrive even as our climate changes. So, how do we make sure we take advantage of this opportunity? In addition to the principles we outlined earlier this week, here are four ideas that we think are important:

 1. Include Impacted Communities in Infrastructure Decision Making from Planning to Completion

Frontline communities have been left out of the conversations and decision-making around the planning and designing of their own communities, leaving their destinies to the often discriminatory and profit-driven practices of corporations and government representatives who have little knowledge of their unique challenges and needs. As a result, these communities and their members are left fighting for their right to live healthy and free from pollution with access to opportunity. To begin reconciling this, California should ensure that low-income people, communities of color, and other populations that are vulnerable to climate change are provided with meaningful opportunities to shape infrastructure decisions that will impact their lives. Furthermore, California should provide direction and resources to local and regional agencies on integrating climate justice in planning efforts, policy development and implementation, and distribution of resources with an emphasis on intentionally engaging and including frontline communities throughout the process. Ensuring early, continuous, and meaningful participation in the development of policy and funding decisions will lead to more thoughtful, effective, long-term solutions.  
 

  1. Promote Interagency Coordination to Build Climate Resilience

In Built to Last: Challenges and Opportunities for Climate-Smart Infrastructure in California, our partners at the Union of Concerned Scientists note that the overarching challenge to California effectively supporting a climate resilient future is that we do not currently have a state level body dedicated to addressing this problem and providing coordination, data, and technical support to other state agencies as well as to local and regional agencies. To address this, they recommend that California should establish a well-resourced center that provides agency staff with actionable climate related information and guidance that is updated regularly. The center would serve in a coordinating role, would respond to requests for technical assistance, provide support to state agencies working to incorporate climate resilience in their programs and decisions. Finally, the center could serve as a resource to local agencies and technical assistance providers working with communities to develop resilience strategies. Establishing a centralized hub of information and capacity would strengthen a network of climate resilience advocates, nonprofits, government agencies, and policymakers to ensure a coordinated effort towards climate resilient communities across the state.  
 

  1. Conduct Vulnerability Assessments

We know that low-income communities and communities of color will be hurt first and worst by climate change. However, California does not currently have a clear picture of how different communities will be impacted by climate change, where infrastructure investments can increase community resilience, or where existing infrastructure may be prone to failure. To prepare for the future, California should take the recommendations of the Climate Justice Working Group and conduct regional cross sector vulnerability assessments that:

    • Identify and prioritize climate change related threats to the region’s frontline communities.
    • Assess how existing critical infrastructure and public services will handle changing conditions, and how the state can develop new and strengthen existing infrastructure and services to enhance climate resilience.
    • Provide direction and resources, such as funding and capacity building, to local and regional agencies on integrating climate justice in planning efforts, policy development and implementation, and distribution of resources.
    • Ensure these local and regional agencies are also engaging frontline communities in their research, planning, implementation, and decision-making.
       
  1. Build Infrastructure to Withstand the Impacts of Climate Change

It seems obvious, but building infrastructure that can actually withstand the effects of climate change is important to making sure money is well spent and making sure the infrastructure functions when disasters hit. Government agencies, utilities, investors, and other infrastructure decisionmakers typically do not include climate related cost and benefit information when evaluating infrastructure investments and infrastructure codes and standards frequently do not consider what the science tells us about our changing climate. This omission results in projects that are ill-equipped for longer-term climate stressors, and is a missed opportunity to avoid damages and maximize cost and risk saving. State and local governments and agencies should update their assessments and standards to better integrate climate risk considerations, as well as the benefits and opportunities of climate-smart projects. These changes should incorporate the latest climate data and technology and should be done with an eye towards protecting our most vulnerable residents. This will ensure sound decision-making and will result in projects that will continue to serve us for many decades to come. 

From the current President’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, to attacks on the EPA, and the intensifying effects of climate related natural disasters, there is barrage of challenges to building climate resilient communities and infrastructure.  However, California is already positioned as a global leader on climate change and has a major opportunity to capitalize on the advancements we have made to date. But we must demand climate smart planning and decision-making from our state and local policymakers. Climate smart improvements to our state's infrastructure are long overdue and will provide the literal foundations for our communities to not only survive, but thrive, in the face of a changing climate.

Investing in Water Infrastructure Now is Critical for California's Future

For decades community leaders and environmental justice advocates have worked to bring attention to the water problems impacting low-income communities and communities of color across California. Together they have secured significant water equity wins. In 2012, California became the first state to establish the human right to water.  Substantial new investments have been made to expand access to safe and affordable drinking water. And new requirements have been established to ensure that local planning processes identify water infrastructure deficits in disadvantaged communities and develop strategies to address these deficits.

Despite these important wins, our work is far from done. Over one million Californians live in communities that do not have reliable access to safe drinking water. Many live in places where the cost of water is so high that residents are forced to forgo spending on other critical household needs in order to pay their water bill.  Children attend schools where their drinking water is contaminated with lead.  The availability and quality of our drinking water resources are increasingly impacted by the changing climate.

And drinking water is not the only water challenge low-income communities and communities of color are facing. Dams, water management practices, changing water temperatures due to climate change, and a host of other factors are decimating California’s fisheries—impacting the livelihoods, food sources, and cultural traditions of Native American communities who have managed these natural resources for thousands of years. Climate change induced flooding and sea level rise threaten people’s homes and their lives. Failing or completely absent wastewater treatment systems are causing public health and economic impacts for households and communities.

We have a lot to take care of and investing in our water infrastructure now is critical to begin tackling these problems. While California has a history of leading the nation on protecting its’ natural resources, applying this leadership is more important than ever. The Trump administration has demonstrated over and over their desire to unravel the national Clean Water Act, promote privatization of our water resources and management systems, reopen our coastline to offshore oil drilling, and defund key programs that fund water infrastructure.

To protect what we have already accomplished and secure water equity for all Californian’s it is critical that Californians, and our elected leaders, step up. Fortunately, there are some important things California can do now to secure our water future.  

  • State legislators are considering a variety of important proposals that would address critical water infrastructure challenges for low-income communities and communities of color.
    • SB 623 (Monning) would establish the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, a permanent source of funding for safe and affordable drinking water. Water justice advocates and state water agencies have been calling for this for years. The fund would provide grants to address critical operations and maintenance needs, fund repair and replacement of failing drinking water infrastructure, provide technical assistance, conduct lead pipe replacement, consolidate water systems, and other projects designed to secure long-term safe drinking water for all.
    • AB 1215 (Hertzberg) would bring much needed sewer service to communities that do not have adequate service by facilitating service extension and consolidation of service providers where it makes sense.
    • Advocates are asking for a $23.5 million budget allocation to address emergency drinking water needs.
       
  • Voters can support proposition 68, a bond proposal that is on the June ballot. If passed, $4 billion dollars in bond revenues would be invested in water, parks, and natural resources. Unlike many bonds of the past, proposition 68 includes a significant focus on investing in our most disadvantaged communities.
     
  • California voters and California leaders can also support Rep Keith Ellison’s federal Clean Water Act of 2018, H.R. 5609. The bill would invest $35 billion each year in water infrastructure and clean water programs, and target important resources to communities with clean water violations.

Six years ago, California set a national precedent by recognizing the Human Right to Water.  It’s time to deliver on that promise by addressing the water infrastructure needs of low-income people and people of color across our state.

Additional Resources:

National Infrastructure Week: Equitable Infrastructure Investments Can Transform Low-Income Communities and Communities of Color

At PolicyLink, we know that smart, targeted, equitable investments in infrastructure can have a transformative impact on low-income communities and communities of color. That’s why we are excited to join equity infrastructure advocates in California, and throughout the nation, for National Infrastructure Week—a time to collectively garner more public awareness and advocacy to support increased investments in infrastructure.

This week we will be posting a new blog each weekday exploring infrastructure equity in our home state of California. We encourage you to share our blog posts with your network and follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #Build4Equity. Also, join the Union of Concerned Scientists and PolicyLink for a twitter chat on Wednesday, May 16 @ 12 pm PT/ 3 pm ET. The discussion will focus on the role of climate smart infrastructure in building community resilience, advancing climate justice, and fostering an inclusive economy. Register today and follow the chat on twitter at #Build4Resilience.

California’s changing demographics and the need for equitable growth

Over the last several decades California has undergone a radical demographic change. Today, people of color represent over 60 percent of all Californians. Because youth are at the forefront of this demographic transformation, there is a racial generation gap between old and young: 62 percent of Californians over age 65 are White, and 73 percent of those under age 18 are of color. Today’s elders and decision makers are not investing in the same educational systems and community infrastructure that enabled their own success. This investment gap puts all of California’s children—and the state’s economy—at risk. A growing body of research tells us that inequality is not only bad for those at the bottom of the income spectrum but subsequently puts everyone’s economic future at risk. Greater income equality contributes to more sustained economic growth and to more robust growth. California’s ability to maintain its leadership in the global economy hinges on its ability to remove barriers and create the conditions that allow all to flourish.

Investing in California’s Future

Unfortunately, California is not doing well. Our state has some of the highest income inequality in the nation and 14 million Californians—over 36 percent of our population and disproportionately people of color—live at or near the poverty level in communities that frequently lack the basic infrastructure of a healthy place. Decades of disinvestment, deeply entrenched patterns of discrimination, and a host of tax and land use laws affecting development patterns have isolated residents of these communities from quality opportunity and services, exposing them to environmental harms, and ultimately shortened lifespans.

Infrastructure is vital for sustaining and reinforcing community. The networks, roads, schools, drinking water, sewer systems, facilities, and properties that comprise public infrastructure define neighborhoods, cities, and regions. Unfortunately, too many Californians live in communities where critical infrastructure is deteriorating or is completely lacking. Residents of these infrastructure deficient places may be unable to access safe and affordable drinking water or wastewater treatment services; connect to good schools and jobs; benefit from libraries, health-care facilities, and emergency services; or safely walk, bike, or play in their neighborhoods. Over the next 10 years, an estimated $750 billion is needed to upgrade and repair our existing facilities and meet the needs of our growing population. While this problem is affecting the entire state, the duel burden of poor infrastructure choices in the past, and insufficient investment in infrastructure for the future falls heaviest on low-income communities and communities of color—the very people who constitute most of our population.

Recently, California has begun to get serious about tackling our infrastructure problems by dedicating new funding to transportation, climate infrastructure, water, schools, and housing. However, in most instances, equity has not been sufficiently incorporated into these discussions or woven into policies and programs. To ensure that our infrastructure investments contribute to a future of shared prosperity we must make sure our investments are guided by principles that expand equity for our most disinvested people and places. Here are four recommendations that can set us in the right direction.

Recommendations:

  • Choose strategies that promote equity and growth simultaneously. Equity and growth have traditionally been pursued separately, but the reality is that both are needed to secure California’s future. The winning strategies are those that maximize job creation while promoting health, resilience, and economic opportunity for low-income workers and communities of color.
  • Target programs and investments to the people and places most left behind. Public resources must be spent wisely. Focusing the state’s programs and investments on climate smart infrastructure that upliftsthe low-income families and communities that have been left behind will produce the greatest returns.
  • Assess equity impacts at every stage of the policy process. As the policy process begins, and throughout, ask who will bene­fit, who will pay, and who will decide; and adjust decisions and policies as needed to ensure equitable impacts.
  • Ensure meaningful community participation, voice, and leadership. California’s new majority needs avenues for participating in all aspects of the political process—from the basic act of voting to serving on boards and commissions to being elected as state leaders. Recognizing historical and ongoing patterns of exclusion and being intentional about establishing transparent processes for low-income communities and communities of color to meaningfully shape infrastructure decisions will lead to better programs and projects.

A half-century ago, California set a precedent for investing in its future—and succeeding. Under the leadership of Republican Governor Earl Warren and Democratic Governor Pat Brown, the state built a world-class education system and infrastructure that enabled a poor, uneducated population to create the world’s ninth largest economy. Bold leadership is needed to build the next economy, and having an equitable and inclusive society results in shared prosperity.

There’s No Need for A Citizenship Question in the Next Census

The announcement by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross that the 2020 Census will agree to the Justice Department’s request and add a question about citizenship is wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to track them all.  The Constitutionally-mandated responsibility of the decennial census is to count all residents, regardless of citizenship, and actions that would interfere with doing that as thoroughly as possible undercut that grave responsibility. 

A question about citizenship would discourage participation in the Census and lead to systematic undercounting of residents and an incomplete, biased picture of who lives in the United States. The consequences of such an undercount would be dire, skewing political representation and the allocation of federal funds. The undercount would affect immigrant communities of color in particular. For example, as the First Focus Campaign for Children put it, “For Hispanic children, the problem of being undercounted is exacerbated by a recent decision from the Department of Commerce to add a question on citizenship in the 2020 census. Coupling this announcement with aggressive and cruel immigration enforcement tactics currently being undertaken by the Trump administration, the expectation becomes a dramatically reduced participation rate from immigrant and mixed status families who fear the negative repercussions of revealing their immigration status.”

Advocates for an accurate, complete, and fair Census are used to raising their voices to push for more resources to be devoted to outreach, not to warding off bad, inflammatory proposals. But in reacting swiftly to this misguided and cynical step, they have the facts, the Constitution, and the nonpartisan importance of unbiased data on their side. There is no need for a citizenship question in the decadal Census to enforce the Voting Rights Act, as the Justice Department has claimed. There is great risk in adding an untested question at this late stage, jeopardizing years of preparation. We support the lawsuits being filed by several states and other parties and the movement to push Congress to reverse this plan. 

For further information about these efforts, see the following sources:

 

NY Federal Reserve's Search for President Deeply Flawed. Luckily, There's Still Time to Listen to Public and Restart the Process.

If recent reports regarding the selection of the next New York Federal Reserve president are true, the New York Fed Board's failure to listen to the public is deeply disappointing. Community groups, labor unions, and elected officials at the local, state, and federal level were clear about what they wanted: an open and transparent process with significant public involvement that results in someone who prioritizes full employment, is an effective regulator of large financial institutions, and represents the diversity of the district. 

These requests have apparently been ignored, and the consequences could be devastating for the over 100 million Americans who are economically insecure and striving to access quality jobs and rising wages.

The president of the New York Fed has tremendous influence on economic policy in part because that leader gets a permanent seat on the committee that votes on interest rates. John Williams, the presumptive new president, has underestimated maximum employment for years. In March 2015, Williams said we were close to full employment when the overall unemployment rate was 5.5 percent and Black unemployment was 10.4 percent. As Matthew Yglesias points out, if Williams had been at the helm of the New York Fed over the last couple of years and successfully raised interest rates in the way that he called for, millions of people would have remained either locked out of the labor market or stuck with flat paychecks.

The perspectives of low-income and working-class people matter because they have a pulse on the real employment situation in America and how to maximize our human potential. They know that while the headline unemployment number may be low at just above 4 percent, that number hides the reality of persistent joblessness and racial inequity in the labor market. They know that we can do better than 6.9 percent unemployment in the Black community. They weighed in on the New York Fed process because they are the ones whose livelihoods are on the line when officials choose to err on the side of higher unemployment. 

The New York Federal Reserve Board still has time to listen to the public and restart the process. If the New York Fed chooses to appoint Williams, I believe a vetting of the process and the candidate in federal hearings is appropriate, so the public can ask vital questions and get answers from one of the most powerful economic policy makers in America and someone who will have enormous influence over all of our economic lives. 

Announcing the All-In Cities Anti-Displacement Policy Network


At PolicyLink, we know that fighting displacement is not only a moral imperative; it is essential for the future prosperity of our cities and our nation. Living in safe, stable, affordable homes, in healthy neighborhoods connected to opportunities, is necessary for achieving equity.

Which is why we are proud to announce the first 10 cities selected for the inaugural cohort of the All-In Cities Anti-Displacement Policy Network. Leaders from these cities -- including local elected officials, city staff, and community leaders – will work together over the next year on strategies to fight displacement and build inclusive, prosperous cities.

The cities are: Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Buffalo, NY; Denver, CO; Nashville, TN; Philadelphia, PA; Portland, OR; San José, CA; Santa Fe, NM; and the twin cities of Minnesota (Minneapolis and Saint Paul).

This network will provide an opportunity to not only advance work in these places, but to capture and share out innovative practices to communities across the country. Read more about the network at All-In Cities.

This network is generously supported by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and The Kresge Foundation.  
 

Temporary test node

 

The Wait for an Infrastructure Proposal Is Over…and the News Isn’t Good!

The waiting is over and the result is painful. For a little over a year, the current administration has alluded to plans to address the nation’s infrastructure crisis. The allusions have become real and reveals contempt for people of color, poor and working-class communities, and the middle class.

The creation and maintenance of a strong infrastructure requires a partnership between the federal government and localities across the country. It is underscored by a mutual commitment to fixing infrastructure, addressing health and environmental threats, and delivering quality jobs for the millions of Americans longing for them.

Instead, this administration is shirking its responsibilities by reversing the 50-year commitment of investing $4 in federal contribution for every $1 invested by states and localities. The result is an infrastructure proposal that increases inequality and will leave behind even more people and communities in need. The proposal will cut highway and public transportation funding, drain wealth from working people through increased taxes and user fees, and gut vital protections for clean air and water. As a final insult, this proposal bestows a huge handout to Wall Street banks by privatizing roads, transit, water systems, and other public assets.

What we need is access to safe drinking water, affordable transportation, high-speed internet connections, and modern energy systems. Congress must reject the Administration’s Infrastructure Scam. Instead, equitable legislation must be enacted to ensure that the federal government makes a meaningful investment into infrastructure. That is the only way to expand economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for everyone. The nation’s infrastructure needs are serious and failing to address them imperils the health, opportunity, and prosperity of our country today and in the future.

HFFI Bill Would Expand Healthy Food Access, Revitalize Communities

Across the country, nearly 40 million Americans live in rural and urban neighborhoods where easy access to affordable, high-quality, and healthy food is out of reach. A new bill, introduced by Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Dwight Evans (D-PA), addresses this critical issue by bolstering an existing program that has demonstrated success in improving access to healthy foods and spurring economic revitalization in underserved communities. The “Healthy Food Financing Initiative Reauthorization Act” would reauthorize the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) program at United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Rural Development, originally established at the agency in the Agricultural Act of 2014.

In 2009, PolicyLink, The Food Trust, and Reinvestment Fund joined forces on a national campaign that, together with diverse partners and stakeholders, led to the launch of the HFFI program at the Departments of Treasury and Health and Human Services in 2011. Building on the success, HFFI’s inclusion in the 2014 Farm Bill came with strong bipartisan support, officially establishing HFFI at USDA and authorizing up to $125 million for the program. In January 2017, USDA announced the selection of Reinvestment Fund to serve as HFFI’s National Fund Manager.

To date, HFFI has invested $220 million in grants and loans to more than 35 states to improve access to healthy food, create and preserve jobs, and revitalize communities. The program’s public-private partnership model has enabled grantees to leverage over $1 billion in additional resources to expand healthy food businesses such as grocery stores, food hubs, co-ops and other enterprises that increase the supply of and the demand for healthy foods in low-income, underserved rural and urban communities. 

HFFI reauthorization and expansion would build on these past successes, as well as broaden and deepen the program’s impact, by targeting areas of the country that still struggle with healthy food access. Rural communities, small towns, and urban areas would benefit from the program’s investments expanding healthy food-related small businesses, strengthening farm to retailer and consumer infrastructure, and supporting local and regional food system development.  

We applaud the ongoing leadership and commitment of Representatives Fudge and Evans, each of whom have served as long-standing champions of HFFI and improving healthy food access.  Representative Fudge played a key leadership role in ensuring funding was authorized for HFFI in the 2014 Farm Bill legislation, and Representative Evans served an instrumental role to launch the highly successful Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which served as the original model for the federal HFFI program. 

Innovative programs like HFFI represent critical steps forward to ensure that all communities not only have access to healthy, affordable food, but also benefit from quality jobs, business development opportunities, and other resources needed to create healthy, thriving communities of opportunity.  

Trump’s State of the Union Address Reveals Tremendous Misalignment Between Talk and Action

Last night, during the annual State of the Union address, Trump began his speech with strong statements regarding the desire to be one united country — words that contradict his actions. In the last year we have seen DACA revoked, startling race baiting comments after Charlottesville, the slashing of major funding streams that provide a safety net for millions of Americans, the suspension of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule which promotes fair housing choice and increased opportunity for all residents, the repeal of the Clean Water Rule, and the elimination of various committees and processes that advance greater equity and protect the well-being of our citizens. These actions DO NOT align with a desire for a unified country.

The theme of misalignment between the rhetoric and the practice and/or impact continued throughout the rest of his address. For example, in addition to unity, Trump also spoke at length regarding the economy and touted the recently passed tax bill as providing relief for "hard-working" Americans; when in actuality, the true impact of the tax bill is harmful to many Americans and has already stunted the development of desperately needed affordable housing and community development as outlined in a recent New York Times article.

Lastly, Trump touted his plans for a much-anticipated infrastructure investment, calling for an investment that will "give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve;" but the proposal shared thus far reveals that Trump's plan inherently promotes economic and regional inequality by:

  • Ignoring people and communities which are most in need of this investment;
  • Providing another windfall for the Administration's wealthy comrades by encouraging the privatization of public systems;
  • Favoring funding mechanisms which are not feasible for the infrastructure investments needed in low-income communities and communities of color; and
  • Providing for minimal federal investment and shifting the cost burden to working families with increases in local and state taxes.

Despite this Administration's divisive and inequitable agenda, we know that millions of Americans are indeed advocating for a more unified State of the Union. We know that the most important thing one can do to strengthen our democracy is to remain engaged, seek understanding and common ground with people with different points of view, and vote for candidates who truly believe in a just and fair society. At PolicyLink, we remain inspired by the courageous actions of so many who work to advance equitable policies and practices, so that all can participate and prosper and reach their full potential.

Partnering with Grocery Stores to Uplift Philadelphia Communities

By Lauren Vague Stager, Uplift Workforce Solutions

"We ARE here as a group!" is one of the phrases that stuck out as I sat in the classroom of the Uplift Workforce Solutions training center. In early January 2018, the fifth cohort of the program began.  There are 29 people in the group, all with one thing in common: they are all formerly incarcerated. 

Mass incarceration is a pervasive issue, and its devastating effects cannot be overstated.  Getting locked up is just the beginning of the nightmare of incarceration. But what happens when someone is released?  The litany of consequences do not end when someone gets out of jail or prison. It is difficult to get identification, most don't have money or a job, and many people don't even have a place to stay. The Department of Justice estimates that over 10,000 people are released from state and federal lockups each week. In Pennsylvania, over 18,000 are released from prison each year. Here at Uplift Workforce Solutions, we know that in many ways, a re-entering citizen's situation will not change until they have their own source of sustainable and legally secured income. Uplift partners with Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church and Brown's Super Stores so that we can provide guaranteed employment to re-entering citizens in Philadelphia. We are generously supported by the Nerney Family Foundation and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.  The promise of a job, not just a training program that will help you get a job, is a game changing step.

The program is six weeks, and the subject matter is combined life skills and grocery-specific training, so that both hard and soft skills are assessed and developed over the course of the program.   We have built a simulated supermarket complete with functioning cash registers in our classroom at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, and upon successful completion of the program the participants are placed in a position at either a ShopRite or Fresh Grocer supermarket.

I saw three of the four cohorts complete and graduate from the program last year, the room filling with joy as the participants finish the program knowing that they are all starting a job within the next week. Throughout the program, it has become clear how much the participants and I have in common. Many of the experiences shared by the classes are universal. The cohort spoke about trying to make sure they were a positive part of their children's lives, recognizing when they had done wrong, trying to prove themselves, learning to be comfortable in their own skin, and planning for retirement.  We all have the same hopes and dreams, but trying to achieve our hopes and dreams can sometimes lead us down the wrong path. At Uplift Workforce Solutions, we are reminding our participants of their hopes and dreams, and providing them a job on the way to achieving them.

Uplift is a national non profit organization that focuses on creating access to food, access to healthcare, access to capital and access to jobs in underserved communities. To learn more you can go to http://upliftsolutions.org/ or contact the author, Lauren Vague, at lauren.vague@upliftsolutions.org.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Healthy Food Access Portal.

It takes cash to get lead out of schools

When will California make it a priority to protect our children from the toxic lead contamination in many schools’ water? From the looks of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget, this threat to students’ health and academic potential remains dangerously underfunded. Read full article on The Sacramento Bee.

The Fierce Urgency of Now

January brings us three months closer to Equity Summit 2018, where thousands will convene to set an equity agenda for the nation. The 15th of this month marks what would have been Dr. King’s 89th birthday, and 2018 is also the 50th anniversary of his Poor People’s Campaign, which advocated economic justice for all people.

As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose transformative leadership forever changed America’s consciousness around issues of civil and human rights, we reflect on his words and message, which continue to inspire movement-building and mobilized action

Dr. King’s condemnation of racism and economic inequality resonates strongly today, as the nation continues to grapple with discrimination, the degradation of human rights and civil liberties, institutional violence, and poverty.

His words continue to evoke a sense of social and political exigency that can be felt in today’s sociopolitical climate.
 
“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” - Martin Luther King Jr.

Trump Administration Undermines Workers' Safety Net

Earlier this week the Trump Administration announced a major shift in policy related to one of the nation’s key safety net components, the Medicaid program.  On Thursday, the Administration issued guidance to states which will allow them to compel people to work or train for work in order to be eligible for Medicaid’s health benefits. In the 50-year history of the program, there has been no such requirement as the country has recognized its responsibility to ensure that ALL of its citizens are able to live HEALTHY and productive lives. 

The Administration defends its actions by alleging that work requirements will enable individuals covered by Medicaid to “break the chains of poverty” and “live up to their highest potential.” However, several studies confirm that work requirements do not help people escape poverty, but rather often lead to individuals and families being worse off and risking their health or family’s well-being by having to decide between working or going without health insurance and needed medical care.

At PolicyLink, all of our work is grounded in the conviction that equity – just and fair inclusion – must drive policy decisions.  We believe that an equitable economy is one in which everyone can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. A just society requires that everyone have the opportunity to thrive and do well.  A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, estimates that 60 percent of the Medicaid recipients whom the federal government considers to be able-bodied adults are already working. These individuals are often working in low-wage jobs and rely upon Medicaid for their well-being and economic security.  With this extreme policy shift, the Trump Administration is ensuring that those at the lowest end of the economic spectrum will be left behind, and handicapped in their pursuit of a better life.  Instead of working to ensure that every American has access to health care and is able to pursue greater opportunities, this Administration continues to advance an agenda which is an all out assault on those members of our society who are most in need.  

Five Reasons Not to Miss Equity Summit 2018

Join us at Equity Summit 2018, taking place in Chicago on April 11-13! 

True to our vision of a more just and inclusive future for America, the Summit speakers and programming have been carefully curated so that attendees feel emboldened to step into their power, activate their imaginations, and help set the national agenda.
 
With just under five months to go, Equity Summit 2018 may just be our most powerful Summit yet! Here’s why! 

1. Powerful Movement Voices
 

In this present moment of challenge and uncertainty, there are key voices from across the movements for equity and justice who continue to instill hope for a brighter future. Equity Summit 2018 will host some of today’s most esteemed policymakers, thought leaders, and advocates, setting the stage for continued movement and solutions building at the Summit and beyond. They include:

As you can see, these individuals represent a diverse intersection of communities and issues that are crucial to unlocking our nation's promise. To see additional speakers confirmed for Equity Summit 2018, go here!

2. Dynamic Discussions and Strategic Spaces
 
If you've attended previous Equity Summits, you likely know that plenaries are the cornerstones of our programming. Featuring conversations with visionary leaders, these plenaries are both inspiring and instructive, establishing the tone for ongoing discussion, and motivating attendees to push the boundaries of their work. Plenaries at Equity Summit 2018 include “Our Power: Radical Imagination Fueling Change”; “Our Future: The Leading Edge of the Equity Movement”; and “Our Nation: Transformative Solidarity in a Divided Nation.”
 
In addition to the plenaries, Summit attendees will have access to workshops that offer opportunities to engage in smaller group settings with experts who are pioneering change within specific issue areas. Immigration reform, protecting renters’ rights, climate resilience, alternatives to policing, and decriminalizing poverty are just a few of the topics that will be explored in the workshops available at Equity Summit 2018. Find an overview of our programming here.
 
3. Chicago’s Transformative History
 
The city of Chicago has a rich legacy of activism and action around some of the most urgent civil and human rights issues of our time. Throughout its history, Chicago has left an indelible mark on the nation — including its status as a destination city during the Great Migration, association with the activism of Pullman porters, and the pivotal role of South Chicago’s Mexican-American community in organizing the United Steel Workers in the 1940’s. Chicago also served as the site of the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the Chicago Freedom Movement (which is largely credited with inspiring the 1968 Fair Housing Act), and is where organizations like Advancing Justice-Chicago, Asian American Alliance and the Association of Asian Construction Enterprises (AACE) fought for the inclusion of Asian Americans in the city’s Minority-Owned Business Enterprise program in the early 2000’s. Of course, Chicago is also where a promising community organizer named Barack Obama launched his political career, eventually becoming America’s first Black president.
 
Today, the city continues to be an epicenter for revolutionary organizing and movement building led by grassroots leaders like BYP100 National Director (and Equity Summit 2018 speaker) Charlene Carruthers, and other  Chicago-born-and-bred leaders and artist-activists like Common, Jesse Williams, John Legend, Hebru Brantley, Chance The Rapper, and others. 

For information on where to stay in Chicago, visit here

4. The Moment and the Momentum

Next April marks the 50th anniversaries of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death and the subsequent Chicago uprising. April 12th will also be three years since the killing of Freddie Gray by Baltimore law enforcement, an incident that further ignited the local and national movements for police and criminal justice reform — two of the key issues to be explored as part of the Summit’s Just Society Workshop Series.
 
Most urgently, 2018 kicks off the midterm election season, which, according to Vox, would be “the first nationwide referendum” on the current presidency. With Equity Summit 2018 happening at such a crucial time — and with civic leaders like Voto Latino Executive Director Maria Teresa Kumar and NAACP President Derrick Johnson among our key speakers — attendees will have the chance to connect and share strategies for maximizing civic engagement, ensuring that the issues impacting America’s diverse communities and demographics are adequately represented.
   
5. Your Voice and Leadership
 
We believe that solidarity across social movements, cultures, races, and ethnicities is essential to resistance and the antidote to oppression, hate, and racism. We also believe that the key to a better, more prosperous tomorrow for America lies in the work being driven by people like you, whose tireless efforts on the ground represent the best of what’s working in our cities and communities. As champions for just and fair inclusion, your participation at Equity Summit 2018 will ensure that those closest to the nation’s challenges remain central to finding the solutions.
 
Whether you are a youth activist, grassroots/community organizer, elected official, or nonprofit leader, your voice and contributions matter. Register today and join the cross-section of leaders at Equity Summit 2018 who are radically shaping the nation's future and our collective role in it.
 
Get news and updates on Equity Summit 2018 in real time. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter using the hashtag #EquitySummit2018! You can also sign up here to receive PolicyLink email alerts.

Denise Fairchild: Building a Movement for an Equitable Clean Energy Economy

By Courtney Hutchision

This hurricane season — one of the most virulent in decades — has made it impossible to ignore the disparate impact that our shifting climate has on low-income communities and communities of color. At the same time, the current administration is attempting to roll back environmental protections, and double down on fossil fuels that will only exacerbate the nation’s environmental woes. 

Too often, these interconnected realms of environment, energy, economy, and social justice remain siloed, making it difficult for advocates to see their common ground and common struggle. In Energy Democracy: Advancing Equity in Clean Energy Solutions, president & CEO of Emerald Cities Collaborative Denise Fairchild, along with co-editor Al Weinrub, weave together the insight of leading experts from across sectors, putting forth a holistic, systems-changing vision of an equitable energy future. 

Fairchild, whose organization advances environmental solutions that support an equitable economy, spoke with America’s Tomorrow about “energy democracy” and how advocates working in the environmental, racial justice, and economic sectors can help America move toward a more equitable energy future. 

Many of our readers are familiar with environmental racism and the ways in which pollution and climate threat have a disparate impact on low-income communities and communities of color. The notion of “energy democracy” goes beyond disparate impact, however, to re-envision who owns the fuel economy and how it is used. Can you give us an overview of what you mean by energy democracy? 

Energy democracy is an emerging concept that pushes us beyond the movement for 100 percent  renewable energy toward a system that is not only clean but also non-exploitative and democratic. Essentially, we’re asking the question: how do we move to a clean energy future while keeping racial, social, and economic justice at the forefront? This means that our clean energy future should not exploit or harm the environment and our natural resources, and it should not exploit or damage the communities that have been negatively impacted by our past and current energy choices. It also means we need to focus on the use value of renewable energy, not its commodification. We do not want to move into renewable energy and just see the same old patterns of monopolization and concentration of wealth and ownership in the hands of the few. The energy democracy draws on a more indigenous tradition that sees our energy resources as part of the commons — it belongs to everyone and it should benefit everyone. That doesn’t just mean equitable distribution of the energy itself, but equitable distribution of the jobs created in the new energy economy, the resources needed to capitalize economically on renewable energy sources, and the investments that could be made to rebuild under-resourced communities. Right now, the renewable energy economy — though better for the environment — is poised to be just as extractive for low-income communities and communities of color. These populations are more likely to rent and hence have little to no control over whether their buildings use renewable energy sources. Purchasing solar panels are expensive and require a credit score in many instances, putting them out of reach for those who have historically been underserved by banking systems. So there’s a legacy of divestment that has taken place in our communities that’s impacted our bankability, our credit, and our housing, and that bleeds over into whether or not we’re going to be able to participate in and benefit from a clean energy future.

What led you to write this book? 
We wrote the book to build a movement, to be perfectly honest. We knew there were strands of this work taking place, but we wanted to nurture this fairly nascent movement to tie the strands together. We know that a clean energy economy will drive the 21st century economy. Just like agriculture economy gave way to the industrial economy, we are now in an economic transition and it’s imperative that we ensure that communities of color and low-income communities, which have been on the margins of economic life in the past, are full beneficiaries in this new economy. 

In this book, we lay out how people can join the movement at the policy level, because in every state across the country, state government and public utilities are in conversations about what the new energy future will look like. This is probably the last time in the next 50 to 100 years that we will have the opportunity to change our energy infrastructure in a way that benefits the communities that matter to us, so we need to be in those conversations and bring that racial justice and social justice frame. We also provide examples of how people can join the movement at the organizing and leadership level, and make the case for building capacity and knowledge around these issues across multiple sectors in social justice. Advocates sometimes have difficulty seeing how energy relates to racial or economic justice, but at the end of the day it’s about people who have to take their kids to the hospital again and again for asthma because of where polluting sources are placed, or household budgets stretched tight because of rising utility bills. There are so many communities out there finding new, equitable solutions and doing it their own way, and we wanted to create a resource that brought all that together. 

The book has some truly bold and transformative ideas, such as changing the constitutional definition of private property, building collectively-owned utilities, or challenging global trade agreements. Given that the current administration has sought to scale back environmental protections and reinforce a capitalistic and extractionist energy economy, where do you see opportunities for the energy democracy movement to push for reform? 

This work is really about a revolution. It’s going to take long-term collaboration on many fronts: legal, community organizing, and alternative energy solutions. This book provides different frameworks and perspectives on how we win this war, one battle at a time. The struggle around profit, power, and privilege as embedded in our current administration has ramped up the opposition to this movement, but there are reasons to be optimistic. The utility sector and private sector know that the fossil fuel economy is over. Renewable energy technology has become cheaper than fossil fuel and so the business model is going to have to fundamentally change. But just because we have the technology, everyone thinks that will solve all the problems; but this struggle is really about these larger racial justice issues. The new technology makes it so we don’t have to replicate a centralized system, we can have a distributed energy system that’s much more local and can be community-owned and community-run. 

For example, the book showcases a Washington, D.C. community that, concerned about the environment and rising utilities bills, banded together to form an energy cooperative. Using bulk purchasing of solar panels, they helped dozens of households install technology that allows them to fuel their own households and reap the profits made from selling extra energy back to the grid. These organizers formed the DC Solar United Neighborhoods, helping neighborhoods across the city form similar coops and today this model has been replicated in Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. So even in a federal political climate like we have, these changes can happen neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community. 

Advancing Economic Inclusion in Southern Cities


In 2015, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in partnership with PolicyLink, launched Southern Cities for Economic Inclusion, a cohort of seven cities dedicated to advancing economic equity for low-income communities and communities of color. Comprised of city officials and staff, local philanthropy, and business and community partners from Atlanta, Asheville, Charlotte, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans and Richmond, the group convenes regularly to share best practices and learn from experts. Their next meeting will be in Richmond from October 23-25.

This group explicitly identifies and addresses the unique historical, political, and legal obstacles to achieving economic inclusion in the South; namely, the region’s deeply entrenched legacy of racism and segregation, as well as the structural limitations imposed by state laws that strip cities of the authority to advance economic inclusion policies such as local hiring or inclusive procurement.

Leaders from the seven cities are advancing real solutions by:

  • Establishing an economic agenda that both acknowledges and confronts the legacy of race. City and community leaders in New Orleans and Atlanta have created economic opportunity plans that set a proactive agenda to invest in people of color and others who have been left behind and demonstrate how equity will lead to everyone being better off.  
     
  • Bringing together diverse stakeholders to advance an economic inclusion agenda. In Memphis, Nashville, and elsewhere, anchor institutions such as universities and medical facilities, along with business and other leaders in the private sector, are coming together with city partners to encourage growth in the minority business community and bring new investments into communities without causing displacement. 
     
  • Innovating policies and programs to support minority-owned businesses and connect people to jobs. In Charlotte, Richmond, and Asheville, cities have developed pilot procurement programs and incentives to support minority businesses and to help connect individuals with barriers to employment to good jobs.
     

These projects and initiatives are changing the cultural silence on race in economic development policy and strengthening local positions despite state restrictions on local authority. We applaud these city leaders for their work thus far.  Reaching this point has required creativity in policy design, political deftness, and most of all, resilience.  However, advancing this work will require additional investment and strong partnerships across a wide range of stakeholders, including local and national philanthropy, the private sector, and community-based organizations. We hope you will join us to advance an economically inclusive and prosperous South.

California Leads on Juvenile Justice Reform

This week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 190, co-authored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara — ending the regressive and racially discriminatory practice of charging administrative fees to families with youth in the juvenile system.

California and nearly every other state charge parents of youth involved in the juvenile justice system with various fees, including fees for detention, legal representation, probation supervision, electronic monitoring, and drug testing. These fees trap poor families in debt, particularly families of color, and according to a study by the U.C. Berkeley Law School Policy Advocacy Clinic, significantly increase the likelihood of recidivism. Though the fees are designed to reimburse local governments for costs related to a child’s involvement in the juvenile justice system, counties often spend as much, if not more, to collect the fees as they take in. 

PolicyLink, working in coalition with state advocacy organizations, co-sponsored and advocated for SB 190, which will prevent California counties from charging juvenile administrative fees. As the first state in the nation to eliminate the fees, the passage of Senate Bill 190 could spark similar reforms in other states. According to PolicyLink senior associate Lewis Brown Jr., “Imposing fees on poor parents who are struggling to make ends meet is not the way to fund our juvenile justice system. Hopefully, Senate Bill 190 is the first step toward eliminating these destabilizing and counterproductive fees throughout the country.” 

We applaud our coalition partners, as well as Senator Mitchell, Senator Lara, and Governor Brown, for their leadership in addressing this important issue. We look forward to working with others to ensure that SB 190 will serve as a model for other states looking to address juvenile, and other types of criminal justice fines and fees.

Click here for information on Senate Bill 190>>>

Renters’ Rights Gains Momentum in Boston

José Velasquez has lived in Boston for the past 28 years. In April 2006, he and his family moved into a 14-unit apartment building on Meridian Street in East Boston. The landlord didn't maintain the place very well, but Velasquez was able to take care of some of the repairs and upkeep himself, and the rent increases were manageable. Then new owners took over the building this summer, and Velasquez and all of his neighbors were given 30-day eviction notices — as with many such mass evictions — so their building could be renovated and rented out at a higher market rate.

Most of the building's residents moved out. But Velasquez and his wife, who live with their adult daughter and niece, both of whom require special care, decided to stay and fight. "I've always paid rent on time. I've never failed them. So I feel I have rights," he explained in his native Spanish. A few days after he received the eviction notice, Velasquez connected with other tenants and organizers through City Life/Vida Urbana, a local housing justice organization that helps people facing eviction or rent hikes stay in their homes. So when the #RenterWeekofAction kicked off its nationwide campaign of coordinated direct actions and renter assemblies with a citywide march in Boston on September 16, Velasquez was there.

Resisting gentrification and building renter power

"[At the march] I spoke with the community about the help we need and the role of Vida Urbana. The event was really beautiful," Velasquez recalled. "We need to defend our rights because, if we don't, the rich come to step over us. We need to fight for the well-being of our families." He continued, "The rich are coming to Boston to buy properties, turning them into condominiums and making buildings expensive. But the poor also want to live well and care for our families."

His story is all too common: throughout the United States, as rents rise and wages remain stagnant, a growing number of renters are unable to afford the cost of housing. Boston is no exception.

Renters across the country are being squeezed and displaced," said Darnell Johnson of Right to the City Boston. "While the crisis is worsening, we also believe that renters are beginning to wake up to enormous power we have when organized. At Homes For All, we're supporting communities in organizing tenants unions and neighborhood groups to defend our housing, reclaim our communities, and win community control of land, housing, and development that impacts working-class people."

To address these challenges, Right to the City and its partner organizations are focused on building power among renters — and in Boston, where more than 390,000 people live in renter households, there is plenty to build on. Sixty-five percent of Boston's residents are renters, and after paying their rent and utilities they contribute nearly $7.5 billion to the Boston economy each year.

But in this city, where the economy and the population are both growing, many long-term residents are at risk of displacement. According to a recent National Equity Atlas analysis of housing affordability and the economic impact of burdensome rents in Boston, from 2000 to 2015 median rents in the city increased by 18 percent, while median renter-household incomes actually declined by 11 percent. So it's not surprising that during the same period, the share of renter households who are rent-burdened (spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs) jumped from 42 percent to 51 percent.

The financial burden of high rents isn't only a challenge for families who can barely make ends meet; it's also a strain on the local economy. If no Boston renters were housing burdened — if they spent only what they could afford on rent — they would have an extra $764 million to spend in the community each year, with people of color enjoying the largest percentage gains. Latino renters like the Velasquez family would see a 16 percent increase in their annual disposable income (income after paying for rent and utilities), and their Asian or Pacific Islander counterparts would see a 19 percent gain. On average, each rent-burdened household in the city would have an additional $9,300 each year to help cover the costs of necessities like food, transportation, health care, and childcare.

Renter protections can reduce the high costs of displacement

In the context of accelerating gentrification and skyrocketing rents, the City of Boston has taken a two-pronged approach to address housing affordability: One set of strategies focuses on increasing the supply of affordable housing, setting aside millions of dollars to help affordable housing developers compete in the city's fast-moving real estate market for both existing buildings and new development space. Another group of policies aims to help existing tenants stay in their homes.

Yesterday, the city council passed the Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act, a just cause eviction ordinance that will "help protect residential tenants and former homeowners living in their homes post-foreclosure against arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory, or retaliatory evictions" and give the city greater ability to track evictions in real time. Another legislative proposal would give tenants the right of first refusal on foreclosed properties. And city officials are also working to provide incentives to property owners to keep tenants — and rents — stable.

Last year, Mayor Marty Walsh launched the city's Office of Housing Stability (OHS) with an explicit anti-displacement mission to help residents find and maintain affordable housing. As part of its broad anti-displacement agenda, OHS regularly tracks building sales to identify residents who may be at risk for mass eviction, and reaches out to tenants to inform them of their rights. So when OHS staff heard about the clearing out of the building where the Velasquez family lives, they immediately reached out to City Life/Vida Urbana.

"In the case of a no-fault eviction, tenants can get an additional six months — up to a year for elderly or disabled tenants — but we are finding residents agreeing to leave after just six weeks," said Kate Brady, senior program manager at OHS. "Massachusetts has a lot of tenant-friendly protections, but they only work if people know when and how to assert them." That's why OHS is pushing for state-level legislation that would guarantee a right to legal counsel for tenants facing eviction. "With a right to counsel, tenants can rebalance a power imbalance in which the vast majority of landlords have an attorney, but only 6 percent of tenants do," Brady explained.

For many low-income residents, that imbalance is exacerbated by a mix of market forces that drive up property values while driving down workers' economic power. In May of this year, one month before he received his eviction notice, Velasquez, who works in maintenance, asked his employer for a raise after he heard that several of his co-workers had received pay increases. Instead, his hours were cut. "They took one day off my schedule and reduced my pay," he explained. "They said they didn't have money for me but they were hiring other people."

Not long after, to entice Velasquez to give up his apartment, the building's new owners offered to pay him $400 per month for a period of a year — but he knew it wouldn't be enough. "I said no, because if I leave, the other apartments [out there] are too expensive." According to data from, the median market-rate rent for a two-bedroom unit in Boston was $2,400 a month as of July 2017, and Velasquez estimated that even the cheapest places where he could move with his family cost around $1,800. "Right now, I pay $950," he said. "We break even with the current rent, so I couldn't pay double. I just couldn't afford it."

Beyond the family budget, OHS points to the potential public savings in shelter and health-care costs as another incentive to help renters stay in place. "Preventing displacement not only keeps families stable in terms of their work, schools, and communities," explained Lisa Pollack, director of communications for the Department of Neighborhood Development, "the costs savings can be astronomical." Pollack added, "We really need to get farther upstream" to prevent crises rather than just responding to them.

For the tens of thousands of families in Boston struggling to get by, the difference could be life-changing. "Before I learned about Vida Urbana I would just think and cry inside," Velasquez said. "But now I have learned that everyone must defend their rights. Even if you don't speak English and are an immigrant, even the undocumented — we all have rights."

Accelerating Housing Recovery & Building Community Wealth in Chicago

As the 10-year anniversary of the subprime mortgage crisis nears, recovery continues to be uneven, with low-income communities and communities of color facing the steepest climb toward economic stability. In Chicago, foreclosures devastated many Black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides, leaving behind blighted, vacant houses that could remain trapped in the court system for years.

Facing a struggling housing market and communities in crisis, local officials and grassroots organizers in Chicago have rallied to rebuild, forging new policies, organizations, and partnerships that not only reinvest in struggling communities of color, but reenvision community ownership and power.

"The foreclosure crisis may have ended, but there's still a vacant housing crisis, there's still an assessment bias for homes in communities of color — a lot of the things that exacerbated the housing crisis are still in play, and it will take collaborative efforts with the community to address them," said Bridget Gainer, commissioner for the Cook County 10th district and chairwoman of the Cook County Land Bank.

The ongoing recovery in Chicago's housing market has been shaped by a patchwork of city and community efforts. Here we highlight three aspects of these efforts: the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, a movement that gained notoriety when members took over vacant homes for use by homeless families; the Cook County Land Bank, which acquires vacant properties caught in the foreclosure process and makes them eligible for rehab and resale; and a burgeoning land trust run by the Chicago Community Loan Fund that aims to increase available affordable housing.

Homeownership loss exacerbates wealth inequalities

Owning a home can be one of the strongest wealth-building opportunities for American families, allowing them to secure equity that often appreciates over time and can be passed on to future generations. At the same time, this lever for economic stability has historically been denied to communities of color through racist policies like redlining, and the legacy of this prejudice persists today through discriminatory practices in real estate and lending.

Though homeownership among people of color in the U.S. had been on the rise by the turn of the 21st century, the subprime lending crisis (which targeted people of color and their neighborhoods) undid decades of progress: During the Great Recession, Hispanics lost 66 percent of household wealth through foreclosure and African Americans lost 53 percent, while Whites lost only 16 percent. In Chicago, nearly half of African American families owned homes before the recession; by 2016, only 39 percent did.

This drop in homeownership didn't just affect the people who were evicted. It also crippled the housing market in their communities as properties became tied up in an overwhelmed court system, and long-vacant homes attracted crime and drove down neighborhood property values.

"The recession flooded the court system with foreclosures in Cook County," said Gainer. "You had a system that was used to processing 15,000 foreclosures a year now processing 50,000, and there simply weren't the resources to deal with it."

By 2013, Chicago had 33,902 vacant homes, with vacancy rates of up to one in six properties in some census tracts in low-income South Side neighborhoods. Though banks are legally required to maintain foreclosed properties, this seldom happened in communities of color. A 2014 study found that foreclosed properties in communities of color in Chicago were nearly four times as likely to have unsecured, broken, or boarded doors compared to those in White communities. The injustice of lenders evicting families from their homes only to leave those homes unused for months or years drove William "J.R." Fleming to found the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign in 2009.

"It was disgusting how the banks were getting away with so much — evicting families, not taking care of the properties, letting them amass fines for years," Fleming said.

At first, members of the Campaign focused only on preventing evictions — standing in front of houses to physically prevent the eviction process and providing legal aid to families fighting in court. They later garnered national attention, however, when they began a new tactic: occupying and repairing blighted properties for use by local homeless families. In every case, they received permission from neighbors, though they did not have legal rights to the homes.

These bold actions made it impossible for other local leaders to avoid addressing the broken and bloated foreclosure process. According to Gainer, "Their methods were controversial, but they played a crucial role in hitting the pause button."

Helping the housing market rebound in South and West Chicago

When it became clear that the court system was the bottleneck keeping so many houses vacant, the Cook County Commissioner's Office began strategizing ways to expedite the process of getting vacant houses back on the market.

"You'd think it would be easy to get access to a house that's in foreclosure if you want to rehab and resell it, but the reality is that it's very difficult and time-consuming and many small developers simply didn't have the legal resources or the capital to do it," Gainer said. "We had community members complaining that we had too many vacant homes and too many unemployed people in the same neighborhoods, so we thought, why not create local jobs and rehab the houses at the same time?"

Leveraging $4.5 million in settlement money from a federal case against subprime lenders, Gainer worked with Fleming and other community organizers to adapt a land bank model from Flint, Michigan. In 2013, the Cook County Land Bank Authority was created to acquire properties caught up in the court system, clear them of back taxes and other fines, and make them more accessible to local developers of color. Gainer noted that while the Land Bank has no official quotas regarding the affordability of the properties or the diversity of its developers, it does the majority of its work with Latino and African American entrepreneurs working in communities of color on the South and West Sides. It also prioritizes projects that result in owner-occupied (not rental) properties and those that expand developer businesses, thus creating jobs. This month, the Land Bank hopes to finish the rehab of its 200th home. It has 186 more currently under construction and 300 in the court system pipeline.

Jason Williams, co-owner of Ultimate Real Estate Group, has rehabbed several Land Bank properties in South Side and Washington Heights, and credited the land bank as a "big reason" that many of these neighborhoods are turning around after the crisis.

"When you do a home or two, it changes the whole block," said Williams, who noted that most of the properties are being purchased by young professionals. 

Though Chicago represents the largest land bank by geography, Gainer pointed out that the land bank model could be useful to cities and counties anywhere. "This isn't a magical thing that happened in Chicago, anyone can do this," she said. "It's a way to put the power of property back in the hands of the community, not the courts."

Pursuing community ownership with a land trust model

By helping to stem the backlog of foreclosed houses in Chicago's low-income communities and communities of color, the Land Bank put the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign in the interesting position of having less to protest. But the Land Bank's efforts to combat blight, while critical, only address part of the problem, Fleming noted, leaving the underlying issues of housing affordability, gentrification, and housing insecurity untouched. This is why the Campaign is exploring other models for intervention that have an explicit focus on community ownership and affordability.

"We want to have a strong emphasis on community-controlled development," Fleming said.

Over the past couple of years, Fleming and other local housing advocates have been working with several nonprofit and private partners to pilot a land trust that will acquire, rehab, and sell foreclosed or blighted homes in high-opportunity neighborhoods as affordable housing stock. In 2015, Bank of America granted $1 million to a local community development financial institution, Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF), to support the creation of land trusts in Cook County. 

Since then, the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, Action Now Institute, and Greater Southwest Development Corporation have partnered with CCLF to explore models for this project and identify properties and community residents who might inhabit them. This partnership hopes to eventually acquire 50 foreclosed and/or blighted homes, beginning this fall.

"Housing is one part of economic development, but it impacts so many other things," said Ghian Foreman, executive director of the Greater Southwest Development Corporation. "It's like an ecosystem, and it's going to take public and private investment working together to bring back underserved communities."

Here’s What U.S. Cities Gain If Housing Is Affordable

Cross-posted from Next City

This week, as part of the #RenterWeekofAction, September 18 to 23, renters in over 45 cities will take to the streets to demand better protections from displacement and more community control over land and housing.

Recognizing the severity of the housing affordability crisis facing renters from Oakland to Miami and the need for policy solutions, the National Equity Atlas, a partnership between PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, analyzed the growth of renters in the nation and in 37 cities, their contributions to the economy, and what renters and the United States stand to gain if housing were affordable.

Read more>>>

When Renters Rise, Cities Thrive

PolicyLink is proud to support the #RenterWeekofAction happening this week—and invite you to join in calling for policy solutions to ensure renters—and cities—can thrive. See National and City Fact Sheets below.

Renters now represent the majority in the nation’s 100 largest cities and contribute billions to local economies from Oakland to Miami. Yet they increasingly face a toxic mix of rising rents and stagnant wages—adding up to an unprecedented housing affordability crisis that stymies their ability to contribute and thrive.
 
This week, renters in more than 45 cities across the country are rising up to demand that policymakers, landlords, lenders, and developers take action to ensure all people can live in dignified and affordable homes. They are calling for an end to evictions and unfair rent increases, full funding for Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and long-term community control of land and housing. The Renter Week of Action and Assemblies is being organized by our partners at Homes for All, a program of Right to the City, with the support of CarsonWatch.
 
In support of the #RenterWeekofAction, our National Equity Atlas and All-In Cities teams analyzed the impact of the growing affordability crisis in the U.S. and in 37 cities (*see list below). They found that nationally, if renters paid only what was affordable for housing, they would have $124 billion extra to spend in the community every year, or $6,200 per rent-burdened household. 

Join us. Participate in the Renter Week of Action. 

  • Join an action happening in your city. Check out this map of actions to find out what is happening locally and get in touch with the organizers.
     
  • Learn more. See the Homes for All website and download the #RenterPower Action Toolkit. Text RENTERPOWER to 831-218-8484 for text alerts about the actions.
     
  • Use our fact sheets (download National; see below City Fact Sheets) to discuss the renter crisis and solutions with your colleagues, employers, the media, and policymakers. An article in today's LA Weekly uses the Los Angeles fact sheet to support a package of affordable housing bills on the desk of Governor Jerry Brown.
     
  • Amplify the mobilization through social media.  Use #RenterWeekofAction, #RenterNation. This week and beyond, follow @Carson_Watch, @HFA_RenterPower, @PolicyLink, #equitydata.


CITY FACT SHEETS:

Alameda, Atlanta, Baltimore, Birmingham, Boston, Bowling Green, KY, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Durham, El Paso, Jackson, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Lynn, MA, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, Newark, Oakland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, Providence, Reno, Rochester, San Diego, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Seattle, Spokane, Springfield, St. Paul, Washington, DC.

L.A.'s Housing Crisis Is Now the Nation's Housing Crisis

Crossposted from LA Weekly

The impact of Los Angeles' postrecession housing crisis became clear in 2014, when a UCLA report found that L.A. is "the most unaffordable rental market" in the United States. Since then, L.A. has seen renters become the majority of households in the market. And earlier this year, a report marked a 23 percent rise in homelessness  countywide, a number that some experts say is directly tied to out-of-reach rents.

To kick off an awareness campaign called the Renter Week of Action this week, a number of organizations released an analysis of the city's and nation's increasing rent burdens, noting in a summary that renters from coast to coast now "face a toxic mix of rising rents and stagnant wages."

We Are All Dreamers

Turning our backs on young Americans who arrived in this country with family or other adults seeking a better life is morally reprehensible. The Trump Administration’s decision to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program places over 800,000 young people at risk of deportation and separation from their loved ones and reneges on a promise made to those young people by our government.

Yesterday’s action underscores the Administration's pursuit of normalizing racist and xenophobic beliefs through an agenda rooted in the criminalization of people of color. Igniting polarization by race and ethnicity and scapegoating our immigrant brothers and sisters threatens the culture, economy, and security of our nation. Again, we must stand up for the latest target of this hate-filled Administration whose efforts to splinter the nation for the benefit of a cruel minority have no end. We are all DACA children.  

Ending DACA is morally wrong and economically foolish.  For years, PolicyLink has argued that Equity is a moral imperative and the Superior Growth Model.  The diversity of this country is critical to its economic growth and prosperity.  The actions against DACA will negatively impact the economy in ways underscored by recent studies revealing a loss of billions from the national GDP over the next decade and the loss of contributions from thousands of valuable workers and entrepreneurs.   

Young people covered by the DACA program must be protected and the nation’s promise honored.  Now more than ever, we need Congress to act quickly and confirm that Americans of every race and creed are valued, that our government keeps its promises and rejects hate and xenophobia, and that the U.S. is a place that welcomes all who come sharing a democratic vision and valuing freedom, justice, and equity for all.   

Here are a few things you can do to demonstrate your support:  

  1. Call your members of Congress and demand their support for the Dream Act. And, with DACA ending, it's time for Congress to pass a clean version of the bipartisan Dream Act. Use dreamacttoolkit.org to call and urge your member of Congress to stand up for Dreamers.  
  2. Attend a rally: You can locate rallies in your area using Resistance Near Me.   
  3. Show your support online: Raise your voice to support the #DreamAct by tweeting and posting your support for young immigrants. Make it clear that they are #HereToStay. Find sample tweets & hashtags below.

Sample Tweets:

  • Trump decision on #DACA is morally wrong & economically unwise. Congress must stand up 4 young immigrants & America. Protect immigrants now!
     
  • Will Congress pass the Dream Act, which creates a path to citizenship for Dreamers, without using their loved ones as bargaining chips? 1/2
  • Or will they stand idly by and let the president destroy the lives and livelihoods of immigrants? #HeretoStay 2/2
     
  • 800,000+ dreamers are in our workforce. Ending DACA not only disrupts their lives but also their employers, coworkers, patients & more.
     
  • Trump's decision against Dreamers is not the end for immigrants. Congress must do right by them: pass the Dream Act. #HeretoStay
     
  • @HouseGOP @SenateGOP have a choice: side w/ 800,000+ young immigrants and protect them... or uphold Trump's hate agenda? #HeretoStay
     
  • @realDonaldTrump has stripped legal status of young immigrants who make America strong. Congress must right this wrong: pass #DreamAct!
     

Trump Administration Eliminates Local Hire Pilot before It Can Demonstrate Results

The Trump Administration recently stripped communities of a crucial tool for job creation – hiring local workers. In August, the US Department of Transportation announced it would discontinue a pilot program allowing for geographic-based hiring preferences in administering federal awards, also known as local hiring. This represents a premature halting of a program that was being utilized on 14 projects in more than 10 states. The pilot program has not been in existence and functioning long enough to collect and analyze data and information to determine its impact. 

By repealing the program at US DOT, the Administration is breaking its promise to increase employment, especially for disproportionately under and unemployed communities that stood to gain from the program. For example, one of the projects in located in Wise County, VA: a region which could be called “Trump country”. The population is 92 percent White, and Trump won nearly 4 out of 5 votes in the county in the 2016 election. Wise County is also struggling economically; as of June 2017, the unemployment rate was 7.3 percent – nearly double the statewide rate of 3.7 percent. The poverty rate is 22.7 percent more than twice the statewide rate of 11.2 percent.  Across the entire state there are 16,000 unemployed veterans. The state was working to leverage a $6.4 million dollar road expansion project (which included bicycle paths and sidewalks) to address unemployment and poverty. The county’s approved project they required that 75 percent of new hires should be either local residents or veterans living anywhere in the state of Virginia. 

Local hire policies bring good jobs to economically disadvantaged communities and ensure equitable development. Local hire programs also yield shared benefits.  Businesses receive financial incentives when they hire veterans or workers from the local community and they also find a steady supply of reliable workers. Job seekers can more easily travel to job sites located within their community.

Civic leaders and advocates across the country that are trying to move a jobs agenda for infrastructure have voiced major opposition for this recent move. Members of the federal Advisory Committee on Transportation Equity (ACTE) sent a letter to Secretary Chao urging her to re-instate the local hiring program. ACTE was established by the US DOT in 2016 to provide the Secretary with “independent advice and recommendations about comprehensive, interdisciplinary issues related to transportation equity.” PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell sits on this committee,  serving a two-year term of service alongside 11 individuals involved in transportation planning, design, research, policy, and advocacy, including Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, DreamCorps CEO Van Jones and Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, Jacqueline Pata.

If you would more information about how to join with others to voice your opposition to this move by the administration, please CONTACT US at Transportation Equity Caucus website.

JOIN US in Chicago April 11 – 13, for EquitySummit 2018, as we explore the complexity and urgency of building a multiracial coalition at this pivotal moment for our nation.

 

Crafting an Economic Agenda for Black Lives

Today, racial inequities are once again at the center of the national political conversation — along with bold, visionary proposals for policies to resolve them. Grassroots responses to police violence have given rise to a movement of leaders, coalitions, and organizations seeking not only social justice for Black communities, but economic justice as well.

The Movement for Black Lives, a collective of 50 organizations around the country, is creating a common vision and agenda for Black communities. Last August, the group released a nine-point economic policy platform that calls for progressive restructuring of the tax code to ensure an equitable and sustainable redistribution of wealth, federal and state job programs targeting the most economically marginalized Black people, protection for workers’ rights to organize, tax incentives for cooperative economy networks, and more (read the full platform here). By centering economic equity for Black people and creating and amplifying a shared agenda, the Movement for Black Lives hopes to “move towards a world in which the full humanity and dignity of all people is recognized.”

So far, the collective has been most visible in its event-based organizing. For the past two years, Reclaim MLK Day has been connecting the national holiday to the radical actions of contemporary movements. Launched to coincide with Mother’s Day 2017, “Mama’s Bail Out Day” kicked off a summer of bailing out more than 200 incarcerated people as a step toward ending pre-trial incarceration for those who cannot afford bail. On June 19 (Juneteenth), the collective held a day of action in 40 cities to reclaim abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and other local spaces.

America’s Tomorrow spoke with DeAngelo Bester, contributor to the Movement for Black Lives economic justice platform and co-executive director and senior strategist at the Workers Center for Racial Justice, to discuss the platform’s labor organizing recommendations and talk about what it will take to move the agenda’s policy points forward.

Organizing workers outside of traditional employment models is a priority for the Workers Center for Racial Justice. What are some of the strategies Black workers have begun using to organize in response to the growth of the “on demand” economy?

The Workers Center for Racial Justice and some more progressive unions and worker centers have been trying to organize workers in industries where they are either considered contract or temporary workers. The idea is to organize them as we would in a union, and to change the laws and policies in their localities to give them collective bargaining rights. The National Labor Relations Board ruled last year that you can organize temp workers and people working in temp agencies into collective bargaining units.

Short of guaranteeing collective bargaining agreements, we won’t be able to get on-demand workers the same type of rights as far as fair wages. But there have been some victories in Chicago and other places around increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and getting domestic workers paid sick leave and fair scheduling.

With the politics being the way they are in DC, a national right-to-work policy could be coming down at the federal level. The Supreme Court will also probably be ruling in favor of getting rid of public sector unions. Therefore, we are trying to do our work at the local level in terms of making policy changes to ensure worker protections.

In your local level efforts, where have you seen fair development work in action, in the sense of people creating affordable housing, fighting displacement, and creating good jobs in a single effort?

There hasn’t been a ton of what you are calling fair development. When I did housing work a few years ago, getting the right number of affordable housing units included in development projects was a big issue. As far as jobs going to workers from marginalized communities in community benefits agreements or private labor agreements, it has been really hit-or-miss. It hasn’t been what it needs to be to get Black workers real jobs.

In the construction industry, a lot of cities have minority set-asides. The way it usually works is that two rules are in place: employers have to use union labor, and a certain percentage of the jobs are supposed to go to people from local communities. But there are always ways for folks to get around the stipulation to provide jobs. Sometimes developers only have to pay a $25,000 fine, so they might still choose not to hire people from the community. Or they could say that no new jobs are being created. In the construction industry, a lot of contractors have their own staff in place already and so developers say that they didn’t hire any new people because they just used existing employees. In private labor agreements, that’s been a drawback — and there hasn’t been real enforcement. What we [at the Workers Center for Racial Justice] have been trying to do when we work on private agreements is to say that a certain percentage of jobs and hours worked must go to people from the community; that way we can get around the language of “new jobs created.”

The Movement for Black Lives economic justice platform — like the rest of its policy agenda —  has brought together a diverse range of voices and organizations in a bold and ambitious vision for racial economic justice. What has your experience been working with this group?

The process has been great. The executive team did a great job of bringing people together, keeping people engaged, and answering phones and questions. It’s been as good of an experience as I’ve had as far as getting together and meeting with people and continuing to build relationships.

The only drawback or critique that I have is that there hasn’t been a discussion of building the power needed to get some of the platform implemented. With politics being the way they are in DC right now, none of us really have the power to do that right now. We need to have a discussion about what it would take to build that power, and after we have that power, what we would do to get some of these things implemented.

Speaking of the changing political climate, as the current presidential administration has evolved, which of the Movement for Black Lives platform points do you see as having the most promise in getting implemented?

There could be some potential around tax reform. There was language in the platform around tax breaks for marginalized workers, and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. Republicans have been talking about tax reform, too – cutting taxes for the rich. There could be a chance, if we build up enough support, to move some of the tax reform ideas forward. Other than that, the platform’s points around justice reform and police reform – I don’t think we have a real chance of getting that stuff moving with the person we have in the White House and the person we have heading up the Department of Justice. Even the points around housing and environmental justice and land rights are going to be tough in the current political environment. That’s why it is necessary to build enough power to implement the platform.

Mayors Must Create a Bold Vision for Equity

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining the U.S. Conference of Mayors summer meeting in New Orleans to discuss the importance of equity — just and fair inclusion — to their cities’ future. This was also the first meeting of the conference since their president, Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, ordered the city’s Confederate statues removed. In an earlier speech about this decision, Mayor Landrieu explained, “Centuries old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place.” The conference took a moment to applaud his bold actions, which are all the more courageous given the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, surrounding that city’s plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. Given today’s political climate, cities — with their economic power, diversity, and innovation — must continue to take bold actions, address old wounds, and lead our nation toward inclusive prosperity. This requires transforming policies and systems that have long perpetuated racial inequities.

While millennials, as well as companies and investment capital, are flocking to cities, many vulnerable communities who stuck with cities through their long decline are disconnected from these emerging opportunities and are at risk of being further left behind or displaced altogether. As I explained at the conference, local leaders must think intentionally about racial equity and ensure that low-income people and people of color are able to participate in, and benefit from, decisions that impact their communities.

We call this pathway for achieving healthy, vibrant, prosperous communities “equitable development.” Specifically, I shared four principles to guide equitable development:

  1. Integrate strategies that focus on the needs of people and on the places where they live and work.
  2. Reduce economic and social disparities throughout the region.
  3. Promote triple-bottom-line investments (financial returns, community benefits, and environmental sustainability) that are equitable, catalytic, and coordinated.
  4. Include meaningful community participation and leadership in change efforts. 

For example, the City and County of San Francisco entered into a historic community benefits agreement with Lennar (the second-largest national housing developer) around a major development in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. As a result, Lennar will ensure that 32 percent of housing units are affordable; provide housing preference to existing residents; and provide over $8.5 million in job training funds. Such commitments would not be possible without thinking about enduring inequalities and putting people at the center of development plans.

Reducing inequality and creating opportunities for all to participate in building a stronger economy is not just the right thing to do — it is urgent and fundamental to the economic future of cities, regions, and the nation. Already, more than half of new births in the U.S. are children of color. By the end of this decade, the majority of children under 18 will be of color. By 2030, the majority of young workers under 25 will be of color. It is evident that what happens to people of color will determine the fate of the nation.

As I shared this message with the mayors present, I also understood that they have a responsibility to all their residents. But equity is not a zero-sum game. Intentional investments in the most vulnerable communities have benefits that cascade out, improving the lives of all struggling people as well as regional economies and the nation as a whole. I call this the “curb-cut effect”, after the ramp-like dips on sidewalk corners. Championed by disability rights activists in the 1970s, these investments not only enabled people in wheelchairs to cross the street, but have helped everyone from parents wheeling strollers to workers pushing carts to travelers rolling suitcases. In fact, studies show that curb cuts have improved public safety as they have encouraged pedestrians to cross safely at intersections. 

The strategies may be unique in each city, but the struggle for equity is the same across the United States. Fortunately, mayors understand that the work they do is more important than ever, particularly when it comes to addressing racial inequality. Reflecting on the meeting, I am reminded of another quote from Mayor Landrieu’s speech: “If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain.” Mayors must grapple with inequities in their communities, embrace the changing faces of their cities and towns, and maximize equitable development to foster communities of opportunity for all.

Together, we can build a nation in which no one, no group, and no geographic region is left behind. 

White People, Show Us

Over the past several days we have watched in disgust as the progeny from our nation’s despicable past terrorized a city, committed murder, and received tacit approval from the highest level of government. White supremacy has found a home in the White House. The President is determined to perpetuate and maintain the social, political, historical, and institutional domination by White people at the expense of people of color. And in so doing, he is creating an environment that is also too toxic for White America. The White supremacy movement will not vanish until people of good will succeed in atoning for our nation’s past, reconciling, and building a bridge to a just and fair society where ALL are prospering and reaching their full potential.

America is seeing in real-time what the fight for equity looks like. When cultures, structures, and institutions are forced to change, the responses by those comfortable with and benefiting from the status quo are too frequently ugly, distressing, and violent. Equity leaders should not expect anything less. We signed up for this. Consequently, when things are at their worst, we must be at our best – body, mind, and soul. PolicyLink remains optimistic and single-minded in our work. We are standing strong in the face of formidable opposition because equity leaders, especially those on the front lines, are making progress.

We also are standing strong because we are getting a sense that increasing numbers of White people are sick of other White people's racist conduct. We applaud the fact that from the streets, to corporate board rooms, to charitable giving, White people are taking up the work of equity. We hope we live in a country where most White people do not sympathize with White supremacists. If our perceptions are real, we have an opportunity to accelerate the advancement of equity, and we must seize it. While people of color are going to see this fight for equity through to victory, there is a powerful role that White people must play, and this role can no longer be eschewed for safer, transactional expressions of solidarity.

Show yourselves to be true patriots by joining with people of color, believing in the potency of inclusion, and building from a common bond to stamp out White supremacy and realize the transformative promise of equity – the imperfect and unrealized aspiration embodied in the Constitution. White America, you can perfect this aspiration! To do so requires that you honestly and forthrightly call out racism and oppression, both overt and systemic. And while this is a good start, it is insufficient. Your work is to lead the way in designing and implementing equity-centered public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms that trump White supremacy and create a just and fair society. This must be your call to action. This is what people of color need from you.

The normalization of White supremacy must be stopped now before it irreversibly poisons the nation’s culture. Your leadership is critical in this moment. You are best equipped to defeat White supremacy. Here are actions you can take that are transformative.


Show us that our perceptions of a White majority opposed to White supremacy are real. Show us that we have a reason to believe that you will fight with more devotion to create a society that is just and fair for ALL, than White supremacists will in their pursuit to maintain their structural advantage, their racial privilege, their "whiteness." By accepting this invitation, you’re not doing anyone any favors. You’re doing the work necessary to make America all that it can be. History has its eyes on you. Show us. Fight for equity.

With gratitude,

Angela Glover Blackwell
CEO  

Michael McAfee
President

Disability Rights Activist Sasha Blair-Goldensohn Fights for Inclusive NYC Transit System

Public transportation is the lifeblood of cities, enabling residents to get to work, take their children to school, and access vital community resources. Too often, however, transit systems fail to meet the needs of those with disabilities — making it nearly impossible for them to participate fully in civic, cultural, and economic life. 

This was the troubling reality facing Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a Google software engineer and disability rights activist in New York City. When a tragic accident in 2009 partially paralyzed his lower body, this native New Yorker quickly realized that the subway he had relied on his entire life was woefully inaccessible by wheelchair, with frequent elevator outages that could leave him stranded for hours at a time. Blair-Goldensohn penned a powerful op-ed in The New York Times recently framing transit inaccessibility as a matter of equity and inclusion, and is continuing the fight as a plaintiff in two court cases calling for a more accessible NYC subway. 

America’s Tomorrow is excited to bring you the latest episode of Equity Speaks, a PolicyLink podcast focusing on racial and social equity. Blair-Goldensohn and PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell discuss the moral imperative of making cities accessible to all, the power of the “curb-cut effect” as a frame for transit advocacy, and the promise of universal design as a way forward for city planning. 

Listen to the podcast below:

Read excerpts of the interview below:

Angela Glover Blackwell: This is Angela Glover Blackwell, CEO of PolicyLink and I’m joined by Sasha Blair-Goldensohn to talk about the “curb-cut effect”, but more importantly to talk about an advocacy effort that Sasha is a part of trying to create greater access to transportation in New York City. Many of you know that PolicyLink, a national organization trying to advance equity by Lifting Up What Works, has really been concerned for some time about the notion that Americans too often feel that creating opportunities for one group takes something away from another group — that equity and inclusion is a zero-sum game.

When I say the curb-cut effect I’m talking about how that curb-cut that is in the sidewalks because of the advocacy of people with disabilities in wheelchairs, who could not access opportunity that was theoretically available to them because they couldn't traverse their communities. And yet when that curb-cut was there, people pushing strollers immediately went to it, workers with carts, and parents could feel a little better about their new bike riders traversing the city sidewalk to sidewalk, not having to ride in the street. It also saves lives because that curb-cut orients people to cross at the corner and that makes a tremendous difference. The curb-cut effect makes the point that by focusing authentically and effectively on those who are most vulnerable while we address challenges, we create solutions that benefit everybody.

I have the impression from something that Sasha wrote in the New York Times, that he very much appreciates this point of view. I wanted to bring his voice and his story to the equity movement that is often associated with PolicyLink to be able to understand how expansive we can be when we think about the benefits to society when we make sure that everyone can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. So thanks again Sasha for joining.

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn: My pleasure. 

Angela Glover Blackwell: I must say, Sasha, when I saw your op-ed in the New York Times, I was interested for two reasons: One, the topic was very interesting to me because you were talking about access, but I also remembered that I read about you in the New York Times years ago when you had your terrible accident in New York City that left you in a wheelchair. Therefore, there was a direct relationship between that story I read years ago and this story, so I was drawn to it. I wondered if you would take a little time to tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, how you happened tragically to end up in the situation you’re now in, and how that has changed the way you see the world. 

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn: I’d be glad to. Nearly eight years ago, almost exactly eight years ago — July 2009 — I was a fit, able bodied person walking in Central Park on my way to work and a giant limb chose that exact second to fall. It was a clear day, it was just preposterously bad luck that I happened to be walking under it at that moment and it fell on top of me. From that moment, I had very much good luck to still be here I would say. There’s really no question about that actually, because it was really touch and go for a while. I was in an intensive care unit for about a month and a rehab hospital for six months, and by the time I got out I got back so very much. I didn’t get back the ability to walk, so I would have to start getting around in a wheelchair. So for the past several years that has been my life and my experience, and it’s been...obviously your life changes, but you become aware of a lot of things. And a big one has been access. I grew up in the city and the subway is how you get around. I was kind of proud [of it]. I’d have friends visit from other cities and towns, and I’d say isn’t this cool there’s this subway that anybody can take. For two dollars you go anywhere around town, and it runs all night. It's not always the cleanest, it's not beautiful, but it works, it gets you there. And then lo and behold it doesn’t get you there at all — it doesn’t get a lot of people there.

Angela Glover Blackwell: I would love for you, if you can, to say a word about the litigation. I know you can’t go into any details, but I want our listeners to know that your activism has taken you all the way into a direct challenge. If you could just describe it. Then I want to talk a little bit more about how important this is, not just for you, or people in wheelchairs, but how important it is for all New Yorkers, and ultimately all people who need to access opportunity.

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn: Sure thing. There are four elevators between my home and my getting to work. Any one of those elevators being out stops me. Concretely, what does that mean? In any week going back and forth from work, there will be at least one time that one is out. So, one of my trips back and forth to work — and it’s not like the trip is delayed a bit, people can deal with that — it means I get halfway through a trip and I’m stopped.  And the thing is there is no system. First of all it’s not announced on the subway, so you can get off the train, on the platform, you get up to the elevator, and, ”Oh.” It’ll be bad enough if it were just out and nobody knew, but not infrequently it’s out and it’s clear that somebody knew. There will be a cardboard sign on it or a little strip of nylon tape across it. Someone knew and thought that that was a sufficient reaction. And then in a few days, maybe somebody will fix it. What do you do at that moment? You got off the train, you can’t get on the elevator. Your options are, if I’m in a rush…you know, you got to get to work, pick up your kids, people are going somewhere, that’s why they’re on the train. What I’ve found is the quickest way to get going is to find two or three strong-looking, industrious-looking people on the platform and ask them. It took me a while to get up the gumption to do that and have the confidence. It’s terribly dangerous — it’s not an advisable thing, my physical therapist would not want me to do that. I’ve come to find that it actually kind of works. I’ve gotten good at managing people and being the foreman and say, “You here, you here, you here.” And I have a system. It works, but it’s awful. I take it back: it’s awful that I have to do it and that’s the system and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) hasn’t made anything better than that. But there is something very affirming about it, which is to say, community. Community is a big deal, and people are kind. People are always busy ignoring people and acting anonymous, especially in big cities. People have sometimes refused because they have a bad elbow or something. Much more often than not, people will chip in and say, “Ok, yeah I got ya.”

So, I was having this happen all the time, and I thought, am I just having back luck? So my cousin, who is a journalist, she put in a freedom of information law (FOIL) request to get a year’s worth of outage data from the MTA and they dumped it into a big spreadsheet. I’m a computer scientist so what do I do? I analyze it, I took the average. And I was like, whoa, this is not just me, not at all. There were 9,000 outages over the past year. What does that mean? So let’s see 365 days in a year, neighborhood of 20+ a day, and these are not outages because they are improving. No these are just things that nobody predicted and the situations that happened to me where it just stopped working and these outages, these aren’t five minutes. The median time, some have more or have less, four hours. This is an elevator. Once I saw that, I thought, this is far from being just me, and I ended up getting in touch with DRA (Disability Rights Advocates). It was astounding — those are the numbers that I put in the [New York Times] article. 

Angela Glover Blackwell: So I talk about the curb-cuts and the people pushing strollers and workers with carts, but also the lives saved by ordering people to cross at the corner. When you think about this issue of access to the subway and what difference working elevators could make, have you couched this argument in the context of all the other people who haven’t been activists around this that should be? 

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn: Absolutely. I haven’t had to stretch too hard to think about that. It’s not like I’m thinking how can I make this a bigger issue than just me. No, because every time I get in an elevator in a subway, I’m very rarely alone. And who is always in there? Very rarely is it other wheelchairs actually, because most people in wheelchairs have given up on the subway because it works so poorly so if they actually wanted to get somewhere, they’d probably find another way. So since I’m one of the ones on the subway elevators, who do I see all the time —  strollers, elderly people, workers, often. That’s someone you mentioned in your article. Who takes the curb-cuts? It’s workers with handcarts. Talk about not being a zero-sum game, we’re making our whole community, our whole society more functional and more economically viable [when we deal] with obstacles in our way that don't need to be there.

Angela Glover Blackwell: We have been talking about that at PolicyLink in the context of the economy and the people who are being marginalized and left out of it. A lot of what’s happening now in the United States is that people who are White and working class, White and poor are really front and center because of their angst, their insecurity, the opiate addiction, increasing suicide rates, and early mortality.  And a lot of people are starting to write about it. Ann Case and Sir Angus Deaton at Princeton University have probably written the most. When we’re talking about poor, near-poor White people, if we intervene, and just try to solve the problem there, we’re going to still have the fundamental problem of what’s been happening with people of color.  And that fundamental problem of what’s happening with people of color — if we were to address it directly the benefits of it would go to all. So getting people to understand what you just said: always go to the most vulnerable not out of charity, go to the most vulnerable because the only way to sustainable, effectively fix something for the long term is to start there.

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn: What it reminds me of, right now in New York City…the MTA is never well-loved, but this is a disastrously bad summer. The lead story on local news more or less every night is about the so-called “summer of hell” because Penn Station, which is a major choke point and has been in bad shape for many historical reasons for many years, has come to a [breaking] point. Commuters from Long Island and New Jersey, and all over the place, are thinking this is the worst, I’m being late to work every day, I’m sitting on the train, they’ve cut down the number of trains. And in a funny way, I’ve come to think that they’re finding out what I’ve been dealing with and what this community has been dealing with for much longer. This is what it feels like when the system is at best, sort of okay on a regular day, and on many days far worse than that. So, the point is that I feel like sometimes now we come to the MTA and say they need to deal with this elevator thing, they’ll say they can’t deal with this now, Penn Station is already a mess, everyone else is already struggling. [We need] to convince people that this is the same fight and convince people that this is in some ways the best moment to deal with it. Because this is already going to be hard. So, let’s make it work together and approach it in the universal design way and say what's the way to fix it for everybody, to look at all these problems as one problem and how can we help the maximum number of people with one effort instead of doing it piecemeal and with band-aids, because that’s never going to get it done.

Tax Alliance for Economic Mobility Provides Feedback to the Senate Finance Committee on How to Improve Tax Reform

In response to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) call for input and feedback from tax stakeholders across the country on how to improve the American tax system through tax reform, The Tax Alliance for Economic Mobility submitted the following letter to the Finance Committee that focuses on reform that outs low and moderate income people first, and fuels upward economic mobility instead of exacerbating an already-growing wealth divide.

The letter hones in on four sets of principles for reform of tax-based aid that can lead to more equitable programs that will expand opportunity throughout the country:

  1. Increasing Financial Security for Working Families;
  2. Making Higher Education Tax Expenditures Work for Everyone;
  3. Using the Tax Code to Encourage Savings and Investment for Retirement
  4. Reduce Subsidies for Mortagage Debt and Larger Homes Owned by High-Income Households

Read the full letter here and sign up for the Tax Alliance newsletter for updates on our work.

Narrative Change in a Shifting Political Landscape: The Ambassadors for Health Equity Focus on Building a Culture of Health

Cultural narratives are powerful, often underutilized tools for promoting policy change. Especially in today’s shifting political landscape — where fear, anger, and xenophobia have taken root in the public discourse — the story of who we are and what we value as a nation has never been more important. 

That is why narrative change has become a central theme in the work of the Ambassadors for Health Equity, a year-long fellowship of 13 national leaders from the private and social sectors who have worked together to foster environments where everyone — regardless of race, neighborhood, or financial status — has the opportunity for health and well-being.

A joint venture of PolicyLink and FSG, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), this fellowship creates a platform for leaders from outside the health field to share ideas and experiences, forge new alliances, and collaborate around promoting health equity in their work. Guided by three health equity experts, the fellowship included five in-person meetings, a series of webinars, and ongoing remote engagement around pressing topics in health equity.

The power of narrative has been at the forefront of the ambassadors’ work since the fellowship’s launch when ambassador, author, and executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, Jeff Chang presented on the importance of art and culture in promoting policy change.

“We can’t understand the social movements of recent years — Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter — without understanding the power of culture,” Chang said at the July 2016 launch meeting in Oakland, CA. “Culture is where we can introduce ideas, attach emotions to concrete change, and foster enthusiasm for our values…culture is where we change the narrative.”

As the year progressed, the need for counter-narratives within an increasingly contentious political climate brought new urgency to this work, and the ambassadors sought to deepen their knowledge and share their own experiences of using storytelling to advocate for low-income communities and communities of color both locally and nationally.

What follows are some of the insights and best practices that have emerged from the many discussions around narrative change that took place throughout the Ambassadors for Health Equity fellowship.

Narrative Change in the Field

Narrative change is a slow, culturally-embedded process, and the results — a shift in public consciousness and public policy — can take years, if not a generation to appear. 

“In some ways, in doing the work of narrative change we’re running a relay marathon that we won’t see the finish line of, but our children and grandchildren will,” Michael Skolnik, ambassador, entrepreneur, and CEO of creative agency SOZE, said during the May 2017 fellowship meeting in New York, NY.  “It can be challenging to make the case for the need for narrative work when it’s so difficult to quantify.”

This challenge makes examples from the field a powerful tool for communicating the potential of narrative work. At the May meeting, Skolnik shared a case study from activists and artists in Ferguson, MO, who used street art to send a powerful message of solidarity and hope to the community and the national media covering the protests. 

In the fall of 2014, as America waited to hear if officer Darren Wilson would be indicted for the lethal shooting of unarmed Black youth, Michael Brown, tensions were running high in Ferguson. Along the two-block stretch of West Florissant Avenue where demonstrations had continued for weeks, shopkeepers had boarded up entire storefronts in preparation for the protests that might ensue following the grand jury’s decision. 

With the press swamping protests for weeks, local artist and activist Damon Davis saw an opportunity in the boarded-up storefronts. 

“It was a stage where the whole world was watching,” Skolnik said. “These boards would become a canvas for communicating with news cameras, and by extension, to America.” 

Working with community members, Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte, Skolnik helped secure funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support the activists and Davis’ art project. Davis photographed the backs of the hands of people of all ages and races, papering the storefronts (with the owners’ permission) with larger-than-life black and white prints. The images evoked the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture, which had become a symbol of outrage over the shooting of unarmed Black youth, but also suggested solidarity and hope, the artist said. 

The art received widespread, national media coverage almost immediately upon installation, and was noted as “the most powerful street art in America” at the time. 

“The fight with narrative work is to lift up the voices of those directly impacted, and build compassion to open up the heart,” Skolnik said. “This project moved people across America.” 

Shaping the Message, Finding the Messenger 

In a charged political climate, shifting the narrative on a contentious issue isn’t just about communicating an argument; it’s about building empathy and finding avenues for human connection. 

This was the overwhelming takeaway from political strategist Marc Solomon’s work on the Freedom to Marry campaign, which helped activists win marriage equality nationwide in 2015. Sharing his experience with the Ambassadors during a May webinar, Solomon recounted a turning point in their campaign that forced them to re-envision how they talked about gay rights.

“For years we'd been focusing on raising awareness of how gay couples were excluded from rights and benefits, but it wasn't moving the needle; we realized we’d lost touch with the core reason why most gay couples wanted to get married in the first place: to show love and commitment to their partners,” Solomon said.

Solomon and colleagues revamped their advocacy campaign to tap into the shared humanity of issue, highlighting the fact that “gay people shared the same hopes, dreams, fears, and aspirations as straight people,” Solomon said.

Instead of using celebrities or politicians in their campaign, they selected messengers that would speak to these priorities. They enlisted friends and family members who had moved from disapproval to acceptance when they discovered their loved one was gay, using them as spokespeople for commercial, ads, and congressional testimony. 

“We wanted to take people who were conflicted on the issue on a journey that allowed for the fact that it was okay to be conflicted, and yet showed them people they could relate to who had journeyed to a place of support,” Solomon added. 

This human connection piece is especially important in the realm of health equity work, where the sites of intervention — the need for healthy food, quality healthcare, and safe housing, for example — are both deeply personal and universal. 

“People can see themselves in work to promote health, improve education, and help the environment,” Tynesia Boyea-Robinson, ambassador and president and CEO of Reliance Methods said at the May 2017 meeting. “There is less othering because everyone has had a sick family member, everyone wants clean air and good schools for their kids.” 

Forging New Conversations in Health Equity

When we talk about narrative change, we are ultimately talking about a cultural shift — a fundamental change in the dominant views, values, and eventually policies. 

Advancing a health equity agenda within today’s tumultuous political climate will require advocates to build on the creativity and compassion showcased by the examples above, and push the narrative further through new partners, messengers, and platforms for discussion, debate, and dissemination.

That is why the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has focused on building a Culture of Health, in part through cross-sector initiatives like the Ambassadors for Health Equity that bring together new allies from outside the health sector and gives them the tools to promote health equity within their own work.

“In my field of criminal justice, we’re extremely siloed,” said James Bell, ambassador and founder & president of the W. Haywood Burns Institute. “These meetings have helped me get the language and educate others about the connections between criminal justice and other sectors like health, education, and housing.” 

In this way, the work of narrative change begins with the conversations that transpire between colleagues, opponents, and community members. 

“We need to be able to see the humanity in each other, even when we disagree,” Sarah Kastelic, ambassador & executive director at the National Indian Child Welfare Association said at the May 2017 meeting. “If we’re going to have the conversations we need to have, we need to build relationships that are durable enough to make mistakes.” 

She added, “We must be vulnerable enough to say things and know we may not get it right at first, and compassionate enough to listen and help our opponents get it right.”

PolicyLink Launches All-In Cities Policy Toolkit


Today marks the launch of the All-In Cities Policy Toolkit, a new online resource designed to help leaders inside and outside city government identify, understand, and choose targeted policy solutions to advance racial economic inclusion and equitable growth.

The toolkit includes an initial selection of 21 tools, including, but not limited to: Equitable contracting and procurement, Financial empowerment centers, incentivized savings accounts, living wage, local and targeted hiring, minimum wage, worker-owned cooperatives, and more. New content and additional policies will be added throughout 2017 and beyond. The toolkit provides examples of specific policies that local leaders can adapt to their own economic and political contexts, key considerations for design and implementation, and outlines where these policies are working to advance racial and economic equity.

This toolkit is just one resource from All-In Cities. Through this initiative, PolicyLink continues its work to change the dialogue about how and why equity matters to city and regional futures, while working hand-in-hand with city leaders to advance equitable growth strategies.

These Boston Apprenticeships Are Pushing the Economy Toward Equity

Donan Cosme was only 15 when he found himself in the crosshairs of gang life, facing off against a member of a competing gang, guns raised. More than a decade later, these two men would meet again — not as rivals, but as colleagues and fellow apprentices in Boston’s Sprinkler Fitters Local Union 550.

“We’ve put our differences aside and we can work together like it never happened,” Cosme, 30, said. “This is what’s possible when you give people a second opportunity to make something of themselves.”

Cosme credits this second opportunity to Operation Exit, a program that provides formerly incarcerated and at-risk residents with the skills and support necessary to enter apprenticeships in building trades, culinary arts and the tech industry. The program has placed dozens of graduates into career-track apprentice opportunities that pay well above the city’s living wage.

Read the full article in Next City>>>

Expansion of CalEITC to Reach More than One Million Additional Low-Income Working Families

 

On June 27, Governor Jerry Brown signed a budget that significantly expands the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC), a refundable state tax credit that increases the economic security of low-income working families. Effective for the 2017 tax year, low-income workers with self-employment income and working families with incomes up to about $22,300 will be able to benefit from the credit. Initial estimates from the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy indicate that more than one million additional families could benefit under the expansion.

“The expansion of CalEITC represents a significant step toward creating a more equitable California, one in which all Californians, no matter race, gender, or socioeconomic status, can thrive and reach their full potential.” – Lewis Brown, Senior Associate, PolicyLink

Read Full Statement at Children's Defense Fund -- California 

Infrastructure Is Not Just Roads and Bridges

I once missed a job interview in Watts because the hour and a half I allotted for travel across Los Angeles wasn’t enough for the five buses I needed to get there. After two and a half hours, I turned around, defeated.

That was years ago, but President Trump’s infrastructure rollout this week brought the memory back to me.

When politicians talk about infrastructure, people generally think of roads and bridges. But these are just a part of the nation’s infrastructure, and not necessarily the most important part for millions of poor and working-class Americans who have limited access to public transportation, broadband and even clean water. If we’re going to talk about how infrastructure can get America back to work, Mr. Trump needs to think beyond concrete and steel spans.

My own frustration that day in Los Angeles pales in comparison to what many people face. Sixty percent of public transit users are people of color who rely on broken or inefficient systems. Only 62 percent of rural Americans have access to high-speed internet. Imagine what that means to a high school student applying to college or a small-business owner trying to connect with customers. From Flint, Mich., to the Navajo reservation in the Southwest, more than 1.3 million Americans don’t have running water at home, and many don’t have access to clean water at all.

Read the full op-ed in the New York Times>>

Six New Cities Selected for Equitable Economic Development Fellowship

The National League of Cities (NLC), PolicyLink, and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) announced the selection of six additional cities for participation in the organizations’ jointly-supported Equitable Economic Development Fellowship: Austin, Baltimore, Louisville, Nashville, Phoenix and Sacramento.

The fellowship begins today in Washington, D.C., where representatives from each city, as well as those who participated in the 2016-2017 class, will convene to build a shared sense of equitable economic development, hear from the outgoing class of participants, and engage with program sponsors and other guest speakers.

During the year-long fellowship, each city will select an issue or project aimed at spurring inclusive economic growth. Economic development experts from across the country will then provide technical assistance, leadership training and make recommendations to help the cities reach their goals. The cities will also designate fellows within their communities to travel to the other participating cities for peer learning and the sharing of best practices.

"Cities are recognizing that racial and economic inclusion is central to their success," said Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink founder and CEO. "We are excited to work with these economic development leaders who are ready to implement new strategies and approaches that set their cities on a trajectory of equitable growth."

Learn more about this fellowship and read the full press release.

Trump’s Budget Should Enrage Everyone


Back in March, when the Trump Administration released its preliminary budget document for FY2018 (the so-called “Skinny Budget”), PolicyLink called it “a NIGHTMARE for the entire nation — poor and low-income people, middle-income people, people of color, children, seniors, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, working people, those living in rural areas, those living in urban areas. EVERYONE.” The administration’s final FY2018 budget document, which was released yesterday, confirms that the NIGHTMARE continues…

The budget embodies an arrogant tossing aside of the majority of Americans while simultaneously elevating a very small constituency of the very wealthiest in our country. This budget includes something that should ENRAGE everyone- seniors, the poor and low-income, those living in inner cities and urban areas, those living in suburban and rural areas, middle-income people, those concerned about the environment, people with children, people with disabilities, those working to develop and improve communities, veterans, etc. Just a quick snapshot reveals drastic cuts to fundamental programs: Medicaid, Social Security Disability Benefits, and SNAP; an undermining of vital protections for clean air and water with significant cuts to the budget for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the gutting of key HUD funding that supports safe and stable housing and the development of communities rich with opportunities; the elimination of whole programs and departments that support rural businesses and communities; the evisceration of the U.S. Department of Education’s focus on quality public education for all students; significant increases in deportation resources such that immigrants in this country will be further threatened and isolated, and more.

Make NO mistake, this budget is a major shift away from our core American values of liberty, common good, justice, equality, diversity, and truth; and instead represents a roadmap toward a country keenly focused on the increased enrichment of the very wealthy in this country. The final budget MUST NOT look ANYTHING like the atrocity proposed by the Trump Administration.

This country belongs to ALL OF US. We cannot allow a select few to totally alter its fabric and trajectory. Remember that the final decision regarding the budget rests with Congress and THEY are all accountable to US.

NOW is the time for continued and sustained resistance and action. Below are just a few suggestions of how you can get involved:

  • Educate yourself about what is in the Trump budget by visiting sites such as:
  • Highlight the programs and funding important to you and your family by sharing your story at www.Handsoff.org and use the hashtag ( #Handsoff) to discuss proposed cuts to critical programs.
     
  • Reach out to your elected officials and hold them accountable to ensure that nothing close to the budget proposed by the Trump Administration passes. Visit www.resistancenearme.org to learn of activities in your city during the upcoming Congressional recess.
     
  • Join us and our partners at CarsonWatch.org as we monitor any attempts to roll back fair housing protections and undermine the housing security of millions of Americans. Sign up for alerts TODAY.
     
  • Mark your calendars and plan to join thousands of Equity advocates at our Equity Summit 2018, April 11-13 in Chicago, Illinois. Sign up for updates regarding the Equity Summit here.

Carson Has the Wrong Prescription to Fight Poverty

HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s ongoing listening tour has provoked deep concerns from those working to expand opportunity in all neighborhoods and for that suffering housing insecurity. Secretary Carson’s comments during the tour have betrayed a misunderstanding of the role that subsidized housing can play in helping families escape poverty.

While the HUD Secretary has raised concerns about residents of affordable homes being “too comfortable,” the inverse is sadly too easy to observe: unstable, inadequate housing often traps generations of families into poverty. Matthew Desmond vividly put these connections on display in his Pulitzer Prize winning book Evicted, that found widespread evictions are a symptom and a cause of chronic housing instability, with cascading negative impacts on health, educational achievement, and  job stability.

Read the full commentary on CarsonWatch>>>

Court Protects Sanctuary Cities From Trump’s Threats


Sanctuary cities have won protection – for the time being – from President Trump’s threats to pull federal funding from jurisdictions that do not cooperate with his anti-immigrant agenda. In a major victory for sanctuary cities and the advocates who support them, a federal district court in California recently blocked the Trump administration from enforcing an executive order that attempts to pull current and future federal funds from local jurisdictions that adopt sanctuary policies.

Ruling in favor of the City of San Francisco and Santa Clara County, Judge William Orrick held that the President’s attempt to coerce local jurisdictions into assisting in enforcement of federal immigration policy is likely unconstitutional. The court issued a nationwide injunction prohibiting enforcement of the main terms of the executive order. This is a critical ruling for the growing sanctuary city movement, because it protects local jurisdictions from the administration’s threatened legal and fiscal consequences – and validates the strong legal arguments against the President’s executive order, as described below.

Though there is no formal definition of “sanctuary cities,” the name usually refers to local jurisdictions that prohibit their employees from assisting federal authorities with enforcement of immigration laws. This approach is an effort to protect the safety and well-being of residents – particularly those who are targets of increased surveillance and threat, such as immigrants, Muslims, and people of color.  Sanctuary policies have been spreading rapidly, as local leaders have sought to push back against the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric and discrimination that has characterized the new administration.

When President Trump signed executive order 13768 in January, it injected major uncertainty into local budget processes for cities that have adopted sanctuary policies or are considering doing so, and led to widespread confusion regarding the order’s scope and the impact. Because of the amount of federal funds at stake, many local jurisdictions naturally feared the consequences of any cutback in federal funds based on sanctuary policies.

However, the executive order threatened such cuts to a degree well beyond what the law permits. As explained in a letter from over 300 law professors, the Constitution sets out strict limitations that are violated by the broad language of the executive order:

  • the administration can’t add new conditions to existing federal grants;
  • Congress, not the administration, sets the terms of federal grants;
  • the administration cannot “commandeer” local officials to carry out federal policies; and
  • even when Congress wants to add conditions to future grants, the conditions must be closely related to the purposes of the grant.


Taken together, these legal principles greatly limit the threat to federal funding received by sanctuary cities, now and in the future. The court’s ruling validates these principles, and at least temporarily restrains the administration from using federal funding to coerce local jurisdictions.

Though this lower-court ruling could be overruled or modified on appeal, for now, sanctuary cities, counties, and other spaces have gained significant breathing room as they fight to protect their most vulnerable residents. Local officials considering sanctuary policies – and the advocates for our immigrant communities – should keep in mind that the administration’s threats to cut federal funding are largely empty, and are likely to continue to be reined in by the courts.

Visionary Opposition: Thomas Shapiro on the Growing Racial Wealth Gap and How to Reduce It

As the United States moves closer to becoming a majority people-of-color nation, wealth and income inequality and racial economic inequities are not only persisting, they are getting worse. What could these trends mean for our future economic prosperity, and what kind of innovative policy solutions would it take to turn the tide? PolicyLink President Michael McAfee recently spoke with Thomas Shapiro, author of Toxic Inequality: How America’s Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future, to discuss why the racial wealth gap continues to grow — and what we can do about it.

Can you describe the genesis of your new book, Toxic Inequality? Why did you write it, and how would you characterize the state of toxic inequality today?

In 1998–1999, I and a team of researchers conducted a series of interviews with about 200 families with children in the Boston, St. Louis, and Los Angeles areas to learn about how their different wealth resources affect their opportunities, decisions, and outcomes. We reconnected with many of them again in 2011–2012 to see how they were doing. About two-thirds of the way through that time we went through the Great Recession, and when we followed up with these families I felt that the United States had entered a different and dangerous time — and I wanted to work through why the situation was so different. Today we are dealing with a combination of racial inequities and wealth disparities that I call “toxic inequality,” which is characterized by several factors.

First, the United States is experiencing historically high levels of both wealth and income inequality, going back as far as the data will take us, which is to the 1920s. No matter how you measure it, inequality is at historic highs.

Second, this increasing level of inequality is made even worse by the fact that it is taking place in the context of stagnating or declining wages and economic mobility for many families, starting in the 1970s. As a society, we can more readily manage inequality if things are also generally getting better at the same time, but that isn’t the case today. Inequality is going up while living standards are going down for many people.

Third, we have a vastly widening racial wealth gap. A large, nationally representative study following the same set of families from 1984 to 2013 found that the racial wealth gap among them grew from $85,000 in 1984 (adjusted for inflation) to nearly $240,000 by 2009. The racial wealth gap basically tripled in less than 30 years. Something very profound, deeply structural, and bent by the arc of state and federal policy is responsible for that.

Fourth is the issue of changing demographics. By 2044, no racial group will be a statistical majority in the United States. Our institutions are not prepared for this change and have done a terrible job of getting ready for it.

Fifth, and the work of Joseph Stiglitz is critical here, corporate power and lobbying on the part of very wealthy individuals and corporations has expanded the rule of the marketplace. For instance, who writes into the regulations that federal agencies cannot negotiate over the cost of pharmaceuticals? It would seem that they should be able to, but the rules say they can’t — because of pharmaceutical companies’ corporate lobbying power and policy influence.

Finally, pandering to racial anxieties — and fears of immigrants and immigration — has become more pronounced in American society in recent years, even before the last election.

Let’s talk more about the consequences of this situation and how the connections between wealth and opportunity affect outcomes related to jobs, homeownership, and other wealth-building strategies. Can you describe the differences between earning income and building wealth? How has the changing character of work and jobs affected the development of the racial wealth gap?

We live in an uber-capitalist society where money buys merit. It is totally inconsistent to have a system where some people have very large inheritances and to say we offer equal opportunity — but we pretend that we have both.

In many ways, financial assets and wealth give some people the opportunity to purchase further opportunities, which isn’t an option for other people. People with wealth and assets can literally buy second, third, and fourth chances for their children. For others, if you make a mistake with your first chance or if you have a life crisis like a layoff, illness, or death in the family, you have no way to get back on track. As john powell has said, “wealth is excess security.”

Jobs are an important piece. In 1970, General Motors (GM) was the largest employer in the United States, employing about half a million people. Most workers there were represented by unions; wages were rising faster than inflation; and living standards were improving. In 2013, the largest employer in the United States was Walmart, with 1.3 million jobs — very few of which offer the wages, job security, and benefits that had been accessible to union workers at GM.

In the 1970s, the connection between work and wealth was much stronger, institutionally and in policy. But in this transition from GM to Walmart, the connection between work and wealth was broken. It exists for far fewer workers in the United States today, and where it does still exist it maps on to the legacy of occupational segregation. For example, 62 percent of White workers work for an employer who provides access to retirement savings, compared to 54 percent of African American workers and about 38 percent of Latino workers.

Take the example of two families we met in St. Louis: the Ackermans, a White family who lived in a predominantly White suburb, and the Medinas, a Black family who lived about 20 miles away. Even though both sets of parents had similar education and skillsets, the Ackerman family earned about $20,000 more per year — and that was just the beginning of the story. Because of the jobs and institutions they were able to access, the Ackermans gained not only more income but also significantly more employer-funded retirement savings, health-care coverage, and college tuition benefits for their children — in total, more than $30,000 a year in additional compensation on top of earnings.

So when we followed up with them in 2010, the Ackermans had accumulated about $350,000 in retirement savings and their son was enrolled at the University of Missouri with his tuition covered. The Medinas had about $12,000 in retirement savings and their daughter was not college bound. When their children were young, these parents’ aspirations and hopes for their kids were equal. But their outcomes were not.

As more people continue to move to access career opportunities, does this change the equation in terms of pursuing homeownership as a key to wealth building?

That’s a great question. For some people, moving represents advancement in a career path, so the question of whether to pursue homeownership is a consideration. But when we followed up with the families in our study after 12 years, I was shocked by how few of them had moved. I expected many of them to have relocated, but only three families had moved more than about 50 miles away from where they started. People do move around a lot, but it tends to be within a given region — and many of them are renters.

The issue of homeownership is a very local thing. But it’s important to remember that for people in the 20th to 80th percentile of income earners, two-thirds of wealth is in home equity. Homeownership is deeply entrenched in policy regulations and mediated by mortgage lenders and real estate brokers and other interests — so access to home equity as a source of wealth is not simply the result of personal responsibility or thrift. Homeownership produces lesser returns for people of color than for Whites, but if you move every five years, buying a condo or a house could still make sense, because you’d otherwise be spending that money on rent.

Clearly the racial wealth gap, in aggregate, is not going to be eliminated by homeownership. But at the individual level, it is still very important. Families aren’t thinking about closing the racial wealth gap. They’re thinking about their security and their family’s needs: stable communities, safe streets, good schools.

Given the situation you describe, what are the innovative ideas and policies that you think have the potential to make a real difference? How do we keep moving forward?

There is a misleading narrative that has grown around the notion of universal solutions — for example, free college tuition in New York state. What should be universal is the outcome, as in the goal of universal college education. That doesn’t mean the policy solutions need to be universal. The solutions should be targeted, based on the different needs that exist, to get everyone to that universal goal.

The good news is that there are success stories of African American families experiencing economic mobility. Aggregate wealth of African Americans is growing — just nowhere near the pace of White family wealth. Some existing strategies are helpful, like HUD’s Family Self Sufficiency program, which allows people living in subsidized housing to save in escrow accounts the money they would otherwise spend on rent increases. A family in our study who was living in subsidized housing used this program to buy their first home; it’s a proven solution but it isn’t operating anywhere close to scale.

There is an emerging strategy that people are calling “visionary opposition”: not shying away from resisting the harms that are being done, but focusing on continuing to build the agenda we have been working on. We need to keep pushing forward to rewrite the rules, regulations, and policies that produced and perpetuate this state of toxic inequality; and the only way that happens is by advocating and winning reforms that simultaneously build political power with new constituencies and loosen the structures that hold power together. That’s where we need to move ahead — however that is defined at the local level and however it plays out nationally as well.

New Data Profile Supports City of New Orleans Equity Strategy

April 20 marked an historic moment for New Orleans. After a year of community engagement and analysis, the City officially launched its Equity Strategy, laying out how local government will do its part to build a stronger, more inclusive city by advancing equity through its operations and decision-making. With this strategy launch, New Orleans joins the growing movement of city and county governments that are tackling structural racism and advancing equity through citywide initiatives. New Orleans is the first southern city to embrace such an approach.

“In the new New Orleans, having an equitable government is a top priority,” Landrieu said in launching the strategy. “We understand the power of equity and view it as a growth strategy that will lead us to creating a stronger and more prosperous city for all our residents.”

The Equity Strategy commits the city government to establish an equity office responsible for promoting equity in all its operations; make equity a central consideration in budgeting; create plans, with accountability measures, for all departments; conduct racial equity training for all employees and members of boards and commissions; and advance equity in hiring and workforce development.

At the event, PolicyLink and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California (PERE) released an equity profile of New Orleans, the first of a series of 10 new equity profiles produced with the support of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. According to this analysis, the New Orleans regional economy could be $18 billion stronger if racial gaps in income were closed. These profiles are developed to support local community groups, elected officials, planners, business leaders, funders, and others working to build stronger and more equitable cities, regions, and states.

PolicyLink has been working with the Office of Mayor Landrieu to provide assistance with developing its equity strategy for the past year through its All-In Cities initiative, and Senior Director Sarah Treuhaft participated on the panel at the launch event and then held a session to share the findings of the equity profile.

Long Island Is Missing More Than $24 Billion

Cross-posted from Next City

“Equity is the new growth strategy,” PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell likes to say these days. A new report from her organization argues that the economy of New York’s Long Island would have been $24 billion stronger in 2014 alone if racial gaps in income were eliminated.

That’s $24 billion in foregone spending, investment and tax revenues in Long Island’s two counties, Nassau and Suffolk, due to longstanding inequality, coupled with policies ignoring history. That’s $24 billion left on the table in just one year, and it’s an annual loss that will only get larger every year, if nothing is done to address persistent racial inequalities.

Read the full story in Next City>>>

The New Path of Shared Prosperity in Fresno

Advancing Health Equity and Inclusive Growth in Fresno County, released on Monday, highlights persistent inequities in income, wealth, health, and opportunity. The profile and accompanying policy brief were developed by PolicyLink and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) at USC, in partnership with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, and with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
 
“These findings confirm what community residents and advocates have long known—racial and place-based inequities continue to dramatically impact residents’ access to economic opportunity, housing, health, and well-being in the Fresno County region,” says Ashley Werner, senior attorney at the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “We must continue to work together and strengthen our efforts to demand that our elected officials do not remain complicit but actively and strategically work to create opportunity for all.”
 
Key findings in the report include:

  • Fresno has the 12th highest renter housing burden among the largest 150 metro areas in the country. The county’s Black and Latino renters are more likely to be burdened: 68 percent of Black renter households and 60 percent of Latino renter households are cost-burdened.
     
  • Very low-income Black and Latino residents are extremely reliant on the regional transportation system and limited numbers have access to automobiles. 12 percent of Black workers who earn an annual income of less than $15,000 use public transit compared with 1 percent of White workers.
     
  • The average Fresno resident is exposed to more air pollution than 70 percent of neighborhoods nationwide, but Black and Asian or Pacific Islander residents have the highest rates of exposure.
     
  • Latinos are nearly three times as likely as whites to be working full time with a family income less than 200 percent of the poverty level.
     
  • At nearly all levels of education, Latino workers earn $4 dollars less an hour than Whites.

Since 2011, PolicyLink and PERE have engaged in a formal partnership to amplify the message that equity—just and fair inclusion—is both a moral imperative and the key to our nation’s economic prosperity. Advancing Health Equity and Inclusive Growth in Fresno County incorporates indicators that undergird policy solutions to advance health equity, inclusive growth, and a culture of health. 
 
The profile provides unique data and actionable solutions for residents, advocates, funders, business leaders, and policymakers seeking to reduce racial inequities and build a stronger Fresno. This engagement with Fresno advocates is also a part of the All-In Cities initiative at PolicyLink. Through this initiative, PolicyLink equips city leaders with policy ideas, data, and strategies to advance racial economic inclusion and equitable growth.

The Half Trillion Dollar Tax Program That’s Driving Income Inequality

This tax season, as partisan debate continues to dominate Capitol Hill, the U.S. federal government will quietly spend over half a trillion dollars on tax programs to help American households build wealth. Indeed, these annual investments will promote wealth — for those who already have it.

This is one of the great — and often overlooked — tragedies of our tax code: Congress spends billions of dollars each year on a tax program that is making wealth inequality worse.

According to research by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), every year the federal government spends more than $660 billion on tax credits, deductions, reduced tax rates, and other measures intended to promote wealth-building activities, such as buying a home, saving for retirement, or investing in higher education. In practice, however, these wealth-building “tax expenditures” — as they are called – grossly favor America’s richest households, ensuring that those with wealth can maintain and grow their assets, while the vast majority of Americans receive next to nothing.

Read the full op-ed in Next City>>>

Meet the Entrepreneurs Creating an Arts and Culture-Based Economy in Post-Coal Appalachia

Last November, voters in Kentucky expressed confidence that President Trump could deliver on his promise to revive the coal industry, and he carried the state with 62 percent of votes. But in the heart of Appalachia, there's a strong network of businesses and nonprofits that are looking beyond coal, and embracing equity-focused regional economic development for marginalized communities — creating employment opportunities in technology and innovation, and arts and culture, as even more promising growth industries for the region. 

In rural Letcher County, Kentucky — population 23,000 — just 12 percent of adults age 25 or older have a bachelor's degree, and 33 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level. But Letcher County is also home to creative entrepreneurs and artists working to cultivate a more equitable economy. "We're thinking about ways to move forward in a post-coal economy," said Jeremy McQueen, CEO and co-founder of Mountain Tech Media, which provides technology and digital design services out of its base in Whitesburg. "Companies like ours are really offering solutions for workers and communities that used to rely on coal to be able to participate in an economy that's thriving." 

The 12-person company provides a wide variety of branding, marketing, and strategizing services to both small and large businesses in the region, including video and audio productions, web design, app development, graphic design and illustration, and social media management. "I think we are helping folks in our region find the branding and the reach that they're looking for without trying to hire some ad agency in a larger city," which, as McQueen explained, "is usually out of their price range and out of their comfort zone as well." 

An upstart "doing cool things"

McQueen doesn't see Mountain Tech Media as the vehicle for Appalachia to skip-step its way to become the next Silicon Valley. He said that businesses in the region have basic, behind-the-times tech needs to be addressed. The company could work on just websites and promotional videos for the next five to 10 years and still not meet demand. But the goal of Mountain Tech Media is to empower local businesses to think beyond their existing horizons and to provide professional development opportunities for their workers. 

Mountain Tech Media has a worker cooperative model, giving team members equity in the company and involving them in the governance of the business. "I really was interested in the worker co-op model from the very beginning, but I had never heard of it done in a tech or a digital design company," said McQueen. "I think everyone involved now does not have a doubt that it was the right move. We've seen such a sense of pride and self-worth in all of our team members owning a piece of the company and making decisions about what we do next." 

So far, Mountain Tech Media has contracted with 34 organizations and contributed an estimated $200,000 to the regional economy through their work. Founded in 2015, it surpassed its first-year projections in just the first six months of 2016 and surpassed its three-year projections in the span of a single year. The group is well on its way to exceeding its projections for 2017. 

After being profiled in the New York Times, the organization was contacted by the City University of New York to work on a few projects. According to McQueen, "They wanted to get something out quick and decided to reach out to an upstart company like ours that was doing cool things in Appalachia." Nonprofit clients are quick to mention their relationships with Mountain Tech Media in grant applications, a sign that they see investments in their organizations as investments in Mountain Tech Media, and vice versa. 

The culture hub at the heart of Appalachia

Mountain Tech Media took shape and has grown with the help of Appalshop, a grassroots arts and culture organization based in Letcher County since 1969. In 2014, Appalshop's leadership partnered with Lafayette College's Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project (EEGLP) and researchers from Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life (IA) to launch the pilot program for a national initiative for community revitalization and economic development based in creative placemaking and placekeeping. Through this partnership, Appalshop has formalized its role as the anchor of the Letcher County Culture Hub. In addition to Mountain Tech Media, several other projects radiate from Appalshop's core efforts: a radio station, a youth media institute, a theater company, a regional archive, a downtown retail association, and much more. In order to create a college-to-career pipeline of workers to fill the needs of startups like Mountain Tech Media, Appalshop has also started a tech and media certificate program in conjunction with Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.

For years, Appalshop has been training youth in media production and other community development initiatives, and now that pipeline can also connect young people in the region to employment opportunities with businesses like Mountain Tech Media. This summer, the company will employ four media interns to help produce "Upload Appalachia," a youth-driven film series about social entrepreneurship in the region.

"Appalshop is one of the largest cultural anchors in Appalachia and has produced a wealth of creative content over the last 50 years," said McQueen. "They incubated us as a company and gave us access to a lot of networks and resources and equipment. We were able to save a lot of overhead costs right away. We've had so many meetings and conversations with new partners who really dig what we are doing because we are affiliated with Appalshop." 

Cultivating an arts and culture-based economy

Peg & Awl Public House (formerly known as Village Trough) is a worker-owned local and organic food vendor and event production business based in Berea, Kentucky. "We have a mission to reconnect people with local food and local producers and hosting and encouraging community events," said co-founder and owner Ali Blair. Along with Berea Tourism, Peg & Awl Pub began sponsoring First Friday Berea in 2014, a monthly block party bringing together local artisans, food vendors, and musical acts to activate and revitalize the Old Town neighborhood. Peg & Awl's long-term goals include lifting up and connecting artists and small arts-and-culture-based businesses in the region and helping artists turn side incomes into sole incomes. 

Peg & Awl Pub was introduced to Mountain Tech Media as a fellow worker cooperative early on and contracted with them to produce merchandise — first for the food business, then for First Friday Berea. "The work that they're producing is really top-notch and kind of makes us feel like we have a leg up with them doing the design work for our tee shirts, posters, and marketing materials, which are really pieces of art," said Blair. "We want people to collect those things." 

This year, the Berea Arts Council won $25,000 from the Mortimer and Mimi Levitt Foundation to allow them to expand their programming to produce a 10-week music series, Levitt AMP Berea. Mountain Tech Media not only designed marketing pieces for the series and supported social media outreach, but also became a sponsor as a way to support local creative placemaking efforts. 

While there is plenty for supporters of an arts and culture-based Appalachian economy to celebrate right now, there are also looming threats on the horizon. "With a lot of federal arts funding facing budget cuts, I think there are a lot of people asking what we are going to do," said Blair. "What we see on a national level is definitely being reflected in our backyards." 

But Blair also maintained that no matter what locals might think is the best way to focus economic development efforts — reviving coal jobs versus teaching out-of-work miners computer skills or encouraging people to start their own small businesses — the solutions have to be homegrown. "We don't want to be reliant on other people coming in to fix our problems," she said. "There's a lot of pride in us trying to do that ourselves." 

"There are very differing opinions about what counts as positive economic growth," she continued. "A lot of people don't value art and think artists should get a 'real' job. We really feel that arts are absolutely needed to create thriving places for us to live and raise our families." 

To learn more about Appalshop's youth-focused job training, as well as other equity-focused arts and culture policies, check out "Creating Change through Arts, Culture, and Equitable Development: A Policy and Practice Primer," a new PolicyLink report highlighting how arts and culture strategies are being embraced to help create equitable communities of opportunity.

Building Communities of Opportunity: How 3 Communities are Implementing HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule

Between 2000 and 2013, the number of people living in high-poverty almost doubled, rising from 7.2 million to 13.8 million. Today, over 14 million people – including over 4 million children – live in communities of concentrated poverty. Nationwide, more than 4000 of these neighborhoods exist. The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule (AFFH), can help change this trajectory of growing poverty and inequality. Under AFFH, state, public housing authority, and jurisdictional leaders receive support in integrating housing, health, transportation, education, environmental and economic development approaches designed to transform disinvested, high-poverty neighborhoods and foster access to affordable housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods. The AFFH helps local leaders succeed in meeting the requirement to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing as set forth in the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The process, the Assessment of Fair Housing, offers guidance, a data and mapping tool, and technical assistance to help identify and overcome persistent challenges related to disparities in opportunity and fair housing choice. 

This webinar features recent HUD leadership involved in the pilot and implementation of the AFFH and leaders from Kansas City, MO; Philadelphia; and Wilmington, NC who were the first to implement the AFFH offering regionally, in both large and small city experiences. 

Featured Speakers: 

  • Sarita Turner, PolicyLink (moderator) 
  • Dwayne Marsh, GARE 
  • Harriet Tregoning, Former Head, Community Planning Development, HUD 
  • Paul D’Angelo, Tribute Companies, Inc. 
  • Suzanne E. Rogers, City of Wilmington 
  • Verner Lamar Wilson, V. Lamar Wilson Associates, Inc. 
  • Catherine Califano, City of Philadelphia 
  • Coleman McClain, City of Kansas City 
  • Gloria Ortiz Fisher, Westside Housing

All-In Cities Update -- April 2017


Four months into 2017, leaders across the country are demonstrating the power of collaboration — aligning priorities, coordinating action, and sharing information and new ideas — to push back against attacks on equity and inclusion. We are honored to have partnered with so many inspiring advocates and leaders on many efforts so far, and are ready for the work ahead. Today’s update highlights our first convening; shares the discussion from our recent webinars on employment equity and fines & fees; and an upcoming webinar focused on housing opportunity.
 
#CitiesResist Webinar: Three Communities Implementing HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Commitment
Join us on Thursday, April 20 from 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 p.m. PT/1:00 - 2:30 p.m. ET for the next webinar in our #CitiesResist series, produced in partnership with the Government Alliance on Racial Equity (GARE). HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, released in 2015, is a critical equitable growth policy that provides spatial data and a planning process to ensure federal investments go towards ensuring all people can live in communities of opportunity — regardless of race/ethnicity, physical ability, or family status. Learn about the status of the policy from national expert Harriet Tregoning, who oversaw the implementation of the AFFH rule while at HUD, and hear from practitioners and advocates in Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Wilmington who have already implemented the AFFH rule. Register here to learn how you can use the AFFH rule to build a stronger, more inclusive city.

Washington, DC: All-In for Equity & Health
On March 7 and 8, All-In Cities leaders participated in a convening with fellows from our Ambassadors for Health Equity program, including Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Jeff Chang, and Denise G. Fairchild. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the fellowship supports nationally recognized leaders as they work to promote a Culture of Health in their work. The convening began with a tour of the National Museum of African American History & Culture, and gave participants an opportunity to draw connections between equitable development and health; network with other leaders; and discuss the connections between health equity and their own work. The session also included a training on collective leadership and identifying strategies for broad scale change.
 
Webinar: Targeted Strategies to Reduce Employment Inequality
Despite low unemployment rates overall, workers of color continue to face high-levels of joblessness in many cities. In response, leaders in Minneapolis and New Orleans have developed targeted strategies to connect Black workers to good jobs in growing industries. On March 23, we discussed the findings of our recent analysis of employment inequality in metros (in partnership with the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity), and shared focused jobs strategies being implemented by the Northside Funders Group in Minneapolis and the Network for Economic Opportunity in New Orleans. Check out the archive of the webinar here.
 
Webinar: Ending the Debt Trap: Strategies to Stop the Overuse of Court-Imposed Fines, Fees, and Bail
On March 29, PolicyLink hosted a webinar discussion on the latest research and strategies state and local leaders can use to ensure that judicial fines and fees do not contribute to burdensome debt, housing and employment barriers, and increased imprisonment and recidivism for low-income communities and people of color. For several years, researchers have looked at the role of the justice system nationwide in placing low-income people and people of color into serious financial disrepair. While “debtors’ prisons” are technically outlawed, courts throughout the nation have used loopholes in the law to place people in jail for the nonpayment of fines and fees. Check out the archive of the webinar here.
 
Learn more about our All-In Cities initiative and sign up for updates at www.allincities.org.

 

The Time for Action is NOW... #STOPGorsuch

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted (11-9) to send the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the full Senate for a vote. The vote could happen as early as this Thursday.

This nomination is important to the lives of EVERY American as the rulings of the Supreme Court have profound and widespread impact for generations.  As the highest Court in the country, the Supreme Court is vital to ensuring that the Constitution and laws of this nation protect the rights of ALL Americans.

Judge Gorsuch’s judicial record shows a pattern of decision making that puts the rights and protections for workers, women, people of color, immigrants, the disabled, those in the criminal justice system, the LGBTQ community, consumers, and others AT RISK. You can read detailed materials regarding Judge Gorsuch’s record here.

This is a critical time in the history of our nation. The actions taken by the Trump Administration in its first few months in office are real threats to the values that undergird our country. The Supreme Court should serve as an independent backstop and guardian for these values.  We cannot allow the appointment of a Justice who will not honor this role by upholding critical American values.

Republican Senators have indicated what they’ll do if they are unable to obtain the 60 votes necessary to confirm Judge Gorsuch. They will work to change the Senate rules by lowering the number of votes needed for confirmation.  Every Supreme Court Justice now on the bench was subject to the same 60-vote rule for confirmation.  There should be no change now to enable Judge Gorsuch to be confirmed with fewer votes.

TAKE ACTION NOW!! BE SURE YOUR VOICE IS HEARD!!

  • Call your Senators TODAY toll free at 1-888-877-2040 -- tell them to vote NO on the Gorsuch nomination and to vote NO on changing the rules for this nominee!
     
  • Make a call to your Senator every day to tell her/him that you DO NOT support the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice who will not support the rights of all people and that you DO NOT support changing the rules!
     
  • Encourage your neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family members to also make the call. THIS IS CRUCIAL. ACT NOW TO STOP THIS NOMINATION!

 

Want to know more, read the articles below and then CALL YOUR SENATOR toll free at 1-888-877-2040!

New York Has a Great Subway, if You’re Not in a Wheelchair

Writing in the New York Times this week, Sasha Blair-Goldensohn argues that equitable accessibility should be a top priority for municipal infrastructure and transit — and reminds readers that policies designed to aid vulnerable populations often produce a “curb-cut effect” that ends up benefiting everyone.

Read the full commentary>>>

Expanding Opportunity in City Contracts: St. Paul’s Racial Equity Strategy

When Rick Harris, owner of Ideal Commercial Interiors (ICI), moved to the Twin Cities seven years ago, he struggled to get the private sector contracts that had been his bread-and-butter during his three decades of business in California. 

"Coming here was totally different. I kept trying to get my foot in the door and instead would have it shut in my face," Harris said. ICI is certified by the North Central Minority Supplier Development Council and the Central Certification Program as a small, minority-owned business, but Harris noted that the greatest obstacle he faced was not discrimination, but inertia. 

"Businesses were not open to building relationships with new vendors. They preferred to maintain the same decades-long ties with people they knew and were familiar with — but that impedes access to the market," he said. "It’s bad for the economy when you have these small businesses that can’t grow because they’re consistently locked out of the market." 

For a city that struggles with staunch racial inequities in employment and poverty, these barriers to entry pose persistent challenges to the local economy. 

"The state says it wants to create more jobs for people of color, but to do that, you have to understand that minority-owned companies hire more employees of color, and so you have to focus on helping these companies grow," Harris said. 

That is precisely what the City of St. Paul is working to do. With the help of the city’s comprehensive efforts to foster racial equity in its municipal contracting, Harris has been able to fill the void of private sector work with city, county, and state contracts — which now make up 90 percent of his business.

According to David Gorski, a human rights specialist for the City of St. Paul, "The broader goal is to make the local economy more inclusive, to create a launching pad for small businesses," especially those owned by people of color and women.

Supporting entrepreneurs of color boosts local economies

St. Paul is a rapidly diversifying city; nearly half the city’s residents are people of color, and communities of color — especially Black communities — are leading population growth. But these communities continue to face persistent racial inequities in opportunity. Unemployment for people of color is 12.6 percent in the city, compared to 5.3 percent for Whites. For African Americans, unemployment skyrocketed from 9.6 percent in 2000 to 18.8 percent in 2014. Almost two in three people of color in the city are economically insecure — with family incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — and one in five are working poor, struggling to make ends meet despite working full-time. 

In an attempt to combat these longstanding disparities, St. Paul launched its Racial Equity Initiative in 2014. This initiative includes numerous policy and practice reforms to make racial equity an explicit goal for the city — not only to foster inclusion and community justice, but as a necessary precondition for a prosperous, thriving local economy.

Connecting businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color to city contracts is a crucial lever in this work, because these firms represent key areas of growth in the local economy. Businesses owned by people of color in Minnesota are growing significantly faster than average, with 118 percent growth from 2002 to 2012, compared to 10.3 percent growth for all firms in the state. The number of small businesses owned by African Americans in the state grew by about 60 percent between 2007 and 2012, while small businesses owned by Whites declined 3.4 percent. Yet, many of these businesses are small and undercapitalized, with few employees.

Though the state government of Minnesota has recently received criticism for its inequitable procurement practices, St. Paul has been meeting and exceeding many of its racial equity goals. For example, the city aims to award at least 25 percent of public contracts to small businesses. Within that small business goal, the city sets further targets to reach 5 percent of firms owned by people of color, and 10 percent of women-owned firms. In 2016, more than 30 percent of the city’s total business went to small businesses, with 5 percent awarded to businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color and more than 12 percent awarded to businesses owned by women. 

St. Paul’s progress in upping contracting equity can be traced to concerted efforts to reform and innovate practices within the city’s Purchasing and Contract Compliance Divisions. This work began with the assistance of Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities initiative, through which the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School helped the city better understand why it wasn’t adequately reaching small businesses and businesses of color. What they found mirrored the hurdles Harris noted in the private sector. 

"Vendors felt that we were closed off," said Jessica Brokaw, deputy director of procurement, contract compliance & business development for the city. "They felt we had preferred vendors and that was that." 

This led to a series of structural changes to the procurement process. The city rolled out a new online bidding platform that made the process more transparent and accessible, and ensured that any vendor could download bids free of charge. They also revised the language of bids — from PhD reading level to eighth grade reading level— so that most any vendor could understand them without an attorney.

Wherever possible, officials also streamlined certification processes. For example, a vendor can become registered as a minority-owned business enterprise (MBE), a woman-owned business enterprise (WBE), or a small business enterprise (SBE) through one-day Central Certification Program (CERT) community workshops that are hosted monthly. These certifications are recognized by Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Minneapolis, and St. Paul, making it easier for businesses to pursue public procurement and contracting work regionally. The increased community engagement is reflected in attendance at the annual procurement fair, hosted by the city’s Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity. In 2017, 350 vendors showed up within the first three hours alone.

Perhaps most impressively, the city has made significant changes to open up public contracts to new businesses. Starting in 2014, the city has changed five-year agreements to yearly agreements whenever possible, and broken down larger projects into small subcontracts to increase opportunities for new and small businesses to bid. 

"We decided to not renew hundreds of master contracts — some of which we had held for 20 years," Brokaw said. "We got lots of pushback, because there were vendors who didn’t really have to compete for years upon years, and there were city departments who didn’t want to have to orient new vendors to how we operate." 

When the city opened up contracts to a more competitive market, however, "the city and the local economy benefited," Brokaw noted. "The bids are lower, so the city is saving several million dollars, and our relationship to the community is so much stronger because vendors can see that we are open to them." 

Bridging the public-private contract divide through mentorship

In addition to the structural and procedural changes noted above, one of the key facets of St. Paul’s efforts to promote small business growth among minority entrepreneurs is the Construction Partnering Program (CPP)

Founded by the city and administered through the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) and the Association of Women Contractors, CPP supports emerging small businesses owned by women and people of color by fostering long-term partnerships between these firms and larger industry experts in the region.

In general, the odds can be stacked against small businesses trying to expand: They don’t always have access to the same product lines or discounts because they don’t buy in large enough quantities. They often lack access to the kind of financing necessary to purchase the kind of bonds that are required to insure projects or to cover their costs for the months it can take for contracts to pay out. 

"It creates a catch-22 because the financials limit the size of contracts a business can take," said Salah Tarraf, participant in the CERT and CPP programs and owner of Tarraf Construction, a general contractor operating in the Twin Cities for 17 years. "We have so many fantastic contractors of color who want to grow, but are held back because they can’t take larger projects." 

The city has stepped in to remove some of the financial barriers: city projects up to $100,000 no longer require bonds, so they are now more accessible to small contractors. Through CPP mentorship, however, the city also hopes to start bridging the gap between public and private work. 

Tarraf Construction has been partnered with McGough, a large general contractor headquartered in St. Paul, for the past 13 years. This relationship has allowed Tarraf to benefit from the insight and experience of the larger firm, and McGough has helped them break into the private market by inviting them to bid on subcontracts for their work and including them in negotiations as an "equal partner." 

Though it remains an "uphill battle" to get the private sector to work with small companies, Tarraf said he gives "a lot of credit to St. Paul. The city has been really supportive of the minority community, and I think it’s been a success." 

Stop the Abuse of Court-Imposed Fines and Fees

More than $50 billion in debt is currently being held by approximately 10 million people because of their involvement in the criminal justice system. Much of this debt is because low-income people simply do not have the money to pay fines and fees.

While “debtors’ prisons” are technically outlawed, courts and police departments have used loopholes within the law to place people in jail for the nonpayment of fines and fees. The practice, which targets the most vulnerable communities, plays an integral role in wealth and income inequality, and contributes to the growing racial wealth gap in our country.

But researchers around the country have shown that fees can be limited and debt collection practices can be managed in a way that does not prey on low-income communities. Policymakers can limit the use of fines and fees that directly contribute to burdensome debt, create barriers to housing and employment, and result in imprisonment and recidivism.

Ending the Debt Trap: Strategies to Stop the Abuse of Court-Imposed Fines and Fees, a new brief from PolicyLink, lifts up promising strategies that are being implemented across the country to ensure that judicial fines and fees do not contribute to burdensome debt for low-income communities and people of color. The brief looks at ways in which the use of fines and fees has expanded over time, the impact of these practices, and the inefficiency of these policies as a budget tool for local governments.

Banks’ Community Benefits Agreements Bring Billions in Community Reinvestment

Financial institutions have a long history of failing to meet the needs of low-income communities and communities of color — whether through discriminatory practices that strip wealth from neighborhoods of color or systematic disinvestment that has left too many struggling communities without access to affordable banking. 

Over the past few years, however, community advocates have been putting an established advocacy tool to new use to bring the voices and needs of underserved communities to the negotiating table with local banks. 

Community benefits agreements (CBAs) — contracts that have traditionally been used to ensure that local real estate development projects create opportunities for local workers and communities — are increasingly being applied to banks to increase access to financial services for disadvantaged communities. 

"Banks have an important role to play in our communities, and these community benefits agreements help ensure they fulfill that role for everyone, including low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color," said John Taylor, president and CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), the driving force behind the recent proliferation of bank CBAs. In this incarnation of CBAs, banks team up with local community organizations to negotiate key services and resources targeted to communities traditionally underserved by banks. 

In 2016, NCRC worked with hundreds of local community organizations to negotiate three large merger-related CBAs with Huntington Bank, KeyBank, and Fifth Third Bank. Collectively, these three agreements will bring $62.6 billion in lending and investments targeted to low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color across 23 states. 

Reversing systematic disinvestment in low-income communities and communities of color 

Bank CBAs capitalize on the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) — a longstanding federal policy designed to encourage banks to meet the needs of moderate- and low-income neighborhoods. The CRA was passed in 1977 in an attempt to combat redlining — a destructive and discriminatory lending practice that denied or severely restricted access to mortgages, credit, and other financial resources necessary to promote economic growth within communities of color. 

"The CRA has certain pressure points where communities have an opportunity to advocate for their needs," said Thomas Keily, consumer data and research coordinator at the Western New York Law Center, one of the grassroots NCRC members involved in the KeyBank CBA. Mergers, acquisitions, and CRA exams are intervention points where banks enter regulatory review and may be amenable to negotiations with community advocates. 

Because bank mergers often result in branch closings that cut jobs and can reduce access to banking in certain locations, the CRA encourages banks to commit resources to counteract negative community ramifications. Traditionally, however, banks have sought to meet their CRA requirements without ongoing engagement with community leaders. The recent spate of bank-merger CBAs represents an important departure from business as usual. 

Through a combination of in-person meetings, site visits, and conference calls, banks and representatives from several dozen community organizations negotiate the details of these agreements over the course of months. The resulting contracts include a wide range of commitments targeted to low-to-moderate income areas. 

For example, the hundred-plus community partners representing six cities that came to the table to negotiate the Huntington Bank CBA identified four key focus areas for investment: affordable housing, workforce development, small business development, and supportive services, including community needs not typically associated with financial products, such as social services. 

"The goal was to create a plan that was holistic and considered all the assets needed for a community to thrive and for individuals to reach their potential within that community," said Catherine Crosby, executive director of the City of Dayton's Human Relations Council, one of the organizations representing Dayton, Ohio, in the Huntington Bank negotiations. She is also a member of the NCRC board. 

The resulting community development plan committed $5.7 billion in funding for single-family mortgages in low- and moderate-income areas and to low- and moderate-income borrowers, $3.7 billion in community development lending and investment for affordable housing, $25 million in grants for housing and small business credit services, and 10 new branch locations in underserved areas, among other investments. As this plan is implemented at the local level, community advocates have the opportunity to specify particular service needs within their local areas, such as down-payment assistance, loan counseling, or diversity requirements in bank hiring. 

The CBA investments for KeyBank, announced in March 2016, contained similar measures, committing $16.5 billion in investments and lending over five years. The most recent CBA with Fifth Third Bancorp, announced in November 2016, represents the largest investment by a single bank in recent history — $30 billion invested across 10 states through 2020. 

"The impact of billions of dollars in community reinvestment that comes from bank agreements cannot be overstated — the resources have a real, tangible impact, creating jobs and expanding access to mortgages, small business lending, education opportunities, and access to other financial resources," Taylor said.

The changes these CBAs are intended to implement come at a crucial time for Fifth Third. Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve released an assessment of the bank's 2011-2013 operations that found evidence of discriminatory practices during that time. As a result, Fifth Third's CRA compliance rating was lowered to "needs to improve."

Leveraging CBAs for equitable growth 

Access to basic financial products and services — including bank accounts, mortgages, and retirement accounts — is a crucial component of building long-term financial security. Without these services, many families and individuals living paycheck to paycheck must turn to payday lenders and check-cashing centers that impose exorbitant interest rates and fees on those who can least afford it. According to a study conducted in California, payday lenders are nearly eight times as concentrated in primarily African American and Latino neighborhoods compared to White neighborhoods, draining nearly $247 million in fees from these communities each year. 

"In Buffalo, New York, we've seen a systematic flight of financial resources within low-income communities and communities of color, especially in the city's east side," said Keily. "East of Main Street there are seven bank branches, but to the west there are over 25, and we see huge racial disparities in who gets mortgages." 

On a community level, access to capital to purchase homes, start new businesses, or take on community development projects is a necessary ingredient for spurring economic growth, yet the majority of disinvested communities are still systematically underserved by the banks that could be providing these services. This persistent legacy of disinvestment perpetuates poverty and stymies the kind of growth that could revive local economies. 

Through the CBA negotiation process, however, communities have increased leverage to hold financial institutions accountable for providing them with the services and resources that will enable them to thrive. 

"This process gives community members back their voice and keeps their needs at the forefront of the process," said Keily. As part of negotiations with KeyBank, Western New York Law Center enlisted 100 residents to write about their experiences with financial institutions — testimonials that helped bring lived experience to the data and research presented during CBA meetings. The organization is also working to establish CBA agreements with smaller local banks and recently announced a $101.2 million agreement between the Northwest Savings Bank and Buffalo Niagara Community Reinvestment Coalition (BNCRC), a NCRC community-based coalition member. 

As these agreements become increasingly popular, more and more banks are recognizing the value of working in concert with community to increase services and facilities in underserved markets. 

"Some leaders of banks are stepping up and doing the work we also need to see from our political leadership — building collaborations between bank leaders, community group leaders like our members, and other stakeholders to ensure that communities have economic opportunity," Taylor said. 

Delivering community benefits through broad coalitions 

Negotiating the competing priorities of hundreds of community partners while attempting to influence large financial institutions that hold all the purse strings is no simple matter. 

"NCRC did yeoman's work to bring everyone together," said Crosby. "A negotiation with this many parties is a push-and-pull process, so you need to have people who are thinking of the highest and greatest good for the community — not just themselves or their particular organizations." 

But she felt the outcomes were well worth the laborious process. 

"Formerly, the Human Relations Council would meet with the CRA officers for the bank to negotiate community investments, but this process is far more comprehensive and more impactful," Crosby said. There is also a key level of accountability, because communities can report to CRA regulatory bodies if a bank fails to make good on the promises encoded in the CBA. 

Though it's too early in the implementation process to quantify the impact of these commitments, Crosby noted that the relationships formed and strengthened between the community partners that came together these past months have already been a huge win. Keily emphasized the power of the process for raising community awareness and empowerment. 

"This shows us — and the community — what's possible when their voices are heard," he said. "It will be an ongoing process to implement this locally, but we're committed to keeping community members at the forefront of this process." 

RESIST Trump’s Disastrous Budget!

The preliminary budget released from the White House yesterday is a NIGHTMARE for the entire nation --- poor and low-income people, middle-income people, people of color, children, seniors, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, working people, those living in rural areas, those living in urban areas. EVERYONE.

The proposed budget bolsters attacks on immigrants, threatens the well-being of communities, and decimates the values that undergird this country, while prioritizing military spending and tax cuts for the wealthy. If the full budget proposal to be released in May has ANY resemblance to this draconian preliminary budget, it must be considered DEAD ON ARRIVAL.The people of this nation CANNOT allow Congress to pass anything close to what is proposed. Additionally, a mild step back from the proposed budget will not be tolerated. The budget ultimately passed MUST be fundamentally different from what is being proposed by this Administration and must uphold the longstanding values of the country, advance fairness and inclusion, expand opportunity, and protect the nation’s most vulnerable.

Believers in justice, fairness, and decency cannot be silent during these attempts to wipe away years of work toward a more inclusive and equitable society.  NOW is the time to unite and organize!! All people, faiths, associations, and organizations who care about people and the nation, must come together to resist this assault on the American people and the fundamentals of responsible governance. We encourage EVERYONE to get involved. Stay alert and watch what is happening with the Trump Administration and Congress, call your congressional members and hold them accountable for your concerns, join efforts in your community to advance important policies, and push back against harmful ones. Click here to find out what is happening in your community and GET INVOLVED today. And, to learn more details about the preliminary budget document released yesterday, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website has a number of resources.

This is a critical time in our nation’s history. We CANNOT allow the current Administration to destroy progress and inflict suffering on millions of people. Like you, PolicyLink will continue to resist and defend. Just earlier this week, we joined with our partners Public Advocates, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, and Poverty & Race Research Action Council to launch CarsonWatch, a watchdog effort that will be fighting back against attempts to gut invaluable housing and community development programs and roll back the clock on civil rights protections, including important rules under the Fair Housing Act. We hope you’ll visit the website and join the effort by signing up for alerts.

In the days to come, PolicyLink will announce a framework for our broader resistance efforts that will provide additional ways to take action and be heard. Stay tuned. Be encouraged. We SHALL NOT be defeated.

New Travel Ban Blocked By the Courts, Still Biased against Muslims

<p>The Trump Administration’s revised “travel ban” executive order (a.k.a., the “Muslim ban”) was scheduled to go into effect today.&nbsp; Yesterday and early this morning, federal district courts in Hawaii and Maryland blocked the order’s implementation, on a nationwide basis.&nbsp;These court opinions emphasized the many public statements by the Administration indicating discriminatory intent against Muslims.&nbsp;</p><p>Both courts held that the revised executive order, like the original one, likely violates the Establishment Clause of the constitution.&nbsp;&nbsp;<b>“The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.”</b>&nbsp; (<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/15/us/politics/document-Orde... v Trump</i>&nbsp;order</a>, p. 29. )</p><p>As we&nbsp;<a href="http://www.policylink.org/blog/new-executive-order-same-illegal-discrimi... the revised executive order was released, its central purpose remains discriminatory.</p><p>The executive order singles out majority-Muslim countries and discriminates against individuals based on religion, race, and national origin.&nbsp; It violates multiple constitutional provisions, and several federal laws.&nbsp; (See&nbsp;<a href="http://www.policylink.org/blog/new-executive-order-same-illegal-discrimi... a full list of legal claims likely to be brought against the executive order, and a detailed description of its provisions.)</p><p>Yesterday’s court opinions emphasized the plainly discriminatory purpose and effect of the Administration’s action, and highlighted the lack of any evidence that the order was based on valid national security objectives. &nbsp;Both courts focused on Administration figures’ multiple public statements indicating that the executive order intentionally targets Muslims:</p><ul><li>The court record “includes&nbsp;<b>significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus&nbsp;</b>driving the promulgation of the executive order…”&nbsp; (<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/15/us/politics/document-Orde... v Trump</i>&nbsp;order</a>, p. 33.)<br>&nbsp;</li><li>“These statements, which include&nbsp;<b>explicit, direct statements of President Trump's animus toward Muslims</b>&nbsp;<b>and intention to impose a ban on Muslims entering the United States</b>, present a convincing case that the first executive order was issued to accomplish, as nearly as possible, President Trump's promised Muslim ban …&nbsp;In particular, the direct statements by President Trump and (former New York City Mayor Rudy) Giuliani's account of his conversations with President Trump reveal that the plan had been to bar the entry of nationals of predominantly Muslim countries deemed to constitute dangerous territory in order to approximate a Muslim ban without calling it one precisely the form of the travel ban in the first executive order."&nbsp; (<a href="http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/national/read-the-federal-jud... Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump</i>&nbsp;order</a>, p. 29.)&nbsp;<br>&nbsp;</li></ul><p>PolicyLink stands with advocates for immigrant communities and families around the world in opposing the discriminatory and needless revision of our nation’s longstanding immigration and refugee programs.&nbsp; As these courts have indicated, the travel ban is plainly discriminatory, and violates the most basic principles on which the country was founded.&nbsp; We are confident that courts will continue to protect individual rights against the excesses of this Administration.</p><div style="text-align:start; -webkit-text-stroke-width:0px; margin:0px"><strong><span style="font-size:medium"><span style="color:#212121"><span style="font-family:wf_segoe-ui_normal, &quot;Segoe UI&quot;, &quot;Segoe WP&quot;, Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif"><span style="font-style:normal"><span style="font-variant-ligatures:normal"><span style="font-variant-caps:normal"><span style="font-weight:normal"><span style="letter-spacing:normal"><span style="orphans:2"><span style="text-transform:none"><span style="white-space:normal"><span style="widows:2"><span style="word-spacing:0px"><span style="background-color:#ffffff"><font face="Calibri,sans-serif"><font size="2"><span style="font-size:11pt">Advocacy Resources</span></font></font></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></strong><br>&nbsp;</div><div style="text-align:start; -webkit-text-stroke-width:0px; margin:0px"><span style="font-size:medium"><span style="color:#212121"><span style="font-family:wf_segoe-ui_normal, &quot;Segoe UI&quot;, &quot;Segoe WP&quot;, Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif"><span style="font-style:normal"><span style="font-variant-ligatures:normal"><span style="font-variant-caps:normal"><span style="font-weight:normal"><span style="letter-spacing:normal"><span style="orphans:2"><span style="text-transform:none"><span style="white-space:normal"><span style="widows:2"><span style="word-spacing:0px"><span style="background-color:#ffffff"><font face="Calibri,sans-serif"><font size="2"><span style="font-size:11pt">Following are some of the many organizations working to protect our immigrant communities.</span></font></font></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></div><div style="text-align:start; -webkit-text-stroke-width:0px; margin:0px">&nbsp;</div><div style="text-align:start; -webkit-text-stroke-width:0px; margin:0px"><div style="text-align:start; -webkit-text-stroke-width:0px"><div><div><ul style="margin-top:0px; margin-bottom:0px"><li style="margin:0px"><a href="https://www.nilc.org"><span style="font-size:medium"><span style="color:#212121"><span style="font-family:wf_segoe-ui_normal, &quot;Segoe UI&quot;, &quot;Segoe WP&quot;, Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif"><span style="font-style:normal"><span style="font-variant-ligatures:normal"><span style="font-variant-caps:normal"><span style="font-weight:normal"><span style="letter-spacing:normal"><span style="orphans:2"><span style="text-transform:none"><span style="white-space:normal"><span style="widows:2"><span style="word-spacing:0px"><span style="background-color:#ffffff"><span style="background-color:white"><span lang="en-US" style="background-color:white"><font face="Calibri,sans-serif"><font size="2"><span style="font-size:11pt">National Immigration Law Center</span></font></font></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></a></li><li style="margin:0px"><a href="https://www.ilrc.org/"><span style="font-size:medium"><span style="color:#212121"><span style="font-family:wf_segoe-ui_normal, &quot;Segoe UI&quot;, &quot;Segoe WP&quot;, Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif"><span style="font-style:normal"><span style="font-variant-ligatures:normal"><span style="font-variant-caps:normal"><span style="font-weight:normal"><span style="letter-spacing:normal"><span style="orphans:2"><span style="text-transform:none"><span style="white-space:normal"><span style="widows:2"><span style="word-spacing:0px"><span style="background-color:#ffffff"><span style="background-color:white"><span lang="en-US" style="background-color:white"><font face="Calibri,sans-serif"><font size="2"><span style="font-size:11pt">Immigrant Legal Resource Center</span></font></font></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></a></li><li style="margin:0px"><a href="https://www.aclu.org/issues/immigrants-rights"><span style="font-size:medium"><span style="color:#212121"><span style="font-family:wf_segoe-ui_normal, &quot;Segoe UI&quot;, &quot;Segoe WP&quot;, Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif"><span style="font-style:normal"><span style="font-variant-ligatures:normal"><span style="font-variant-caps:normal"><span style="font-weight:normal"><span style="letter-spacing:normal"><span style="orphans:2"><span style="text-transform:none"><span style="white-space:normal"><span style="widows:2"><span style="word-spacing:0px"><span style="background-color:#ffffff"><span style="background-color:white"><span lang="en-US" style="background-color:white"><font face="Calibri,sans-serif"><font size="2"><span style="font-size:11pt">ACLU Immigrants'&nbsp; Rights Project</span></font></font></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></a></li><li style="margin:0px"><span style="font-size:medium"><span style="color:#212121"><span style="font-family:wf_segoe-ui_normal, &quot;Segoe UI&quot;, &quot;Segoe WP&quot;, Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif"><span style="font-style:normal"><span style="font-variant-ligatures:normal"><span style="font-variant-caps:normal"><span style="font-weight:normal"><span style="letter-spacing:normal"><span style="orphans:2"><span style="text-transform:none"><span style="white-space:normal"><span style="widows:2"><span style="word-spacing:0px"><span style="background-color:#ffffff"><span style="background-color:white"><span lang="en-US" style="background-color:white"><font face="Calibri,sans-serif"><font size="2"><span style="font-size:11pt"><a href="https://www.cair.com/" target="_blank">Council on American-Islamic Relations</a></span></font></font></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></li><li style="margin:0px"><a href="https://www.immigrationadvocates.org"><span style="font-size:medium"><span style="color:#212121"><span style="font-family:wf_segoe-ui_normal, &quot;Segoe UI&quot;, &quot;Segoe WP&quot;, Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif"><span style="font-style:normal"><span style="font-variant-ligatures:normal"><span style="font-variant-caps:normal"><span style="font-weight:normal"><span style="letter-spacing:normal"><span style="orphans:2"><span style="text-transform:none"><span style="white-space:normal"><span style="widows:2"><span style="word-spacing:0px"><span style="background-color:#ffffff"><span style="background-color:white"><span lang="en-US" style="background-color:white"><font face="Calibri,sans-serif"><font size="2"><span style="font-size:11pt">Immigration Advocates Network</span></font></font></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></a></li><li style="margin:0px"><span style="font-size:medium"><span style="color:#212121"><span style="font-family:wf_segoe-ui_normal, &quot;Segoe UI&quot;, &quot;Segoe WP&quot;, Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif"><span style="font-style:normal"><span style="font-variant-ligatures:normal"><span style="font-variant-caps:normal"><span style="font-weight:normal"><span style="letter-spacing:normal"><span style="orphans:2"><span style="text-transform:none"><span style="white-space:normal"><span style="widows:2"><span style="word-spacing:0px"><span style="background-color:#ffffff"><span style="background-color:white"><span lang="en-US" style="background-color:white"><font face="Calibri,sans-serif"><font size="2"><span style="font-size:11pt"><a href="http://www.advancingjustice.org/" target="_blank">Asian Americans Advancing Justice</a></span></font></font></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></li><li style="margin:0px"><span style="font-size:medium"><span style="color:#212121"><span style="font-family:wf_segoe-ui_normal, &quot;Segoe UI&quot;, &quot;Segoe WP&quot;, Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif"><span style="font-style:normal"><span style="font-variant-ligatures:normal"><span style="font-variant-caps:normal"><span style="font-weight:normal"><span style="letter-spacing:normal"><span style="orphans:2"><span style="text-transform:none"><span style="white-space:normal"><span style="widows:2"><span style="word-spacing:0px"><span style="background-color:#ffffff"><span style="background-color:white"><span lang="en-US" style="background-color:white"><font face="Calibri,sans-serif"><font size="2"><span style="font-size:11pt"><a href="https://www.nationalimmigrationproject.org/" target="_blank">National Immigration Project</a></span></font></font></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></li><li style="margin:0px"><span style="font-size:medium"><span style="color:#212121"><span style="font-family:wf_segoe-ui_normal, &quot;Segoe UI&quot;, &quot;Segoe WP&quot;, Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif"><span style="font-style:normal"><span style="font-variant-ligatures:normal"><span style="font-variant-caps:normal"><span style="font-weight:normal"><span style="letter-spacing:normal"><span style="orphans:2"><span style="text-transform:none"><span style="white-space:normal"><span style="widows:2"><span style="word-spacing:0px"><span style="background-color:#ffffff"><span style="background-color:white"><span lang="en-US" style="background-color:white"><font face="Calibri,sans-serif"><font size="2"><span style="font-size:11pt"><a href="https://nobannowallnoraids.wordpress.com/resources/know-your-rights/" target="_blank">#NoBanNoWallNoRaids</a></span></font></font></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></li><li style="margin:0px"><span style="font-size:medium"><span style="color:#212121"><span style="font-family:wf_segoe-ui_normal, &quot;Segoe UI&quot;, &quot;Segoe WP&quot;, Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif"><span style="font-style:normal"><span style="font-variant-ligatures:normal"><span style="font-variant-caps:normal"><span style="font-weight:normal"><span style="letter-spacing:normal"><span style="orphans:2"><span style="text-transform:none"><span style="white-space:normal"><span style="widows:2"><span style="word-spacing:0px"><span style="background-color:#ffffff"><span style="background-color:white"><span lang="en-US" style="background-color:white"><font face="Calibri,sans-serif"><font size="2"><span style="font-size:11pt"><a href="http://altotrump.com/resources/know-your-rights" target="_blank">AltoTrump</a></span></font></font></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></span></li></ul></div></div></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p>

Arts and Culture, Achieving Equity

Across the nation, artistic and cultural practices are helping to define the sustainability of urban, rural, and suburban neighborhoods. In the design of parks and open spaces; the building of public transit, housing, and supermarkets; in plans for addressing needs for community health and healing trauma; communities are embracing arts and culture strategies to help create equitable communities of opportunity where everyone can participate, prosper, and achieve their full potential. And artists are seeing themselves — and being seen by others — as integral community members whose talents, crafts, and insights pave the way to support community engagement and cohesion.

Creating Change through Arts, Culture, and Equitable Development: A Policy and Practice Primer provides examples of these efforts by describing how equity policies working in tandem with arts and culture strategies are achieving equity goals. This is especially true among communities of color and low-income communities, where resources have seldom reached the level of support received by major arts institutions, nationally or locally.  

The report describes the role of arts and culture across many sectors: transportation, housing, economic development and financial security, health and food, youth and education, open space and recreation, and technology and information access. Each section offers examples of promising practices that have yielded such outcomes as support for Native artists in reservation-based cultural economies, creation of a citywide cultural plan, engaging low-income youth of color in using digital media, and efforts to address redevelopment, employment, food access, and environmental justice.

From the percent-for-arts programs created during the Great Depression to support artists, public works, and infrastructure to the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities in the mid-1960s, the United States has a history of making investments in arts and culture. That history foreshadows the expanded opportunity that now exists to achieve equity by uniting community development to arts and cultural strategies. In the coming weeks, PolicyLink will announce a webinar that will further share the promising and proven practices highlighted in Creating Change through Arts, Culture, and Equitable Development: A Policy and Practice Primer.

PolicyLink Joins Public Advocates to Launch CarsonWatch


Will you help?

Today, PolicyLink is partnering with Public Advocates, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, and the Poverty and Race Research Action Council to launch CarsonWatch to monitor activities at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Too much is at stake to let HUD’s activities go unmonitored.

The agency is being led by Dr. Ben Carson, a fair housing skeptic with zero housing or federal agency experience, who was appointed by President Trump and confirmed by the Senate to lead an agency whose impact will be felt among veterans, the elderly, and disabled as well as homeless families across the country. Already there are promises to cut $6 billion from the agency’s budget. Communities around the country are in jeopardy of losing flexible redevelopment funds that have received bipartisan support for decades.

Secretary Carson has the power to roll back the clock on civil rights protections – and has likened existing fair housing protections to “social engineering.” He could undermine programs that enable countless Americans to make their rent each month – and has called poverty a “choice.” The lives of many of the 100 million people in the United States currently living in poverty, which includes those living in rural and urban areas, will be further and unnecessarily disrupted by these cuts. Communities will face shortfalls for services they can’t cover. Families will be forced to struggle to further tighten insufficient budgets to make ends meet.

Secretary Carson also has the power to steer taxpayer support to Trump business interests, lining his boss’s pockets in the process. He even refused to rule out such unethical actions during his Senate confirmation hearing. We are deeply concerned about this appointment and worry that Americans may be at risk of losing their homes and watching their civil liberties dismantled before their eyes.

That’s why we’re proud to join Public Advocates, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Poverty and Race Research Action Council in the launch of CarsonWatch. We hope you will, too.

Sign up today to keep watch at CarsonWatch.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. 

Thank you for your support.

New Executive Order, Same Illegal Discrimination

Yesterday the Trump Administration released a new executive order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.”  This order revises the infamous “Muslim Ban” executive order from late January, which was blocked by the courts.  We are confident that the courts will similarly block enforcement of the revised executive order.  

The new executive order makes some changes aimed at withstanding court scrutiny, but the basics of the order remain in place – including its illegal discrimination against immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries, without any factual basis in national security needs. (The Administration has stated that the new executive order will advance “the same basic policy outcome” as the prior order.) The Administration’s changes constitute tinkering around the edges, while leaving in place the order’s central, discriminatory purpose and effect.

Following is more detail regarding the new executive order, including a short explanation of legal claims against the order that are likely to be addressed by courts.  We have also included a list of some of the national advocacy organizations advancing legal and non-legal strategies to protect immigrants and refugees from the devastating effects of the Trump Administration’s hasty and baseless actions.

PolicyLink stands with advocates for immigrant communities and families around the world in opposing the discriminatory and needless revision of our nation’s longstanding immigration and refugee programs. To better serve the Equity Network in these challenging times, PolicyLink has added a seasoned public interest attorney, Julian Gross, to our staff. The information below was prepared by Julian, PolicyLink James O. Gibson Innovation Fellow, based in the PolicyLink Oakland office.

Changes in the New Executive Order

The new executive order is drafted more carefully than the prior order, and contains some changes clearly aimed at helping the order withstand court challenge. The new order is somewhat more limited in scope than the prior order: it applies only to individuals who are outside the United States as of March 16, and who do not have or have not recently had a valid visa. In addition, there are explicit exceptions to the new travel ban for many classes of people, including lawful permanent residents, others permissibly in the country, certain dual nationals and diplomats, persons who have already been granted asylum or refugee status, and others. Finally, there is a new “waiver” section, allowing discretionary case-by-case waivers for several other categories of people, including those needing immediate medical care, those who have provided assistance to the U.S. Government, and those working for international organizations, etc.

This narrower version eliminates some situations in which the prior order was obviously overbroad and plainly unrelated to valid security concerns. However, the core provisions of the prior order are still in place, and the majority of the legal claims that were raised in multiple lawsuits challenging the prior order are just as strong with regard to the new executive order. These claims are described below.

Crucially, the legal claim that was the main basis of the nationwide injunction against the prior executive order is not affected by the changes made by the Administration. (The Ninth Circuit upheld a nationwide injunction against the prior order based primarily on a holding that the order violated individuals’ procedural due process rights.) This and other claims are sure to be raised against the new executive order, either in existing cases or in new litigation, on behalf of states and affected individuals. 

Legal Claims Against the New Executive Order

The following legal claims were raised against the January 27 executive order. These and others will likely be raised against the new executive order as well.

  • Equal Protection. The Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection requires “strict scrutiny” of government classifications based on national origin or religion. Strict scrutiny is the highest constitutional standard, making it very difficult for the government to justify its actions and have them upheld by courts.
    • Claim: The executive order explicitly discriminates against individuals based on national origin, without adequate justification.
    • Claim: Based on the choice of countries the executive order targets, the executive order discriminates against individuals based on religion, without adequate justification. Note that the Administration attempted to partially address this claim in the revised executive order by removing the original order’s “religious minority” exemption, which was seemingly aimed at benefitting Christians, given the countries at issue. This claim still applies to other aspects of the new executive order, however, including the choice of countries affected.
       
  • Establishment Clause. The First Amendment prohibits the federal government from establishing a state-endorsed religion, or limiting the free exercise of religion. Government actions that discriminate between religions can be challenged under the establishment clause.
    • Claim: By singling out majority-Muslim nations without legitimate basis, the executive order discriminates between religions, in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
    • As noted above, the Administration attempted to partially address this claim in the revised executive order by removing the original order’s “religious minority” exemption, which was seemingly aimed at benefitting Christians, given the countries at issue. This claim still applies to other aspects of the new executive order, however.
       
  • Procedural Due Process (Fifth Amendment). The Constitution’s due process clause requires a fair process before the government denies important personal rights and interests, often including adequate notice, court hearings, right to counsel, avoidance of arbitrary action, and so forth.
    • Claim: The executive order affects individuals’ protected rights without providing them adequate opportunity to defend themselves.
    • This claim is crucial, in that it focuses on the reality of how the order will be implemented, including the degree of access to courts and judicial oversight.
       
  • Immigration and Nationality Act. This law, passed by Congress in 1965, sets rules that the executive branch has to follow in dealing with immigration issues.
    • Claim: The executive order violates the INA, which prohibits the executive branch from discriminating between countries in issuance of visas, and which establishes rights to asylum for certain individuals.
       
  • Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This federal statute requires courts to apply strict scrutiny in reviewing actions that inhibit individuals’ free exercise of religion.
    • Claim: The executive order violates the RFRA’s prohibition of government substantially burdening exercise of religion.
    • This claim is based on the executive order’s exclusive focus on majority-Muslim countries, and other aspects of its design and implementation.
    • As noted above, the Administration attempted to partially address this claim in the revised executive order by removing the original order’s “religious minority” exemption, which was seemingly aimed at benefitting Christians, given the countries at issue. This claim still applies to other aspects of the new executive order, however.

In addition to the above claims against the executive order, there are crucial legal issues that courts will have to address based on the Administration’s defense of the executive order. These include:

  • how much judicial review is permissible with regard to the executive’s actions assertedly related to national security and the country’s borders;
  • the ability of states to bring claims on their own behalf or on behalf of others; and
  • which of the above legal claims may be raised by non-citizens


Details Regarding Content of the Executive Order

The executive order suspends entry into the United States of non-citizens from Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. (Executive Order Section 2(c).) The suspension initially runs for 90 days from March 16, 2017.

  • The order includes new provisions indicating that the travel ban applies only to individuals from the listed countries who meet all of the following criteria:
       (i) are outside the United States on March 16, 2017;
       (ii) did not have a valid visa at 5:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time on January 27, 2017; and
       (iii) do not have a valid visa on March 16, 2017.
       (Section 3(a).)
     
  • In addition, the order includes new provisions indicating that the travel ban does not apply to individuals from the listed countries who meet any of the following criteria:
       (i) any lawful permanent resident of the United States;
       (ii) any foreign national who is admitted to or paroled into the United States on or after March 16;
       (iii) any foreign national who has a document other than a visa, valid on the effective date of this order or issued on any date thereafter, that permits him or her to travel to the United States and seek entry or admission, such as an advance parole document;
       (iv) any dual national of a listed country when the individual is traveling on a passport issued by a non-listed country;
       (v) any foreign national traveling on a diplomatic or diplomatic-type visa, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visa, C-2 visa for travel to the United Nations, or G-1, G-2, G-3, or G-4 visa; or
       (vi) any foreign national who has been granted asylum; any refugee who has already been admitted to the United States; or any individual who has been granted withholding of removal, advance parole, or protection under the Convention Against Torture.
    (Section 3(b).)
     
  • The executive order includes a new waiver provision, allowing discretionary waiver, on a case-by-case basis, of the travel ban for individuals in any of several categories, including:
       (i) previously admitted for specific activities;
       (ii) previously established significant contacts with the United States but is outside the United States on the effective date of this order for work, study, or other lawful activity;
       (iii) seeks to enter the United States for significant business or professional obligations and the denial of entry during the suspension period would impair those obligations;
       (iv) seeks to enter the United States to visit or reside with a close family member (e.g., a spouse, child, or parent) who is a United States citizen, lawful permanent resident, or alien lawfully admitted on a valid nonimmigrant visa, and the denial of entry during the suspension period would cause undue hardship;
       (v) an infant, a young child or adoptee, an individual needing urgent medical care, or someone whose entry is otherwise justified by the special circumstances of the case;
       (vi) employed by, or on behalf of, the United States Government (or is an eligible dependent of such an employee) and the employee can document that he or she has provided faithful and valuable service to the United States Government;
       (vii) traveling for purposes related to an international organization or to conduct business with the U.S. Government;
       (viii) landed Canadian immigrant who applies for a visa at a location within Canada;
       (ix) traveling as a United States Government-sponsored exchange visitor.
       (Section 3(c).)
     
  • The executive order indicates that Iraqi nationals “should be subjected to thorough review,” but does not impose a presumptive ban, the way the order does with regard to the six listed countries. (Section 4.) This is a change from the prior executive order.
     
  • The executive order formally revokes the prior executive order, no. 13,769. (Section 13.)
     
  • The executive order instructs the Department of Homeland Security to request from other countries information it deems relevant to security evaluations of applicants for entry, and contemplates blocking entry of individuals from countries that do not comply with such information requests. (Sections 2.(a), (b), (d)-(f).)
     
  • The executive order instructs the Department of Homeland Security to develop a uniform, enhanced screening program “to identify individuals seeking to enter the United States on a fraudulent basis with the intent to cause harm, or who are at risk of causing harm subsequent to their admission.” (Section 5.)
     
  • The executive order suspends admissions under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. The order requires review of security procedures for screening individuals in the program, and indicates that the program may only be resumed “for nationals of countries for which the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence have jointly determined that such additional procedures are adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the United States.” (Section 6(a).) The new order removes the prior order’s legally questionable provision that future refugee admissions be prioritized for individuals facing religion-based persecution, but only where the person’s religion is a minority religion in the country in question.
     
  • The executive order caps the total number of refugees that can be admitted at 50,000. (Section 6(b).) The prior order’s permanent suspension of admission for refugees from Syria has been removed.
     
  • The executive order suspends the Visa Interview Waiver Program. (Section 9.)
     
  • The executive order contains other provisions relating to federal government reporting and reconsideration of certain programs and positions. (Sections 7 and 8.)
     
  • The executive order requires the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Attorney General to track and report a range of crimes and actions taken by foreign nationals. (Section 11.)

 

Advocacy Resources

Following are some of the many organizations working to protect our immigrant communities.

  

Together We Can Build a More Equitable Tax Code

Annually, the federal government returns upwards of $640 billion directly back to households to help increase financial security through the tax code. Of that, nearly 80 percent goes back to households who are already wealthy. Current tax reform proposals aim to increase the amount going to wealthy families, leaving low-income people and people of color further behind.

Now, more than ever, we must work together to build a more equitable tax code that benefits all Americans. The Tax Alliance for Economic Mobility, led by PolicyLink and CFED, along with nearly 40 national advocacy organizations, racial justice groups, and tax experts, has just launched a new website that identifies priorities to expand savings and investment opportunities for lower-income households through reform of the U.S. tax code.

Today, the Alliance is pleased to announce four briefs on tax credits for low-income workers, higher education and college savings, housing and homeownership, and retirement savings. The briefs feature recommendations to build a more equitable tax code focused on the near- and longer-term security of families, communities, and the national economy.

  • Tax Credits for Low-Income Workers: Unlike many other poorly designed tax exemptions and deductions that deliver the bulk of their benefits to the highest-income filers, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) both work well to help low-income working families. But there are opportunities to strengthen the credits and build on their success, including filling the gap for workers not raising children and making the CTC fully refundable. Congress should also reject proposals that purport to reduce improper payments when in actuality they make the credit more difficult to claim or cut benefits.
     
  • Housing and Homeownership: The Tax Alliance has adopted a set of principles for reforming the Mortgage Interest Deduction (MID), a homeownership subsidy provided through the tax code. Recommendations include expanding access for lower-income Americans, increasing benefits for renters, helping communities of color build wealth, and reducing subsidies for high-income households.
     
  • Higher Education and College Savings: Higher education is a pathway to economic mobility, but existing higher education tax expenditures disproportionately benefit above-median income households, who own nearly 99 percent of all savings in tax-subsidized college savings accounts. The Alliance has adopted a set of principles for reforming these tax expenditures, with the goal of increasing tax-based aid and college savings support for lower-income students, providing aid before expenses are incurred, increasing take-up, incorporating automatic enrollment features, and eliminating programmatic features that disadvantage lower-income students.
     
  • Retirement Savings: For low-income communities and communities of color, financial insecurity in retirement is exacerbated by lower earnings over the course of their work history, and reduced access to employer-sponsored retirement benefits. The Tax Alliance has adopted a set of principles for reforming existing retirement savings tax expenditures to expand access to subsidized accounts for lower-income Americans, subsidize the savings for these Americans, and make reforms to limit expenditures for high-income households.

To learn more about these principles and to access resources for creating a more equitable tax code, visit The Alliance’s website: www.taxallianceforeconomicmobility.org and sign up for the Tax Alliance newsletter.

Can Other U.S. Cities Follow in NYC’s Footsteps to Help Renters?

Cross-posted from Next City

After the announcement by Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito that New York City would be extending a universal right to legal services for low-income tenants facing eviction, many of the city’s housing advocates rejoiced. “It feels good to me because I know that if any of my sons or grandkids are below the poverty line and have a problem with a landlord, they are going to be represented by an attorney,” says Randy Dillard, council leader for Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) and former client of one of the city’s public interest lawyers.

“We believe that this law is going to lead the way for other cities,” he continued. Other cities, including Philadelphia and Boston, are taking cues from New York’s playbook.

In 2012, only 1 percent of New York City tenants facing eviction were represented by lawyers. Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of landlords are typically represented by counsel in eviction proceedings. Advocates made the case that the policy change could not only dramatically improve outcomes for low-income residents, but save the city millions of dollars each year.

Read the full story in Next City>>>

Oakland Attorney Angela Glover Blackwell Wages Fight for Equity

Cross-posted from The San Francisco Chronicle

Nearly 40 years ago, when San Francisco’s struggling Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood was losing yet another business to hard times — in this case, a grocery store — one attorney had seen enough.

Angela Glover Blackwell, an early believer in the need for fresh foods in the inner city, petitioned the governor’s office to intervene and make sure the community maintained a full-service grocery. The alternative was letting residents shop at liquor stores and gas stations.

The petition didn’t go as planned — a new store didn’t open. But the case marked the dawning of Blackwell’s long and distinguished career in social justice, which most recently had her working with the Obama administration to bring grocery stores to underserved cities nationwide.

“I think the last 10 years have been my best,” said Blackwell, now 71, as she sat in her window office on a recent weekday at PolicyLink, the Oakland research and advocacy group she founded 18 years ago. “We need to keep working to make sure we’re creating opportunities.”

From her desk, which sits beneath pictures and posters that sound rallying cries such as “Equity” and “Protect Oakland renters,” Blackwell oversees a staff of 70 public policy experts and attorneys in California, Washington, D.C., and New York. Her organization partners with communities all over the country to help disadvantaged people, often minorities.

The effort, which not only involves healthy food but issues ranging from housing to transportation to education, earned Blackwell a nomination for the 2017 Visionary of the Year award sponsored by The Chronicle and the School of Economics and Business Administration at St. Mary’s College.

“With shifting demographics, the big story is that the majority is becoming people of color,” she said. “The fate of our nation will depend on what happens to people of color.”

Among her organization’s recent work is helping implement the federal government’s Sustainable Communities Initiative. The program assists with planning in depressed neighborhoods; for example, making sure residents have basics like public transit and Internet.

PolicyLink is also helping with business development in poorer parts of Detroit, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. It’s also aiding in the creation of community art projects from Alaska to Mississippi.

“We cross all the issue areas and all the work domains,” said Blackwell, as she clutched a copy of “The Equity Manifesto,” PolicyLink’s call to action that takes its employees to wherever they might find inequality.

While Blackwell frequently travels in the pursuit of social justice, as well for speaking engagements and fundraising, sometimes the need is right in her backyard.

PolicyLink recently helped create Oakland’s affordable housing strategy, a work in progress designed to protect 17,000 city households from being pushed out of town by rising real estate prices and to create 17,000 new homes over eight years.

“They’ve been a critical partner to me as mayor,” said Oakland’s Libby Schaaf, noting that Blackwell was a source of inspiration for her long before the two got to know each other and exchange cell phone numbers.

“As a young college student, I saw her speak at a League of Women Voters event, and it’s really the first time I felt inspired to get involved with local politics,” Schaaf said. “I remember almost feeling drawn, like you’d be drawn to a minister.”

Blackwell lives near Oakland’s Lake Merritt in a house she’s been in for four decades. She is married with two grown children, and three grandchildren, all of whom live locally. Trying to make time for work and family — her husband is an orthopedic surgeon — is tough, she said, but she manages, eating out a lot and waking up early to go to the gym.

Blackwell grew up in St. Louis, where her neighborhood was anything but the neglected communities she advocates for today. It was an economically diverse area with good schools, parks and a healthy mix of businesses, she said, though as she got older she saw it slide.

“Rather than walking to a grocery store, or driving, we were driving farther and farther into the suburbs,” she said.

Blackwell got her bachelor’s degree at Washington, D.C.’s Howard University before going to law school at UC Berkeley.

Before PolicyLink, she worked as a senior vice president at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, overseeing the organization’s cultural activities. Before that, her career had a number of chapters, including 11 years practicing law at the nonprofit firm Public Advocates in San Francisco.

It was during her time there, in 1979, that she fought unsuccessfully for a grocery store in the Bayview, though her effort prompted Gov. Jerry Brown, during his first time around in the office, to form a commission to explore the problem of “food deserts.” The state Department of Agriculture followed up with money to support farmers’ markets in communities that lacked fresh food.

As chief executive officer at PolicyLink, Blackwell’s push for fresh foods continued when she helped the Obama administration launch the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which today provides funding for groceries and markets in low-income areas.

While she worries that government assistance programs may take a hit under President Trump, she tries to remain optimistic.

“It’s too early to say there’s going to be no opportunities,” she said.

This winter, Blackwell authored an essay called the “The Curb-Cut Effect” in a Stanford University journal about how assisting one group, say the disabled, benefits everyone. She hopes Trump’s moves to help red state voters who supported him out of economic concerns will also help those suffering in poor, urban areas.

“The good news,” she said, “is that the economic inclusive agenda that will reach people who are white, rural and working class is the same economic inclusive agenda that will reach people of color.”

Visionary of the Year award

This is one of six profiles of nominees for The Chronicle’s third annual Visionary of the Year award, which is presented in collaboration with St. Mary’s College’s School of Economics and Business Administration. The honor salutes leaders who strive to make the world a better place and drive social and economic change by employing new, innovative business models and practices. The six finalists were nominated by a distinguished committee that included Chase Adam, co-founder of the nonprofit Watsi and winner of the 2016 award; Greg Becker, president and CEO of Silicon Valley Bank; Emmett Carson, founding CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; Ron Conway, angel investor and philanthropist; Zhan Li, dean of the School of Economics and Business Administration at St. Mary's College; Libby Schaaf, mayor of Oakland; Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a documentary filmmaker; and Michael Walker, executive vice president and regional executive of City National Bank.

Chronicle Publisher Jeff Johnson, Editor in Chief Audrey Cooper and Editorial Page Editor John Diaz will select the winner, which will be announced during a March 30 event.

To read more: www.sfchronicle.com/visionsf

Race, Place, and Jobs: Reducing Employment Inequality in America’s Metros

Originally posted on Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

In Pittsburgh, a wave of baby boomer retirements is expected to leave the region with 80,000 more job openings than workers to fill them over the next decade. At the same time, 32,000 of the region’s workers are long-term unemployed, and unemployment is highest among black, mixed race, and Latino workers.

How to connect unemployed and under-employed workers of color to jobs in growing industries and industries with retiring baby boomers is a key question for Pittsburgh, but the region is far from alone. The Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce estimates that that by 2020 there will be 5 million more job openings in America than there are workers with the requisite skills to fill them. Yet, workers of color, particularly black workers, continue to face high levels of unemployment and inadequate access to relevant education and skills training.

Addressing continued unemployment for black workers and other workers of color is critical to families, employers, and the U.S. economy as a whole. The question is: how do we most effectively do that?

Read More>>>

REGISTER -- 2/15 Webinar on Changing Demographics Projections to 2050


Wednesday, February 15, 2017
12:00 - 12:30 p.m. PT / 3:00 - 3:30 p.m. ET


The United States is projected to become a majority-people-of-color nation in 2044, but what does population growth look like beyond that year?

Join the National Equity Atlas team for an upcoming webinar: "Beyond a People-of-Color Majority: U.S. Demographic Projections to 2050." The webinar will discuss changing demographics of the U.S. and include a live demo of four indicators that now include updated demographic projections to 2050: People of color, Race/ethnicity, Population growth rates, and Contribution to growth: People of color.

Featured Speakers:

  • Ángel Ross, PolicyLink (moderator)
  • Justin Scoggins, USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE)
  • Pamela Stephens, USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE)

REGISTER HERE
 

PolicyLink Applauds Court’s Refusal to Reinstate Ban

The 9th Circuit, affirming the Court's right to review the president's action, refused to reinstate the Administration’s travel ban, thus upholding the nation's commitment to just and fair inclusion, at least for now.  Where you come from, where you live, and how—or if—you worship, may not be a basis for exclusion from the country without due process. Anything less, “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

Today’s win is a small victory in a battle of immense proportions. Savor small victories, even as we gird ourselves for the next fight.

"A Movement Is Not a Flash of Light"

Current events leave many feeling disillusioned and in despair. Yet hope emerges from the visionaries, disrupters, activists, and all those who are taking to the streets to resist attacks on our constitutional and human rights; to defend hard-fought policy gains; and to safeguard freedom, dignity, and equity.

That hopeful spirit recalls the wisdom of poet Mayda del Valle shared in Our Moment, the video that opened the 2015 PolicyLink Equity Summit: “A movement is not a flash of light — it is a flame, a torch passed from one generation to the next."

Recent changes have only strengthened the resolve to fight.  “Our moment” is not lost, far from it. Now is the time to build on the progress and diversity of powerful movements — from Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the Dreamers, the Fight for $15, and water protectors to the bold display of resistance in the women’s marches in the United States and abroad and protests against travel bans and deportation.  Resolution is essential; Resistance is the call to action.

#ClaimTheTorch

“Best for NYC Challenge”: Small Businesses Leading the Way in Best Practices

As many cities struggle with rising income inequality and unemployment, some urban leaders are looking to businesses as potential sites for social action.

"The question becomes, how can we support and encourage businesses in being good employers and good community members?" said Christine Curella, director of business initiatives and job quality in the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development in New York City.

Enter the "Best for NYC Challenge," a first-of-its-kind, New York City-based program designed to teach businesses how to create high-quality jobs and be a stronger force for good in their communities. The program is directed by the Mayor's Office of Workforce Development, with support from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and in partnership with diverse community-based business organizations. Now in its second year, Best for NYC gives participating businesses access to tools and services that help them measure and improve their business practices. 

"Cities cannot be only a place of regulating business practices; they will need to foster a culture in business where companies are voluntarily striving to do good for their workers above and beyond what is required," said Hardik Savalia. Savalia is a senior associate at B Lab, the organization that invented B Corporation certification and the technical partner that powers the Challenge's assessment tool.  Though New York City was the first city to launch the Challenge, B Lab has more cities in the pipeline, and Savalia noted that several dozen cities are interested in launching similar efforts.

In its inaugural year, the program reached more than 1,200 New York City businesses with its impact assessment tool, which provided businesses with insight into how their practices compare to other businesses, by sector and size. The 101 top-scoring businesses were recognized in 2016 as "Best for NYC Honorees." For those already doing well, or those who wish to do better, the idea is to "get companies immediately in communication with peer businesses who can discuss best practices and share lessons learned on implementation," Savalia explained.

"Most business owners aren't trying to make a quick buck. They want to leave a legacy in their community," he added, and campaigns like Best for NYC can help shape that legacy in the mold of a more inclusive economy.

The three businesses profiled below, representing three New York City boroughs, were honored as some of the top scorers in the Best for NYC.

The Bronx: Spring Bank

Spring Bank is an exemplar of equitable business practices — from the services it provides to the jobs it creates to the assets it brings to the community. 

"We opened our doors to provide affordable and transparent banking products to low-income customers and to move people away from predatory lending and check cashing," said Melanie Stern, director of Community Lending. The bank is a federally certified community development financial institution, which allows it to leverage U.S. treasury grants to offer services to low-income communities that are underserved by mainstream banks. 

With 3,500 customers and assets of just over $160 million, Spring Bank offers a variety of products and services. Small business loans make up the bulk of their business and help subsidize unique products aimed to meet the needs of low-income residents.

"Our small-dollar loans have become our marquee products because they give people an alternative to predatory payday loans and use a more holistic gauge of ability to pay — not just a credit score," Stern said.  Through its newest product, Employee Opportunity Loans, Spring Bank partners with employers so that they can offer employees loans of up to $2,500 that are paid back over time through paycheck deductions. These loans are designed to encourage savings by deducting monthly paycheck payments into a Spring Bank savings account, from which the loan is repaid.

"The idea is that once the loan is paid, employees can continue to save into that same account because they've become accustomed to the paycheck deduction," Stern said. Of the 30-plus customers whose loans have been fully repaid, the majority have chosen to continue saving in this way.

As an employer, Spring Bank focuses on hiring locally so that the majority of staff are bilingual (the majority of its customers are Spanish speaking). They also start wages at $15/hour and employ staff full time with benefits, including health care and retirement plans.  

As a community member, Spring Bank provides free tax filing services, lends its office space to community organizations, offers free financial counseling days, and is pursuing ways to share its business best practices with others. 

"It's more than doing good work, it's being part of a movement of corporations doing good," said Stern.

Queens: Valente Bakery Supplies

At the height of the recession, Valente Yeast Company, Inc. was struggling.  Though Valente had been a leading bakery ingredient wholesale supply business serving NYC bakers and bakeries since 1909, the recession required an overhaul of the business's operations.  It was then that employees Bob Chory and Tom Siegenthaler saw an opportunity to take the company in a new direction that could help turn its fortunes around.

"We both believe a successful business had to be based on our customers loving us and our employees feeling that they are valued as an important part of our team," said Chory, now CEO of Valente Bakery Supplies.  "When you're driven only by profit you risk skimping here and there; and you might lose sight of what makes your company great and stop investing in your future and your people."

On the business side, Chory and Siegenthaler updated the company's facilities with energy-efficient systems and brought in business consultants and technology solutions to help modernize and streamline operations to increase efficiency and boost sales.

On the employee side, they adopted a holistic view of seeing their workers as long-term partners in growing the company. For Chory this means that basic benefits are a must: in addition to standard medical and dental benefits, Valente contributes to workers' retirement plans, and offers profit sharing to all employees after their first year.

The company's new approach also means investing in professional development for employees who want to learn a new skill set, or promoting from within to enable career progression such as transitioning a driver to a leadership role. It means offering compassionate paid leave when a worker's child or spouse is sick. It means hiring those that may face barriers to employment, including recent immigrants, veterans, and formerly incarcerated workers.

"The way I see it, making a business better starts with enabling your employees to better themselves and their life opportunities" Chory said.

Brooklyn: GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning

When GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning began in 2006, founder Saudia Davis had a vision of a healthier, safer cleaning service — one that spared both clients and workers from exposure to harsh chemicals.  This mission was a deeply personal one, as Davis's grandmother, a housekeeper from the West Indies, had lost a battle with cancer that was likely caused by a lifetime of inhaling toxic cleaning fumes.

Eleven years later, GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning is a certified B Corporation that employs 40 full-time workers and uses its own line of products made from vegetable-based, organic, biodegradable ingredients.

"When we started it was about bringing healthy options to both our employees and our clients, but it has grown into a place where we not only keep staff healthy, but empower them," Davis said. 

In addition to benefits like paid sick leave and paid time off, the company partners with local community colleges to provide financial literacy classes and with Neighborhood Trust to bring in financial advisers skilled in the socioeconomic challenges of lower-wage workers. They also provide paychecks on ATM cards that allow employees to withdraw money free of charge without having to set up a bank account.

"We try to bring in resources that can assist them with whatever goals they're setting for themselves," Davis explained. For example, when employees reported that changing apartments is prohibitively expensive in New York, because move-in costs require tenants to come up with multiple months' rent, GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning responded by forming a new partnership with Spring Bank to offer Employee Opportunity Loans — short-term loans to help longstanding employees access capital without turning to predatory payday lenders.

"We are in an industry that considers workers a commodity; where people are often abused, underpaid, and not given the security or benefits of full employment. We wanted to set a new standard, and B Lab has helped us see that there are others in the city fighting the same fight," said Davis.

Introducing the Corporate Racial Equity Advantage

Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and CEO, PolicyLink
Mark Kramer, Founder and Managing Director, FSG

Now, more than ever, the future of America depends on equity-- just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. The private sector is the next frontier for the equity movement, and racial equity is the next frontier for corporate America. That is why PolicyLink and FSG are teaming up to develop the Corporate Racial Equity Advantage, the first comprehensive tool to guide companies in assessing and actively promoting equity in every aspect of their business operations and strategy.

The goal is to show the private sector that a company’s bottom line can be advanced by adhering to equity policies and practices that benefit underrepresented and marginalized populations who have been excluded from the economic mainstream.

We are entering a moment of historic challenge. The incoming president was elected, in part, on the wish that the growing racial and ethnic diversity in America should be ignored. But wishing doesn’t make it so. Vast segments of our economy, such as our hospitality industry, food systems, delivery services, and caregiving for the elderly, depend on the millions of people of color—many of them undocumented immigrants—whose labor drives the nation’s prosperity.  By mid-century the majority of Americans will be people of color. If this country is to continue to prosper in the coming decades, under any political leadership, we cannot afford to leave behind most of our workforce, consumers, and voters.

Community-based organizations and coalitions have made significant progress in articulating a bold and nuanced vision of equity, building a broad, determined movement to achieve it, and advancing policies to get there. At the same time, there is a growing economic consensus that the social and economic inequality, wage stagnation, and stalled economic mobility that disproportionately affect communities of color, are a drag on U.S. competitiveness.  Racial economic exclusion is a market failure.

Many business leaders recognize that equity and inclusion are essential for U.S. growth and prosperity. They understand that they will have a skilled workforce only if all people have the full opportunity for education and career success. They know that their products and services must meet the needs of a changing population if their businesses are to thrive.  And they know that diversity is important to America’s global competitive advantage.

What companies often do not realize, however, is just how big a role they can play in creating an equitable society and how big a role equity can play in delivering greater profitability. The equity movement has not been accustomed to speaking in business terms, but in the absence of strong government support, companies may become our strongest allies.

In short, it is time for businesses to tap their remarkable capacity for leadership and innovation to create an economy that works for all Americans. The Corporate Racial Equity Advantage will propel and support that effort. This tool will be the first to address a company’s overall impact on low-income and marginaized populations.

A number of indices already rate corporations on diversity, ethical business practices, sustainability, or social responsibility, yet these rankings can mask a company’s true impact on equity. In one example, a large international bank that ranked high in a well-established diversity index opened millions of unauthorized accounts that incurred fees and sabotaged credit ratings by specifically targeting low-income and elderly clients.

We aim to help companies understand the full measure of their equity footprint beyond the conventional metrics of workforce diversity, corporate governance, and philanthropy. We will consider the impact of a company’s training, compensation, and promotion practices, its products and services, marketing and sales, procurement practices, community engagement and lobbying efforts.

The Corporate Racial Equity Advantage will be developed with input from both the corporate and equity communities.  Our goals are to identify companies that benefit from creatively furthering equity, share promising examples and lessons learned, and establish pathways that enable more companies to achieve both equity and prosperity. In the coming months, we will recruit corporations, NGOs, and community groups to join us in designing, refining, and testing this tool.

PolicyLink and FSG have chosen to undertake this project as a partnership because it allows each of us to take our work where we’ve long known it needs to go. PolicyLink has been at the forefront of the movement to advance equity through policy and systems change. Yet while resetting society’s rules and reprioritizing government investments are critical to reducing racial and economic inequity, PolicyLink has always recognized that the private sector must also change, and do so from within.

So too, FSG has long understood that the success of a business depends on the health of the society in which it operates.  For the past 16 years, FSG has worked with major corporations around the world to create shared value by identifying the business opportunities embedded in society’s most urgent needs.  FSG’s Shared Value Initiative has further engaged hundreds of leading corporations to learn from each other about the convergence of corporate and societal success.  

Together we have both deep roots in communities and strong relationships with corporate leaders. We understand that these two spheres, so often viewed as worlds apart, are wholly interdependent. We hope to leverage the power of the private sector to advance an authentic equity agenda, building on the wisdom, voice, and experience of communities, and lessons learned from decades of advocacy and activism to ensure opportunity for all. At the same time, we hope to show corporations how a full embrace of equity can expand their markets, increase their profits, and create a competitive advantage.

As we design the prototype of the Racial Equity Advantage over the next 15 months, we will keep you regularly updated on our progress. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions.  

Trump’s Actions are Just Wrong

For a nation that has relied on the labor of immigrants, many of whom voluntarily left behind their countries of origin to seek a better life in the United States, it is ironic and detestable to be confronted by presidential actions aimed at preventing those fleeing war and poverty from seeking a similar kind of refuge for their families.  Yet, here we are.  With driving urgency, Latinos, Syrians, and others are fleeing to the United States.  Yet with the stroke of a pen, a door can be slammed in their faces.

Donald Trump’s declaration to build walls, bar immigrants, and increase deportations acts against the values which are at the very core of the United States of America. This country is a country of immigrants.  Immigrants contribute to the economic, cultural, and social fabric of this country. The president’s actions on immigration are a slap in the face to the gift that many bring from other shores.

While the president moves forward with actions rooted in bigotry and fear, many local elected officials are choosing to stand up for their neighbors. Mayors and city council members and school boards across the country are choosing to stand up for what is right — ensuring that residents do not face undue bigotry or prejudice based on their skin color, their faith, or their country of origin.

PolicyLink decries the president’s actions and urges reconsideration.  The country would be nothing if not for the historic contributions made by those who have arrived here from a myriad of other places.

Cooperation Jackson’s Kali Akuno on Solidarity, Economic Democracy, and Organizing for the Long Term

By Alexis Stephens

As grassroots groups and community advocates across the country brace for increasingly anti-democratic and authoritarian opposition, organizers in the South bring a wealth of wisdom and experience dealing with such challenges.

America's Tomorrow spoke to Kali Akuno, co-director of Cooperation Jackson, founded in 2013 to promote economic democracy and worker-owned cooperatives in Jackson, Mississippi. Akuno talked about the organization's work and how it has dealt with a series of setbacks and trials, including the passing of Jackson's mayor — longtime activist and organizer Chokwe Lumumba — in 2014, ongoing state threats to local control of land and infrastructure, and the uncertainty of the new presidential administration. He also shared his analysis of the local context in Jackson and offered some advice to grassroots organizations around the country about how to both survive short-term threats and lay the foundation of long-term sustainability.

In the wake of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba's passing and his legacy of Black organizing, what has the landscape looked like for Cooperation Jackson?

The first six months of the [Yarber] administration were somewhat difficult for us. Cooperation Jackson had been tied to and identified with the legacy of Mayor Lumumba and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and I think Mayor Yarber was initially very wary about any engagement with us. But over time we found some ways to collaborate on things that we all saw as mutually beneficial for us and the city.

There have been a number of issues this year where there has been a high level of agreement between our organization and the mayoral administration — primarily the threats that have been coming down from the Republican supermajority at the state level and some very targeted threats against the City of Jackson. One example is the state legislation that is allowing a governor-appointed regional board to take over operational control of the airports in Jackson. A broad, united front came together [to fight that], which included the Coalition of Economic Justice, city council, and our county legislative delegation. I would say the overall legacy of the plans that brought Lumumba into office is very much alive.

In which programs and initiatives are you seeing the most success?

We're seeing success in the development of our three co-ops: Freedom Farms Urban Farming Cooperative, Nubia's Place Café and Catering Cooperative, and Mississippi Waste Alternative, a recycling and composting cooperative. The core membership of each is under the age of 25. There's a youthful willingness to try something new and a healthy optimistic attitude when they encounter people or dynamics that tell them that they can't do something. Our own analysis of why these co-ops are moving faster than others has revealed that youth leadership is a factor. To outside observers, the most concrete measure of success is the actual operation of a co-op — if the farm is able to increase its productive yield, for example. And that's grown each quarter. But young people are also acquiring skills and certifications, and putting in hours. Those are all things we're looking at objectively as measures of our success: how many people we're able to train, recruit, and bring into the process.

Cooperation Jackson is still very much a baby as an organization. In a short period of time, we've been able to build several functioning and emerging cooperatives and to acquire a community center and 20 parcels of land in West Jackson. We have three houses that are the core basis of our housing co-op and emerging eco-village. When Chokwe passed away so suddenly, many of us were in doubt in the first couple of months about where we were going and what might be possible. From that dark place to where we are now, I would argue that we've done fairly well.

What advice would you give to other grassroots economic development organizations that might be facing preemption at the state level over the next two to five years?

Your basic organizing principles don't fundamentally change. In fact, they become even more important than ever before. The first thing is you have to build your own base; and, if you are trying to build a transformative business like the co-ops that we're trying to build, you have to work to communicate your own values to your network very clearly. Outside of building your own base, you have to make connections and links and build allies with other folks who share similar interests. I don't think everything has to be in complete alignment, but I think there's a critical synergy where you have to agree on some things. But don't compromise your mission or settle for short-term, expedient gains. That's a critical piece.

Sometimes we become too fixated on immediate victories and results, and this doesn't really lead us to building strategic allies and strategic relationships in the way that is most helpful. There are not really any shortcuts. A lot of people are counting on — or have built a lot of their strategies and programming around — new technology, particularly social media as a way of reaching people. That's good for mobilizing people, but it's not a tool for organizing people. We have to make that distinction. In order to organize people, you have to build relationships. You have to make sure that you're creating the context and bringing people into situations where they can see each other face to face, to engage in dialogue and exchange about their issues, about their concerns, about their aspirations.

We have to be very intent on rebuilding social solidarity. I think a lot of the angst that is there now — particularly in light of Trump's victory — is based upon a deepening sense of social isolation. Folks feeling that they're more alone, and more exposed, now and more siloed than ever before. But our counter is not to retreat further into small and local. I think our counter is to go deeper, build more connections, reach out more. I think we're over-emphasizing and stressing too much about what's going to happen this first year. That could lead us into a number of traps, as opposed to us digging deep and building the relationships that are necessary, coming up through that process of organizing people, and then developing a program and a vision that will enable us to build, to push back, and to create a whole different set of policies to complement our vision down the road.

Could you say more about your vision for deepening relationships?

At present, our state politics break down fairly consistently along racial lines. But we know that we can make some inroads, particularly with younger, college-educated White folks — and there are about 250,000 to 500,000 of them in the state. We feel that we can and must do a good job recruiting, organizing, and reorienting them in a more left and progressive direction. And if we can just move the bottom end of that number, we change the politics of this state profoundly and we can end the Republican domination of the state. This is something that's practically doable, but you have to be willing to stand back a little bit, look at the long-term view, assess what's really needed, and then develop the strategy to go out and reach those communities and build a relationship with them. And not see everything as lost or totally out of our reach, when it's really not.

PolicyLink and Civil Rights Orgs Sign On to Protect DACA

The following letter was sent to Donald Trump, on behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and numerous organizatoins, regarding the Obama administration's executive action on 'Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" ("DACA"). 

The coalition joins a growing chorus of advocates, including outgoing President Obama in his final press conference, sounding the alarm on behalf of the 750,000 enrolled Dreamers in the DACA program. DACA enrollees are undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children, grew up in this country, have registered with the federal government, submitted to background checks, paid fees, and have worked to obtain an education.

“Any move to deport Dreamers would be even worse,” the groups wrote. “It is beyond question that the American public supports reasonable and fair immigration reforms, ones that include putting unauthorized immigrants on a path to citizenship – and this public would be deeply troubled by a decision to expel immigrants who, having arrived as minor children, have acted fully consistently with the best of American values and who are, for all intents and purposes, American.”

The groups also call for the passage of the bipartisan BRIDGE Act which, while no substitute for comprehensive immigration reform, would codify protections for Dreamers.  “We shouldn’t be rounding up young people who are contributing to our country in school, in the workforce, and in the military,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “It’s a moral, economic, and patriotic imperative to lets these young Americans continue to be Americans.”

Excerpt from the letter:

The DACA program, first announced in June 2012, provides a measure of common sense and compassion to immigrants who were brought to this country as children, have grown up here, and cannot rationally be blamed for their lack of legal immigration status. Since the program was first announced in 2012, approximately 750,0001 young adults who grew up in this country have registered with the federal government, submitted to background checks, paid fees, and have worked to obtain an education. In return, DACA recipients are granted a two-year reprieve from the threat of deportation, work authorization, and the ability to move on with their lives – making valuable contributions to the communities in which they live, to the businesses that rely on their skills and their willingness to work hard, and to our economy and social fabric as a whole. Many have gone on to raise families of their own, and a number of them have even volunteered to serve in our military. Simply put, DACA recipients are among the most sympathetic and compelling cases that exist under our immigration system today.

Read the full letter at CivilRights.org.

An Overview of Governor Jerry Brown's Fiscal Year 2017-2018 Budget Proposal for California

On January 10, Governor Jerry Brown revealed his proposed budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, which projects a state budget deficit ($1.6 billion) for the first time since 2012. The $179.5 billion proposal maintains the state’s commitment to implementing the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), preserving the California Earned Income Tax Credit, and expanding healthcare access to vulnerable groups. Unfortunately, the budget proposal also recaptures nearly $1 billion in one-time expenditures provided in the Budget Act of 2016 (Budget Act) and delays spending increases for various programs and services, some of which, like LCFF, are designed to improve outcomes for low-income communities and communities of color.
 
We applaud the Administration’s continued commitment to important issues like healthcare access, LCFF implementation, and transportation, but believe more should be done through the budget to build an equitable California, one where all of the state’s residents can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. We urge the Governor to work with communities, advocates, and the Legislature in the coming months to develop a budget that allows California to address its intensifying housing crisis, maintain health insurance for the newly insured, guarantee immigrants targeted for deportation have effective legal representation, and protect and invest in the state’s most vulnerable populations.
 
Below we highlight areas of the budget that are likely to be of interest to equity advocates, including health and human services, education, housing, transportation, public safety, and climate change.
 
Health and Human Services
The budget maintains current spending levels for programs that ensure California residents have access to quality, affordable health care and services. For example, the proposal provides funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, as well as the expansion of Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented children and individuals earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. It also maintains funding for substance abuse programs and the transition of new immigrants from Medi-Cal to Covered California. In addition to continuing financial support for these services, the budget provides new funding to reflect the repeal of the Maximum Family Grant rule.
 
While we are encouraged by these aspects of the budget, we urge the state to continue investing in care coordination and integration programs for vulnerable residents, including the Coordinated Care Initiative, health care workforce initiatives, community infrastructure grants, and children’s mental health services grants. 

Education
The education budget provides a small increase of $2.1 billion in Prop. 98 funding for K-14 education and proposes cost-of-living adjustments for LCFF funding targets, as well as for various programs funded outside of LCFF. Unfortunately, due to the projected revenue shortfall, the Governor’s proposal, while providing an additional $744 million for LCFF implementation, “maintains the implementation formula at the current-year level of 96 percent.”[1]  Though we understand the new economic reality the state faces, we urge the Governor to fully implement LCFF as quickly as possible.
 
The budget also boosts investment in California’s Community College system. Notable areas of increased spending include efforts to address student disparities; the Guided Pathways program, an institution-wide approach to improving student completion rates; and school facilities energy efficiency projects financed through the Prop. 39 Clean Energy Job Creation Fund, which, in addition to improving energy efficiency on school campuses, targets training and jobs to individuals with barriers to employment.
 
Despite these positive investments in the community college system, the budget disappointingly proposes to phase out the Middle Class Scholarship Program, which provides has helped thousands of student to afford enrollment at CSU and UC campuses.
 
Housing
Even though the state faces a growing housing affordability crisis, the budget provides virtually no new funding for affordable housing. The proposal recaptures $400 million for affordable housing development included in the Budget Act,  and conditions continued financial support for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Initiative (AHSC), a major source of state funding for affordable housing in recent years, on the extension of the cap-and-trade program by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
 
In the coming months, we urge the Administration to partner with the Legislature to allocate resources for AHSC without condition, provide meaningful new investments in affordable housing, and establish a permanent source of funding for the construction, preservation, and rehabilitation of affordable units.
 
Transportation Infrastructure
Although much of the transportation budget continues to focus funding on maintaining highways and roads in California, we are pleased to see an annual increase of $100 million for the state’s Active Transportation Program, which aims to improve the mobility, health, and safety of vulnerable residents by targeting walking and bicycling infrastructure in low-income communities.

To ensure our increased transportation spending achieves state equity and climate goals, funding should be targeted to grow investment in transit operations and complete streets, prioritize transportation projects that provide meaningful benefits to low-income people of color, and connect disadvantaged community residents to transportation sector training and jobs.
 
Public Safety and Justice
While the budget’s public safety proposal highlights many of the anticipated positive effects of Proposition 57[2], we hope the revised budget will deepen California’s commitment to investing in our people and communities, divesting from systems that separate families and perpetuate trauma, and eliminating policies that serve as barriers to the success of low-income people and people of color. These values are reflected in the budget’s proposal to end the use of driver’s license suspensions as a debt collection tool, a counterproductive practice that has caused financial insecurity throughout California’s low-income communities of color.
 
We hope the May Revision will build on the proposed repeal, by reducing funding for harmful institutions, including immigration detention centers, prisons, and law enforcement, and investing in reintegration services, quality legal representation for immigrants, and support for other vulnerable groups.
 
Climate Change and Natural Resources
The budget proposes a $2.2 billion dollar Cap-and-Trade Expenditure Plan using revenues generated through the State’s carbon trading program. This plan includes needed investments in transportation, housing, pollution reduction, and other programs that provide benefits to low-income, pollution-burdened communities. Unfortunately, the budget makes allocation of these proposed investments contingent upon the Legislature approving an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program. Accomplishing this will require support of two-thirds of the Legislature and poses a significant hurdle to securing these important investments.
 
The Governor’s environmental and natural resources proposal also acknowledges the severe drinking water challenges faced by disadvantaged communities across California and commits to working with the Legislature and stakeholders to address these challenges. This commitment is very encouraging. However, with over one million Californians being served drinking water from systems that do not meet safe drinking water standards, we urge the Administration to take this commitment further and prioritize developing a sustainable funding source to ensure that all Californians have safe and affordable drinking water.

Conclusion
As we learn more about the incoming presidential administration’s policy goals, the Governor’s budget proposals are likely to change. In the coming months, advocates should engage their legislators and the Governor to ensure that hard fought gains for California’s low-income communities and communities of color are protected and expanded.
 
________________________________________


[1] Governor’s Budget Summary – 2017-18, “K-12 Education,” 20, http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/2017-18/pdf/BudgetSummary/K-12Education.pdf.
[2] Proposition 57 allows non-violent offenders who have completed the prison term for their primary offense to be considered for parole and authorizes the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation to establish a “credit” system under which individuals can earn an early release from prison. The law also provides that only judges may determine whether juveniles 14 and older can be prosecuted or sentenced as an adult.

National Equity Atlas Chart of the Week: January 19, 2017

The National Fair Housing Alliance sent President Obama “thank you” messages over Twitter for his unprecedented support of fair housing. Specifically, NFHA used the tag #FairHousingThanksObama to highlight his accomplishments such as being the first presidential administration to use disparate impact to enforce the Fair Housing Act and for urging the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to finalize the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (AFFH).

This week’s chart highlights why the AFFH rule, currently under threat, is needed to help cities, counties, regions, states, and housing authorities expand housing choices, connect residents to employment, transportation, quality education, and healthy food and foster inclusive communities free of discrimination. As the chart below shows, the Black population in the New Orleans region is significantly more likely to live in high poverty neighborhoods — nearly eight times more likely than Whites.  Such high-poverty neighborhoods are often lacking access to assets which enhance opportunity.  The AFFH rule helps jurisdictions identify barriers to opportunity by measuring neighborhoods’ proximity — or lack thereof — to high-performing schools, public transit, local labor markets, healthy environments and other key community assets.

Last year, the City of New Orleans and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) became one of the first of 20 jurisdictions to submit a joint Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) plan to HUD. The plan's development was guided by equity, as defined by PolicyLink: "just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential." To learn more about the New Orleans effort, which included unprecedented coordination between local institutions, residents, housing, transportation, and health advocates, and community organizations, read this article from America’s Tomorrow.

To see rates of neighborhood poverty in your community and how your community ranks among the largest 150 metro areas, visit the National Equity Atlas, type in your metro area, and share the charts using #equitydata.

Marching Forward: Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap

Written by Elena Chavez Quezada and Heather McCulloch and cross-posted from Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

Many of us thought it would be the swearing in of the first woman president that would galvanize women to mobilize, organize, and take action to advance women’s rights. Ironically, it is the specter of the impending presidency of Donald Trump that is catalyzing women to come together and speak out.

On January 21st, women from across the country will converge on the nation’s capitol and in cities across the country. This mass mobilization is partially defensive, sparked by looming threats to women’s reproductive, political, and economic rights. But it would be a mistake to view this groundswell as defensive alone.

This Saturday’s women’s marches are laying the groundwork for a new women’s movement with multiple focal points and priorities, both defensive and aspirational. While some observers have criticized the absence of a unified agenda, others understand the importance of engaging in multi-faceted conversations about the issues and barriers to women’s personal, political, and economic security. These conversations mirror the complexity of women’s lives and the intersecting elements of their identities. They’re about race, ethnicity, legal status, sexual identity, discrimination and privilege. They’re often uncomfortable, messy, and complicated—as they should be.

READ MORE>>>

1/30 - Upcoming Webinar on Sanctuary Spaces

In today’s political climate, immigrant families, Muslim residents, and other communities of color face increased surveillance and growing threats to their safety and well-being.

 
Join PolicyLink and our partners on January 30, 2017 at 11:30 a.m. PT (2:30 p.m. ET) for a discussion on how state and local leaders across the country can create safer environments for vulnerable members of their communities.
 
This webinar will provide an overview of what sanctuary cities and sanctuary spaces are; how such spaces can make all people safer; and how leaders can create – or safeguard – sanctuary spaces in their own communities.
 
This is the first installment of several webinars the All-In Cities Initiative will be hosting throughout the year on local policies to build equitable cities.

Featured Speakers:

  • Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink (moderator) 
  • Linda Sarsour, MPower Change
  • Angie Junck, Immigrant Legal Resource Center
  • Jorge Gutierrez, Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement

        *Additional Speakers to be confirmed*

REGISTER HERE
 

The Obama Legacy: How to Protect What We’ve Built So Far

(Cross-posted from Talk Poverty)

In the soaring State of the Union address that began his second term, President Obama challenged America to build “ladders of opportunity into the middle class.” It was more than a lovely turn of phrase. It conveyed the President’s vision of a nation in which everyone has a real chance to participate and prosper, and it pledged leadership at the highest levels of government to transform that vision into reality. The words drew upon the nation’s values and traditions, while calling on us to realize the promise of America by unleashing the potential in all our people.

 
From his first day in the White House, President Obama worked towards achieving this vision. It’s easy to forget that his presidency began in the depths of the Great Recession and the worst financial crisis in 80 years. President Obama recognized that bank bailouts, begun by his predecessor, were not enough to revitalize the economy, and they would do nothing to relieve the human suffering already caused by the financial collapse. In the administration’s view, economic growth and resilience required investments in America’s greatest asset—its people—and in the opportunities and resources everyone needs to thrive and succeed.
 

All-In Cities Update: December 12, 2016

In the aftermath of November 8, it is clearer than ever that cities and the counties and metropolitan regions in which they are situated are the crucibles where an inclusive American economy and democracy can and must be forged. From Atlanta to Indianapolis, cities across the country passed ballot measures designed to expand opportunity and dismantle barriers to inclusion. In our hometown of Oakland, the anti-displacement and equitable infrastructure measures we supported won handily. As the All-In Cities team plans for the year ahead, we are look forward to continuing to help local leaders ensure that the cities they love are places where all can thrive and participate in building the next economy. 
 
Building Community Power in the Age of Trump
Following the election, associate director Tracey Ross wrote a piece for Rooflines, the Shelterforce blog, critiquing post-election narratives. She explains, “As the media and national figures continue to tell a story that overlooks how the concerns of people of color may have impacted the election, local leaders must be working to ensure workers of color are empowered to tell their own story.” Check out the full piece here.  
 
Buffalo: Health Equity and Inclusive Growth Profile Launched
With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, PolicyLink has partnered with Open Buffalo, a community coalition focused on justice and equity in the city of Buffalo, to produce a comprehensive equity profile that can inform policy solutions for health equity, inclusive growth, and a culture of health in the “Queen City.” We kicked off the engagement with a site visit on December 1 that included tours of West Buffalo and the historic Fruit Belt neighborhoods, interviews with community and city leaders, and a review of the initial data. We will be releasing the report and policy agenda in March 2017. 
 
Pittsburgh: Next City Highlights Equitable Development Momentum
Next City covered the progress that has been made since the release of Equitable Development: The Path to an All-In Pittsburgh in September. Senior director Sarah Treuhaft discusses the growing momentum among community leaders. “When we started working there, there was definitely not that sense that change was possible,” she explained. “By next year we want to see more of that, and create a sense that change is happening — that it’s not just possible but it’s actually happening and progress is being gained.” You can read the whole article here.
 
New Equitable Growth Data for Cities
The National Equity Atlas, produced in partnership with the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), continues to expand to meet the data needs of those working to advance equitable growth in cities and metros. In October we added new neighborhood-level maps for four indicators, including unemployment and disconnected youth. And in November we updated 17 of our 32 indicators to 2014 five-year pooled data (it was previously the 2012 five-year pooled data).

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

It Takes a City: How Detroit Is Making a Homegrown Comeback

Conjuring a mental image of Detroit is easy if you've been paying attention to some of the comeback stories that have been streaming out of the city: it is the Rust Belt's chrome mecca coming back from the brink, with daring restauranteurs and visionary start-ups injecting new life into ghostly factories and disinvested working-class neighborhoods. But these predominant narratives only tell part of the story: economic growth is concentrated in pockets close to the central core, and has benefited outsiders more than locals. In 2007, 36 percent of jobs in the central business district were held by Detroiters, but by 2013, that number dropped to 23.7 percent.

"The condition that Detroit is in has created a can-do, collaborative, maker culture," said Kevin Ramon, business coach at Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation. "But there are a lot of people in Detroit's underserved communities that don't have the financial capacity or skill sets to get their businesses off the ground as fast as others outside of those communities." But a network of organizations in the city is working to change that.

Ramon provides marketing and general business coaching support for Central Detroit residents through the business development work of Central Detroit Christian, which is part of a cottage industry including foundations, nonprofits, incubators, and co-working spaces that provide Detroit's low-income residents and people of color with resources and opportunities to launch successful small businesses.

Detroit is proving what can happen when a robust business ecosystem — one that is committed to inclusion — sprouts up to combat the economic inequality that too often accompanies a city's comeback. Below are three examples of companies owned by Detroiters that are tapping into the new business resources available to grow and ensure that Detroit's renaissance is built on a foundation of success for local residents of color.

From Returning Citizen to In-Demand Business Owner

When Craig Grissom returned to Central Detroit after 14 years of incarceration, he turned to landscaping work to make money.  "I couldn't get hired anywhere, so I had to create my job," he said.

In 2009, Grissom started to build his own small clientele. Two years later, Lisa Johanon, who oversees Central Detroit Christian's portfolio of 10 businesses, offered Grissom the job of managing one of them, Higher Ground Landscaping. "I had been making a couple of dollars on my own, but it wasn't steady," he said. "With that opportunity, I had a steady income."

In return, Grissom has tried to hire other returning citizens from the neighborhood. "Somebody gave me a chance," he added. "Lisa helped me out and if I could help someone else out, sure enough, I would. I hired someone this past summer who was just a new release and I gave him the opportunity."

Through Central Detroit Christian, Grissom completed an entrepreneur training class at ProsperUS in 2014. He was able to purchase Higher Ground Landscaping in 2015 and obtained working capital through loans from ProsperUS and Southwest Solutions (both of which have since been paid off). Grissom's contracts now include Henry Ford Health Center and the Woodward Avenue Streetcar project.

Both Central Detroit Christian and ProsperUS receive funding from the New Economy Initiative (NEI), a collaboration of 13 national and local foundations founded in 2007 that has grown into one of the largest philanthropy-led regional economic development initiatives in the United States. A recent report from NEI outlines the impact of its grantmaking, and the results are impressive: through $96.2 million in grants, NEI has helped to launch 1,700 new companies, creating more than 17,000 jobs.

The success of Grissom and other entrepreneurs like him speaks to the power of Detroit organizations working together and collaborating to build a network of entrepreneurs of color — especially those with a passion for training and employing locally. According to Matthew Lewis of NEI, the initiative wants to focus its grantmaking efforts to ramp up local hiring to ensure that Detroit residents reap the benefits of their city's comeback.  The results so far are promising: the 2016 NEIdeas winners were 75 percent people of color and 60 percent women-owned businesses, and NEI has received applications from every Detroit zip code.

From Selling out of a Trunk to the Shelves of Whole Foods

Nailah Ellis-Brown, another local entrepreneur, feels frustrated about the way that Detroit has been portrayed in the media. "A lot of people think you can just buy a building in Detroit and grow a $1 million business," said Ellis-Brown. "Detroit has been portrayed as this wide-open market, but people are just coming in and not providing jobs or training. They are bringing in the workers they want to use. It doesn't make sense to come in and fix downtown, midtown, and a couple of blocks along Woodward. That's not the entire city."

Ellis-Brown began selling her grandfather's hibiscus iced tea recipe out of the trunk of her car in 2008. Today, Ellis Infinity Beverage Company drinks are being sold in over 300 retailers throughout the Midwest, including at Whole Foods, and she was named one of Forbes magazine's "30 Under 30" in the manufacturing industry. Along the way, Ellis-Brown found resources throughout the region, including from Michigan State University Product Center, "which has been amazing as far as labeling and the random stuff like barcodes and nutritional information," and Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council, which helped Ellis-Brown with contracting. But she is proud of how much she's been able to do on her own.

"Being a Detroit native, I've never been the type to wait on handouts," she said. "If there's something you want, you've got to go get it yourself. That's how I was raised and how things tend to be for people within the Black community." She's committed to hiring local residents, and nine of her 15 staff members on the production line have special needs. She works through a program called Services to Enhance Potential and also hires walk-ins, online applicants, and over social media. "No one really takes the time to work with individuals with special needs. With the passions they have and the joy I see when they come to work, it makes all of the difference in the world to me," said Ellis-Brown. "One of my passions and aspirations is for my company to provide job support and job opportunities for Detroit natives."

A Master Plumber with a Vision

One of NEI's grantmaking programs, NEIdeas, challenges entrepreneurs to come up with ideas to help grow their businesses. Businesses that gross under $750,000 annually compete for one of 30 $10,000 awards; businesses that gross between $750,000 and $5 million compete for one of two $100,000 awards.

Benkari Mechanical, a plumbing enterprise, won a $10,000 award in 2015. Founded by Adrienne Bennett, said to be America's first Black female licensed master plumber and Michigan's first and only female licensed master plumber and plumbing contractor, the company was looking for a way to grow to its next level.

"We are small, we are minority, and we are just trying to fit in," said Bennett. "Until now we have been self-funded. Now we are at the point that for us to grow, we have to pursue larger projects. Banks literally want your life for the money they want to loan you." With the NEIdeas grant, the company purchased software and training to help automate its contract bidding process. The first time Benkari used the software, it won its biggest contract to date — for the new Detroit Red Wings arena currently under construction.

"It would have taken a much longer time to estimate without the software," said A.K. Bennett, Adrienne's son and project manager for the company. "We see this project as being a stepping stone to larger projects'"

One of Benkari's biggest growth challenges is finding qualified local union workers. The union provides a five-year apprenticeship program, but with the growth of the central business district and an executive order that projects are required to have 51 percent of local trade labor to qualify for city financing, Benkari Mechanical's labor pool is often dry. "After the 2008 crash, there was no push to open the apprenticeships and a big loss of people to retirement," said Bennett, the business owner. "Now since the boom has come back and it has come back so fast, there aren't that many people with talent or experience to do the work. Now there are people who have never had a hammer in their hands on a construction site."

Even so, the business is poised to meet Bennett's vision for growth. "We have set goals as far as where we would like to be financially — owning our own office space with a pre-fabrication facility and developing a fleet of company vehicles. As far as the things we see as happening in the city, we think this is all attainable."

With Ben Carson at HUD, America’s Cities Really Could Become Hellholes

(Cross-posted from The Nation)

If Democrats want to make the case that Dr. Ben Carson is unqualified to be secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, they can use the words of Carson himself: “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience; he’s never run a federal agency,” his friend Armstrong Williams told reporters, when rumors of Donald Trump’s plan to put Carson at HUD first emerged. Carson told Trump, “I preferred to work outside of government as an adviser.” But on Monday, Trump tapped Carson to head the $47 billion agency that oversees home-mortgage lending, public-housing administration, desegregation efforts, and fighting housing discrimination.
 

READ MORE>>>

USDA Releases Notice Inviting Applications for the Position of National Fund Manager for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative

Earlier this week the Under Secretary for Rural Development, Lisa Mensah, announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting applications from Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) for the position of National Fund Manager for the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI). 

Since its launch in 2011, HFFI has proven to be an effective, sustainable solution to the issue of access to healthy food in low-income urban and rural communities and communities of color across the country. To date, 96 CDFIs and community development corporations have received more than $197 million in federal HFFI grants to fund hundreds of projects in 35 states, including independent grocery stores, food hubs, and farmer’s markets.  Those grants have leveraged over $1 billion dollars.  The HFFI efforts are increasing access to healthy food, creating jobs, and contributing to the revitalization of communities. 

More than 29 million people in America live in areas that lack access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food choices.  The National Fund Manager at USDA will provide financial and technical assistance to partnerships, and fund eligible projects to support retailers and their supply chains that bring fresh, healthy food into underserved areas. 

Applications for the National Fund Manager are due at 4:00 p.m. EST on December 28.  Details regarding the application process can be found in the Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) posted in the Federal Register. A webinar for prospective applicants will be held on Tuesday, December 6 at 2 p.m. EST.  For additional information regarding the notice or to register for the webinar contact James Barham, USDA Agricultural Economist at (202) 690-1411 or James.Barham@wdc.usda.gov.

We are thrilled to see the USDA move forward with this important step in providing greater access to healthy food.

Talking Headways Podcast: A Bus Full of People Should Go Ahead of a Tesla

Cross-posted from StreetsBlog USA

This week’s episode returns to the Shared Use Mobility Summit in Chicago for a great discussion of how the changing technology and information landscape could yield more equitable outcomes. Jackie Grimshaw of the Center for Neighborhood Technology moderated this panel featuring Anita Cozart of Policy Link, Rob Puentes of the Eno Center for Transportation, and Joshua Schank of LA Metro.

The discussion touches on several interesting topics, including the idea that innovation doesn’t have to arise from technology, the fact that not all people are benefitting from transportation investments, the measurement bias in the models we use to make transportation decisions, and much more.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST EPISODE HERE>>>

PolicyLink Joins Civil and Human Rights Organizations to Oppose Confirmation of Jeff Sessions

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE UNITED STATES SENATE
Civil and Human Rights Organizations Oppose Confirmation of Jeff Sessions

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national organizations committed to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, and the 144 undersigned organizations, we are writing to express our strong opposition to the confirmation of Senator Jefferson B. Sessions (R-AL) to be the 84th Attorney General of the United States.

Senator Sessions has a 30-year record of racial insensitivity, bias against immigrants, disregard for the rule of law, and hostility to the protection of civil rights that makes him unfit to serve as the Attorney General of the United States.  In our democracy, the Attorney General is charged with enforcing our nation’s laws without prejudice and with an eye toward justice.  And, just as important, the Attorney General has to be seen by the public – every member of the public, from every community – as a fair arbiter of justice.  Unfortunately, there is little in Senator Sessions’ record that demonstrates that he would meet such a standard. 

Read entire letter at LCCHR.

Secure Retirement for All Californians: An Interview with State Senator Kevin de León on the Nation’s Largest Retirement Savings Program Since the New Deal

Thanks to nearly a decade of advocacy and research, and to the inspiring leadership of California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León — the kind of leader the nation needs — California has taken another step forward by making  portable, auto-enrolled, individual retirement accounts available to millions of Californians who lack such benefits.  Workers participating in the newly passed Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program will have at least 3 percent of their earnings deducted from their paycheck and deposited in an individual retirement account, managed by the Secure Choice Retirement Savings Investment Board. They will be able to opt out at any time.

Given that many participants will have no experience with saving for retirement and many may currently rely on public benefits programs, PolicyLink worked with partners and De León's office to advocate for equity measures within the bill to ensure that the program best serves the needs of low-income workers. Thanks to this advocacy, the Board is required to establish a comprehensive outreach and education program to inform eligible workers of the risks and benefits of the program, and there is now increased attention on ensuring that retirement savings do not count toward assets, which could potentially disqualify low-income workers from receiving vital public benefits.

Touted as the broadest enhancement of retirement benefits since Social Security, Secure Choice provides a crucial opportunity to prove the merits of state-backed retirement pans. 

Senator de León spoke with Christopher Brown, director for financial security at PolicyLink, to share his insight into this innovative new policy and discuss how other states might follow in California's footsteps.

Why is it so important that the state step in to provide opportunities for workers to save for retirement?

We have close to seven million workers in California in the private sector with no access to any retirement security plan — neither a defined benefit nor a defined contribution plan. This means that 50 percent of middle-income workers are at risk of retiring into poverty. The numbers are worse for women retirees, who make up two-thirds of retirees today who live in poverty. When I think of women like my mother or my aunt, women who raised us, clothed us, fed us — it's immoral that these women should retire into poverty. After a lifetime career of hard work, helping to make California the sixth largest economy in the world, they deserve to live with a modicum of dignity and respect. This is a not a partisan issue. Retirement insecurity impacts all Americans, regardless of the hue of your skin or your geographic location. Secure Choice is a complete game changer. It gives millions of workers the option to save automatically, through their employer's payroll.  No matter what job you hold in California, you can plan for your future. 

What were some of the challenges you faced in creating this legislation, and how were they overcome?

It's been a long, arduous journey to get this approved. The first iteration of this measure failed in 2008, and again in 2009. But in 2012 Governor Jerry Brown signed a measure that allowed us to appoint a Secure Choice Board and raise money to conduct the necessary feasibility studies and market analysis to show that this would be financially viable and self-sustaining.  It took years of going back and forth to Washington, DC to meet with the Department of Labor, the Treasury Department, and other key players on Capitol Hill. We rolled up our sleeves and went to work, going over the arcane technical aspects and trying to find a solution to this vexing problem of retirement insecurity.

All along the way we had very strong opposition on Wall Street and in Washington, DC, because our program was seen as competing with financial markets for retirement.  However, we were able to make the case that this wasn't about competition or cannibalizing an existing financial market sector, because we are trying to reach a highly fragmented, diverse community made up largely of lower-income workers who need retirement security the most and aren't being reached by private financial providers. We also stressed that this is a policy issue, not a commercial one — that too many people are hurting because they don't have access to retirement savings as part of their employment, and too many people would be forced to rely on government assistance in retirement because they had not had the opportunity to save throughout their careers.

What will be the next steps in implementing Secure Choice?

The law will go into effect on January 1, 2017, and will authorize the Secure Choice Board, chaired by Treasurer John Chiang, to begin the development of the program. Over the course of three years we will phase in employers by company size; ultimately, all employers with five or more employees will be required to participate.  We still have a lot of work to do to educate consumers about what's going to happen and why it's important. We have seven million people in California who will be eligible for this, so we need to take them all on a journey to educate them about the importance of retirement savings, and the power of saving early so that you compound your principal investment.

We've scaled the mountain and withstood the powerful, well-moneyed opposition, but now we need to roll up our sleeves and take this to the people to make sure the outcomes are positive.

The Department of Labor recently issued a proposed rule that would pave the way for local governments to follow California's lead in providing retirement plans. What advice would you give to other states wishing to provide their own retirement savings plans?

I'd say the critical thing that is going to help expand these policies is leadership — both nationally and within states. This leadership needs to be bipartisan, as it was in California, and they need to step up and make their fellow politicians understand that their citizens are hurting in retirement. They have a choice: they can represent the people and try to increase access to retirement benefits, or they can represent the interests of Wall Street and do nothing. The good news is that the concept of state-backed retirement savings has caught on like wildfire.  We know of at least 15 other states that are following our lead with plans to adopt similar programs in the future, and we couldn't be more excited.

The Commons: The Community-Led Commercial Hub that Is Transforming Milwaukee’s Poorest Neighborhood

(Cross-posted from Next City)

Just two years ago, the corner of 16th and North Avenue in Milwaukee looked like the vast majority of the commercial strip within the city's historic Lindsay Heights neighborhood: the buildings were boarded up, vacant, and in disrepair. As in so many American cities, racial redlining, decades of economic disinvestment, and the recent housing crisis devastated this once-bustling working-class hub.

Visitors today will find this intersection transformed: Teenagers gather for book clubs while they sip fruit and veggie concoctions from the Juice Kitchen. Neighbors chat over organic bulk grains at the Outpost Natural Foods co-op. And local residents facing barriers to employment get job training at the Milwaukee Center for Independence Hospitality Academy. 

This vibrant hub of commerce, healthy food, and community gathering is the Innovations and Wellness Commons, and it is the brainchild of an entire community.

Led by residents Larry and Sharon Adams and their community nonprofit, Walnut Way Conservation Corp., and supported by ongoing funding and technical assistance from the Zilber Family Foundation, The Commons proves what is possible when community, local business, and philanthropy unite around a shared vision for a healthier, more prosperous neighborhood.

"This isn't about one lot or one store. We're building a vibrant community supported by a quadruple bottom line: investments that are financially viable, green, socially equitable, and honor the culture and history of Lindsay Heights," said Sharon Adams.

Read more in Next City.

Why Cities Must Keep Equity a Central Focus in Building a Culture of Health

Cross-posted from Cities Speak

Where you live determines your health as well as your proximity to opportunity. However, deep patterns of discrimination, racial segregation, and decades of federal, state and local policies have dictated where people live and the opportunities to which they have access. Despite advances in public health and improved economic prosperity, poor health outcomes disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color.

We cannot ignore how historical, systemic and structural racism has also shaped our nation’s cities and towns, resulting in disparities in education, housing, employment and health. Low-income communities and communities of color are still feeling the impacts of those decades-old decisions today. For these communities, the lack of key resources and services results in poor and costlier health outcomes, which are referred to as health inequities. Simply put, race and place matter when it comes to health and well-being.

In addition to having serious health consequences for individuals and families, health inequities negatively impact the economic competitiveness and vitality of cities through lost potential and productivity.

  • In 2000, the infant mortality among African Americans occurred at a rate of 14.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, which is more than twice the national average of 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births that same year
  • Children who experience hunger are more likely to be in poor health and have behavioral and emotional problems in schools. Additionally, children experiencing hunger are more likely to repeat a grade and require special education services
  • Researchers estimate that childhood lead exposure in homes costs society over $50 billion per year due to lost economic productivity resulting from reduced cognitive potential

 

Now more than ever, municipal leaders have a responsibility to lead the way in partnering with communities to reimagine, design, and plan healthy places for residents to live, learn, work, and thrive.

 “Economic development is integral to having a healthy community. If we can address the economic issues in our neighborhoods, we can help people live healthier lifestyles,” says Mayor Mark Holland, Unified Government of Wyandotte County, Kansas City, Kansas.

Read more > > >

#Distruptive25 - Angela Glover Blackwell

Cross-posted from Living Cities

Living Cities unveils 25 Disruptive Leaders list, recognizing remarkable individuals who are shaking up the status quo and creating new approaches to address our nation’s most stubborn challenges.
 
Angela Glover Blackwell is the founder and CEO of PolicyLink, and continues to drive its mission of advancing economic and social equity. Under Angela’s leadership, PolicyLink has become a leading voice in the movement to use public policy to improve access and opportunity for all low-income people and communities of color, particularly in the areas of health, housing, transportation, education and infrastructure.
Angela Glover Blackwell has spent her career advocating for practical, sustainable ways to promote equity and ensure that everyone has access to opportunity.
 
A lawyer by training, Angela was a partner at Public Advocates, a nationally renowned public interest law firm representing the underrepresented, from 1977 to 1987. As she litigated class action suits, she developed innovative non-litigation strategies around employment, education, health and consumer affairs. Angela gained national recognition as the founder of Urban Strategies Council in Oakland, California, and led its pioneering approach to social change through community building.
 
Prior to founding PolicyLink, Angela served as Senior Vice President at the Rockefeller Foundation. While there, she developed the Next Generation Leadership and Building Democracy programs, centered on issues of inclusion, race and policy.
 
What does disruptive leadership mean to Angela? Watch the video here.

Our Response: Resistance!

After a moment of reflection, we are comforted by the strength, resilience, and unconquerable nature of the equity movement. We are also clear on our next steps. Our purpose —  just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential — was the right purpose before November 8, and it will remain the right purpose until we unlock the promise of the nation by unleashing the promise in us all. To this end:

WE ARE RESISTING! We are fighting to defend and advance hard-fought gains to design an equitable economy, build healthy communities of opportunity, and create a just and fair society. We must keep the momentum going on police reform and expanding opportunity for women, boys and girls of color, and the LGBTQ community. The immediate targets of the incoming administration will likely be Muslims and Mexicans. If that happens, we will stand together and mount a forceful and sustained resistance. When one is attacked or reviled, we all are.

WE ARE CREATING OUR OWN HOPE! We draw sustenance from the Equity Manifesto, which urges us to join together, believing in the potency of inclusion and building from a common bond. We will continue partnering with local leaders to build an equitable economy where everyone benefits. We will dismantle oppressive, racist systems, and we will steadfastly advocate for policies that benefit those who are being left behind, who some describe as the "forgotten." We have never forgotten our tribal, rural, and urban brothers and sisters who are struggling to get by. In fact, PolicyLink was founded to lift up their voice, wisdom, and experience and to translate their hopes and aspirations into policy. We will not allow them to be exploited and divided by pitting one group’s pain against the pain of others. We will use our summits and daily walkabouts to redouble our efforts to create safer and more inclusive spaces for our economically struggling White brothers and sisters to see themselves as an essential part, and beneficiary of, the equity movement. We find hope in knowing that we will not participate in small plans and feckless actions. We are going to get results that are commensurate with the scale of our nation’s challenges.

WE WILL HEAL IN OUR OWN TIME! Talk of healing is premature. We cannot heal until the pain inflicted ceases, is acknowledged, and reconciliation occurs. Calls to be patient and calm fall on deaf ears. Even though we do not expect a genuine effort to repair the breach, we will move forward with the determination and grace that our ancestors expect, and the dignity that this moment requires. James Baldwin wrote: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” We will face this moment with urgency and steely resolve. We will persist in the struggle for freedom, dignity, and equity. And with the nation’s children as our witnesses, we will prevail and make America great — for All, for the first time. 

In solidarity,
The PolicyLink Family

We Are The Humanities

Cross-posted from California Humanities

What are the humanities, why do they matter? How have they made a difference in your life?

To celebrate our 40th year anniversary of grant making, programming, and partnerships that connect Californians to each other, we invited a group of 40 prominent Californians to explore what the humanities mean to them. 
 
We invite you to watch, listen, and read as they dig into the deep importance of the humanities in shaping their lives and understanding the world. We are sharing what they have to say every week via our website, and social media channels, and invite you to tell us why the humanities are important to you!
 
 

In 30 States, Ex-Offenders Who Still Owe Fines or Fees Have Their Voting Rights Restricted

This op-ed, written by Karin Martin Anne Stuhldreher, is cross-posted from the Washington Post.

Forty-eight-year-old Treva Thompson won’t be voting on Election Day. It’s not that she’s turned off by the choice of candidates. It’s that she can’t.

She owes around $8,000 in fines and fees, plus more than $30,000 in victim restitution related to her felony theft conviction in 2005. And she’d have to pay it all off before starting the process to have her voting rights restored. A herculean task, she explains, because she often doesn’t “even have money to get gas to go look for a job.” Speaking for individuals with criminal histories and debt, Thompson says: “We shouldn’t lose our rights as if we’re nothing.”

She’s the lead plaintiff in a voting rights case aimed at preventing the state of Alabama from “barring any ex-offenders from voting on the basis of their past felony convictions — or their inability to pay ‘any legal financial obligations’ as a result of their incarceration.” Alabama is one of 30 states that restrict the voting rights of those who owe debts from their involvement in the criminal justice system. An estimated 10 million Americans owe $50 billion in such debt.

READ THE FULL OP-ED>>>

How to Govern Like a Feminist

(Cross-posted from Elle.com; written by Mattie Kahn)

Hillary Clinton will not be the first world leader to recognize that women face unique battles at work and at home. But if she is elected, she will be the first American president who's able to speak to those issues from personal experience. And as the women interviewed for this story can attest, that matters. As we enter the final election countdown, we asked 12 women in politics, policy, and media to reflect on the policies that American women need most, the women who've inspired them to succeed, and what it means to govern like a feminist. 

READ THE FULL ARTICLE>>>

Vote Yes on Measures KK and JJ for an All-In Oakland

As America’s cities face the challenges of inequality, structural racism, and displacement, local governments must take bold steps to put in place a new model of equitable growth. One imperative is to transform underinvested neighborhoods into “communities of opportunity” that provide their residents with the ingredients needed to thrive. That is why I am excited about Oakland’s Measure KK, a $600 million infrastructure bond that promises to boost opportunity and mobility for residents in long-underserved Flatland neighborhoods, and Measure JJ, a measure to extend and reform renter protections for Oakland’s residents vulnerable to displacement.

Infrastructure — streets, sidewalks, parks, water lines, and more — might not sound like the solution to Oakland’s challenges of uneven growth. But it is crucial. As Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx likes to say, infrastructure is a “ladder to opportunity” for struggling families. Streets and transit routes make it possible to access family-supporting jobs. Parks and recreation centers provide spaces to exercise, play, and socialize. Libraries connect people to learning opportunities. And so forth. Infrastructure is the skeletal support that connects people to resources, opportunities, and each other.

Despite its critical role in bridging to opportunity, years of discriminatory land use planning and inequitable investment have saddled low-income communities of color with some of the worst infrastructure deficiencies. Oakland overall needs an estimated $2.5 billion in infrastructure investment — including a $443 million paving backlog. The neighborhoods where cash-strapped families can afford to live are more likely to have potholes, crooked sidewalk squares, and tattered playground equipment. These inequities aren’t just inconveniences: they drain already-tight family budgets. Oakland residents spend hundreds of dollars every year on flat tires and car repairs due to potholes and bad roads — and this “hidden tax” hurts low-income residents far more than wealthier drivers.

Measure KK has the potential to dramatically improve health, quality of life, and economic security for thousands of Oaklanders. With Measure KK funds, Oakland’s new Department of Transportation is prepared to deliver ten times the current levels of street repairs for 10 years. Imagine, instead of just a quarter of our streets being in good shape, in ten years 72 percent of our roads could be smooth and safe.

Moreover, the funds would go where they are most needed. While typical infrastructure bonds do not target resources, Measure KK includes historic social equity requirements that will ensure that investments are distributed fairly across Oakland, and especially in underinvested, low-income communities of color. Projects will be selected through a transparent, multilingual public process, and an oversight committee will conduct independent audits of the spending. My organization, PolicyLink, is looking forward to working with the city, under our All-In Cities initiative, to develop the best possible equity criteria and make this infrastructure bond a model for the nation in terms of equitable infrastructure funding.

In addition, Measure KK has an intentional focus on “investment without displacement.” $100 million of the proceeds will fund anti-displacement and affordable housing preservation. This is essential in a city facing a ballooning housing crisis, where rents have increased 34 percent since 2011. Measure KK will provide critical funds to protect Oaklanders all across the city from being forced to move out of affordable housing so we can keep long-term residents in our community. Measure JJ will in turn add protections to residents in their existing rental homes as their neighborhoods improve.

Building the infrastructure needed to transform neighborhoods is the right thing to do for our neighbors who are struggling to stay and succeed in a rapidly-changing city. It is also a smart economic strategy. With the right hiring, job quality, and workforce development strategies in place, this investment can provide career pathways to hundreds of Oaklanders of color who are currently locked out of good jobs. Improving infrastructure in distressed neighborhoods will also have indirect economic benefits because living in a neighborhood with quality parks, safe streets, sidewalks, and other quality infrastructure improves one’s economic chances. There is also evidence that lower-wealth residents who stay in gentrifying neighborhoods improve their financial conditions (thus also adding to the local economy), while those who move out end up living in neighborhoods with higher unemployment, lower-performing schools, and lower quality of life.

On Tuesday, Oaklanders have a chance to truly expand opportunity and take a serious step toward making Oakland an “all-in” city where everyone — especially those who’ve been waiting the longest for this moment of resurgence — has a chance to fully thrive. I encourage all Oaklanders to vote YES on Measures KK and JJ this election day.

Angela Glover Blackwell is the Chief Executive Officer of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works.

The Spirit of Equity Summit 2015 Endures

I can hardly believe that it has been a full year since Equity Summit 2015. Today, we mark its anniversary and other PolicyLink milestones, including the release of The Equity Manifesto and the announcement of the All-In Cities initiative. Throughout this past year, we have carried the mantle that this is Our Moment to grow our networks, foster supportive partnerships, and continue to grow the equity movement. 

With that spirit as our guide, we, along with partners Neighborhood Allies and Urban Innovation21, released Equitable Development: The Path to an All-In Pittsburgh last month, a five-point agenda for realizing the vision of a new, “all-in” Pittsburgh, in which all residents can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. The National Equity Atlas team, in partnership with the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), has continued to expand, building upon the goals of the Summit’s Data Expo. Just this week, the Atlas added interactive neighborhood-level opportunity maps that allow users to visualize disparities in unemployment and disconnected youth among people of color across cities, regions, and states.

In a post-Summit survey, we asked attendees how Equity Summit 2015 impacted their work. Ninety-five percent said that their understanding of equity issues broadened or deepened, while 88 percent said that participating provided new connections or partnerships to advance equity. We were humbled by the positive response, but we know that coalition building doesn’t just happen within the confines of a convention center. This movement is powerful, because people are connecting and collaborating in places as varied as mobile networks, sidewalks, social networks, and board rooms.
 
We’d love to hear from you about any impacts that you have seen from collaborations fostered by the equity movement. How do you continue to #claimthetorch of equity in your work? Share your story by emailing info@policylink.org, and we may share it on Equity Blog or over social media

Six Ways to Vote for Equitable Growth and Shared Prosperity

Introducing New Neighborhood Opportunity Maps

 

We know that opportunity differs by neighborhood, and maps are one way to visualize this variation across a given city, region, or state. That’s why today, we are adding mapping breakdowns to the following four indicators on the National Equity Atlas:

 

These new interactive maps allow you to visualize data by county or by census tract as well as by city, region, or state. You can also toggle back and forth between different years to see how the geography of opportunity has changed over time and create custom maps using an interactive filter and scroller. On the race/ethnicity map, for example, the scroller allows you to visualize measures of opportunity (e.g. homeownership) in relation to neighborhood composition (e.g. the share of the Latino population). And on the disconnected youth and unemployment maps, the scroller allows you to visualize the indicator as neighborhood compositions (e.g. share of the Black or Native American population) vary.

This blog walks you through how to access and use the new maps. Register for our 30-minute webinar on November 2 for a live walk through.

How to find the new maps

To access the new maps for the people of color indicator, click on the Indicators tab in the top navigation bar. Then under the Demographics menu, select “People of color.” You can look at the data by county (the default), by the largest 150 regions, or by state. You can also toggle back and forth between every decade from 1980 to 2040 to see how the share of people of color in the U.S. has changed over time. The GIF below pulls from the new maps to show how the share of people of color has changed from 1980 to 2010 and how it is projected to change by 2040. You can also see the new people of color map on the homepage of the Atlas.

You can filter by White areas, Black areas, Latino areas, etc. in the people of color, unemployment, and disconnected youth maps, and you can also filter by different measures of opportunity in the race/ethnicity map. To get to the race/ethnicity indicator, select Race/ethnicity (also in the Demographics menu).

The default breakdown shows a chart of how the racial/ethnic composition of the country has changed from 1980 to 2010, and how it’s projected to change through 2040. Underneath the graphic display, you’ll see the different breakdowns, the second of which is the “Race and ethnicity map.” The default map is the percent people of color in 2014, but you can also look at the data from 2000. Under the year options, you’ll see the six major race/ethnicity groups and all people of color. If you select “Native American”, for example, you’ll get a map of the percent Native American by county. The darker purple counties represent areas with a Native population larger than 40 percent (see screenshot below).

Using the opportunity filters

The filters located on the bottom right of the page allow you create custom maps based on various measures of opportunity such as homeownership and the share of the population with an associate’s degree or higher. To illustrate how the filters work and how to access data by neighborhood, take the state of Mississippi as an example.

You’ll notice that census tracts are not one of the geography options in the map above. In order to view the data by census tract, you must type in a state, region, or city in the Explore box. After typing in and selecting Mississippi, you get a map of the state by tracts (the default geography at the sub-national level). If you click on “Black”, you get a map of the Black population share. The purple tracts are neighborhoods with a Black population greater than 40 percent. The light blue areas, on the other hand, have a Black population under 10 percent.

To use the filters, first select one, like homeownership, then move the scroller at the bottom to only show areas where the homeownership is at least a given percentage. The overall homeownership rate in Mississippi is 68 percent, but moving the scroller to 68 percent, creates a map of census tracts where the homeownership rate is 68 percent or higher and many of the purple tracts (representing majority Black tracts) in the northwestern part of the state disappear as a result (see maps below). Those tracts that disappear have a homeownership rate less than 68 percent.

Using maps to inform decision-making

These maps can be especially helpful in developing targeted employment or workforce development initiatives. The overall unemployment rate in Mississippi was 10 percent, but this was clearly not the case across all census tracts. Filtering the map by tracts with an unemployment rate of at least 15 percent produces a map with several majority Black tracts. This map can support programs and initiatives through the state workforce investment board by ensuring that resources are targeted to communities that need them most.

Note: While the size (land area) of the census tracts in the state varies widely, each has a roughly similar number of people. A large tract in a more rural part of the state likely contains a similar number of people as a seemingly tiny tract in an urban area. Care should be taken not to pay an unwarranted amount of attention to large tracts just because they are large.

Mississippi has the highest rate of disconnected youth of all states, so understanding how the number and share of disconnected youth varies across the state is central to developing an effective workforce development or education program. To find the map for disconnected youth, select “Disconnected Youth” in Readiness section of the Equity menu. The very last breakdown is the mapping breakdown. As you’ll see in the map below, there are several red census tracts, symbolizing areas where the share of disconnected youth is greater than 20 percent. As you hover over different tracts, you can see both the share and the total number of disconnected youth. In census tract 9504 in Prentiss County, for example, more than 100 young people, or 57 percent of 16 to 19 year olds, were disconnected from both school and work.

The filters and scroller on this map allow you to visualize disconnectedness in relation to neighborhood composition. As you filter to majority White or majority Black neighborhoods, you’ll notice how disconnectedness varies geographically.

For a walk through of the unemployment maps, view our previous blog. For a live walk through of the new maps, register for our webinar. Share your thoughts or questions during the webinar or through our contact form.

This Atlas of Racial Equity Just Keeps Getting Better

Cross-posted from CityLab

How do race and inequality intersect with space? American mapmakers have been trying to answer this question since at least 1895, when a group of reform-minded Chicago women published the Hull-House Maps and Papers. At the height of the Gilded Age, inequality was skyrocketing. Housing and labor conditions among droves of new immigrants were dire.

Putting their faith in data as catalyst for progress, the Chicago reformers meticulously surveyed the ethnicities and wages of industrial workers living in a tenement neighborhood on the Near West Side, and then plotted their findings in vivid color on a set of blank property maps. The result was a groundbreaking visual demonstration of poverty as a product of a person’s spatial context, rather than some damning individual quality—a belief that was commonly held then (as it is now).

Flash-forward 120-plus years, and we’re living in an era some call a second Gilded Age. In fact, income inequality is even worse now than it was then. Mapmakers are still figuring out the best ways to plot disparities across all sorts of measures—jobs and school quality, environmental health, and transportation access, for example—to advocate for policy change. The National Equity Atlas, developed by PolicyLink and the University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), might be the best and most comprehensive graphic call for economic equality available today.

Read the full article in CityLab.

A Seat at the Table: Through Community Participation, New Orleans Leads the Fair Housing Movement

Isabel Barrios, a program officer at the Greater New Orleans Foundation, recently facilitated a conversation with young people in New Orleans in which they were asked what health and public safety mean to them. They responded by saying things like: "It means not hearing gunshots when I'm playing on the basketball court," and "I would be able to ride my bike somewhere and not have to worry about it being stolen," and "Health means having water fountains in our neighborhood, because it can get very hot out and I want to be able to drink water when I'm playing outside."

"There were all of these great things that all of these kids brought up that barely fall within into what people call public safety in city planning processes," said Barrios. "There is an incredible opportunity if you have meaningful engagement and really hear people out." She mentioned that when residents asked to return to their public housing developments after Hurricane Katrina, their calls were translated by politicians into requests for more "affordable housing" in the form of vouchers — signifying that filtering may still affect their trust.

Last week, the City of New Orleans and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) made a concerted effort to respond to city residents' specific appeals for improved housing and greater connection to opportunity in the joint Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) plan they submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). By submitting this plan, New Orleans became one of the first of 20 jurisdictions in 2016 to adhere to the update to the Fair Housing Act released in 2015 requiring federal housing funding grantees to "Affirmatively Further Fair Housing" (also known as the AFFH rule). Over 100 more will follow in 2017, and all remaining HUD jurisdictions in the following years. The revamped AFFH rule lays the foundation to ensure that HUD resources are being effectively used to foster communities of opportunity. The framework helps cities, counties, regions, states, and housing authorities examine historic patterns of segregation, expand housing choices, and foster inclusive communities free of discrimination.

Community outreach that builds on past efforts

Over the course of the summer and early fall, HANO and the city met with residents, housing, transportation, and health advocates, and community organizations to get their input on the housing opportunity plan. They also coordinated with the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) to hold sessions to train community-based groups on the more technical aspects of the AFH plan, and to engage communities not usually at planning tables. Seven partner groups (including PolicyLink) served as a coordinating committee that synthesized community input, guided research, addressed gaps in the data that were being gathered, and drafted the Assessment of Fair Housing that set goals for healthy communities of opportunity and prioritized actions to be pursued over the next five years.  The plan's development was guided by equity, as defined by PolicyLink: "just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential."

The plan includes a summary of residents' concerns gathered during the community participation process channels, such as escalating housing costs within proximity of new hospitals (making both health care and job access more difficult), criminal background checks limiting employment opportunities, and transportation services prioritizing tourists over transit-dependent residents. It also reports on demographic trends in the city and where racially/ethnically concentrated areas of poverty exist. The numbers were revealing, with 66 percent of the more than 75,000 renter households classified as low-income, and 77 percent of those households reporting housing problems.

The factors contributing to disparities in access to opportunity informed the development of the AFH plan's key goals, which include expanding affordable housing in high-opportunity areas, reducing housing segregation, and prioritizing public investments in transit, quality schools, housing, parks, and other amenities in underserved communities. (Read more about the plan's goals here.)

The AFH plan is building on recent community-based planning efforts, including: HousingNOLA, a 10-year strategy and implementation plan launched in August 2015 as a partnership of community leaders and public, private, and nonprofit organizations working to solve New Orleans's affordable housing crisis; Housing for a Resilient New Orleans, a five-year strategy for the city to build or preserve 7,500 affordable housing units by 2021; and a rental housing assessment released in March 2016 — conducted by the Center for Community Progress and commissioned by the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority — which found that nearly four out of five low-income, cost-burdened renter households in New Orleans are Black.

"Redlining is not a thing of the past"

The community engagement groundwork laid through these other strategic processes had a direct impact on the AFH plan, and will enable concrete federal resources to be invested in results. Andreanecia Morris, executive director of HousingNOLA, related how the HousingNOLA community review team recommended that the AFH plan look to leverage more private investment in low-opportunity neighborhoods through encouraging banks to spend their Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) money in those places — fulfilling the banks' obligation to meet the credit needs of low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

"Redlining is not a thing of the past," said Morris. "We called for an assessment of where lenders are working in New Orleans. The community took advantage of the opportunity to participate in the Louisiana Reinvestment Summit and submitted and integrated those comments into the AFH plan and HousingNOLA's 2017 Action Plan."

"Racial discrimination undergirds a lot of the discrimination that we see"

In addition to leading the community engagement work of the AFH plan, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center provided data to the city and HANO about both public sector barriers and private acts of discrimination to fair housing choice.

"Racial discrimination undergirds a lot of the discrimination that we see," said Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Center. "When we conducted an investigation of landlords discriminating against housing choice voucher program participants, we found that 80 percent would not accept voucher holders, which is still not illegal in New Orleans or in the state of Louisiana. We found that racial discrimination was at the root of some of the refusals to accept vouchers."

The Center receives daily calls from people being discriminated against: families being told that landlords will not accept children, people with disabilities finding limited choices for accessible apartments, renters living in substandard living conditions and struggling to get their landlords to treat mold or repair sewage lines.

"The good news is that we've got some leaders at the local level who are really interested in making living conditions better for renters in the city and in enacting policies to address the affordability crisis that's going on," said Hill. "We're working with a coalition that includes public health advocates to continue to raise these issues. What we need is a mechanism or framework that is going to require housing providers in the city to live up to their end of the deal to provide healthy and safe housing for the tenants." Adopting health and safety standards for occupied rental housing in the form of a citywide rental registry ordinance is listed as one of the short-term goals of the AFH plan.

Staying close to "the gumbo you like"

Barrios from the Greater New Orleans Foundation added that the release of New Orleans's AFH plan will have implications not only for HUD's decisions but also for the foundation's own grantmaking. As she said, if the Foundation wants to support a transit advocacy organization like Ride New Orleans, "the AFH plan will help us get a good sense of how Ride New Orleans is working along with housing advocates and workforce development folks to keep them abreast and informed. In that sense, the AFH plan is a great way to create a space for Ride New Orleans to be more connected with housing folks who may not have been making those connections before," she added.

"The people of New Orleans are pretty clear on their own sense of well-being," Barrios concluded, emphasizing once more the importance of meaningful community engagement in making far-reaching decisions about making places more opportunity-rich. "It's not only just connecting places to health care. Our sense of well-being can also be closely related to proximity to our families and friends — the things we've always known and cherished," said Barrios. "It can even be where you can get the gumbo you like — it's all part of what makes people feel good."

Earlier this year, PolicyLink and the Kresge Foundation released Healthy Communities of Opportunity: An Equity Blueprint to Address America's Housing Challenges. It explains how health, housing, and economic security policies must be aligned to achieve equitable housing outcomes and discusses how the AFFH rule presents a key avenue to advancing opportunity. PolicyLink played a supportive role in developing the Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) plan in New Orleans.

Fueling an Equitable Labor Movement: A Conversation with Jobs With Justice Executive Director Sarita Gupta

Named one of Bill Moyers's "19 Young Activists Changing America," Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice, is a driving force for economic and social justice within today's labor movement. Drawn to the labor movement as a student activist at Mount Holyoke College, Gupta has spent her career fighting for the rights and dignity of working people, especially low-wage earners and workers of color. 

Under Gupta's direction, Jobs With Justice has helped to win wage increases for 10 million low-income New Yorkers and Californians, secured overtime and wage protection for two million home-care workers, and helped update overtime regulations that affect 12.5 million workers. Gupta also serves as co-director of Caring Across Generations, a national movement working to transform the growing care-giving sector. 

Here, Gupta shares her vision for a healthier economy and brighter future through advancing the rights, voice, and power of America's workers.

You began your career in advocacy as a student activist, and you served at the United States Student Association from 1996 to 1998 first as vice president, then as president. How did this early work in education set the stage for your transition into the labor movement?

As a student activist, I witnessed friends and fellow students having to drop out of school because they couldn't afford tuition. I began to see systemic issues at play. You can't achieve educational success without having economic stability, and without attaining a higher level of education, your job options are limited. So, I was moved to get involved and help break this cycle.

During my tenure at the United States Student Association (USSA), I realized that the forces moving an agenda to privatize and corporatize higher education, cut taxes, and limit student voice in shaping policies in their states, were many of the same special interests who stood against the rights and opportunities of working people. It was clear to me that the only way to counter the attacks on students and working people was to build a joint movement. 

Given that the fight to increase worker power in the United States is often in opposition to powerful corporate interests, how can advocates meet the challenge of changing the culture of labor in the U.S.?

There will always be antagonism between corporate interests and working people's interests, so it's healthy and honest for there to be conflict and differences. And one should be suspect if someone argues otherwise. In the history of the United States, working people have struggled for all the protections that we have earned — from the safety net to child labor laws, to the eight-hour workday. These bedrock protections weren't handed down to Americans out of the charity and benevolence of corporations or our government. Thirty years of neoliberal policy in this country led to corporations holding an extreme concentration of wealth and power. If we are ever going to achieve the type of equity that is necessary and healthy for the economy, we need to shift the balance of power back into the hands of working people and ensure that the voices of unions of working people are respected, as they are in many industrialized nations.

Is it going to be culturally challenging? Of course, but by joining for a common cause, we can have more of a say and negotiate more for ourselves, as well as the next generation. Corporations are not immune from the pressure of a rising tide of public outrage and a groundswell of critique from employees. We also can look to the growing movement of socially responsible business models, like B corporations, as evidence that there are American businesses striving to reconsider their relationship with their employees. They are proving that businesses thrive when they listen to and invest in people who make them successful.

In your opinion, what is the relationship between workers' rights and the overall strength of the economy?

In recent decades, much of the discourse around the economy has focused on the needs of corporate interests, which only addresses one part of the whole economy. As a result, policies that address the economic security of families are often cast as a threat to economic growth. But, if people lack the means to participate in the economy as workers and consumers, then the economy suffers.

At Jobs With Justice, we believe a strong and vibrant national economy is one in which the needs of both families and firms are met. Our economy is off-balance with too much power and money in the hands of too few. When working people can come together and negotiate over the terms and conditions in the workplace, and can have input over their communities, we can rebalance the economy.

How will labor movements help the United States navigate the dual demographic shifts facing our economy: the increasing size of our aging population and the rapidly growing majority of color?

This is an exciting time for our nation. We have the opportunity to write new rules to address the future of our communities, the future of work, and future generations. But by failing to implement solutions, we're allowing some profitable employers to push people of color into low-wage jobs with no opportunity for advancement. Many hardworking moms, dads, and young people aren't earning enough to sustain their families, despite working in booming sectors of society like home care, restaurant and food services, child care, and retail, to name a few.

Thankfully, the growing Fight for $15 and a Union movement, the movement for Black lives, adjunct professors pushing back against poverty wages, and countless other campaigns for change are all fueling the demands for a better life and a new social contract. 

Given the growth of our aging population, we're in the midst of an unprecedented boom in the need for care providers. At the same time, the baby boomers are living longer than any previous generation, thanks to advances in technology and health care. While care is the work that makes all other work possible, caregivers like nannies and home care aides who look after our elders and children work under strenuous, highly vulnerable conditions, while earning poverty wages.

We have a tremendous opportunity to meet the soaring need for high-quality caregivers and ensure these jobs are good jobs — ones that offer stability and opportunity for the millions of people who do this work every day. To meet that challenge, the campaign I co-created called Caring Across Generations, is mobilizing millions of people to place care at the forefront of the national conversation, and move policies that make care affordable and accessible.

As grassroots organizations work to shape U.S. workforce policies, how should they decide where to focus their energy?

Deploying energies locally would be smart, as generally, we have the most opportunity to win at the state and municipal level. Local wins are foundational. By winning a new policy demand, organizations can set in motion more change by inspiring other communities to follow suit and demonstrate what's possible. Regardless of the gridlock in DC, the campaigns that are most transformative have been focused locally, modeled a new policy approach, and built momentum across the country.

For example, we led the charge with Jobs With Justice San Francisco to enact the first set of comprehensive and meaningful standards to address unstable work schedules and stop employers from assigning employees too few hours on too short notice, which jeopardizes their ability to provide for their families. Now 40,000 people who work in large retail and restaurant establishments in San Francisco have stronger guarantees of a fair and consistent schedule. Our friends at Working Washington were coordinating and learning lessons from us as they mounted a similar campaign, and just last month the Seattle City Council passed their robust scheduling legislation, which the mayor has committed to signing.

Grassroots organizations also should focus their energies on shaping the public conversation about the policies they want to enact. Grassroots groups and policy groups too often fall back on doing what they know best — talking to their bases and constituencies in the language that speaks to them. It's not enough. We have to build the muscle of connecting with people who aren't already on board with us.

The Second Annual p4 Conference Envisions a Just Pittsburgh

The City of Pittsburgh and The Heinz Endowments are spearheading a major effort to forge a new model of urban growth and development that is innovative, inclusive and sustainable.

This model is based around a central, unifying framework — p4: People, Planet, Place, and Performance — and was launched at an international summit in 2015.

p4’s second annual conference will take place on Oct. 18-19, 2016, at Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The event will feature a range of national and international experts as well as discussions on all aspects of the p4 framework, and a highlight will be a focus on economic and social equity — the framework’s People strategies — during the second day of the summit.

PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell will be a featured speaker on Day One of the summit, speaking on the topic “People – Advancing the Just and Sustainable City.” On Day Two, PolicyLink Senior Director Sarah Treuhaft will be discussing the recommendations of the recently released Equitable Development: The Path to an All-In Pittsburgh.

In advance of the conference, Pittsburgh and The Heinz Endowments have released this powerful new video framing the summit and the issues facing the future of the city:

p4 Pittsburgh 2016

Visit www.p4pittsburgh.org to learn more.

California Ballot Guide 2016

In the upcoming general election on November 8, 2016, California faces an unprecedented number of propositions. Many of these propositions will have direct equity impacts on the state's low-income communities and communities of color. To help inform your decision making, PolicyLink has studied the issues and created a 2016 ballot guide available in English and Spanish. Please share it widely and encourage your families and friends to participate and vote. For further information, please see the Official Voter Information Guide, polling place information, and additional voting resources offered by the office of the California secretary of state.

Read more >

Equity is…

 
 
Equity is a big, dynamic idea. The field — the universe of people working to create a just, fair society — is blossoming. Reading the provocatively titled blog post, “What the Heck Does Equity Mean?,” by Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Elizabeth Russell, I was struck by two thoughts. First, I am not surprised they found that a universal definition of equity is elusive. Second, I am not concerned.
 
Rather, I am thrilled to see so many people and organizations embrace the hope of equity and grapple with the complexity of translating that hope into action. I am grateful to see people in philanthropy and beyond search for their own ways to express equity and contribute to a broad-based effort to transform America into a nation in which all can participate, thrive, and succeed.
 
PolicyLink, the organization I lead, was founded nearly 20 years ago with a mission to advance economic and social equity, and for a long time we didn’t have a concise definition either. But we knew in our bones what equity meant and why it mattered. We saw equity as the antidote to structural racism and social and economic disparities across the nation. We were determined to advance policies to build a fair, inclusive America that delivers on the promise of opportunity for all.
 
Equity is different from the formal legal equality conferred by landmark laws such as the Civil Rights Act. Equality gives everyone the right to ride on the bus, in any seat they choose. Equity ensures there are bus lines where people need them so they can get to school or the doctor or work. It means policies and investments that grow good jobs and expand entrepreneurship opportunities for low-income people and people of color. It means policies that build human capabilities by upgrading the education and skill of the nation’s diverse workforce. It means policies that dismantle destructive barriers to economic inclusion and civic participation, and build healthy communities of opportunity for all.
 

Staff News from PolicyLink

"A movement is not a flash of light — it is a flame, a torch passed from one generation to the next and every so often we are blessed with moments where the smolder transforms to blaze again and we’re forced to race down the path of progress."

These words by poet Mayda del Valle set to motion, photography, and song through the video "Our Moment" not only capture the equity moment that is unfolding in our nation; these words capture our moment at PolicyLink. Now, more than ever, we are planning for the next evolution of the work to create a just and fair society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.

To this end, I'm pleased to share with you the next generation of leadership at PolicyLink. These leaders are fire, ember, catalyst, combustion — they have claimed the torch and will ensure the equity movement blazes bright for years to come.

Please join me in congratulating nine people whose excellent work and outstanding contributions have led to these promotions, effective immediately.

Six staff are being promoted to senior director:

 

Michael came to PolicyLink in 2011 as director of the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink. Under his leadership, PolicyLink has emerged as a national leader in building cradle-to-career systems that are ensuring that all children and youth in America have a pathway into the middle class. His experience in the federal government and with foundations contributes to his abilities to guide the organization in strategic planning, policy development, policy campaign strategy, capacity building, and programmatic design and implementation at the local, state, and national levels.
 
Josh has been at PolicyLink since it began, and over time has led development, strategic direction, community-building, and technology program activities. His deep knowledge of equity and broad understanding about PolicyLink programs, funders, and partners enables him to bring a wealth of experience to building diverse alliances, supporting new programs, and helping to plan for the future of PolicyLink.

Kalima is nationally known for her leadership of affordable housing and community development efforts. She led the PolicyLink post-Katrina engagement in New Orleans for five years, and has continued to provide support and guidance to that city in the years since. She has worked with federal agencies to develop and lead planning for sustainable communities and co-leads PolicyLink programs to connect arts and culture to equitable development. She has led advocacy efforts to achieve policies related to infrastructure, workforce participation, accessibility, and new investments to serve low-income communities and communities of color.
 
The senior directors will be the gravitational center of PolicyLink, driving the programmatic portfolio to ensure that the 100 million people in America living in or near poverty, especially people of color, achieve economic security, live in or connect to communities of opportunity, and receive supports they need to actively participate in defining and advancing equitable growth in their communities.

For more about Michael, Josh, and Kalima, and the six new senior directors, visit our staff page at policylink.org.
 
I am enormously proud of these individuals who are taking on advanced leadership at PolicyLink and of all of the 63 people in our organization who are determined to realize equity for all.

Expanding Support for Creative Community Placemaking

 
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and The Kresge Foundation are partnering to expand support of creative placemaking through the launch of a pilot technical assistance program. In collaboration with Local Initiatives Support Corporation, National Creative Placemaking Program (LISC) and PolicyLink, the pilot program will provide the creative placemaking field a deeper understanding of how to do arts-based community development well, ultimately benefiting funders and practitioners.
 
Specialized technical assistance will be given to 14 organizations and their partners with the goal of advancing each organization’s ability to lead successful projects that result in positive short- and long-term outcomes for their community. In addition, the program will clarify standard practices in creative placemaking by sharing lessons learned. The program will also inform future funding practices for NEA’s Our Town program and Kresge investments.
 
“We are excited to work closely with and learn from projects on the ground,” said Jason Schupbach, director of Design Programs at the NEA. “This unique collaboration amongst government, foundation, and community development organizations will be beneficial to everyone in the U.S. who is interested in creative placemaking.”
 
“Stronger, more collaborative partnerships that foster equitable and inclusive community development will help advance creative placemaking projects that improve the life circumstances of vulnerable populations and strengthen neighborhoods,” said Regina Smith, managing director of Kresge’s Arts and Culture Program. “We are thrilled to partner with NEA, LISC, and PolicyLink to pilot this initiative.”
 
Through a competitive process, the NEA selected seven previous Our Town grantee organizations to receive the technical assistance:
 
Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, SD
City of Kansas City, MO
City of Anderson, SC
Forklift Danceworks in Austin, TX
Martin County Community Redevelopment Agency in Palm City, FL
Metro Nashville Arts Commission in Nashville, TN
Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH
 
Read the press release here.
 

Fairfax County Reaffirms Equity with a Resolution for “One Fairfax”

For many years, officials, advocates, and agency staff in Fairfax County, Virginia, have been concerned with the inequities affecting low-income residents and people of color in the county — and in its 2015 Strategic Plan to Facilitate Economic Success the County Board of Supervisors acknowledged the central importance of equity as a driver of regional economic growth and vitality. But they needed deeper, cross-sectoral data to help underscore their day-to-day experiences and to point the way toward actionable policy solutions.

With just over a million residents, Fairfax County has seen a surge of growth, primarily driven by people of color.  Between 2000 and 2010, the population of the county grew 11 percent, while there was a 42 percent increase of people of color in the county.

"Fairfax is generally a suburban community known typically to be affluent so these issues are sometimes masked in our general data," said Karla Bruce, deputy director of the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services.

In 2015, county officials and local community leaders partnered with PolicyLink and the University of Southern California's Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) to release an Equitable Growth Profile for Fairfax County, Virginia. The disaggregated data reported in the profile brought Fairfax County's racial inequities into clear focus, and catalyzed a local coalition into action. By supporting the development of the profile, Fairfax leadership demonstrated its commitment to equity and a vision of "One Fairfax" — a community in which all can participate and prosper.

As the profile pointed out, Fairfax County ranks second nationally in terms of household income, with a median of $110,292. At the same time, the middle class is shrinking: workers in the bottom 20 percent saw their wages stagnate between 1979 and 2012, while workers in the highest 20 percent have seen above-national-average wage increases. More than 10 percent of Latinos and Blacks lived in poverty in 2012 compared to less than 3 percent of Whites.

"I think the Equitable Growth Profile affirmed some things that many folks had been talking about anecdotally in terms of demographic shifts, population needs, and concerns that a number of people were having," said Patricia Mathews, president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Health Foundation. "I think it wasn't so much a new statement, but rather it allowed people to say, 'Now we have data. Now we can think about this a lot more strategically.'" Community leaders like Mathews were engaged in the process of producing the profile and in discussions about its findings. The county has been guided by a collective impact framework to advance equity, characterized by its "respect for and integration of the wisdom, voice, experience, and leadership of community residents."

"We need to understand and improve our work"

This summer, Fairfax County rededicated itself to equity by passing the One Fairfax Resolution, a formal declaration of commitment to racial and social equity passed by both the County Board of Supervisors and the Fairfax County School Board. The resolution will direct the development of a One Fairfax policy, which the boards hope to adopt as early as next summer.

The resolution formalizes the county's definition of racial and social equity and acknowledges the importance of equity to fostering greater opportunities and inclusive growth: "to truly create opportunity, we need to understand and improve our work through a racial and social equity lens from the very core of the organization outward, focusing intentionally and deliberately towards sustainable structural changes."

Over the last several years, Fairfax County has undertaken several initiatives to address racial and social disparities in a variety of areas, including juvenile justice, education, employment, health, and child welfare. Prior to the publication of the Equitable Growth profile, a 2012 study from the Center for the Study of Social Policy encouraged government leaders to scrutinize the pathways and institutions — including the police and school systems — that caused Black and Latino youth to be disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system. They created an interagency team to go through the analysis and drill into what could be done to address disparities. They also joined the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE).

Karen Shaban, strategic project manager of Fairfax County government, said that all of these efforts helped officials to realize that sustainable change goes beyond human services and moved them to look at other parts of their system, such as zoning policies, transportation, and land use. "All of these efforts set the stage for us to formally say there needs to be more intentionality to make sure that Fairfax County's institutions and systems are not contributing to the disparities that exist."

Currently, the County is using the equity concepts of the new One Fairfax resolution to guide planning related to a number of strategic initiatives in the areas of early childhood education, community development, and recreation.  "These are ripe opportunities to bring an equity lens to the work," said Shaban. The lens can help guide future redevelopment projects like the planning for a 10-acre campus of a former high school. 

Experimenting with "equity-in-practice" — particularly expanding community engagement beyond common public meetings — will give county staff an opportunity to try out some tools and processes to see what works best as they continue to develop the equity policy mandated by the One Fairfax resolution.

"I think we have a really progressive government in Fairfax County," said Karen Cleveland, president and CEO of Leadership Fairfax, a community leadership development organization. "But when you work for the government, you can very easily get drawn into policy development and policy implementation. What this One Fairfax resolution does is lift the work above that. It says, 'This is going to be our umbrella.'"

Leadership Fairfax, the Northern Virginia Health Foundation, and other organizations are working as thought partners with county staff to make sure that community needs are consistently prioritized — and not just from a government services perspective.

 

"It's helped us to not only have a common agenda but also to really commit to outcomes," added Bruce, "so that we can shift the possibility for progress and share in the responsibility for change. We haven't reached our destination, but there is definitely power in the networks that we are creating. I am hopeful that we will be able to realize this vision of One Fairfax."

Check out the rest of the September 27, 2016 America's Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model issue.

Urban Innovator of the Week: Angela Glover Blackwell

 
What is equity?
 

According to the Equity Manifesto developed by PolicyLink, equity is “just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Unlocking the promise of the nation by unleashing the promise in us all.”

It’s a word we hear a lot now, with tensions running high in the heat of the current presidential campaign and the seemingly never-ending news cycle of Black lives being extinguished.
 
What is equity? And what does it mean for our everyday lives? And how do we achieve it?
 
These are all questions PolicyLink has been asking since 1999.
 
“In January 1999 the word ‘equity’ was not being used to talk about social justice in the context of the United States,” says Angela Glover Blackwell, President and CEO of PolicyLink. “We really pushed hard to lift up the term ‘equity.’ We pulled everything together under one umbrella and sharpened for researchers and others how to think about advocacy in this country.”
 
PolicyLink is dedicated to advancing economic and social advocacy, being responsive to organizing on the ground, and using data and communication for advocacy. “You don’t get good policy without good advocacy,” Blackwell states.
The organization is based in Oakland, California, with offices in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. It is a national research and action institute that advances economic and social equity through policy work and by connecting people already doing such work on the ground.
 
“We understand that being responsible to people doing work on the ground is the most responsible way to do policy work,” says Blackwell. “Advocacy needs to be founded in community, and understanding the power of place and how place impacts lives. At the time we started PolicyLink, place was not a policy idea.”
 
The tagline of PolicyLink is “Lifting Up What Works,” a way of focusing attention on how people are working successfully to use local, state, and federal policy to create conditions that benefit everyone, especially people in low-income communities and communities of color.
 
“We think in this quest to achieve a fully inclusive society that includes a focus on racial equity, there are examples of what works all over this country and we need to shine a light on these things to insure victory,” Blackwell explains.
 
PolicyLink shares their findings and analysis through print and web-based publishing, convenings, national summits, and briefings with local and national policymakers. 3,000 people attended their Equity Summit 2015, where they shared the “Our Moment” video, in which they champion the idea that a movement is not a flash of light but a torch that gets passed from one generation to the next.
 

Read the full story on Meeting of the Minds website> > >

September National Equity Atlas Update

The Atlas is announcing the beta version of a new feature that highlights the equity movement on-the-ground:
 
Preview neighborhood-level mapping added to the Atlas
Today, we released the beta version of new interactive neighborhood-level mapping on the Atlas. These new maps allow users to understand how selected indicators (e.g., unemployment) vary across neighborhoods within a city or region, and can help inform targeted employment and workforce development initiatives as well as infrastructure investments. This beta release features county and census-tract level maps of the unemployment indicator. Register for our special preview of the maps on October 6 specifically for Atlas subscribers and share your feedback ahead of the public release next month.
 
Welcoming America webinar
Welcoming America helps communities across the country achieve prosperity by becoming more welcoming toward immigrants and all residents. On October 7 the National Equity Atlas will be featured in a webinar on eelcoming and economic development. Participants will examine selected economic indicators on the Atlas to get a sense of how immigrants are faring in their communities. Angel Ross, Research Associate at PolicyLink and Justin Scoggins, Data Manager at the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) are featured speakers. Register here.
 
Forward Community Investments webinar
Last week, the National Equity Atlas kicked off the Forward Community Investments 2016-2017 Racial Equity Webinar Series. The goal of this series is to provide FCI partners with tools and approaches that can be used to advance social, racial, and economic equity and inclusion within their work. The webinar provided an overview of the Atlas framework and a walk through of the Atlas, focusing specifically on Wisconsin.

New Report Makes Case for Equity in Metro Atlanta
A new report from the Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE), Growing the Future: The Case for Economic Inclusion in Metro Atlanta, describes how equity is both a moral and economic imperative for the Atlanta region and for the nation as a whole. The report highlights our full employment analysis and GDP with racial equity analysis, both of which underscore how eliminating racial inequities results in “equity dividends” for the broader economy. See our short post about the report here.

New “Chart of the Week” series
We've launched a new "Chart of the Week" series to add equity data about growth and prosperity to the national dialogue. Every week, we post a new chart drawing from the Equity Atlas related to current events and issues. Our inaugural post lifted up #BlackWomensEqualPay and looked at median wages for Black women in Atlanta, Georgia. We also shared charts highlighting the #Fightfor15, #NoDAPL, and the most recent Census report. Follow our posts on social media using #equitydata, #Fightfor15, and #NoDAPL and in our Data in Action section.

Foundations to Reinvest in One of Nation’s Strongest Networks of Support for Entrepreneurs

The New Economy Initiative (NEI), an entrepreneurial infrastructure building initiative for Detroit and Southeast Michigan, has granted a total of $96.2 million to organizations and programs supporting entrepreneurs since it launched in 2007.

According to analysis conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) and the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, NEI’s support has helped entrepreneurs and small businesses generate $2.9 billion in real economic output and create 17,490 jobs in southeast Michigan.

“Detroit’s evolution from recovering region to thriving economy demands more than just creating new businesses or restoring buildings. NEI is proving that intentional focus on equity and inclusion is driving Detroit’s ‘new economy.’” Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and President, PolicyLink

NEI has achieved this impact by making grants to organizations and programs supporting entrepreneurs of all kinds, from grass roots to high growth, creating a vast network of entrepreneurial support in southeast Michigan. The economic and employment impact reports by PwC and Upjohn Institute analyzed years of information reported to NEI by grantees via quarterly reports, as well as interviews with regional entrepreneurs.

Findings include:

  • 4,400 companies directly serviced by NEI grantees through 2015
  • 179,571 attendees of events in metro Detroit’s entrepreneurial network
  • More than 1 million square feet of entrepreneurial space activated
  • $232 million in additional program dollars matched by NEI grantees
  • $1.9 billion in real gross domestic product generated by NEI-supported companies
  • $2.9 billion in real output generated by NEI-supported companies
  • 17,490 jobs created by NEI-supported companies, 70% of which are located in Wayne County.

 

For more information, read the full press release from NEI and download the full report.

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>>>

25 Disruptive Leaders Who Are Working to Close the Racial Opportunity Gaps

 
Living Cities unveils 25 Disruptive Leaders list, recognizing remarkable individuals who are shaking up the status quo and creating new approaches to address our nation’s most stubborn challenges.
 
 
In celebration of Living Cities 25th Anniversary, Living Cities recognize 25 Disruptive Leaders who are working to improve economic outcomes for low-income people in America’s cities. The list recognizes activists, government employees, artists, community members, entrepreneurs, elected officials and philanthropists from across the country who are committed to addressing racial disparities; empowering and mobilizing others to do the same. In these challenging times, we are more convinced than ever that this type of bold leadership not only is required, but must be celebrated. We believe that their work and leadership embody what’s possible when we lead and work together differently towards a more equitable America.
 
What is a Disruptive Leader?
 
Disruptive Leaders act with urgency and unrestrained imagination. They take risks, put their own personal capital on the line to challenge the status quo, work to take down the barriers that cause racial disparities and embrace the responsibility to question, collaborate and lead for lasting and meaningful change.
 
America’s Top 25 Disruptive Leaders
 
The changes we need to see in cities won’t happen by luck or chance, but by a different type of leadership. These 25 leaders represent a diversity of sectors, roles and experiences. What they share, however, is a deep-seated impatience with the status quo, a willingness to act and to bring others along with them.
 
Join Living Cities to celebrate and congratulate the diverse leaders who make up the #Disruptive25
 
The List: 25 Disruptive Leaders
 
Mayor Steve Adler
Mayor Adler was elected Austin’s 52nd Mayor in December 2014. He is leading Austin towards a new level of inclusive civic engagement between residents and their elected officials. Mayor Adler practiced civil rights law for many years and served nearly ten years as Chief of Staff and General Counsel for Texas State Senator Eliot Shapleigh, working primarily on school finance, equity and access issues. He has been deeply involved with, and has chaired, many Austin civic and non-profit institutions over the past 20 years.
 
Nancy O. Andrews
Nancy O. Andrews is the president and CEO of the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF). Since 1984, LIIF has served 1.7 million Americans, investing $1.5 billion to create, enhance and preserve affordable housing, child care centers, schools, healthy food retail, health clinics, green facilities and transit-oriented development in distressed neighborhoods nationwide. LIIF is trailblazing new ways to tie together housing and health and to measure the social value of investments through their Social Impact Calculator.
 
Tawanna Black
Tawanna Black, Executive Director for the Northside Funders Group, is a nationally recognized thought leader, well known for influencing, inspiring and equipping cross-sector leaders to transform personal convictions into actions that produce equitable and thriving communities. The Northside Funders Group is a place-based, collective impact organization of 20 corporate, community and private foundations and public sector investors committed to aligning investments and strategies to advance equity, build social capital and extend the prosperity of the Twin Cities to one of its most impoverished neighborhoods.
 
Angela Glover Blackwell
Angela Glover Blackwell is the President, CEO and Founder of PolicyLink, the leading voice for “equity as a superior growth model” and the movement to use public policy to improve access and opportunity for all low-income people and communities of color in the areas of health, housing, transportation, education and infrastructure. Prior to founding PolicyLink, she was a Senior Vice President at the Rockefeller Foundation and, as a lawyer, founded the Oakland (CA) Urban Strategies Council. In 2010, Ms. Glover Blackwell co-authored “Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future.”
 
Raj Chetty
Raj Chetty is a Professor of Economics at Stanford University, and recipient of both a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and the John Bates Clark medal, given by the American Economic Association to the best American economist under age 40. Chetty’s research combines empirical evidence and economic theory to help design more effective government policies. His current research focuses on equality of opportunity, seeking to address the question of how to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds better chances of succeeding.
 
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a journalist, blogger and memoirist who brings personal reflection and historical scholarship to bear on America’s most contested issues. Writing without shallow polemic and in a measured style, Coates addresses complex and challenging issues such as racial identity, systemic racial bias, and urban policing. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic. His most recent book, “Between the World and Me,” was released in July 2015. It won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction. He was the recipient of a “Genius Grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2015.
 
Jason DeParle:
Jason DeParle is a reporter for The New York Times, based in Washington. For more than 20 years, he has written extensively about issues involving poverty. A two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a recipient of the George Polk Award, his first book, “American Dream: Three Women, Ten Children, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare,” won the Helen Bernstein Award from the New York City Public Library.
 
Martin Eakes
Martin Eakes is the co-founder and CEO of Self-Help and the Center for Responsible Lending. Self-Help has proven that access to responsible savings, loans and transactions is critical for promoting financial security, family health and improved opportunity for low-income families. Since 1998, Self-Help’s Community Advantage Program has helped more than 50,000 lower-income families, especially those of color, to become homeowners in 48 states. In 2008, Self-Help Federal Credit Union was formed to build a network of credit union branches to operate on an uncommon scale. It now has 22 branches, $600 million in assets, and serves over 80,000 people in three states.
 

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.

  

New Report Sets Equitable Development Agenda for Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is a city on the rise, yet too many residents remain cut off from opportunity by poverty, structural racism, and discrimination. Local leaders must implement a targeted, intentional strategy for equitable development to ensure all can thrive in the new Pittsburgh. PolicyLink, Neighborhood Allies, and Urban Innovation21 convened dozens of Pittsburgh community leaders to create a shared definition of equitable development and craft an agenda to make it the reality. Equitable Development: The Path to an All-In Pittsburgh presents a roadmap to put all of the region’s residents on track to reaching their potential. Through the All-In Cities initiative, PolicyLink equips city leaders with policy ideas, data, and strategies to advance racial economic inclusion and equitable growth.

“Pittsburgh is the perfect place to start an All-In Cities initiative,” said Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink president and CEO. “As the city successfully transforms its economy and sees a wave of new development, an equitable development strategy is essential to ensure that all neighborhoods and residents, including those of color, participate and benefit. Achieving full inclusion will lead to sustainable and shared prosperity.”

This report outlines a five-point agenda for equitable development:

  1. Raise the bar for new development — Growth must happen in a way that benefits and does not displace longtime lower-income residents and neighborhood entrepreneurs.
     
  2. Make all neighborhoods healthy communities of opportunity — The region needs a comprehensive strategy to increase housing affordability and stability and to unlock opportunity in its highest poverty neighborhoods.
     
  3. Expand employment and ownership opportunities — Connecting lower-wealth residents to good, family-sustaining jobs and asset-building opportunities is critical to ensuring they participate in and contribute to the region’s resurgence.
     
  4. Embed racial equity throughout Pittsburgh’s institutions and businesses — To eliminate wide racial inequities and uproot bias, the region’s institutions, organizations, and businesses need to adopt racial equity-focused approaches.
     
  5. Build community power, voice, and capacity — High-capacity community-rooted organizations and multiracial, multisector coalitions are essential to advancing equitable development policies and practices over the long term.

 

To learn more, download the full report.

Prototyping Equity: Local Strategies for a More Inclusive Innovation Economy

Since 2014, a visionary group of leaders from New York, NY, Indianapolis, IN, Portland, OR and San Jose, CA have been piloting new approaches to advancing equity in innovation and manufacturing through the Equitable Innovation Economies (EIE) initiative. Over two years, each city in this community of practice has evaluated a particular economic development project through an equity lens, working to increase benefits for all city residents and communities.
 
EIE’s flagship report, Prototyping Equity: Local strategies for a more inclusive innovation economy documents this work, including the tools guiding this pilot effort, candid perspectives from each city, and broader insights for the field. The Pratt Center for Community Development in Brooklyn, NY, and PolicyLink in Oakland, CA are leading this effort, providing technical assistance and facilitation. The Urban Manufacturing Alliance’s (UMA) expansive network of over 100 cities has served as a platform for this initiative, and the report will be shared with members at the UMA 2016 National Convening in Indianapolis on September 14-16.
 
Read more about this effort and download the full report and follow the event conversation on twitter at #proequity.

Chart of the Week: Why the Latest U.S. Census Report Matters

To add equity data to the national dialogue about growth and prosperity, every week the National Equity Atlas posts a new chart related to current events and issues.

Yesterday, the Census Bureau released a report on 2015 income and poverty data, announcing that median household income increased by over 5 percent—the fastest growth on record. As President Obama described in a Facebook post and video with Jason Furman, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, the gains were largest among the bottom fifth of households.

To highlight why this gain — especially among the bottom quintile of earners — is so important, this week’s chart looks at real earned income growth for full-time wage and salary workers in the United States from 1980 to 2012.

 

Over the three decades from 1980 to 2012, the inflation-adjusted earnings of the bottom 10 percent of workers decreased the most at more than 11 percent. In fact, the whole bottom half of workers experienced real declines in their incomes over this period. At the other end, those in the top 10 percent saw their earnings increase by nearly 15 percent. The announcement that real income growth in 2015 was the fastest since 1969 for households at the 10th, 20th, 40th, 50th, and 60th percentiles is a promising finding, though there is still more to be done.

These income increases, combined with refundable tax credits, lifted millions of families and children out of poverty. In 2015, 9.2 million Americans, including 4.8 million children, moved above the poverty line with the help of credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Expanding these social safety net programs through a more equitable tax code and advancing pre-tax income strategies like minimum wage increases and stronger collective bargaining rights are key to supporting the more than 8 million families still in poverty. For more information on policies that contribute to wage growth, see the Economic Policy Institute’s Agenda to Raise America’s Pay.

To view the distribution of income growth in your community over the last three decades, visit the National Equity Atlas and type in your city, region, or state. Download the charts and share them on social media using #equitydata.

Investing in Second Chances for Formerly Incarcerated People: An Interview with Department of Justice Fellow Daryl Atkinson

Sixteen years ago, Daryl Atkinson was like many of the 600,000 Americans leaving prison each year — excited to return home, but worried about the welcome he might receive as a formerly incarcerated person. Though his family refused to define him solely by his past mistakes and supported him as he pursued college and law school, society was another story. Not only did he face social stigma because of his past, he lost his driver’s license, making it difficult to find work; was barred from receiving federal financial aid for college; and, perhaps most importantly, is still denied the right to vote in his home state of Alabama.

It is this type of structural and cultural discrimination — the many ways that society forces those with a criminal record to continue to “serve time” even after they are released — that Atkinson now fights as the inaugural Second Chance Fellow at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Prior to this appointment, Atkinson was recognized as a White House “Reentry and Employment Champion of Change” for his work as a senior staff attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, where he advocated for the rights and needs of people with criminal records. America’s Tomorrow spoke with Atkinson about his many years working to shift the narrative about those who have been incarcerated, connecting them with the support, respect, and opportunity necessary for them to thrive.

You are the first Second Chance fellow at the DOJ, and you are a founding member of the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance. Can you explain what a “second chance culture” entails?

I often relate it to my personal experience after prison. I served 40 months in prison, much of it in a maximum security institution when I was in my twenties, and when my mom and my stepdad came to pick me up, they rented a Lincoln Town Car. I didn’t pay any particular attention at that time because I was so excited to get away from that place, but a couple of years later I asked my stepdad why. He said they wanted to make a grand gesture to send the message that my experience in prison didn’t completely define who I was and what I could be. They continued to support me — offering food and shelter and financial support — throughout college, and the combination of support and physical investment is a large part of what I view as a “second chance” approach. We need to invest in people’s success, so that they can be contributors to their community and society.

The Obama Administration has been instituting a number of policy solutions to cultivate this concept. The Second Chance Act, signed into law at the end of the Bush Administration, has resulted in more than 700 grants totaling over $400 million to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for people returning from state and federal prisons, local jails, and juvenile facilities. These investments help people with criminal records by providing basic needs like housing assistance, job training, and substance abuse treatment. More recently, the Department of Education started the Second Chance Pell Program, which will allow over 12,000 eligible incarcerated students to pursue postsecondary education while in prison. These kinds of programs aren’t enough to meet the needs of the entire formerly incarcerated population, but they are helping the Administration build the evidence base for how powerful these programs are, which will aid in advocating for more funding for this work.

When you were at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, you helped to pass a “ban the box” policy in Durham, North Carolina, that had incredible results. Can you describe how that campaign developed?

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) is a civil rights advocacy organization that follows a community-lawyering model, meaning that we provide general counsel for the most vulnerable communities across the southeast, and we let them set the agenda of what issues are most important. Engaging the community around these issues is something that has guided my work at SCSJ and informs my work at DOJ. For instance, a few years back we were working on voting rights for those with criminal records in North Carolina, but when we engaged the community we realized that barriers to employment were the most pressing need. We were aware of the “ban the box” movement that had started in Oakland, California, and started a similar campaign in Durham, North Carolina, to remove criminal history questions from job applications and prohibit the use of a criminal record as an automatic bar to employment.

We knew that to successfully shift the narrative around employing formerly incarcerated people, we needed to ensure that people with criminal records were integrated into the policy-making process throughout. When there were city council meetings, we engaged with community partners to train local spokespeople who could speak in their own voice about the impact of not being able to work and how that affected their families. We reached out to faith-based organizations to put a moral force behind our campaign. We got some notable endorsements from the sheriff about how ban the box was consistent with public safety, because keeping people with criminal records from employment opportunities can force them back into an underground economy.

We also made the economic argument, pointing out that there are 1.6 million adults with criminal records who shouldn’t be sitting on the sidelines of the economy. By sharing these messages and engaging community members to tell their stories, we were able to convince the city and the county governments to pass ban the box policies that have had a huge effect. In the city of Durham, for example, the total percentage of city hires of people with criminal records was 2 percent in 2011, the year the policy passed; by 2014 it was over 15 percent — a greater than seven-fold increase.

How does the work you’re undertaking at the DOJ continue this work and connect to your larger goals of building a second chance culture?

In my fellowship at the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), I advocate for the rights and needs of those with criminal history, and I also work to ensure that DOJ is hearing from the stakeholders most directly affected by the justice system. This part of my work draws heavily on the lessons I’ve learned at the local level. Having this bridge between the policymakers and those most affected by the policy is a game-changer. Not only does it provide important feedback on the effects of policy, it also helps change the temperature of the exchanges between communities and the federal government. When policymakers have real exchanges with folks from the community, and hear about their family obligations and experiences — like dropping their kids off at daycare — it diminishes the “us versus them” dynamic that can make it easier to enact negative public policies. In general, I think we need more open dialogue about how common interactions with the justice system are, and how it is not just some fringe part of society that deals with these issues.

Ten to 12 million people in the U.S. cycle in and out of city and county jails, and one in three Americans have an arrest or conviction history. This is a huge segment of our adult population, and to continue to marginalize them through stigma and discriminatory policies has significant consequences for our society as a whole. That is why part of my fellowship includes qualitative interviews with formerly incarcerated people who have gone on to become highly successful. I want to identify which interventions changed the trajectory of their lives, and lift up these successes to the federal government for future policymaking. I am also going to create a digital story bank of their stories, so that the public can access these stories and see that people who have been in prison can go on to be active, positive, influential members of their community. Both the public and policymakers need to hear these stories and realize not only the hunger for opportunity that people who are leaving prison have, but the potential they have to go on to great things. 

Oakland’s Displacement Crisis: As Told by the Numbers

Oakland stands at the center of a perfect storm. The city and surrounding Bay Area region are experiencing extraordinary economic growth, but housing production is not keeping pace with the escalated demands, nor is sufficient housing affordable to many existing residents and the expanding lower-income workforce.  The current displacement crisis undermines the health and wellbeing of its residents, and threatens the historic diversity that gives Oakland its strength and vitality. 
 
Key Statistics:
  • Nearly half of rental households in Oakland are cost burdened.
  • 63% of African American households are housing cost burdened.
  • Oakland lost 34,000 African American residents – representing a 24% decline, between 2000-2010.
  • In the last year, the median market rent for an available two-bedroom apartment in Oakland has increased by 25%.


Vital community members have been priced out of Oakland. The housing crisis is impacting workers vital to a functioning economy, with little to no options for low and even moderate wage-earners seeking housing on the open market.

 
  • Number of Oakland units affordable for workers earning the City of Oakland’s minimum of $12.55/hour: Zero (Estimated salary of $26,104, $20,282 after taxes = $508/month towards housing).
  • Percentage of income average an Oakland minimum wage worker would have to devote for a 1BR apartment: 112% ($1900 average market rent (Trulia) out of total $1,690 estimated post-tax monthly income).
  • Number of Oakland units affordable for workers with entrance-level teacher salary: Zero (Estimated salary of $42,497 per Oakland Education Association, $31,634 after taxes = $790/month towards housing).
  • Percentage of income average a worker with an entrance-level teacher salary would have to devote for a 1BR apartment: 72% ($1900 average market rent (Trulia) out of total $2,636 estimated post-tax monthly income).
  • Number of Oakland units affordable for workers earning an entrance-level fire fighter salary: Three (Estimated salary of $81,419 per City of Oakland pay schedule for fire fighter, or $53,755 after taxes = $1344/month towards housing).
  • Percentage of income average entry-level fire fighter would have to devote for a 1BR apartment: 42% ($1900 average market rent (Trulia) out of total $4479 estimated post-tax monthly income).
 
To learn more, check out the PolicyLink brief: Oakland's Displacement Crisis: As Told by the Numbers, which highlights some of the challenges Oakland tenants are facing in the ongoing housing crisis, and some key policy steps that could provide much needed relief.

Oakland Coalition Puts Renter Protections on the November Ballot

 

In the face of massive displacement pressures—the byproduct of the Bay Area’s white-hot tech economy—a powerful community-labor coalition secured a significant victory for Oakland renters last month. On July 19, in a dramatic city council session that lasted well into the early morning hours, a broad and diverse coalition of housing and tenant advocates, labor unions, and community leaders rallied over a hundred people to speak in favor of placing a tenant protection referendum on the November ballot. After four hours of debate, what was initially pegged as a close vote turned into a near unanimous decision favoring the referendum authored by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan as well as a companion ordinance from Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Abel Guillen, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, and Annie Campbell Washington bolstering tenant protections.

Advocates pushed to incorporate strong equity provisions into both the council-adopted ordinance (7-1 voted in favor) and the ballot referendum (unanimously approved by the Oakland City Council). If Oakland voters approve the ballot measure this November, it will supersede any similar provisions in the adopted ordinance.

Oakland prides itself on its working-class roots and status as one of the most diverse cities in America.  Both those qualities are imperiled by the unprecedented wave of increased housing costs that have rocketed Oakland up to the fourth highest rent in the nation, ahead of Boston, MA.  In a city where economic inequity falls heavily along racial lines, a demographic exodus of low-income people and households of color is reshaping the face of the city.  With Uber set to expand its headquarters into downtown Oakland in 2017, housing costs are only expected to increase.

Seeking to implement urgent protections to stabilize neighborhoods vulnerable to gentrification, PolicyLink joined with the Committee to Protect Oakland Renters, which also included the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Oakland Tenants Union, Causa Justa :: Just Cause, East Bay Asian Youth Center, East Bay Housing Organization, SEIU Local 1021, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and the Ella Baker Center. 

If Oakland voters approve the ballot in November, the referendum would shift the burden from renters to landlords to petition for rent increases above the Consumer Price Index.  It also expands “just cause” eviction protections to buildings constructed through 1995, meaning that building owners could only evict tenants only for violating the terms of a lease or for violating the Ellis Act (currently the cutoff date is October 1980). Another key reform is expanding the powers of, and increasing, tenant representation on the Rent Board, while providing transparent data through a rent registry. Oakland joins an array of Bay Area jurisdictions making the push to implement neighborhood stabilization measures via ordinances, ballot measures, affordable housing bonds, and other interventions.

“After seeing what’s happened across the bay in San Francisco, we can’t afford to wait any longer to put in place common sense measures to ensure that working families are able to secure housing amidst the housing affordability crisis in Oakland,” said Angela Glover Blackwell, who served as treasurer for the coalition. “Housing affordability is at the heart of the right to advance equity.  We are seeing far too many longtime Oakland families lose their grip on their homes precisely at the moment when long-awaited opportunity infrastructure is finally arriving." 

Free Our Dreams: California's Youth Gather for Advocacy Day

 

Across California, young people of color are courageously leading the charge to protect basic dignity, justice, and fundamental rights for themselves, their families, and their communities. From the Black Lives Matter to the Dreamer movement, from school board meetings to corporate board rooms, these youth are demanding that their voices be heard and their lives valued. 

On Monday, August 8, over 400 youth of color from across the state will convene in Sacramento for the Free Our Dreams Youth Organizing Summit and Advocacy Day. Organized by the Movement Strategy Center, PolicyLink, and the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, this event will strengthen youth leadership and advocacy skills, build power for a movement led by youth of color, and engage statewide decision makers on key legislative priorities for some of California’s most vulnerable communities.

The rally takes place on the west-steps of the Capitol from 12:00pm-1:00pmET. 

In addition to youth engaging legislators, the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color will be reaching out to its supporters to help pass these key pieces of legislation, throughout the legislative season.  For a full list of legislative priorities, see their statewide campaign page. 

  • We need to close loopholes in the TRUTH Act and hold police accountable, vote yes on AB2792 #freeourdreams
     
  • Youth need legal counsel to ensure they understand their Miranda rights, vote yes on SB1052 #freeourdreams
     
  • No youth should have a criminal record because they can't pay a transit fare. Decriminalize fare evasion, vote yes on SB882 #freeourdreams
     
  • Secret police databases of alleged "gang members" violate due process & criminalize POC youth.  AB2298 brings transparency & oversight
     
  • For-profit immigration detention facilities are known to abuse detainees. SB1289 will stop police dept from using tax $ to hire them
     
  • Solitary confinement is no way to deal with kids. Vote yes on SB1143 to limit its use on juveniles #freeourdreams

 

$65 Million Reasons to Stop Roadblocking City-Driven Job Creation

Orignal post published in Next City

In the last year, city officials in New Orleans, Cleveland and Nashville have found themselves scrambling to protect “hire local” policies from their respective state governments.

In all three cases, racially diverse cities struggling with high rates of poverty and unemployment sought to stimulate the local economy with provisions that focused on creating job opportunities for disadvantaged residents. And in all three cases, state senators representing wealthier, predominantly white districts sought to preempt city policies to protect business interests.

Read full article >>

National Equity Atlas: April Update

Dear Equity Atlas users,

Since we launched the Atlas in October 2014, we have wanted to include data that better describes the incredible diversity within broad racial/ethnic groups and challenges the “model minority” myth that impedes action and progress toward racial equity and inclusive growth.

We are excited to be taking a first step toward that goal by adding two new breakdowns to our “Detailed race/ethnicity” indicator. Now, when you go to that indicator, you can select “By ancestry” and see more detailed breakdowns of the Asian, Black, Latino, Native American, and White populations (e.g. Filipino, Jamaican, Puerto Rican). You can also select “By nativity and ancestry” to get a breakdown of the share of each group who are immigrants versus U.S.-born.

The below screenshots show the type of data that is now available. Note that we share data for any given group if there are at least 100 survey respondents. To provide some more detailed data for smaller areas, we also created broader geographic categories (e.g. South Asian, Southeast Asian, East Asian, Pacific Islander) that combine a number of ancestries. For a large, diverse region like Los Angeles, you will get data for many ancestry categories, while for a smaller, less diverse region like Charleston, you will see fewer of the detailed ancestry categories.

We hope you enjoy digging into the data! Here is a blog post highlighting some takeaways from the new data. In a few weeks (on May 23), we will be adding these more detailed racial/ethnic breakdowns to several of our economic opportunity indicators, including:

·       Unemployment

·       Wages: Median

·       Wages: $15/hour

·       Disconnected Youth

·       Educational Levels

·       Homeownership

Also, please let us know if you would like to receive more information about how to participate in the data release (including a social media toolkit and other support for writing op-eds, blog posts, etc.). Email Abigail Langston at abigail@policylink.org to sign up.

Thank you!

 

The National Equity Atlas team at PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE)

“This Is a Nationwide Epidemic”: A Frank but Hopeful Conversation with Evicted Author Matthew Desmond

In Milwaukee, one in eight renters — disproportionately people of color — are evicted every two years, and this alarming trend is playing out across the country. In his eye-opening new book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond documents the devastating consequences for families, communities, and the nation. He argues that housing security must be part of a policy agenda to eliminate poverty and build an economy that works for all.

Desmond, a sociologist and urban ethnographer, spoke with Kalima Rose, senior director of the PolicyLink Center for Infrastructure Equity and co-author of Healthy Communities of Opportunity: An Equity Blueprint to Address America’s Housing Challenges. This report, released today by PolicyLink and The Kresge Foundation, explains how health, housing, and economic security policies must be aligned to achieve equitable housing outcomes.

Q: How widespread is eviction and who is most affected?

A: In Milwaukee, if you look at only formal court-ordered evictions, you learn that about 16,000 people are evicted every year in that city. That’s about 40 people every day. We’ve crunched court-ordered eviction numbers in other cities, and Milwaukee is no outlier. New York processes about 60 marshal evictions every single day.

These numbers are startling and very troubling, but these are just court-ordered evictions. If you add landlord foreclosures and building condemnations, then you learn that every two years about one in eight renters in the city of Milwaukee is evicted. Mothers in low-income African American communities, in particular, are evicted at incredibly high rates. Among Milwaukee renters, about one in five Black women report being evicted versus one in 15 White women. This is a nationwide epidemic.

Q: Why do evictions hit families with children especially hard?

A: Children often are the reason families get evicted. When I started this work, I thought that having kids would shield you from eviction. But families living with kids have three times the odds of receiving an eviction judgment in eviction court, even controlling for arrears. What you’re seeing in that discrepancy is the landlord’s discretion. Some landlords are choosing not to work with families with children — because children can be hard on the landlord’s bottom line. Then kids often prolong the time you're homeless after your eviction because family discrimination is still real. I saw families get turned away quite a bit for having kids.

If we want to give children a fighting chance to realize their full potential, we have to provide them stable, affordable housing. You don’t just lose your home when you're evicted. You often lose your school and your community and your possessions. This massive instability has broad-reaching consequences.

Q:  You write that eviction impacts African American women in the same way that criminal conviction impacts African American men. Explain the parallels.

A: We know that when you get out of prison and you have a criminal record, it can really affect your life. It can affect your success in the job market and your access to certain forms of public aid. An eviction record works the same way. It can bar you from receiving public housing, which means we’re still systematically denying housing help to people that most need it. It can bar you from accessing a decent place to live in a safe neighborhood, because many landlords turn away families with a recent eviction. There’s a kind of gender discrepancy that mirrors incarceration.

There’s also a policy story where they move in lock step. We have had massive investment in public housing over the last three decades, but it’s been in the form of prisons. Some governors reallocated money for public housing to build more prisons. So there are more connections than one would think that link mass incarceration and the lack of affordable housing. 

Q: Your book draws distinct pictures of neighborhoods — from trailer parks to White, Black, or Latino enclaves in Milwaukee. What are the forces driving segregation in the city?

A:  The White folks I spent time with that were evicted from a trailer park didn’t even consider moving to the North Side of the city, the predominantly African American inner city. But even though they amputated a large section of the city from their possibilities, they still had an easier time finding housing than the African American folks that I spent time with. It’s a story about the salience of discrimination. It’s a story about how race still matters, even at the very bottom of the market.

Q. What does this mean for building strong communities of opportunity?

A: Unless we provide families a shot at investing in a community, it’s going to be really hard for them to make a difference on their own streets and their own blocks. There are some neighborhoods in Milwaukee that have a 10 percent or 15 percent eviction rate. Those conditions turn neighbors into strangers. They disrupt the social fabric of neighborhoods. We know from previous research that if neighbors get together and work hard on local issues they can make a huge difference. Programs to stabilize housing would stabilize communities, too.

Q: What policy action would you like to see at the federal level?

A: There needs to be more attention paid to the role that housing is playing in poverty. When most politicians on either side of the aisle are asked about what to do about inequality or poverty in the United States, they usually start with a focus on jobs. That’s only part of the solution though. I don’t think we can fix poverty if we don’t fix housing.

Eviction is not just a condition of poverty, it’s a cause of it. It’s linked to job loss, mental health issues, school instability, loss of possessions, homelessness, and moving into worse neighborhoods. It’s fundamentally recasting people’s lives in a more difficult way. But we also have to ask ourselves a question about who are we as a nation that allows this level of inequality, this level of blunting of human capacity, and this degree of social suffering. I don’t think there’s any American value that justifies this situation.

Visit Just Shelter, an organization started by Desmond, to learn about the work of community organizations fighting to prevent eviction, preserve affordable housing, and prevent family homelessness.

How A Business Accelerator Is Literally Cementing Equity into Cincinnati’s Economy

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.

PolicyLink Director Mildred Thompson Discusses Her Path to Management

This cross-posted blog is part of the Monday Morning Manager Blog Series hosted by The Network for Social Management. The series features a weekly post about a manager who embodies the Network's Human Service Management Competencies and can serve as an excellent example to others striving to improve their management skills. This week's featured post features the Directror of the PolicyLink Center for Health Equity and Place, Mildred Thompson.

Tell us about your path to management:
Having graduated from NYU in the late 1970’s, I thought I was on the path to my dream of being a clinical social worker, working with children and families. I did live this dream, but only for six years. I was an excellent clinician and did some really significant work with the 12-14 year-olds and their families I was assigned to, but in the back of my mind there were serious questions about how these young children became so damaged. I was working with those that had been written off as the most severely disturbed; children who were fire starters, who had beaten up their parents, siblings, and peers; and were thrown out of regular school and stigmatized as socially unacceptable. They were truly outcasts, placed on an island right outside Harlem. Wards Island was home of the state hospital for adults and later a facility was built for children, both for those who lived there, away from their families, and those who attended a day program.

I was unafraid of the challenge. I had begun my career as a 21-year-old head nurse at the famous Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric unit, heading a locked ward for “elite” mentally ill adults. I thought working with children would offer an upstream or preventative pathway to health and wellness. So, my journey continued. Along the way there were deep questions which led to a lifelong inquiry on what conditions contributed to good health and resilience. How was it that two siblings experiencing the same family dynamics had very different responses? What were the resiliency factors that served to protect one and left another strikingly vulnerable? The more I worked with children, the clearer it became that to have a positive impact, I had to engage the families. And I began doing in-home family therapy, because my “theory of change” was that that’s where it all starts and that’s where the work was needed; less on the identified child and more on examining family functioning.

However, as I continued the inquiry, I realized there were additional layers and causative factors that impacted one’s state of physical, emotional, and spiritual heath. Families lived in communities, communities are governed by systems, and public policies shape systems. I learned early on that families and children are often at the effect of inadequate and inequitable systems and policies. Compounding all of these systemic barriers is the shameful legacy of racism, since most of the children in the institution were children of color; African American and Puerto Rican children with families living in poverty. So, I had a choice: either I continue working downstream, trying to help the sea of suffering brown children, one child and family at a time or chart a new course, working upstream by changing malfunctioning systems and policies.

My management career began after leaving New York and moving to Oakland, CA and eventually landing a job as Director of Social Work at a multicultural community clinic. In less than a year, I was asked to replace the center director. I had natural leadership skills that emerged early on and were nurtured by a seasoned mentor. It was on the job training in a very supportive environment. From there, I moved into senior leadership roles within the county public health department, continually increasing my leadership skills, style, and capacity, and eventually becoming director of a new division focused on integrating community health within the health department. So, my pathway of influence continued to unfold, from having individual impact as a psychiatric social worker, to being a family therapist, attempting to impact family dynamics -- then transitioning into system work through the community health clinic and public health department and landing into policy, the final chapter in impacting change!

It would seem admirable if I had this realization early on in my career. I did not, but I had the good sense to be obedient to opportunities continually opening up to me. I remained curious and learned as much as I could and had probing conversations with a range of people, read a lot, and participated in learning circles, constantly seeking answers to why and how and what my contributions could be. I was committed to making a difference and made this my life work. So, for the past 17 years I have worked within a policy organization, PolicyLink, influencing change through system and policy change. This is truly where substantive long-term change happens.

In summary, I am continually on my journey of learning how to be a better person than I was yesterday. Assessing when to pass the baton to the next generation of leaders. Determining how to walk every day with clarity, substance, and grace -- even in the face of challenges and setbacks. My aim is to remain balanced, to practice self-care. I try to remember my training grounds -- in school, home, and places of spiritual development. I have come to rely on my inner voice. I surround myself with people who “get me” and those who challenge me to my higher self. I do my art, listen to music, travel, and read books that stimulate, inspire, and teach.

How do you motivate your team members?
Motivating team members begins with supporting them, giving them space to lead and take risks, knowing when to step back and when to step in. It means allowing them to do it their way, even though you have a proven track record that your way has produced results. It requires patience and intentionally investing in your team.

What are you reading and/or following now (e.g. book, blog, social media groups, etc.)?
One book I am now reading is Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change by Adam Kahane, it's an exploration of ways to solve some of our nation’s most pressing challenges through balancing both power and love.

What advice do you have for those beginning their professional journey or who are already in leadership positions?
For newly emerging leaders it is important to adopt new values and skills. Social work was an excellent training ground for me, allowing me to examine situations and apply an analysis based on those early clinical trainings. But as the context changes, managers and leaders must be flexible, self-reflective, constantly growing, keeping everyone engaged and actively listening. There must also be a willingness to step back and allow the natural leadership within groups to emerge. Critical throughout all of this must be an impeccable sense of integrity and humility. It is possible to be firm, effective, and caring.

To contact Mildred Thompson for any inquiries please email her at mildred@policylink.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).

A Hearing for Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland

Today, President Barack Obama nominated Merrick B. Garland to be the 113th justice of the United States Supreme Court.  By all accounts, Mr. Garland is an outstanding candidate.  He had a stellar career as a lawyer, both in the public and private sectors, and serves as the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, perhaps the most prestigious and celebrated federal appeals court in the country.  And in 1997, he received bipartisan support for his appointment to the DC Circuit.

Yet, if we are to believe what we have seen and heard starting just 15 minutes after Justice Antonin Scalia’s untimely death was announced, Mr. Garland will not be confirmed.  Indeed, he will not even get a hearing.  That a candidate as accomplished as Mr. Garland will not be allowed to make a case to the American public that he is the right person for the job and that he will protect the rights and liberty of all people living in this country, is an undeniably glaring signal of how dispiritingly broken and dysfunctional our politics have become.

Of course, there is more at stake with this nomination than the functioning of our political system.  Critically important cases, whose resolution could undermine efforts to advance equity for low-income communities and community of color, are before the Court.  For example, in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Court will revisit the constitutionality of affirmative action.  In Evenwel v. Abbott, the Court’s ruling could undermine the political power of minority groups, particularly Latinos.  And at issue in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, is the financial sustainability of unions.  Mr. Garland’s appointment, assuming he is confirmed in a timely manner, could lead to rulings that promote equity in all these cases. 

Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution states, “[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and judges of the Supreme Court . . . ."

President Obama has done his job.  It is time for Republicans in the Senate to do theirs.

Art Is an Asset in Every Community: An Interview with ArtPlace America’s Jamie Bennett

Just outside of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, a winter arts festival takes place in a pop-up village of ice fishing shanties. In Louisville, Kentucky, an artists’ collective is leading public workshops that blend traditional West African and Appalachian arts with contemporary urban performance. In Detroit, artists and local youth are designing a plaza and green space to boost entrepreneurial activity. These projects and 35 others are recipients of the ArtPlace America 2015 National Grants program, which aims to support artists and arts organizations to strengthen and transform the physical, social, and/or economic fabric of communities.

Jamie Bennett is the executive director of ArtPlace America, a 10-year collaboration of foundations, banks, and federal agencies launched in 2011. (PolicyLink is working with ArtPlace on its Community Development Investments Initiative, which is investing $3 million in each of six place-based organizations to investigate what it means to sustainably incorporate arts and culture into community development work.) Bennett sees creative placemaking as a way for arts and culture to act as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and economic development. America’s Tomorrow spoke to Bennett about the philanthropic world’s embrace of place-based strategies and the equitable economic impacts of ArtPlace America’s work.

Q: How are you trying to promote equity within the world of philanthropy and the arts?

A: The general definition [of arts and culture] we use is one that we borrowed from National Endowment for the Arts, which is “any generative act that's intended to communicate richly to others.” And when you use that definition, yes, you're talking about symphonies, operas, and ballets, but you're also talking about my grandmother's lacemaking; you're also talking about a Lakota dance. We tend to plot it out on a matrix, just by way of understanding it. And when you have that kind of bingo card, you can begin checking yourself and asking, “Am I working with all parts of this landscape or am I only connecting with certain parts?” So I think having that understanding of how the arts and culture ecology is organized really is a necessary first step towards making sure that you are engaging with all of it — and all of it equitably. 

Q: How is ArtPlace trying to bring equity into the language, traditions, and rituals of the philanthropic world?

A: I think it is important to understand philanthropy as a sector that does require a certain level of cultural competency in order to intersect with it.  And exactly as you said, there is a language, there is a series of rituals, and there is a semi-hidden, opaque power structure in place.  Navigating all of that can be tricky. I think it's really incumbent upon those of us in philanthropy to make sure that we offer an on-ramp that is as easy as possible and that is as accommodating as possible to the broadest range of people. 

An example is that those of us who have been working in philanthropy for 25 years know what an LOI [Letter of Interest] is.  Right?  It's a shorthand.  To the other 98 percent of America, LOI are three letters that might as well be PDF or STD or whatever other three-letter abbreviation you use.  So instead of saying we're releasing an LOI, we're simply saying, “Would you like to ask us for money?” We've [also avoided certain language] around outcomes assessment, outputs, and project evaluation.  And instead we simply say, “What is it you're trying to do?” and, “How are you going to know if you've done it?”

Q: What do you see as the role of arts and culture in community development and neighborhood change?

A: Arts and culture are assets that are present in every community. Not every community is on a waterfront, not every community has strong public transportation, and not every community has a hospital or university to anchor it.  But every community has people who sing and dance and tell stories.

We have to understand that every artist is somebody's neighbor and almost everyone has an artist as a neighbor. Issues of displacement are hugely important and need to be addressed, but I don’t know that arts-driven displacement issues are any different than any other kind of displacement issues driven by community development. I think we need to solve them together.

Q: Should place-based interventions be tailored to a neighborhood’s income level?

A: The mayor of New York City has just upzoned East New York, a neighborhood in Brooklyn.  Change is going to come to that neighborhood and we know what the change is going to be and when the change is coming

At the moment, there are many people focusing on affordability. How do we keep it so that if you are low-income you can continue to live there? Another thing that can help solve involuntary displacement is you can also make residents richer. I think we need to think about a strategy, for instance, that comes in and says to the barbershop that's been in the community for 30 years, “Change is coming; You need to negotiate a lease now that will be 20 years, or you need to try and buy your site; and maybe you want to put in three manicure stations and take advantage of the change in the market that's coming.”  And so if we came in with a market investment, if we came in with an equity investment for that, I think that is going to do so much more to keep that small business in that neighborhood than just giving a local group a $50,000 dollar grant for organizing around preserving affordability.  So I think in general my question is, “How do we bring in the market as a tool to work alongside philanthropic investment and/or community organizing investments?”

Q: Why are place-based strategies in philanthropy more than a trend du jour?

A: If you build really high-quality fabulous housing, but it's two hours away from any job, that's not going to work in terms of helping someone to build wealth and have an extraordinary life. So, the current movement I've seen with a lot of philanthropy is to really look at all of the systems that are at play in a community. So if a foundation cares about children, they realize that a child can't be healthy, happy, and achieve his or her full potential unless that child's family is also healthy and happy.  So if you care about children, you also care about their parents and caregivers having jobs.  And you care about all of them being educated.  And you care about there being a safe environment.  So whatever your point of entry, you really have to care about how all of these systems work together, which, I think in many ways, is Angela [Glover Blackwell]'s point about the series of systems that together add up to equity or inequity.  It is about how housing intersects with transportation, which intersects with the economy, which intersects with the education system.  So for ArtPlace and for philanthropy and government to say, “Okay, let's understand all these systems and how they intersect in their totality,” I think is a good move. 

Youth Take the Lead in Foodie Business Programs

At Whole Foods Markets and farmers’ markets in the Detroit metropolitan area, you can purchase a box of Mitten Bites, the yummy no-bake granola treats dreamed up by Hassan Amaleki and a group of his former high school classmates. These all-natural snacks come in two delectable flavors — dark chocolate peanut butter and cranberry date — and are healthy and sustainable to boot.

Mitten Bites are the first youth-created product of Small Batch Detroit, a social enterprise subsidiary of the youth leadership organization Detroit Food Academy.

“We had the task of figuring out a snack that everyone would want, whether you are a mom at home that has kids and need something healthy, or a biker that needs an energy snack to go,” said Amaleki, now 19, who first started attending Detroit Food Academy’s afterschool programs when he was a freshman at Cody High School.

Launched in 2011 as a one-semester program at Cody High, the organization currently offers afterschool programming in culinary arts, business basics, and leadership in 10 high schools through the school year, as well as a citywide six-week summer program. The Academy works in public, private, and charter schools: anywhere students and educators have expressed interest, administration staff have shown support, and the budget allows. “We encourage young Detroiters to raise their voices, explore their communities, and to actualize their vision for what they want to see in our city—all through the medium of food,” said Jen Rusciano, co-founder and executive director of the Academy. This year, 200 youth are participating (around two-thirds from their public and public charter school partners and the remaining in private schools). About 95 percent of the students are young people of color.

The focus of the fall semester is cooking basics: learning about knife skills, nutrition, grocery budgeting and shopping, and meal planning; this work culminates with a student-planned community dinner for friends and family. In the spring, students design their own healthy, local food products, with guidance on how they would turn their ideas into full-fledged food businesses. When summer rolls around, Academy graduates can apply for a paid internship within either a culinary arts or food entrepreneurship track.

Detroit Food Academy launched Small Batch Detroit last year as a way to help the organization grow toward financial self-sufficiency. Profits from products like Mitten Bites have so far helped to cover production expenses and some of the wages for graduates, like Amaleki, to work part-time for the enterprise. “It’s an alternative for someone who doesn’t want to go to college right away, like I didn’t,” he said. Wages for students who work for the Small Batch program year-round start at $12.50 an hour and can go as high as $15 an hour.

Rusciano said that it’s been challenging to scale the business up to fund more youth staff positions and programming, but with support and knowledge-sharing from local groups like FoodLab Detroit and the Product Center at Michigan State University, they are making their way through early-stage hurdles, like mastering the legal requirements for packaging products sold in grocery stores.

Rusciano mentioned that the goal of the enterprise — and what they instill in their students for their own businesses — is that entrepreneurship is more than profit. “We talk about going into business as a tool not just for making money, though it can be used that way,” she said, “but rather that it’s a powerful tool that can be wielded either for good or for dehumanization. You can make a lot of change if there are values built into how you run a business.”

Even if students choose not to pursue food entrepreneurship or employment in the future, Rusciano said experiences like staffing Detroit Food Academy’s table at a farmers’ market or receiving mentorship from local chefs in the afterschool program, helps to weave them more into the social fabric of the city. Often they are cut off from fair wage jobs, career pathways, and the opportunities for innovation that are helping Detroit to rebound from insolvency.

“[Students learn] there are communities out there that are willing and excited to embrace them,” she said. “They learn they are needed and wanted in the city, not just tomorrow when they get their degree, but right now, today, as young people.”

A new leadership model in culinary training programs

In other cities, youth-oriented organizations are combining the social enterprise model with leadership and culinary skills training. At Old Skool Café, a youth-run, jazz-themed supper club in San Francisco, teens are behind decisions related to everything from the restaurant’s entrées to uniform design.

Teresa Goines, a former corrections officer, envisioned a violence prevention program taking the form of a dinner theater in 2004. Finally opening four years ago in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood, Old Skool Café is staffed by youth who have either been incarcerated, gone through the foster care system, or are otherwise disconnected from traditional work opportunities.

The cuisine is international comfort food, specifically designed to reflect the cultures of the youth in the program. “We always encourage them to submit family recipes,” said Goines. “If their mom or dad or grandmother wants to come in and teach us how to make something, we’ll have them come in and there’ll be a tasting.” If restaurant staff like the dish, it will be produced as a special and get the chance to become a regular menu item. That’s how “Abu’s Peanut Butter Stew” got on the menu; the chicken dish is named after a staff member who created a take on his grandmother’s recipe from Sierra Leone.

In one case, two program participants were more interested in fashion design than food. Through a collaboration with retired NFL player Dhani Jones’s BowTie Cause initiative, they were able to design a bow tie worn by restaurant staff.

“We really want to encourage them to find what they love,” added Goines. “But also they’re getting to make money and have access to mentorship and life coaching.” As of 2014, the recidivism rate for graduates of the program is 10 percent (compared to the national rate of 76 percent). Ninety-four percent have either found outside employment or are enrolled in school. One alumnus has recently completed the University of Southern California’s master’s degree program in screenwriting. Goines said the student found her career passion outside of the food industry, but was able to pay for some of her tuition through waitressing after having gained work experience at the café.

Back in Detroit, other young people are flexing their training skills in interesting and innovative ways after graduating from Detroit Food Academy. Hassan Amaleki has been doing food demonstrations for Mitten Bites at local grocery stores, earning money for when he attends college in the fall. He is now enrolled to attend Schoolcraft College on a culinary arts track. “Right after I found out the right way to do business from scratch, it didn’t seem so hard,” he said. He added that his current hope is to work his way up to running Small Batch Detroit full-time.

Read the rest of the March 10, 2016 America's Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model issue.

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.

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.

From Food Desert to Food Oasis, One Casserole at a Time

Cross-posted from Healthy Food Access Portal

When a leader of a local Baptist church made a plea to teach young people the value of casseroles, I knew we were on to something.

It turns out the casserole, long a staple of church suppers, may be the ultimate example of a do-it-yourself family food experience. The casserole is about efficiency, relying on the know-how to organize multiple, seasonal ingredients into a dish that will stretch the family food dollar. Every casserole is a teaching moment, pulling the kids into the kitchen to learn alternatives to drive-through fast food. The casserole is about friends and family, as parents traditionally kept a couple in the freezer to give to a neighbor suffering a hardship. All roads to a new food system run through the casserole.
 
In our food initiative, led by the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, we had initially used vocabulary from public health — lots of talk about food deserts and food insecurity, all supported by maps. Not a mention of casseroles.
 
The residents we aimed to serve, however, talked about food in different ways. And what we learned from residents helped us re-imagine our strategy. What emerged — the Georgia Food Oasis campaign — is now helping families across the state pursue their own ideas of how to eat, cook, and grow more fruits and vegetables.
 

Why Obama’s 2017 Budget Is a Roadmap for Opportunity

It is often said that every budget is a statement of values — a reflection of the hard choices necessary when directing limited resources. President Obama’s 2017 budget, released last week, reflects his commitment to building opportunity for all Americans and his understanding of the equity challenges facing this nation.      
 
What do I mean by “equity challenges”?  Demographics in the United States are rapidly changing: By the end of 2019, the majority of all children 18 and under will be of color; by 2030, the majority of the young workforce will be, too.  This means that getting the economic agenda right for people of color is essential for getting it right for the nation. Unless principles of equity — just and fair inclusion into a society where all can participate and prosper — are embedded into policies and investments today, it will be impossible to reap the benefits of prosperity tomorrow.  
 
The President’s budget displays his unwavering belief that everyone in America should have a fair shot at opportunity.  He makes clear that opportunity requires critical investments to improve access to high-quality child care and early education; increase pathways to college and career; ensure access to quality, affordable health care; and incentivize criminal justice reform. He bolsters safety net programs — including those that help very low-income families feed their children and afford decent housing — which are essential for helping struggling households get back on their feet. The 2017 budget also demonstrates the President’s continued commitment to working with and listening to communities through a series of renewed investments in place-based initiatives such as Promise Neighborhoods, Promise Zones, and Choice Neighborhoods.
 
It is not lost on me that the budget was released on the same day as the first primary of the election season leading to his successor.  In the President’s eighth and final budget, there lies a commitment to provide a nation on the cusp of economic, demographic, and political change with a roadmap for promoting inclusion, growth, and opportunity within all communities.  Much work remains to realize this commitment, but to unlock the promise of the nation, we must unlock the promise in us all.
 
In the coming weeks PolicyLink will share detailed analyses of the President’s budget and its impact upon the issues and communities we work to support.  We hope they will be helpful and ask that you join us in our efforts to promote an agenda based in equity.  You can read our Equity Manifesto here.   
 

Read Experts of Color Letter on Flint Water Crisis

Originally published by the Center for Global Policy Solutions

Wednesday, February 3, 2016
 
The Honorable Rick Snyder
Governor
State of Michigan
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, MI 48909
 
As a coalition of more than 200 experts who are focused on building wealth for communities of color, we believe that it is vital for all public leaders in the U.S. to commit to advancing an inclusive democracy that fairly treats and affirms the value of all of its diverse residents. We have a number of concerns about the governance and water crisis in Flint, as well as some recommendations for remediation and change.

Our perspective is embedded in Article I of the Constitution of Michigan, which you have sworn to uphold, which states:
 
All power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their equal benefit, security and protection. No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws; nor shall any person be denied the enjoyment of his civil or political rights or be discriminated against in the exercise thereof because of religion, race, color or national origin… The people have the right peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, to instruct their representatives and to petition the government for redress of grievances.[i]
 
Based on the criteria established by Michigan’s constitution and embedded in other state laws, it is reasonable to conclude that rights of the residents of Flint, MI have been abrogated. The people of Flint have not received equal benefit, security or protection from their government. They have been denied equal protection of the laws and seemingly discriminated against because of class and race. Their right to petition government for redress of grievances has also been obstructed.
 

Angela Glover Blackwell Keynote for GBPI's 2016 Policy Conference

 

GBPI’s 2016 policy conference, “Charting a Path: Ensuring Economic Opportunity for Georgia’s Families,” spotlighted ways to bring everyone along as the state emerges from its economic doldrums. PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell was the headline speaker for the annual January conference, delivering a compelling keynote, "Toward Racial Equity—A Discussion of the Structural Barriers to Opportunity."

Tracking the Ripple Effects of LA’s Good Food Purchasing Program

In 2012, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) — the largest school district in the nation — shifted its food purchasing processes to promote equitable food systems, healthy eating, and the local economy. This shift was made possible by The Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP), an effort developed by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council to provide city institutions with purchasing guidelines and strategic support centered on the procurement of local, sustainably, and humanely produced foods.  The program has improved the labor and environmental practices of LA’s local food producers, while gaining the attention of school districts and government agencies in LA and beyond.

With LAUSD’s expenditures of nearly $125 million, the Good Food Purchasing Program ensures that 650,000 K-12 students have access to healthy food on a consistent basis. It has also had a domino effect on regional producers, processors, and distributors. In the first two years, the percentage of locally purchased fruit and vegetables shot up from 9 percent to 75 percent. When the district instituted a “Meatless Mondays” policy to comply with the new nutritional and environmental standards, they decreased their annual meat spending by 15 percent, saving more than 19 million gallons of water.

Similar to LEED certification, institutions that participate in the GFPP are scored according to values-driven standards in five impact areas: local economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, animal welfare, and nutrition. As detailed in a new PolicyLink case study, the program incentivizes vendors to change the way they do business in order to earn or retain contracts with the city.

Since the adoption of the policy, LAUSD’s bread and produce distributor, Gold Star Foods, has risen to the occasion, strengthening its values-based practices to meet the GFPP’s goals and purchasing guidelines. So far, Gold Star Foods has added 65 full-time, living-wage jobs as a result of their new way of sourcing products. Additionally, after searching for local mid-sized wheat farms willing or able to meet GFPP standards, it reached out to Shepherd’s Grain in Portland, Oregon, resulting in the expansion of the Shepherd’s Grain network of over 40 independent local wheat farms from the Northwest into California. Gold Star now purchases 160,000 annual bushels of wheat from the sustainable agriculture company.

To achieve widespread change throughout the food system beyond Los Angeles, the Good Food Purchasing Program gave rise to a stand-alone organization: the Center for Good Food Purchasing. Alexa Delwiche, the Center’s executive director, said that over the past couple of years a lot of effort has been put into building communications systems between institutions and vendors and facilitating tracking and data collection, so that the full force of the program is measured and sustained. “When you develop a policy that’s multifaceted and includes additional values like labor practices and environmental sustainability, you have to get a certain level of detail, so that you are able to actually build transparency into the system,” she said. “That transparency doesn’t really exist in the food supply chain for a number of reasons, so it has been a huge learning [process] for us.”

The program — and its core premise that public institutions can impact the local economy and healthy food systems through their purchasing power — is gaining the attention of other schools and universities in the state. This year, the Oakland Unified School District is considering adoption of a Good Food Purchasing Program informed by LA’s. The California State University System, comprising 23 campuses, has pledged to shift at least 20 percent of their food budgets toward local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane food sources.

The principles of good food purchasing are spreading. The Equitable Food Initiative, launched in 2013, is a cohort of food retailers, growers, and farm worker organizations that has developed a compliance standard for farms based on working conditions, pesticide management, and safety. The New York Times has reported that 12 growers are a part of the group, with six of those certified so far, covering 2,000 workers. The Initiative’s expansion would help to protect some of California’s most vulnerable workers: one-third of America’s farm workers are in California and 67 percent of those (over 500,000 people) are unauthorized immigrants.

Doug Bloch, political director with Teamsters Joint Council 7, represents workers in Northern California, the Central Valley, and Nevada who pick, process, package, and distribute food and beverages in California. The Teamsters represent 25,000, mostly immigrant workers in the state who process food, including the workers of Taylor Farms in Salinas, a vegetable supplier to Oakland Unified School District. “The workers make a living wage and get benefits, and they get treated with respect,” said Bloch. Taylor Farms is the largest supplier of fresh-cut vegetables in North America, though not all of its farms are unionized.

Commenting on the good food purchasing model and its impact on labor, Bloch said that one of the regional challenges for both workers and purchasing institutions is the constant consolidation along the food chain, such as a proposed acquisition of U.S. Foods by Sysco that was defeated by the Federal Trade Commission this past summer. “Where I think it helps is that the Good Food Purchasing Program can really encourage the district to buy local, healthy, and organic,” says Bloch. “Depending on how the district applies the GFPP, it could encourage purchasing from a small, Oakland-based company that’s producing some sort of specialty item, as opposed to frozen or canned food that comes from 500 miles away.”

With any of these models and initiatives, it is important to appreciate the level of community organizing that goes along with developing and getting policies adopted, Delwiche said. Partners participate in monitoring and evaluation of the program in order to ensure successful implementation. Over 100 stakeholders and procurement experts were involved in the planning and execution of the GFPP. “I think the really powerful piece to this is that once a public institution has adopted a policy, that policy really becomes one [that belongs to] both the institution and the community,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for the community to continue engaging public officials and the public institution and hold them accountable to the values they’ve adopted.”

Now that Los Angeles has additional systems in place to track the progress of vendors and to set actionable goals and benchmarks, she added, the LA Food Policy Council and its partners are beginning to influence more cities like Oakland, so that, “as the cities adopt their own policies, the learning curve will be more diminished, and we can support institutions in a more streamlined way.”

Stewart Kwoh on Expanding Equity in Public Universities

America’s Tomorrow presents Equity Speaks, an interview series with leaders from activism, academia, and policy aiming to inspire advocates for all-in cities and an equitable, thriving U.S. economy.

Public colleges and universities across the country have been struggling for years to open up access for low-income youth and youth of color, even as ever-higher levels of education and skills are needed in the job market. The challenges have grown as states have cut funding for higher education. Now, the Supreme Court is considering a challenge to race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas, a ruling that could further restrict educational opportunities across the nation.

California, the first state to ban affirmative action in 1996 (specifically in public education, employment, and contracting), offers a glimpse of what such restrictions might mean for America’s future. Latino, Black, and Native American students made up 54 percent of the state’s high school graduates in 2012, but only 27 percent of freshman in the University of California system. Although Asian Americans as a whole attend college and graduate at high rates, these statistics mask the enrollment disparities facing distinct groups such as Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, Cambodian, and Hmong. Meanwhile, by 2030, 38 percent of jobs in California will require a bachelor’s degree or higher, and there will be 1.1 million fewer college graduates statewide than the economy demands.

Working to close these gaps, a multiracial, multigenerational coalition in California led by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles is demanding greater investment in state universities, increased access to admissions and financial aid, and a bigger, better, more equitable K-12 pipeline that helps all youth achieve their full potential. Stewart Kwoh, the organization’s founding president and executive director, building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, spoke with America’s Tomorrow.

You’ve reframed the conversation about college admissions. For years, people have been trying to figure out how to fairly apportion slots. You’re saying, let’s create more openings for everyone. Why this approach?

We do support affirmative action but in California, we haven't had it for 20 years, and most likely, it won’t change in the near future. We could wait for the timing to be right but we'll lose another generation of students so let's fight for policies that help every group in need. If the game is just to apportion the seats that exist, then most likely we'll all lose. There will just be an increasing number of young people who want the seats, and there will be fewer seats for everyone so then we're just fighting over the shrinking pie. Shouldn't we be fighting for expanding the pie for everyone, especially the underserved students?

How are you doing that?

Equity requires investment. When there's disinvestment, there’s probably less equity, and that’s absolutely true in the context of higher education in California. Over the past couple or so decades the state has built 22 prisons and only one University of California campus. The money flow has gone down, so there are fewer students in some of the universities, they're paying much higher tuition, and schools are bringing in foreign students and out-of-state students who pay triple the in-state tuition. It edges out California youth. Our view is that there has to be a whole new investment in higher education and new investment in the pre-K-12 pipeline to create equitable opportunity so young people are prepared to go to college and to graduate. We have to be working at both levels.

If you succeed in increasing investment in public universities, how do you ensure that access is equitable?

We're trying to expand the number of Cal State and UC enrollment openings for students from California. We're also trying to ensure that among those who get these open seats, we have a good share of racially and ethnically diverse students from low-income schools. A 2012 ballot initiative, Proposition 30, provided a big infusion of money into California schools, including greater funding to serve high-need students who are low income, English learners, or foster care youth. We're advocating using that same formula to bring in high-need students who are disproportionately students of color, as well as underserved White students, into the UC and Cal State systems. We’re also pushing for regional college preparation programs, better retention programs, and financial aid. It's a universal approach to increase higher educational opportunities for all, which we are calling our “Education for All Campaign.” It’s a specific approach to make sure that more racially and ethnically diverse students get into UC and Cal State as we open up more seats. And it's a practical approach because we want students to actually finish college.

How are you making the case for more investment?

We’re not just saying, “Oh, let’s be fair.” Over a million jobs in the California workforce will not be filled by California youth because they don't have a college education. Think about that — over a million California youth won't get a college education in the next 15 years who should have or could have. If we don’t build a strong movement of higher education for all and if we don’t make big policy changes, it will have dire consequences that will hurt us all.

The common wisdom says that Asian American students have benefitted from the ban on affirmative action — their representation on University of California campuses has increased markedly in the past 20 years. How do you address the idea of the model minority?

First of all, we stand in solidarity with underserved students of color who aren't able to get into the colleges or can't go from the community colleges to the four-year colleges. We absolutely think that we all benefit by having a greater pipeline and completion rate for students of color. The second point is that this model minority monolith, or stereotype, really hurts our community because it covers up and makes invisible the true needs of Asian and Pacific Islander groups.

What does your research show about those needs?

We recently released a study that was led by the Campaign for College Opportunity on the state of higher education for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and basically the main conclusion is that there's tremendous diversity in needs and success. For example, Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians have far lower college completion rates than certain Asian American groups — comparable to the rates for Blacks and Latinos. Yes, some groups of Asian Americans have done well and have not done well — the differences are very stark. But we also found almost every group in the Asian American community has very high financial needs. Even the more successful groups have challenges — they have college access but they're graduating with a whole lot of debt. It’s not a good picture in terms of true access for anybody.

Describe your K-12 agenda and why it’s important to your advocacy on higher education.

There have to be major changes in the K-12 system so more students are prepared to go into community college or four-year college. A very significant percentage of high school students going to community college now need remedial math and English classes. That's very discouraging for students, and it’s problematic for the future of California. We need more concerted attention by all community groups to make sure all students, especially underrepresented students of color, enter school ready to learn, receive support to succeed and discover their passions, and graduate high school ready to go to college — and finish. At the end of the day we must have a much bigger pipeline of students getting college degrees with needed skills that will strengthen the state. They will be paying greater taxes; they will be more productive residents. It’s a win for everyone.

Learn more and get involved by contacting: Geralyn Yparraguirre, Education Policy Advocate at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (gyparraguirre@advancingjustice-la.org) or 213-977-7500 x267.

Summit Snapshot: The Moment

A reflection on the PolicyLink Equity Summit, which took place in Los Angeles, Oct. 2015.

As I sit here among 3,000 people, I cannot help but think this is the moment. I look out and see the faces, young and old, new and familiar. I cannot help but think this is the moment.

The affirmative advancement of fair housing, the empowerment of low-wage workers, fighting urban displacement, ending mass incarceration, Black Lives Matter, addressing immigration, improving the lives of boys and men of color, addressing income inequality. These issues are front and center, with thoughtful leaders ready to take action.

I think this must be the moment. But what moment is it?

Is it the moment that we fear? The moment that we realize the great American dream of opportunity for all is really just the opportunity for a few? That the promise of this young nation is just another in a long line of promises unkept? Is it that moment?

Is it the moment that we throw up our hands and say that our differences are just far too wide, too deep and too complex, and go to our respective corners and try to make it work separately and segregated by race, class, or party affiliation? Is it that moment?

Or is it the moment we’ve been waiting for? The moment when we finally realize that our fates are linked, the moment when we find the highest common denominator. The moment when we find our best selves and live up to the promise of liberty and justice for all.

I hope it’s that moment. No, let’s make it that moment.

See new video: What does it mean to be Bay Area Bold?

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 Three Cities Are Building Stronger Economies by Investing in Black Men

Summer jobs orientation in Omaha, Nebraska.

Black men have experienced the biggest declines in labor force participation in recent years. Reconnecting them, and boys and men of color more generally, to career paths and good jobs is critical for building a strong workforce and strengthening the economy as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age.

That reality inspired the White House My Brother's Keeper initiative. But long before President Obama brought national attention to this, grassroots activists, business executives, and civic and government leaders across the country have worked to reverse decades of racial inequities and expand access to opportunity. Like the President, these partnerships recognize that equity and inclusion are important not only for those who have been left behind, but also for the growth and prosperity of communities and cities.

Today, America's Tomorrow profiles inspiring initiatives in Milwaukee, Omaha, and Los Angeles that are leading the way in creating policies and programs to connect Black men to employment training, good jobs, and opportunities to contribute and succeed. The efforts show what's possible when leaders have the courage to talk frankly about structural racism and do something about it, by aligning investments and resources with the needs of the most vulnerable populations.

Milwaukee: Creating hope and a pipeline of workers

The recent groundbreaking for the $450 million 32-story Northwest Mutual Life Tower and Commons Project was a signature moment for Milwaukee's downtown. The development will create or retain thousands of permanent jobs and generate millions of dollars in increased tax revenues. Meanwhile, construction will create more than 1,000 jobs through 2017. At least 40 percent of those jobs are reserved for local residents, and dozens of chronically unemployed men are well positioned to fill them, thanks to a program called Milwaukee Builds.

Administered by the city in collaboration with several nonprofits, the program provides on-the-job training and apprenticeships in the building trades to people returning from prison. It serves about 125 people annually, 90 percent of them Black men, city officials say. Divided into crews, participants build and rehabilitate houses and community centers while earning the certification employers demand and developing the skills employers need.

Milwaukee Builds is one part of a multipronged effort to tackle inequities that have saddled the city's Black men with some of the highest unemployment rates and lowest school completion rates in the nation. Over half of young Black men in Milwaukee are unemployed, and one in four have less than a high school diploma or equivalent. Yet Black men make up over 30 percent of the male population in the city, making their success an imperative for the city's economic future.

Propelling the work are city leaders willing to study social and economic data by race to understand what's holding back significant numbers of people of color — and to use that information to guide policies and investments to achieve equitable results.

Mayor Tom Barrett and the city council took the first step by establishing an advisory board on Black male achievement. What's more, they did so by statute, to signal "it's not for the season, it's for the long haul," said Steve Mahan, the city's director of community grants administration.

The board's mission is "to create hope and opportunities for Black men and boys who are significantly marginalized from economic, social, education, and political life." The language has changed the conversation about the most effective way to target resources among communities in greatest need.

"Being more free to have that discussion — to say "Black males" — was a huge policy change," Mahan said. "To say, we're not talking about census tracts, we're not talking about special districts, we're talking about a set population and we're deliberately aligning our resources and our attention with the needs of that population — that's really huge."

The city has aligned a host of programs in family support, education, health, youth development, and workforce training. "What we're doing is creating a pipeline of workers," said Clifton Crump, special assistant to the mayor.

Omaha: Empowering and hiring young adults

Eight years ago a group called the Empowerment Network launched a summer jobs program in North Omaha, the historic heart of the city's Black community, in hopes of reducing gun violence. Thirty young people participated. Since then, the program has grown to serve as many as 850 youth in a summer, and summertime gun violence in the area has declined by 65 percent, said Empowerment Network President Willie Barney. Youth earn up to $1,500 for the season and participate in career exploration, work experience, on-the-job training, and academic enrichment. Over 3,000 have been hired through Step-Up Omaha and other employment initiatives.

Robust partnerships have helped the Empowerment Network leverage the summer job experience to create opportunities for vocational training, and the collaboration is now incorporating high-growth sectors such as health care, information technology, entrepreneurship, and finance.

"We have some employers that wouldn't have given that person a chance previously, but now the 90-day intern has proven himself," said Barney. "We have individuals working in banks, at hotels, and at other corporations. Hundreds have graduated and many have secured longer term employment. That's having a direct impact on diversifying the employment base, and it's putting income in their pockets."

The community invested first. Now, the city, along with corporate partners and philanthropists, have made significant investments in expanding the summer program, based on commitments to building a competitive workforce in a region quickly becoming more multiracial and multicultural. At 12 percent, the Black unemployment rate in the region was more than double the rate for any other demographic during the 2008 to 2012 period (the most recent timeframe for regional employment data by race). Black households represent a smaller share of the middle class than they did in 1979, and one in three live in poverty. An analysis by PolicyLink and PERE found that the region's GDP would be $3.9 billion higher if racial disparities in income were erased.

The summer program, along with policy changes, and a long list of other initiatives to improve opportunities in communities of color — including the Black population and the growing Latino population — emerged out of an extraordinary public engagement process spearheaded by the Empowerment Network in 2006. Through surveys, polling, and neighborhood meetings, the Network has engaged 5,000 residents, including 2,000 youth and young adults, to articulate their greatest needs, their assets, and their vision for their communities and their city.

That process enabled the Network to identify seven priority areas for action — with employment and entrepreneurship as number one — and develop goals, benchmarks, and measures to track results. The Network has engaged more than 500 community partners from just about every field — schools, police, churches, health care, transportation, the arts, and more. The collective goal is to create a strong, unified city by closing longstanding gaps in education, employment, business ownership, and quality of life based on race and zip code.

Los Angeles: Black workers build power, reshape the construction industry

The $2.4 billion Crenshaw/LAX light rail line under construction in Los Angeles is designed to connect neighborhoods — including the disinvested communities of color of South LA — to the airport, a major job center. But the project employed almost no Black workers until a determined group of Black trade unionists, activists, residents, scholars, and faith leaders campaigned to change that.

Now, nearly 20 percent of the 125 workers, including three women, are Black.

Much of the success is due to advocacy and monitoring by the four-year-old Black Worker Center. In a city where 54 percent of Black men ages 16-21 are jobless, and 30 percent of Black workers are in low-wage industries, the Center brings together workers and advocates to fight for increased access to high-quality employment.

"We work to contest the myth that Black men don't want to work, to resist the Black jobs crisis that is ravaging the social fabric of our community, and to create from the bottom up intentional strategies to deal with this crisis," said Lola Smallwood Cuevas, chair, Los Angeles Black Worker Center Coordinating Committee. "Workforce development alone is not the solution to the Black job crisis. We must build the leadership of Black workers and the power to move our vision forward."

The Center focuses on the construction industry, a source of well-paying union jobs that has largely shut out Blacks in Los Angeles, as in many other communities nationwide. The Center pushes for enforcement of civil rights laws, and its leaders are unafraid to call out racial barriers and biases that exclude people of color from pipelines to career-path employment.

"When we lift up the most vulnerable, which in our community is Black men and young Black men in particular, we will improve Los Angeles overall," said Smallwood Cuevas. "Jobs matter. When Black workers have done well, our communities have done well."

The Black Worker Center was part of a coalition that negotiated a historic project labor agreement with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2012. The five-year agreement requires that 40 percent of an estimated 23,000 transit construction jobs go to local residents from very low- to moderate-income neighborhoods, with 10 percent of those jobs targeted at "disadvantaged workers" such as veterans, the long-term unemployed, and formerly incarcerated people. It is the nation's first master project labor agreement approved by a regional transportation agency.

The Black Worker Center quickly went to work to bring the early phase of the Crenshaw light rail project into compliance. The Center has developed a robust community monitoring tool, training volunteers in observational field work, data collection, site safety, and deploying teams to construction sites to systematically count workers by race and gender and monitor safety. The Center reports its findings to the public, quarterly.

The progress on Crenshaw is just the beginning. The Center has helped establish similar centers in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, and Baltimore, and others are being planned through the National Black Worker Center Network. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, some $60 billion has been allocated for major infrastructure investments, said Loretta Stevens, co-Executive Director of the Center.

"That's a lot of jobs, that's a lot of public money, so how do we get to the table and be included? We're trying to make sure that we're not absent and that we're changing the structures, the institutionalized racism, and really challenging policymakers and politicians to speak up for diversity, stand up for fairness and equity for all."

The efforts profiled above, as well as many others, have been supported by national initiatives such as Communities Collaborating to Reconnect Youth and the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. To learn more, contact the Campaign.

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."
 

AB 2060 Workforce Bill Signed Into Law

California has one of the largest and most expensive prison systems in the nation and is currently under a federal court order to reduce its prison population. System and community leaders across the state have recognized the urgent need to lower the numbers of current prisoners and the rate of recidivism, in order to decrease state prison costs and increase public safety. 

Earlier this week, Governor Jerry Brown helped California take a major step toward achieving these goals by signing AB 2060 (Supervised Population Workforce Training Grant Program) into law. Authored by Assemblymember Victor Manuel Pérez and co-sponsored by PolicyLink, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, and the California Workforce Association, AB 2060 will establish a new competitive workforce training grant program for women and men re-entering our communities and families after being released from prison, to ensure that they have access to training and education, job readiness skills, and job placement assistance. The bill was also identified as a priority by the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color.

Law enforcement officials and judges agree that opportunity-enhancing strategies are less expensive than incarceration and more effective at reducing recidivism and improving community safety and stability. Investing in workforce development opportunities for reentry populations is a critical step toward expanding access to well-paying jobs and careers, which in turn will improve offender outcomes and reduce recidivism rates, resulting in economic savings and improved public safety.

The program established by AB 2060 is designed to serve the distinct education and training needs of individuals who require basic education and training in order to obtain entry level jobs with opportunities for career advancement, and also individuals with some postsecondary education who can benefit from services that result in certifications and placement on a middle-skill career ladder.

Administered by the California Workforce Investment Board, the new grant program will build on the most promising workforce development strategies and incentivize counties to foster collaboration and coordination with Local Workforce Investment Boards (LWIBs), the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, community-based organizations that serve re-entry populations, labor, and industry. Regional coordination also advances realignment goals, which shift some of the responsibility for housing prisoners from the state to the local level.

An allocation of $1 million from the Governor’s Recidivism Reduction Fund was secured to launch this effort through the budget process earlier this year. AB 2060 will leverage the State’s investment by rewarding counties that commit matching funds. This translates into additional dollars for the program and will help to sustain the strategy over time, ensuring that more women and men can be served.

We must work at the regional and state levels to ensure that every Californian has a fair chance to contribute and thrive. By investing in workforce training and job placement for the women and men re-entering our families and communities, we can improve neighborhood safety and stability and secure a more prosperous future. 

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.

Fast Food Nation: Why Higher Wages for Workers Benefit Us All

From New York to San Diego, thousands of fast food workers have gone on strike for higher wages and the right to form unions. Roughly three million people – disproportionately people of color – work in fast food, earning a median wage of $8.94 an hour. Better pay would not only benefit them and their families; it also would strengthen the U.S. economy. Here's why:

  1. Increase consumer spending. Every $1 increase in the minimum wage increases a household's consumer spending by $2,800 a year, estimates the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank. Multiply that by three million fast food workers, and the nation would see tens of billions of dollars in new consumer spending.
  2. Create better-paying jobs in low-income neighborhoods. Fast food establishments tend to cluster in low-income neighborhoods where there are few other employment options, including in poor suburbs. Raising wages for fast food workers would provide better employment opportunities, helping to revitalize neighborhoods while we continue to work to improve food choices in these communities.
  3. Reduce strain on our public assistance programs. Restaurant workers, including fast food workers, are on public assistance programs like food stamps at twice the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce, according to Saru Jayaraman from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. More than 80 percent of fast food workers earn less than $10.10 an hour, or $18,500 per year, which means they are eligible for food stamps if they're in a family of two or more. Raising the wage would allow our public dollars to go towards necessary investments in infrastructure and education, not subsidizing employers for low-wage jobs. 
  4. Raise the floor for all. Higher wages for fast food workers would put upward pressure on other low-wage industries that hire from a similar pool of workers, like other restaurant work and retail. Restaurant, retail, and service occupations are projected to have the largest employment growth in the economy, and even though many who work in these occupations have some college education, these are among the few jobs that do not require a high school diploma. Raising the floor for these jobs is an essential step towards rebuilding a middle-class economy.
  5. Create better opportunities for the next generation. More than one in four fast food workers struggle to support at least one child. Research from the Partnership for America's Economic Success shows that an increase in household income to 150 percent of the poverty line (roughly $14/hour) during early childhood can lead to increased earnings – by as much as $200,000 over his or her lifetime.