This is part two of my post on community development and community organizing. In my first post, I argued that community development corporations needed to revitalize its relationship to community organizing to survive. In this post, I'll discuss why organizing is important for CDCs in their reach and to see results.
There has been a lot written about the uncertain future of community development and the way forward for community development to survive—about capital flows, about the need for scale, for quarterbacking, for economic development, for consolidation, for diversification, about neighborhoods, about regions—and there has been a lot of good thinking, good ideas embedded in all these pieces. But I keep circling back to one thought.
Community development is dying for lack of community organizing. Community development is dying for lack of an active base.
I don’t mean this is a causal sense. Community development is struggling because, in our current economic and political environment, all funding for anything having to do with poor and low-income people has been systematically slashed. This has been a trend for years and has been accelerated in the current sequestration/debt limit crisis. The cuts have not been about community development or community organizing per se, but about a larger moral austerity.
It won’t have its official grand opening before the end of the month, but Larry Itliong Village in Los Angeles’s Historic Filipinotown (the HiFi) got its Certificate of Occupancy just in time to be celebrated (at least for the purposes of this blog post) as having been finished in Filipino History month.
The building—45 units of affordable housing above 7,000 square feet of community facilities and resident service space—was developed in partnership between the Pilipino Worker’s Center (PWC) and LTSC Community Development Corporation (LTSC) with support from a mind-blowing 16 different private and public (local, county, state and federal) funders.
In the interest of full disclosure, I worked for almost 12 years at LTSC and am currently on their board. It was during my tenure there as real estate development director that this project was initiated.
This building is worth celebrating for many different reasons. In addition to its most obvious benefit—permanent affordable housing for low-income families and formerly homeless people (with approximately half of the units with project-based vouchers)—I want to focus on a few benefits that are more particular to this specific project and expand from the specifics of the project to talk a bit about the future of community development.
Right now, in community development and in the nonprofit/charitable/public service sector more broadly, there is a push to incorporate more hard numbers, more metrics, into our evaluation of our performance.
In community development, many leading thinkers in the same breath as advocating for more performance metrics will talk about how community development has failed because the poverty rate is the same now as it was 50 years ago.
The prime metric for community development is the poverty rate—the success or failure for community development is the extent to which it moves the needle on poverty. But is this the right metric?
In 2005, according to the U.S. Census Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), the median Asian American household had a net worth of over $150,000. This was compared to a median household net worth of approximately $130,000 for Non-Hispanic Whites, $11,000 for Blacks and $17,000 for Hispanics.
In a FAQ posted about their important, informative recently released study about how America’s racial wealth gap was exacerbated by the Great Recession, “Less Than Equal: Racial Disparities in Wealth Accumulation,” the Urban Institute responded to a question about Asian American wealth with a statement that contained the assumption that “…[O]verall Asian American wealth is likely to be more similar to white families than to African American or Hispanic families…”
This assumption reflects a widely held belief that, because of their economic position, Asian Americans should have weathered the Great Recession in much the same fashion as Non-Hispanic Whites. And why shouldn’t this assumption be true? Haven’t Asian Americans historically shown themselves to be highly successful economically—even, as the numbers above demonstrate, outperforming Whites?
The National Coalition For Asian Pacific American Community Development (CAPACD) recently released a report that gives a demographic profile of poor Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and highlights the dramatic growth of the AAPI poor population in the wake of the recession.
One of the ulterior motives in producing this report is to debunk the Model Minority Myth. There is some community self-interest in this approach—as a coalition of organizations who serve low-income and poor AAPI communities, we often get confused looks from people who don’t understand that there is economic need in AAPI communities. So, one big reason why we wrote the report and why we put the cold, hard data out there, is that we’re trying to build a factual case as to why AAPI poverty is a real issue, deserving of real attention and resources.
But, a less obvious but equally important reason for the report is that everybody concerned with equity and the broader struggle for social justice should be concerned with dismantling the Model Minority Myth. The Model Minority Myth not only causes us to overlook the needs and real problems of AAPIs who do not fit the stereotype but also its continued existence undermines the larger project for social change and racial justice.
I believe in promoting opportunity and social/economic equity. And I believe that all of us should have the opportunity to live in a place where we can maximize our families’ upward social and economic mobility.
For these reasons, I support the broader struggle to more proactively promote fair housing and to develop more inclusive, diverse, vibrant communities.
However, also for broader reasons of equity and opportunity, I am wary of HUD’s current proposal to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH). I am afraid that the unintended consequence of this policy will be to shift public resources away from low-income communities of color.
In order to prevent this, the policy needs better account for community-based, community-driven projects and activities.
“We have spent $15 trillion from the federal government fighting poverty, and look at where we are, the highest poverty rates in a generation, 15 percent of Americans in poverty.” - Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, interview on Fox News’ “On the Record,” July 31, 2013 (Source)
Last Wednesday, video blogger and failed vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, convened a hearing about the War on Poverty, saying that “we’re losing the War on Poverty … [a]nd we need to know why.”
Lyndon Johnson (or whoever it was in his administration who coined the term “War on Poverty”) didn’t do the anti-poverty cause any favors by declaring war on poverty. You can see where the terminology came from: If you declare War on something, you’re serious. You’re strong and masculine and martial. You intend to win. You’re not a soft, pencil-necked, weak-willed liberal. I can see the rationale in the “War on...” rhetorical device.
But, in hindsight, it was dumb to declare war on poverty.
By Josh Ishimatsu, Director of Capacity Building and Reserach at National CAPACD From: Rooflines
Last Thursday, I was listening to Bruce Katz on NPR talk about Detroit’s recent bankruptcy and the set of metropolitan oriented strategies/practices that he thinks represents the way forward for the troubled city.
Before I get too deep into my critique and thoughts about economic development and poverty and race, I want to note that I agree with what most of what Katz’s thesis that metro regions are the locus of technological innovation, economic growth, etc., and that if you want to impact the economy at any geographic scale (whether local or national), you have to think and act at a regional level.