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Shelterforce Interview: HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan

Plucked from New York City's Department of Housing Preservation & Development, Shaun Donovan is leading the effort to make the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development into a relevant, powerful agency.  · 

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    Slipping Away

    As a wave of HUD mortgages expires in the next four years, an already dwindling supply of affordable units may nosedive with owners making windfall profits -- unless the right mix of federal legislation and local organizing can save the day.  · 

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    HUD’s New Team

    The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Obama administration is equipped with an impressive list of housing experts at the top.  · 

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    Heard and Not Forgotten

    What started out as a "weird art project" in Toronto is providing aural illustrations into a northern New Jersey community's past, and, organizers hope, laying the groundwork for the future.  · 

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    Cleaning Up After The Foreclosure Tsunami:  Tackling Bank Walk-Aways and Vulture Investors

    The story of the American foreclosure crisis begins with reckless and abusive lending that leads to a wholesale emptying out of homes. But the story is far from over.  · 

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    Right to Rent: The Best Response to the Housing Crash

    Homeownership can often be a way for families to get good stable housing as well as an effective vehicle for them to accumulate wealth. However, owning a home is not likely to be a wise investment for families in unstable work or family situations.  · 

  • The Federal Move to Protect Tenants

    The Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act provides much-needed relief for tenants across the country in properties undergoing foreclosure. But with one-third of Americans living as tenants, is this a sign of a protracted federal response, or is it a one-shot deal?  · 

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    A Model for All Markets?

    In the past decade, community land trusts and other shared equity housing models have gained wider acknowledgement and acceptance as a means of creating and preserving affordable housing in communities with high property values. But by cultivating the long-term success of homeowners, these models are also bringing revitalization and stability to areas with weak markets and high foreclosures.  · 

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    Organizing Nationally to Win Locally: Faith-Based Community Organizing’s New Frontier

    Over the past few years faith-based organizing networks have broken onto the national organizing scene, adding grass-roots power and issue expertise to some of the biggest problems of the day.  · 

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    Coming Together

    The nonprofit housing development field has myriad intermediaries and support organizations, but no one unified voice. Should it have one?  · 

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    A Cure for the Memphis Blues

    As the Bluff City picks itself up, its CDC community faces a host of challenges that are increasingly common across the field.  · 

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    Emerging from Chicago’s Shadow

    *Editor's Note: This article contains an "addendum": featured on NHI's blog "Rooflines": or by clicking the "sidebar" link toward the bottom of this page*. Chicago's southern suburbs, nestled between Lake Michigan, the Calumet River and canals, rail lines, swaths of forest and wetlands, are often overlooked by the general public, legislators, and policy advocates more focused on the famous city to the north. But these towns have long harbored a wealth of diversity and cultural and economic potential while also facing economic challenges long-preceding the current economic crisis. Now, south suburban community leaders and elected officials are hoping a novel collaborative approach to the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) and other stimulus dollars can help them realize a wider plan for regional collaboration and forward-thinking urban planning, based around transportation corridors and job creation. South suburban communities including, Harvey, Dolton, and Robbins have suffered severely from high rates of foreclosure for decades. In the past, this was largely because these low-income, largely minority suburbs had many faulty Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgages. Moreover, many residents lost jobs as major employers pulled out. But since foreclosure rates were already high, the increase has not been as dramatic as it is in other areas. Meanwhile, solidly middle-class and predominantly white southern suburbs have also suffered many foreclosures in the past two years. In fact South Cook County has the highest level of REO (real estate-owned) auctions per property in the region at 22 per 1,000 mortgageable properties, according to the Woodstock Institute, with 3,552 foreclosure filings in the first nine months of 2009. Town officials hope they can find relief through NSP funds targeted for foreclosed properties, and also leverage those funds to fulfill larger plans for reshaping the area. Any one community would have been challenged to obtain NSP funds on their own, since most of them don't have the staff and resources key to navigating the lengthy, complex application process. This challenge was compounded by the reality that both the State of Illinois and Cook County received direct allocations of NSP dollars to regrant to eligible communities. This positioned dozens of devastated communities in southern Cook County to compete with each other -- and area developers -- not once, but twice for these federal resources. Instead, south suburban communities banded together under the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association (SSMMA) to create a plan for the stabilization of their communities. Of the nearly $4 billion of federal dollars which is currently being doled out through the first round of NSP (NSP 1), the State of Illinois itself received approximately $53 million and Cook County another $28 million. By the time the state's application was due in May 2009, 17 towns were part of the newly formed South Suburban Housing Collaborative and submitted a joint NSP plan. In August, when Cook County's application was due, Collaborative membership had reached 28 towns. The Collaborative's overall plan submitted to the county would cost $72 million to fund, surpassing the amount the county had to allocate, but combined with other funding sources. Ultimately, this plan calls for the acquisition, demolition, land banking, or redevelopment of nearly 700 homes or abandoned lots. Much of the proposed demolition is targeted for areas that can later be redeveloped into larger-scale mixed-use and transit-oriented development. By the time the County proposal was due, Collaborative members knew that the County might receive additional resources through an NSP 2 award, and that unfunded proposals submitted through NSP 1 would likely get first preference. SSMMA and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus worked with the nonprofit Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) to craft the joint NSP applications as part of a broader housing and economic development strategy and to hire the Director of Housing Initiatives, with funds from the Chicago Community Trust. Both applications actually requested funds for only a portion of the communities involved in the Collaborative, with others weighing in with letters of support. The specific plans for NSP funding not only address problem areas hit hard by blight and foreclosures, but envision revitalizing the area by building affordable housing, mixed use developments and public space around train stations and bus routes; and attracting new employers and employer-assisted housing near freight corridors, as the area is criss-crossed by barge, rail and truck lines. In other words, these communities hope to convert the region into a more stable and thriving place than it was before the crisis. The first round of NSP of roughly $4 billion was part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008, with the the second round of $2 billion made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), or "stimulus." Applications for NSP 2 grants opened in July 2009 with funding awards slated for December 2009 and distributed by February 2010. An analysis of the ARRA by the Brookings Institution lauded the Chicago collaborations, saying, "The efforts are already yielding rewards. The communities have…realized valuable efficiencies through the process. The state, county, and area developers (who may redevelop areas devastated by foreclosures) are enthusiastic about having a single point of contact -- the collaborative coordinators -- to reduce the challenges of dealing with the 270 municipalities in the metropolitan area."Towns long in Chicago’s shadow have sought creative ways to collaborate for federal funding, while building off existing partnerships as part of a long-term approach to neighborhood, and regional, stabilization.  · 

  • CRA Modernization:  A Critical Moment for Underserved Neighborhoods

    The Community Reinvestment Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act hold great promise for the creation of a more financially inclusive nation, but both depend on critical "moments in time" in Congress that will determine whether they become good laws or are weakened beyond recognition  · 

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    The New Generation of Organizers

    The progressive movement is seeing a resurgence of younger organizers thanks, in part, to the "Obama effect" of the 2008 campaign, and a renewed attempt to articulate values and build authentic relationships.  · 

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    The “Minnesota Nice”:  A Culture of Collaboration

    In and around the Twin Cities, there is a tolerance for process and building relationships to handle the pressing challenges facing neighborhoods.   · 

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    George Moses: Organizing by Necessity

    Shelterforce interviews George Moses, chairman of the board of the National Low Income Housing Coalition  · 

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    Getting from Here to There

    Transit advocates and CDCs in two parts of the greater Boston region are building cross-movement coalitions that are making equitable transit-oriented development a part of the fight for better transit access.  · 

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    Right on Target: Reaching New Heights In DC

    Columbia Heights in Northwest Washington, DC is replete with everything you'd expect from a bustling urban center: hipsters and shops, nightspots and restaurants. Howard University is just off to the east; the Orange and Green lines of the DC Metro stop right there at 16th Street as people come to and from work; on a nice day, a massive plaza lined with restaurants and cafes attracts visitors, residents, shoppers, or just people who want to hang out by the fountain. Here's the predictable part: it wasn't always like this. The Columbia Heights section of the city has seen unbelievable levels of development. Gentrification, renewal—all loaded terms in the grander sociological scheme—have brought a certain vitality there at which even long time residents gaze in awe. And here's the not-so-predictable part. The effort to revive the neighborhood was not the product of an outside developer preying on a vulnerable neighborhood or a prime piece of real estate. It was part of a four-decade neighborhood movement that is reincorporating the area's history right in the middle of new development. Like so many urban neighborhoods in the late 1960s, Columbia Heights suffered in the 1968 riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sixty percent of Columbia Heights' businesses were burned or looted in those riots, and nearly a fifth of the neighborhood's housing stock was severely damaged. "This was a ghost town. There was nothing here, and then they began to start, parcel by parcel, getting houses rebuilt, and life was coming back," said Thomas Dawes, the director of the affordable housing division of the Development Corporation of Columbia Heights (DCCH), a community development corporation formed in 1984 by a handful of community activists. DCCH had an urban renewal goal at that time that focused squarely on assisted rental housing. "This was vacant land," he said, pointing to the area known as Tivoli Square, which encompasses the historic Tivoli Theatre, the only landmark remaining at that spot from the days when the neighborhood housed high-level government workers and justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and then later home to middle class African Americans, where Duke Ellington purchased his first house.Vacant land gives way to residential and commercial development is a classic urban renewal storyline, but DC's Columbia Heights is getting more than just retail and residential: it’s reclaiming its history.  · 

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    A Sense of Place: Mind + Body in Community Development

    How can we practice effective community development and engage a community that suffers from a dwindling stock of physical historical references and is in the process of healing from the wounds of decades of urban decay? In the Bronx, community members are coming together, taking pieces of the past and making history.  · 

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Fall/Winter 2009
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