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‘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.”

Green-collar jobs for Logan Square

A proposed workforce initiative bringing green-collar jobs to laid-off workers and community residents caps several years of community efforts to save a Logan Square manufacturing plant as a job-providing site.

LISC Chicago is sponsoring a $250,000 grant proposal for the Green Exchange Community Workforce Initiative to provide community jobs in a green business community planned for the building that housed the the Frederick Cooper Lamp Company (2545 W. Diversy) until it closed in 2005.

The initiative grew out of efforts by the LEED Council and Logan Square Neighborhood Association to save jobs at the former manufacturing site. The LEED Council will work with businesses in the Green Exchange — a “Green Merchandise Mart” with showrooms for environmentally-friendly businesses — and LSNA will help identify former workers at Cooper Lamp and low-income community residents for jobs there.

“We see it as a wonderful initiative for the community — and for other communities to use as a template,” said Rev. Sandra Castillo of Episcopal Church of the Advent, an LSNA leader.

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Green Collar Jobs

Chicago has a wealth of green building professionals — architects, engineers, designers — but there’s a gap when it comes to trades people trained to install and maintain green technologies, said Kindy Kruller of the Local Economic and Employment Development (LEED) Council.

Jobs in green technologies are good-paying jobs — and they can’t be outsourced, Kruller points out.

The gap is likely to grow with a number of government initiatives, she said.  Next year the city will require large developments to capture half of their stormwater; the state is requiring major investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency by Com Ed; and Congress is now considering a green jobs bill.

The Chicagoland Green Collar Jobs Summit this Friday will bring together green professional, community organizations, workforce development groups, and others to coordinate efforts to develop a skilled workforce that can meet new “green market” demands and provide employment for low-skilled Chicago area residents

Speakers will include Nwamaka Agb of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, California, which recently launched a national “Green For All” drive to secure $1 billion in funding for green-collar jobs and lift 250,000 Americans out of poverty; Annette Williams, who directs the Bronx Environmental Stewards Training program for Sustainable South Bronx; and Jeremy Hays fromt he Apollo Alliance, a national coalition of labor, environmental, and business groups which addresses clean energy as a stimulus to economic rejuvenation.

Kruller and Dr. Victoria Cooper, who heads the new Building Energy Technology Certificate program at Wilbur Wright College, are working with a number of local groups including representatives of the city and the Chicago Federation of Labor on the Chicagoland Green Collar Jobs Initiative, to promote and coordinate training for jobs in environmental technology.

30 Years of Community Reinvestment

Thirty years ago the Community Reinvestment Act banning redlining was passed, pushed by grassroots activists led by Chicagoan Gale Cincotta, and opposed by banks across the country with one exception: South Shore Bank of Chicago.

Malcolm Bush of the Woodstock Institute calls it “one of the most successful federal initiatives for helping low-income communities,” estimating that it’s been responsible for $4 trillion in investments in neighborhoods where residents would previously have been denied banking and credit services, including mortgages.

But the act “needs to be modernized” to keep up with “enormous changes in the financial services world,” including the growth of mortgage companies, internet banks and credit card companies, he said. The mushrooming mortgage crisis is a result of regulators failing to keep up with innovations in the financial sector, he said.

Community reinvestment groups have long urged Congress and regulators to increase accountability for lenders pushing risky and high-cost mortgage products.

The Woodstock Institute and Chicago CRA Coalition will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Community Reinvestment Act with a panel of community development leaders — including Ted Wysocki of the LEED Council, Reginald Guy of the Northwest Indiana Reinvestment Alliance, and Calvin Holmes of the Chicago Community Loan Fund — discussing successes they’ve had in utilizing the act.

The program takes place Thursday, November 29, 10 a.m., at the DePaul Egan Center, 1 East Jackson (register at 312-427-8070).

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