"Imagination. With empty lots and abandoned swaths of land, we had to imagine something else."
That is how the Rev. David Brawley, of St. Paul Community Baptist Church and East Brooklyn Congregations/Metro IAF, described the start of what has emerged as "the most consequential community development effort in the country."
Ted Koppel, with CBS Sunday Morning, interviewed Metro IAF leaders Rev. Brawley and Sarah Plowden of St. Paul, as well as affordable housing developer Kirk Goodrich to tell the story of how imagination and sustained institutional power resulted in a $1.5 Billion wealth-building equity strategy for first-time homeowners in low-income African-American and Latino neighborhoods in East Brooklyn, DC, Jersey City, Chicago and Baltimore.
It took imagination and power to secure commitments from Democratic Mayor Ed Koch for the cheap purchase of empty city lots and subsidies for building -- as well as from Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani to ensure there was enough money in the budget for the Spring Creek development.
Over 6,500 first-time homeowners have benefited from Nehemiah housing. Physical homes may be the foundation, but it is homeowners who have breathed new life into their communities, demonstrating the vitality of the American Dream.
In photos at right: Matilda Dyer from St. Paul's shares her story; affordable housing developer Kirk Goodrich explains why the Nehemiah strategy is the "most consequential community development effort in the country"; Matilda Dyer, describes how her initial application for home ownership was an 'act of faith'; and Sandra and Armando Martinez detail their journey to ownership of the home their call their "palace."
[Image Credit: CBS News Sunday Morning]
Nehemiah: Making the American Dream Possible for First-Time Homeowners, CBS News Sunday Morning
The American Dream: One Block Can Make All The Difference, National Public Radio
In a Sea of Foreclosures, an Island of Calm, New York Times
Metro IAF leaders Rev. David K. Brawley, Rabbi Joel Mosbacher and IAF Senior Advisor Mike Gecan outline concrete strategies to address gun violence.
We are three typical Americans. One of us lost his father when a young man with a gun killed him as he opened his store in Chicago. Another of us is the son of an NYPD officer, who worried every day as his father left for work, and then became a pastor in what once were the “killing fields” of East New York, burying young men gunned down in the surrounding streets. A third grew up in a tough Chicago neighborhood and woke up one morning in 1965 to see the faces of three of his teenage neighbors, 15 and 16 years old, on the front page of the morning paper. They had gone out the night before, high on pep pills, and shot to death an elderly man for the $17 in his pocket.
We are three very different people, from different places, with different religious traditions, but we are bound together, in part, by the common denominator of gun violence, of sudden and stunning death.
It’s clear what can’t be done about gun violence because of the political protection provided by those who value gun possession over the lives of innocent shoppers and schoolchildren. They are practicing a modern form of idolatry. The idol is the gun and all the profit made by those who make, sell and distribute guns.
So there’s no point in trying to convert the idol worshipers. They have chosen their object of adoration. No massacre, no casualty counts of 9- and 10-year-olds or senior citizen food shoppers will shake their faith. There’s also no point in calling for changes that well-funded and entrenched political forces steadfastly refuse to make. They are intractable. They are resistant to any moral or ethical or pragmatic challenge.
So we don’t want to waste another minute stuck in the latest cycle of futility. Instead, we are writing to challenge those who do value life over gun- delivered death to take the steps that can be made in spite of right-wing opposition....
"The Diocese of Monterey is in the beginning stages of the synod, training parish groups to go out and listen to the experiences of everyone, including those on the margins. Bishop Garcia and Deacon David Ford, who is leading the process in the diocese, both have experience working with community organizing groups in the past. They were quick to enlist their help with the synod.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” said Bishop Garcia, who had been meeting with Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action, or COPA, since he arrived in Monterey. COPA is an association of community organizers based in California. “There are already some processes out there,” the bishop said. COPA “does a really good job of getting the pulse of the people. We’ve been really happy about how, at least initially, it’s going.”
Diocesan leaders [held] five separate regional meetings to train leaders throughout the diocese about how to carry out the synod at their parish. Bishop Garcia invited pastors to attend along with a group of parishioners who would lead the synod at their church."
[In photos: (top) Bishop Daniel Garcia delivers opening remarks at one of five regional training sessions; (middle right) COPA leaders initiate synodal conversations.]
A California Bishop Invited Community Organizers to Help with the Synod. So Far, It’s Working, America: The Jesuit Review [pdf]
In Rochester Heights, a historically Black neighborhood in Southeast Raleigh, property taxes have more than doubled for some homeowners — their expenses rapidly increasing as gentrification takes hold.
Those same homeowners are now lobbying the Wake County Board of Commissioners to create a grant program that would offer relief from tax bills, similar to the ones recently put in place by Mecklenburg and Durham counties. ONE Wake...is calling for a program that offers payments to people who have owned their homes for at least 10 years and earn less than 80 percent of area median income. The program would cover any and all property taxes that exceed 2 percent of qualifying homeowners' annual income....
"When you look in Southeast Raleigh, [said Rev. Jemonde Taylor, the rector at Saint Ambrose Episcopal Church], these were areas where Black people were forced to live. Now that these areas are desirable, property taxes are increasing... We have to take history into account. Raleigh and Wake County purport equity. So the question is, what is the equitable thing to do?"
The day after ONE Wake's rally (which drew 100 One Wake leaders and residents), County Commissioners instructed the Manager to create a property tax assistance plan that more closely responds to ONE Wake's proposal. While there was limited detail about other available options, ONE Wake expressed concern that the formation of a Community Land Trust would not preserve home ownership and generational wealth.
[Photos: (top) Rev. Jemonde Taylor explains the proposed relief plan at ONE Wake Property Tax Rally, St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, credit: ONE Wake Facebook video; (right) ONE Wake leaders at Rally]
Wake County Commissioners Talk Property Tax Relief, INDY Week [pdf]
With sadness, we report the loss of Michael Clements, longtime IAF organizer. He served as organizer with TMO and predecessor organizations of One-LA during a career that spanned four decades.
After supporting farm workers [with United Farm Workers of America], Clements joined the Industrial Areas Foundation, the longest-standing network of local faith and community-based organizations in the nation, and moved to Houston to work for the organization... [Back in California] Clements crossed paths with Fred Ross, Sr....
Said Fred Ross, Jr., a Bay Area-based social justice organizer: “My father respected Mike and saw him as one of the up-and- coming organizers back in 1985.”
Said [Cardinal Roger] Mahony, “He was the epitome of a great community organizer backed up by his wonderful Catholic faith, especially the social teachings of the church, which he knew inside and out from the Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum in 1891 all the way to Pope Francis today.”
[Photo Credit: Scott Smeltzer, Los Angeles Times]
On December 23, 2021, Metro IAF affiliates Manhattan Together (MT) and South Bronx Churches (SBC) reached an agreement with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to extend robust legal protections against mold, leaks and other excess moisture to tenants in buildings that are part of NYCHA’s Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program. Roughly 62,000 units will be converted to private management through PACT, a federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program.
These protections are part of the consent decree reached in the Metro IAF federal lawsuit, Baez v. NYCHA. The agreement includes:
- NYCHA requirement that managers address all open mold and excessive moisture repair requests within 60 days after they officially enter RAD/PACT. Following this period, private managers must clean up all mold and excessive moisture complaints within 30 days.
- Building managers must submit monthly reports identifying all unresolved mold complaints -- and a plan to resolve them -- to NYCHA, an independent data analyst and a special master who are already part of the court agreement. If the plan is inadequate, the Special Master can order stronger action.
- RAD/PACT tenants will regain their ability to register mold complaints with the independent mold and leak Ombudsman hired under the consent decree. This Ombudsman’s office has already compelled NYCHA to make almost 7,000 repairs. They will investigate every mold case in a RAD/PACT building that hasn’t been resolved by the required 30-day deadline.
This victory came from the hard work by leaders from MT, SBC and East Brooklyn Congregations, as well as the pro-bono legal team from Proskauer Rose, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.
Metro IAF’s clergy, tenant and community leaders are working to ensure that tenants in RAD/PACT buildings exercise their rights and will work with NYCHA and developers to ensure the agreement will be executed.
[In photo: Bernard Smith, Rev. Bertram Bennett and Rep. Ritchie Torres speak at Metro IAF rally.]
At Urging of CTI, Travis County & City of Austin Invest $200+ Million into Homelessness Prevention & Support
After years of working to protect the dignity of people experiencing homelessness and preventing low-income families from displacement, Central Texas Interfaith (CTI) leaders celebrated the investment of $220+ Million in federal funding into homelessness prevention and support.
Over 100 CTI leaders were joined by City of Austin Mayor and Travis County Judge Andy Brown who expressed appreciation for the organization's partnership and doggedness in addressing key regional challenges. Leaders relayed how this effort was connected to a multi-year effort that resulted in passage of an affordable housing bond in 2018, $40 Million in rental assistance during the first year of the pandemic, and now over $217 million in federal dollars into homelessness prevention and support.
Elected officials further committed to identifying sources for additional rental assistance as eviction moratoriums lift.
Homeless Housing Plans, Spectrum News
Interfaith Group Calls for Immediate Action on Homelessness, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Press Conference Footage, Central Texas Interfaith
In response to an extensive organizing campaign by VOICE Arlington, including testimony by 30 Serrano Apartment tenants and VOICE leaders at a December meeting, Arlington County officials are overhauling its oversight of affordable housing and building owner accountability.
County changes now include:
1) Increased inspections, starting with 1,200 units in six aging, multifamily properties subsidized by the county.
2) Changes to the County's Affordable Housing Investment Fund process that require companies seeking county financing to identify building needs and provide a plan for repairs.
3) Examination of how the County can better support tenants in affordable-housing units. This followed testimony by tenant leaders about years of problems with insects, mold, leaks and crime.
Together, these changes represent a “major body of work” for the County in 2022, according to Vice-Chair Katie Cristol.
In top photo, Rev. Ashley Goff of Arlington Presbyterian Church at GilliamPlace testifies at the Arlington County Board Meeting [Credit: Arlington County video]. Right photos feature dirty, moldy plumbing in Serrano Apartments [Credit: Elder Julio Basurto via ARL Now].
Over 100 Metro IAF public housing leaders and allies from the Melrose and Courtlandt houses and the surrounding community gathered to celebrate the installation of affordable community Wi-Fi at the Melrose houses. Thanks to Metro IAF’s partnership with Bloc Power and People’s Choice Communications, all 1,244 families who live in the Melrose and Courtlandt Houses can now get internet at no cost if they sign up for the Federal Emergency Broadband Benefit, as well as a laptop for only $11.
“Internet access is no longer a luxury, it's a right and a necessity,” said Fr. Sean McGillicuddy, Pastor of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church and a leader with Metro IAF. “Hundreds of my parishioners live in the Melrose and Courtlandt houses, and I’m thrilled that we have been able to work with key partners like BlocPower, PCC, and Representative Torres to help them and their neighbors get access to high-quality internet they can afford.”
“When school was closed because of the pandemic, many children in our community couldn’t get to their classes because the internet was too expensive or the signal wasn’t good enough,” said Angela Medina, a Melrose resident working with Metro IAF, PCC, and BlocPower to reach out and educate her neighbors about the program. “I’m proud to help ensure no one ever has to go through that again, and I am excited about the new lower price for Internet access, which will help so many people to afford things like food, medicine and other necessities.”
Thanks to the work of Metro IAF and partners, the same service is available to an additional 400 families in other low-income and supportive housing buildings in the Bronx. Metro IAF is working to sign up everyone who is eligible, begin installation in two more New York City Housing Authority developments, and find other opportunities to expand this network to people living in other low and moderate-income housing.
[In photo from left: Angela Medina, Fr. Sean McGillicuddy, Rep. Ritchie Torres, Bernard Smith]
New York City Broadband Housing Initiative Gets First Completed Project, Broadband Breakfast [pdf]
Community-Owned WiFi Completed in Two Bronx NYCHA developments, Amsterdam News [pdf]
A Bigger and Stronger Network/“Una Red Más Grande y Más Fuerte, Bronx Free Press [pdf English] [pdf Español]
Wi-Fi Installed for Residents at 2 NYCHA Complexes in the Bronx, News 12 The Bronx
Washington Post Profiles Nehemiah Strategy as 'Revitalization Without Gentrification'
This summer, United Power for Action & Justice (UPAJ) secured $27.6 Million in commitments and land towards the building of 2,000 Nehemiah Homes on vacant lots controlled by the city in severely blighted areas on the city's south and west sides as part of its Reclaiming Chicago campaign. In a press conference with Mayor Lightfoot, Illinois Senate President Harmon and other local officials and allies, UPAJ announced the following advances:
1) Chicago Mayor Lightfoot's commitment of the first 250 city-owned vacant lots (the first of 1,000) in North Lawndale and $5.3 million in TIF funds for site remediation from the city of Chicago;
2) $12.25 million from private investors (e.g. banks, wealthy individuals, and family foundations) towards a 0%, 5-year revolving construction loan fund to build homes at scale. UPAJ's goal is to secure $25 million in funding to allow for the construction of 100 Nehemiah homes at a time.
3) $10 million line item in the Illinois State Budget for grant funds for homebuyer subsidies. This is enough to assist approximately 300 new homebuyers in purchasing 300 new constructed homes.
UPAJ's Reclaiming Chicago campaign is modeled on the Metro IAF Nehemiah Housing strategy which has built more than 6,500 homes for first-time home-buyers, creating over $2 Billion in wealth and with a foreclosure rate of less than 1% in New York, Jersey City, Baltimore, Chicago, Prince George's County, Philadelphia, Memphis and Washington DC. This strategy was recently profiled by the Washington Post:
IAF [was] instrumental in one of the most successful experiments in affordable housing.
In the early 1980s, New York City Mayor Ed Koch agreed to sell 16-square miles of abandoned lots in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood to a group of local churches for $1 per lot. The city also offered $10,000 deferred payment loans to perspective [sic] home buyers. Around 1,250 homes were initially constructed with prices starting as low as $50,000. The project — called Nehemiah homes — created a critical mass of development and equity in the neighborhood that continues today.
More than 4,500 Nehemiah homes have been built since the 1980s in the New York City area, generating more than a billion dollars in total homeowner equity, according to the developers. The project has a less than 1 percent foreclosure rate, and a study conducted by Nehemiah found that children who grew up in the development earned 53 percent higher wages than their parents.
[In top photo: Kevin Sutton, North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and UPAJ leader. In photo at right, new affordable housing in North Lawndale neighborhood. Credit: Joshua Lott, Washington Post]
A New Model for Affordable Housing, Washington Post Reports [podcast]