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New site puts individual faces on charitable giving

Doug has had some trouble with the law but has turned his life around, and is hoping to move from an internship at the CTA to a permanent position.  He’s incredibly proud of his children, including a son who’s a straight-A honor roll student in his first year of high school and a younger daughter who is starting to blossom.

“They’re the most important thing to me, and I really want them to have the best out of life,” he says in a video at, a new philanthropic social networking site.

If he could have anything, it would be a computer so his kids could do their homework at home and not have to “shift from home to home and library to library,” he says.

After his story was posted– along with an endorsement from an individual development specialist at the Cara program, where he’s a student – twelve followers kicked in amounts ranging from $20 to $220 and raised the money he needed for the computer.

Small donors have responded to requests for a bed, for CTA passes, and for job training fees.  Current posts at include several requests for help getting dental work done, along with a seamstress who needs a sewing machine.

The one-time needs they request help with are typical of the small hurdles that can block progress toward stability and success for low-income people, said Michele Larimer.

Requests come via partner agencies, which include Cara, Bethel New Life, Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, and Family Focus.  Each request is validated in a statement and short video from a staffer at a partner agency, in addition to a video of the individual making the request.

The site launched December 1 and the response has been greater than anticipated, Larimer said.  Some families are incorporating it into their holiday giving traditions, she said.

A number of new requests for assistance will be added soon, she said.


‘Housing is infrastructure’

With the still-growing housing crisis at the core of the sharpest economic downturn since the Great Depression, advocates called for affordable housing to be a key component of stimulus and recovery plans.

“Housing is infrastructure,” said Jack Markowski of the Community Investment Corporation, alluding to massive infrastructure investments planned in the forthcoming stimulus program. “It employs people. It provides the foundation to allow people to be part of the workforce.” And with a growing need for energy conservation, “it’s part of the green economy.

“We have proposals that are shovel-ready,” he added, speaking at a gathering of over 200 community housing practitioners convened by the Chicago Rehab Network at Roosevelt University yesterday.

Markowski called for tripling expenditures for the federal HOME Investment Partnership Program, which finances affordable housing production — at $2 billion a year, its budget has not been increased since 1990, he said — as well as for the $4 billion Community Development Block Grant Program.

U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky described efforts by congressional leadership to include $23 billion for affordable housing development in the stimulus package, including $10 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund to build or save 100,000 low-income rental homes over two years, as well as funds for more low-income rental subsidies, upgrading public housing units to green standards, and helping cities redevelop foreclosed properties.

Together the proposed spending would assist 800,000 hard-hit households and create 200,000 new jobs, she said.

Schakowsky also discussed efforts to require any further spending under the TARP financial bailout program to include at least $40 billion for foreclosure mitigation.

Participants in two panels expressed high hopes for the incoming Obama administration. “We need a HUD that wants to do housing,” said Andrew Geer of Heartland Housing.

Community Media Workshop president Thom Clark moderated the panel discussions.

Joy Aruguete of Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation emphasized the connection between affordable housing and a green jobs program, and Ted Wysocki of the LEED Council stressed the need for immediate training for green jobs.

Housing consultant Teresa Prim discussed the economic recovery plan proposed by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Steven McCullough of Bethel New Life called for “holding financial institutions accountable and making sure capital is flowing to the people who really need it…. We’re at the point where a large number of multifamily buildings are in trouble because of [lack of] capital flow.”

McCullough said the worker sit-in at Republic Windows last month could be replicated in multifamily rental buildings, with families refusing to move when buildings go into foreclosure.

“In Chicago we’ve seen overinvestment in high-end housing causing displacement, and in Washington we’ve seen that a top-down housing policy allows the bottom to fall out,” said Pat Abrams of The Renaissance Collaborative. “But we who work at the community level have an alternative to the top-down approach.

“Affordable housing is a community anchor,” Abrams said. “We must ensure that affordable housing, and especially rental housing, is the centerpiece of any economy recovery.”

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