Archive for the 'Planning & Development' Category


Will we finally listen to Sheila Bair?

Driving around for 20 minutes last night looking for parking in my neighborhood turned out to be a real treat.  The Diane Rehm show began on my ride home, featuring a discussion of the US residential real estate market by two economist-wonks, a leading non-profit advocate for CRA investment in low-income communities, and a representative from the Mortgage Bankers Association. I highly recommend downloading the podcast for anyone who wants to better understand the nuances of the mortgage crisis, including the geographical and ownership differences behind the foreclosures rates, as well as possible government responses.

What I learned from these four men was that investors comprise about 10 to 15% of foreclosed owners, though they are concentrated in areas that underwent a glut in new construction: CA, NV, and FL were cited multiple times.  I knew generally that there are differences between these regions and the high foreclosure rates in middle- to low-income metro-urban neighborhoods, often in single or multi-family homes most likely to be owned by families and people of color and the elderly (obviously not mutually exclusive groups).  Christopher Foote, a policy advisor from the Boston Fed talked about our problem here of handling foreclosures in a built environment of triple-decker multi-family properties: a single condo owner may suddenly face foreclosure on the other units in the three story buildings that dominate our urban landscape.  Or, tenants in all three units may suddenly face the risk of eviction as the landlord is foreclosed.   Throughout 2008 anti-eviction activism has been on the rise here in Boston.

The advocate on last night’s show was John Taylor, President & CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.  John and I attended a DC meeting on Gulf Coast recovery in 2007.  I respect his work (and am partial to the fact that he grew up in the same neighborhood as my mom).  John can be contentious in discussions, willing to push back on conventional wisdom – in my experience with him he chided the non-profit/government community for not also aggressively pursuing private investment in the Gulf.  He was the first to remind listeners that the major fault lay with the financial deregulation and industry speculation that falsely inflated housing prices and encouraged buyers to take on too much risk, for instance by lenders coming to dominate the appraisals market, thus infusing the process with incentive to push up housing values.  Chr*st.

Almost one quarter of homeowners are estimated to owe more on their mortgage than the property is now worth.  As always, it’s tricky to discuss systematic responses to financial crises when the regional and demographic differences are so striking.  Last night, John was the first to raise and praise FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair’s name in government attempts to respond fairly and intelligently to the housing crisis.  Dean Baker from the Center for Economic & Policy Research added that she should be on the upcoming Administration’s Treasury Secretary shortlist.  I’d heard Bair’s name a handful of times in the last month or so, though frankly she’s been dwarfed by coverage of Paulson and his fitful “solutions.”  But could that be changing?  It should.

Bair was calling for more stringent regulation of the sub-prime market back in 2001.  Bair has already demonstrated some success with her takeover of IndyMac in writing down mortgages to more affordable terms without necessarily reducing the mortgage’s value.  Underway in the Bush Administration right now is a discussion between implementing this plan at a national scale versus expanding HUD programs to work with troubled borrowers.  (Oh sure, now Bush wants to use HUD.  Forgive me if I’m skeptical that this idea in his hands holds any promise.)

As Baker points out, the FDIC is “during ordinary times…a relative backwater,” so given Bair’s job function and position, it’s no surprise she was not part of the in-crowd of decision makers (via) in the run-up to and in the current crisis.  But she has

“shown a willingness to both confront the big Wall Street banks and to stand up for homeowners. When the FDIC took over IndyMac, one of the mass market subprime lenders, Bair ordered a moratorium on foreclosures on the mortgages held by the bank. She announced that the FDIC would arrange write-downs that allowed homeowners to stay in their home wherever possible. Bair has since been vocal in her criticisms of other banks for being unwilling to take the same steps.”

When liberal wonks and advocates on a DC public radio talk show heap praise like this, I am inclined to listen and think.  How about you?


Immigrants Pay More to the Government Than They Get Back

According to a new report from the University of Nebraska:

…immigrants, both legal and undocumented, don’t just have an impact on the state — they have a multibillion dollar impact on the state’s economy, and it’s in the form of giving rather than receiving.

What they found was that if immigrants disappeared and weren’t replaced in three of Nebraska’s key industries, the state would lose 78,000 jobs, including those filled by U.S.-born workers. (my emphases-Red) Also, the state’s immigrant population contributed about $154 million in the form of property, income, sales and gasoline tax revenue in 2006. It boils down to a $1,554 in per capita contributions. The native-born residents, by contrast, have a per capita contribution of $1, 944. A difference of $390.

In fact, the researchers discovered that the immigrant group pays in about 7 percent more than what it uses in terms of government support.

My uncle is a disabled, low-income Vet who works for an employer that has replaced most of his white, native born workforce with undocumented Brazilians.  My uncle’s animosity extends not just to his employer but to his Brazilian colleagues as well. Seems there’s little chance of worker solidarity in our current climate of fear and recrimination, exploitation and abuse, low-wage competition, an absolute lack of upward mobility prospects for (not just) low-income Americans, and inhumane, blunt and totally ineffective federal immigration policies.

The report calls for the Bush Administration to re-think its ICE-Raids=Immigration Policy approach given the contributions of immigrants to local economies.  Sens. Obama & McCain – please add this to your in-box of required reading.


9/11 Photo Essay

Showcases the recycling of World Trade Center steel in memorials around the U.S. Photos of memorials begin on slide four.

Every once in awhile in late summer/early fall the weather is so beautiful here in the Northeast that it reminds me of the picture perfect weather in New York City on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I’ve told my 9/11 story at my old blog, but the upshot is that I lived in New York but several miles (or 40 minutes by train) from the site, was waiting to start a job the following week that unknowingly turned out to be directly related to post-9/11 recovery, was awoken that day by a phone call from my soon-to-be-stepmom in Boston that my dad was ok (I didn’t know he’d been in Lower Manhattan that morning on business), ended up driving to the Amtrak station in mid afternoon to see if my dad was safe there (we knew he’d made it out of downtown but weren’t quite sure where he was), that the drive down took me an unheard of 15 minutes because the streets were so empty, that the drive home took almost an hour because what traffic existed was headed up and away from the disaster and out of town, that the line to donate blood at the blood bank near my apartment stretched around the block, and that I was in shorts and a “Minnesota” t-shirt all day because the weather was. so. beautiful. Except for the smoke curdling up into the sky several miles away. I watched coverage until the wee hours of the morning and then slept one of the deepest sleeps I can remember in my life, so much so that when I woke on September 12 it took me a minute before I remembered the world had changed the day before.

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Day of Blogging in Support of Community Organizing

Check it out at the Afrospear/afrosphere.

UPDATE: Kevin @ Slant Truth has links galore.

I have never been an organizer, but in my field of community development, I’ve worked for years with them, and my research now focuses on organizing in post-Katrina New Orleans. Being an organizer – like social work – is a job I am not cut out for but one for which I have tremendous respect and some feelings of envy/inadequacy. It’s one of those jobs I wish I wanted, because it’s powerful and intense and transformative at a microscale and often at mezo- and macro-levels.

Community organizing can not only elevate issues into public debate and force decisions by elected officials and others who should be held accountable to communities (e.g., developers) – decisions both good and bad, remember, as the threat/impact/force of an organized community can win victories for neighborhoods as much as devastate them in the powers-that-be’s efforts to silence and defuse them.

Community organizing also offers an individual and collective benefit of empowering people to realize their own potential, their own power, and to instill a sense of purpose in people and groups. I think I appreciate this in particular because I was raised by a Capricorn nurse turned mental health administrator, who believed in the essential power of activity and work to raise people’s spirits and direct their energies. I’ve witnessed her talk people out of frustrated anger and direct their efforts towards productive endeavors, whether it be protest activities, writing, organizing others around them experiencing the same problem, or volunteer efforts meant to fill gaps in the mental health system. Etc. Not always a likable trait when you’re a kid wishing you could watch tv inside all day, but tremendously inspiring when you’re facing down seemingly insurmountable obstacles like a devastating hurricane and flood and the potential permanent displacement of 100,000 low-income New Orleanians.

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Notes on New Orleans

I just got home from six nights in New Orleans – a mix of business and pleasure (the city would have it no other way).  On my first morning there I joined several residents and activists in solidarity at another’s hearing at NO’s Criminal Court.  Some thoughts on that are here.

My relationship with New Orleans is a tense one – the intensity of the inequity is something this uptight, machine-politick-reared New Englander cannot abide.  My work there takes me through a morning at the Criminal Court, and I pass another listening to another former resident weep over the loss of her home and sitting with her through one family crisis after another.  In an effort to escape from the despair, I trundle over to Magazine Street and spend hours wandering the boutiques full of relatively inexpensive, funky and fun dresses (I marvel at the affordable and independent designs they have down there – I’m not aware of any equivalents up here in MA).  But it’s difficult to overcome the cognitive dissonance of watching families cope with trauma and injustice and then pay an excessive amount for two sandwiches and glasses of wine at an overpriced (if delicious) bakery shop decked out in fantastic pinks and blues.  Surreal is often a word folks use to describe their experiences in post-Katrina New Orleans, and they’re not wrong.

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Lower 9th Ward Photo Essay

I’m not blogging here again, I just figured if I was still in folks’ rss feeds, they might want to check this out.

I’d been wanting to write about LA’s Gov. Bobby Jindal, who’s been popping up around the intertubes lately as a possible VP candidate for McCain, a former biology major who’s performed exorcisms, and the leader of the state that just passed by a landslide the teaching of intelligent design in local schools. But honestly, you should just read this post at Firedoglake. It’s got all details of the horrendous, humorless, dangerous irony of Jindal’s Reaganesque conservative rise against the backdrop of Katrina.

My contribution? A dear friend’s work-in-progress photo essay of the “recovery” of the Lower 9th Ward, captured from January 2006 through August 2007 (and the second anniversary of the storm). It will be updated next month.

I guess LA school children will be learning how God leveled New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina to punish those homosexuals after all.

From McCain/Jindal ’08, may G-d save us all.

x-posted at NYC Weboy


Housing Market Fallout Further Threatens New Orleans Recovery

As the housing market goes to complete sh*t, Gulf Opportunity (GO) Zone tax credits intended to spur housing development in the Gulf rapidly are losing value for investors, threatening to stall already precarious housing recovery in New Orleans and across the region.

Homeowners are not the only one at risk in our crashing housing market.  Renters looking for affordable homes in redeveloping areas like New Orleans (and other urban areas seeing a complete shutdown of the last few years of affordable housing construction) face a serious shortage of housing opportunities. 

Across the nation, affordable housing deals are crumbling as investors, hurt by the economic downturn, lose interest in purchasing tax credits and lenders pull out of projects. But nowhere is the situation worse than in Louisiana, where Congress created an extra $168 million in tax credits after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — nearly 20 times the state’s regular annual allocation of tax credits — to spur the development of 27,000 affordable and mixed-income housing units. All of the Gulf Opportunity Zone tax credit projects must be ready for occupancy by the end of 2010, which means developers can’t afford to wait until the market improves for tax credits.  

This further dampens the economic recovery of the city, as workers continue to be shut out of the area, and industries and sectors limp along without those necessary workers.  On and on the cycle goes. 

The rosy, mixed-income futures of those large former public housing sites that are already becoming zones of rubble?  Not so promising either:

In the New Orleans area, about 31 of 77 projects have not yet closed on their financing, and may find it more difficult to make the numbers work. Those projects, including the replacements for the public housing developments that are being demolished, represent about 46 percent of the 9,779 units that are on the drawing board for the five parishes that make up the New Orleans area. 

Congress is working on some corrective legislation, and, I’m thrilled to see, calling for HUD Secretary Jackson’s resignation.   I know we’ve only got about 8 months to go of Bush et al., but maybe they could throw in some articles of impeachment with that resignation request. 

Of course, Jackson’s more than welcome to take his $100,000 portrait home with him.  He does deserve a souvenir of his important accomplishments of the last few years. 

This spring, keep an eye out for abandoned construction projects and tent cities coming soon to your community!