South Austin Coalition – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.12 Are school closings racist? http://www.newstips.org/2013/04/are-school-closings-racist/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/04/are-school-closings-racist/#comments Sat, 06 Apr 2013 23:41:55 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7099 Some people think so.

At the most basic level, there’s the fact that decisions about African American communities are being made without their consent.

Of 54 school closings proposed by CPS, 51 are in low-income African American areas; 90 percent of students being impacted are black.

“If you look at the people making the decisions and the communities they’re talking about, you have white males saying they know what’s best for African American students,” said Austin schools activist Dwayne Truss.

“Barbara Byrd-Bennett is not calling the shots,” he said.  “Mayor Emanuel and David Vitale and Tim Cawley are calling the shots.  She’s just an expert in closing schools who they brought in to do that.  She’s just the messenger.”

Comments Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition, “She’s put in place to implement these policies so they can hide behind her.”

Byrd-Bennett “would not have been hired if she was not on board with [Emanuel’s school closing agenda] — and with the priority of providing opportunities for private educational interests to make money bringing in mediocre interventions for black children,” said Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization.

Three high schools

For Brown, it’s about the school system’s priorities — and that’s a civil rights and human rights issue.

“The priority has been to disinvest from minority communities and invest in failed programs, invest in charter schools and contract schools,” he said. “The priority has been that minority children don’t have the same quality of education.

“Example: Look at North Side College Prep, they have 22 AP classes.  Lakeview High, with about 18 or 20 percent African American students, a few blocks from the mayor’s house, they have 12 AP classes.  Dyett High School, 99 percent African American and 95 percent low-income, no AP classes.

“Look at world languages.  North Side College Prep has everything from Chinese to French, German, Japanese, Latin, and Spanish — levels 1 to 4 plus AP.  Lakeview has Mandarin Chinese, French, Spanish, Spanish for native speakers, levels 1 to 4 and AP Spanish.  Dyett has Spanish 1 and 2.

“The expectations have been lowered — and they’ve been lowered by the district.”

Dyett is now being phased out, with new students sent to Phillips High School.  That’s an AUSL “turnaround” school — and it’s at the lowest academic standing, with scores significantly lower than Dyett’s and lower rates of graudation and of graduates enrolled in College (Dyett has 63 percent for the last category.)

“No school with predominantly white enrollment would face that,” said Brown.

‘Mediocre interventions’

“Now we know that only 1 in 5 charter schools outperforms public schools,” he said.  “That’s true nationally and it’s true in Chicago.  We’ve known since 2009 that only 18 percent of the school that replaced closed schools [which have impacted black students almost exclusively] are high-performing, and that includes charter and contract schools.

“That’s despite the advantages of having selective enrollment tools like applications and lotteries, of not having to follow [CPS’s] Student Code of Conduct, so they can push students out — and they do,” he said.

“And there’s no way they would go into a white community with an intervention that has a record of only 1 out of 5 high-performing schools.

“So it is institutional racism,” Brown said.  “Beecause the real motivation is not school quality; the purpose of closing schools and privatizing schools is not to invest in school quality any more than it ever has been.

“They’re not interested in making sure black children have access to a world-class education.  If they were they would replicate the good neighborhood schools that work.  They have run a system that intentionally ensures that children on the South and West Sides go to test factories instead of schools.”

“You’re not providing a quality education to a certain group of people,” he said.  “And then to be so bold as to attempt to profit off the mess you’ve made….

“At bottom it’s a human rights issue,” Brown said.  “The children at Dyett deserve the same type of schooling they have at North Side College Prep.”

Truss concurs: “If you look at where the majority of magnet and selective enrollment schools are located, they’re in predominantly white neighborhoods, and they get the extra funding and the extra support,” he said.

Destabilizing communities

Another issue is the impact school closings will have on struggling communities.

Thousands of African American educators and school staff will be losing their jobs — at a time when black unemployment in Chicago is far higher than most big cities, Truss points out.

“School closings will absolutely make things worse with the foreclosure crisis,” said Redmond.  “All the plans they’re coming up with are strangling the community, and it needs to be called what it is — some call it ethnic cleansing — but part of the corporate strategy for the city is to weed out these neighborhoods.

“They’ll deny it up and down but that’ the fact, that’s what’s happening to these communities,” he said

“I am concerned that when you close these [school] buildings, the effect it’s going to have is that people won’t want to stay in an area without a school they can walk to,” said Valerie Leonard of Lawndale Alliance.  “Just like when International Harvester closed — people left in droves.  That’s likely to happen now, especially because it’s so much more dangerous.  The farther you have to go the more likely you’ll have trouble.

“When you have policies that further destablize the commuity, that’s a concern,” she said.  “Especially when it’s being brought to their attention, and they are still going forward.”

“Unfortunately the mayor isn’t listening at all,” said Redmond.

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On school closings, West Siders offer alternatives http://www.newstips.org/2013/04/on-school-closings-west-siders-offer-alternatives/ http://www.newstips.org/2013/04/on-school-closings-west-siders-offer-alternatives/#comments Sat, 06 Apr 2013 02:44:23 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7091 West Side parents and educators have called for a boycott of CPS’s school closing hearing Saturday morning and will hold an alternative community meeting instead (April 6, May Community Academy, 512 S. Lavergne, starting with a press conference at 10 a.m.) where they’ll present a community school plan.

Perhaps Mayor Emanuel ought to go.

He’s the one who recently said, “What I won’t accept is when people are asked, what’s your alternative, what’s your idea, and there’s silence.”

In fact several communities have developed their own plans, including strategic visions developed by six Community Actions Councils sponsored by CPS to improve communications with its stakeholders.

“They all fall on deaf ears,” said Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition.  “The mayor has said his decision is final, and he doesn’t care what people have to say about it.”

“It’s a waste of time to go to the CPS hearing,” said Dwayne Truss of the Save Our Neighborhood Schools coalition.  “Nobody that can make any decisions is going to be there.  It’s a dog-and-pony show.”

As for CPS staff, he said, “They’re sticking to their talking points.”

CPS has proposed closing four schools in  Austin, impacting 2,000 students, according to Austin Talks. Saturday’s official hearing is for Louis Armstrong Elementary.

Reducing truancy

SONS will present an alternative plan that will minimize school closings and save CPS money, Truss said.

The plan is based on the strategic educational plan developed by the Austin CAC, which Truss co-chaired with Ald. Deborah Graham (29th).  The council included 25 elected officials, LSC members, religious and community leaders, and city agencies.

That plan focused on solutions to problems like high truancy rates and a lack of all-day early education programs, and proposed developing a range of curricular choices for Austin students, including an IB network running from elementary through high school.

A middle-school intervention program would provide support for at-risk youth and “get them on track for high school,” Truss said.  Douglas High School would offer programs in language and fine arts, STEM, career and technical training, and green technology.

No magnet schools

Truss has also been agitating for an elementary magnet school in Austin.  It’s not fair that the community doesn’t have a single one, he says.

“If you look at the majority of selective enrollment and magnet schools, they’re in predominantly white neighborhoods, and they get the extra money and the extra support,” he said.

Along with SAC, SONS members include Action Now, Westside NAACP, Blocks Together, the Lawndale Alliance, and the Progressive Action Coalition for Education.

In March, the Committee to Save North Lawndale Schools, boasting a long list of elected officials, clergy, community organizations and social services, unveiled an alternative plan that proposed a range of specialty focuses for neighborhood schools.

The committee proposed developing schools as community centers that could address issues of truancy and delinguency, meet job training and  health needs, and fill gaps in recreational and cultural programming for youth.

The committee delivered copies of the report to school board president David Vitale and other board members, and to CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett and CPS staff, said Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.  No one even acknowledged receiving it, she said.

Since then, four North Lawndale schools have been proposed for closing.

There’s a vast amount of wisdom, experience, and commitment at the grassroots in Chicago’s communities.  Mayor Emanuel ignores it at his peril.

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Tenants to send bedbugs to bank http://www.newstips.org/2012/04/tenants-to-send-bedbugs-to-bank/ Fri, 27 Apr 2012 19:37:43 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6076 Tenants will have jars full of bedbugs — to deliver to the bank that owns their foreclosed apartment building — at a protest at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 28 at 5159 W. West End.

A new receiver for the building was appointed after tenants demanding basic maintenance declared a rent strike April 11, but tenants haven’t seen any improvements, said Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition.

Tenants are demanding that Peak Properties, the building receiver, and BMO/Harris bank, which foreclosed on the 32-unit building a year ago, agree to a public meeting to discuss maintenance issues.

“If Peak Properties and BMO/Harris Bank refuse to meet with us, we will take our bedbugs to their offices and homes,” said tenant leader Pamela Johnson in a release.

“Our building is infested with rats and bedbugs, our children are being bitten,”Johnson said.  “Our human rights and dignity are assaulted on a daily basis.”

Building problems include chipped paint, ceiling leaks, broken toilets, and holes in the floor, according to SAC.

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Occupying foreclosures http://www.newstips.org/2011/12/occupying-foreclosures/ Wed, 07 Dec 2011 00:12:42 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4995 Abandoned homes being occupied in Belmont Cragin and Auburn Gresham on Tuesday – part of a national day of action called by Occupy Our Homes – underscore the failure of banks to deal with the foreclosure crisis.

In Belmont Cragin, Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction are moving two homeless sisters and their children into a single family home that was abandoned sometime after foreclosure was filed in 2009.  The group couldn’t determine whether a final disposition has been made on the property.

They think it could be one of the thousands of “red flag” properties, where banks and loan servicers “may choose to reduce the costs associated with a long-term vacant home by walking away from the foreclosure process instead of completing it” in order to evade the costs and legal reponsibilities of ownership, according to a Woodstock Institute report (see earlier post).

In Auburn-Gresham, kicking off its “Homes for the Holidays” drive, the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign is moving a family which lost its home to foreclosure into a home that was abandoned by a longtime resident after JP Morgan Chase refused to consider a loan modification.  The owner gave the keys to AEC, which like CAUFE has done signficant repairs on the building.

Foreclosures have continued to climb over the past two years, since the Obama administration promised to help millions of troubled homeowners.  But because their program allowed for voluntary participation by banks – instead of requiring institutions that had been bailed out to give affordable modifications to qualifying homeowners – it has helped only a small portion of those initially targeted.

Meanwhile lenders widely noted for being unresponsive to homeowners have now acknowledged extensive fraud in foreclosure filings.

In Austin, South Austin Coalition is taking over and boarding up an abandoned building that’s hosted extensive criminal activity less than a block from May Elementary School.  The building was foreclosed on by Citibank, said Elce Redmond of SAC.

“We’re going to go after the bank to pay for the boardup,” Redmond said.  “Longterm we want to pressure the banks to turn these homes over to community organizations and churches so we can rehab them and put families in them.”

“We have so many unemployed people and so many vacant properties,” said Willie JR Fleming of AEC.  “It’s obvious we need to put people to work rehabbing them so we can put families back in them.”

Fleming emphasizes that “we are enforcing the human right to housing.  We are not asking for human rights.  We are enforcing them.”

Occupy Our Homes reports similar actions “to stop and reverse foreclosures” in 25 cities on Tuesday, as “the Occupy movement joins with homeowners and people fighting for a place to live.”

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Occupy Austin, Occupy Bronzeville http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/occupy-austin-occupy-bronzeville/ Fri, 28 Oct 2011 21:51:06 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4873 Occupy Austin and Occupy Bronzeville, joined by people from Occupy Chicago, will begin a new drive to occupy foreclosures at actions on the West and South Sides tomorrow.

They’ll rally with tenants of a foreclosed building who are resisting what they say are illegal attempts to evict them from a 12-unit rental building, just two weeks after foreclosure.

Federal law requires tenants be given at least 90 days to move.  (See the recent Newstips post, Foreclosure and tenants: Banks break the law.)

“We’re saying these folks will not be moved,” said Elce Redmond of South Austin Coalition.  He said Occupy Austin would continue “organizing people on a day-to-day basis against the big banks.”  Their goal is “nonviolent mass organization to fight the greed and corruption of the top 1 percent and restore democracy in America.”

Redmond said the Lawyers Committee for Better Housing is representing the tenants in a lawsuit.

The rally starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 29, at 5960 W. North.

From there the groups will head to a housing resource fair at IIT’s Herman Hall, 3241 S. Federal where they’ll talk with homeowners seeking mortgage modifications.

“We want to see how many homeowners get modifications,” said Willie J. R. Fleming of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, a core group in Occupy Bronzeville, which is part of a nationwide Occupy the Hood movement.

“There are a lot of resource fairs going on since the collapse of the financial system, but we still have millions of people losing their homes,” Fleming said. “We want to see if this is a real solution or just a dog and pony show.”

They’re laying plans to occupy foreclosed homes as well as blighted commercial spaces, which they want to turn into community centers, he said.  (This is a tactic that’s worked in Boston, Mark Konzcal writes at New Deal 2.0.)

Meanwhile Occupy Chicago is regrouping – and exploring options to lease indoor space — since the city turned down the group’s request for a permanent location on Thursday, spokesperson Sugar Russell said.

They could use a space for teach-ins and trainings, as well as a place to warm up, she said.

But she notes that their current location at LaSalle and Jackson – in front of Bank of America, across the street from the Federal Reserve – is not without its significance.

That’s especially true since last week, when anonymous regulators leaked to Bloomberg that the Fed was okaying BOFA’s shift of trillions of dollars worth of derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary that’s insured by the FDIC – over the FDIC’s objections.

The FDIC’s deposit insurance fund finally turned positive in June, now amounting to just $3.9 billion.  A failure by troubled BOFA, which no one seems to be discounting, would require the FDIC to go to Congress for a bailout, possibly several times the size of TARP.

As Robert Reich argues, the situation shows the wisdom of the Glass-Steagall Act, which (until the year 2000) kept investment banks seperate from government-insured commercial banks – and underscores the need to break up “too big to fail” banks.

MSNBC senior editor James Carney calls it “outrageous” that BOFA is “obviously exploiting government backing for profit.”  Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil says it reinforces the popular impression that the Fed “puts big banks’ interests above those of ordinary taxpayers.”

More from Yves Smith, William K. Black, and most bleakly, Christopher Whalen.  Locally only ENews Park Forest seems to have noted the story.

And more attention is coming.  On Monday, National Peoples Action and the New Bottom Line Campaign will launch an online campaign to press BOFA to stop financing payday loans.

“Big banks like BOFA borrow money from the Fed at less than 1 percent interest, then lend that to payday lenders at 3 percent, who then turn around and lend money in our communities at 400 percent or more,” according to a note from NPA.

Elsewhere, the anti-corporate Adbusters magazine, which initiated the call to occupy Wall Street in September, is urging a global day of action Saturday in support of the “Robin Hood tax,” which is what they’ve dubbed the financial transaction tax.  That idea has gotten some attention in Chicago locally, with a modest proposal from Stand Up Chicago and the Chicago Political Economy Group (see previous post), but it’s a very live issue for the G20 Summit that convenes in Cannes on November 3.

There it’s backed by the governments of France and Germany as well as the European Union, which recently moved to adopt a continent-wide tax on speculation.  It’s being blocked by the Obama administration.

“Let’s send them a clear message: We want you to slow down some of that $1.3 trillion easy money that’s sloshing around the global casino each day — enough cash to fund every social program and environmental initiative in the world,” Adbusters writes.

“It’s obvious you have no idea how to get us out of this economic mess you put us in,” the magazine tells the elite. “So now we are telling you what we want: a radical transformation of casino capitalism.”

The tax would not only raise as much as $400 billion a year and offset the effects of the global crisis, which has thrown 60 million people into poverty worldwide, according to Oxfam America; it would target the spit-second computer-generated speculation that leaves the world’s economy so unstable.

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Peacemaking: From West Bank to West Side http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/peacemaking-from-the-west-bank-to-the-west-side/ Wed, 12 Oct 2011 20:58:24 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4813 When he was on the West Bank with a Christian Peacemaker Team in 2005, Chicago organizer Elce Redmond realized the problems people faced there were similar to those faced by people back home – and solutions might be similar too.

Redmond, an organizer with the South Austin Coalition, will give the opening keynote for CPT’s 25th anniversary Peacemaker Congress, Thursday, October 13 at 8 p.m. at Evanston Reba Place Church, 533 Custer.  The congress runs through Sunday the 16th.

In 2005, Redmond’s team was providing “peaceful accompaniment” for Palestinian schoolchildren who faced bullying and attacks by adults (“they were mostly from New York,” he says) living in Israeli settlements there.  “I was struck that the same situation happens on the West Side of Chicago, kids trying to get home from school and facing gangs and violence.”

Back home, Redmond began organizing the Austin Peaceforce, with parents and community volunteers trained in nonviolent strategies who are deployed to defuse conflicts and prevent violence.  Today they have a regular presence in Austin schools, including parent patrols after school.

Another parallel emerged a year later, when Redmond went with CPT to Iraq.  There they provided help to relatives trying to get information on detainees.  “Mothers, wives, children contacted us to find out where a person had been taken and what the charge was – if there was a charge,” he said.  CPT members were constantly visiting places like Camp Cropper and Abu Ghraib.

“We found lots of people who were just rounded up for the sake of rounding up someone,” he said.  “For many there were no charges – so many of them weren’t guilty of anything, other than being of Arab descent.

“The same thing happens on the West Side and South Side of Chicago, people are rounded up and simply because of where they are and who they are, they are associated with certain gangs and criminals.”

Redmond says he was impressed with the courage and steadfastness of both CPT members and residents of conflict zones.

Founded in 1986 at a retreat center in suburban Techny, CPT trains people in violence reduction strategies – which often involve “getting in the way” — and has sent teams to Haiti, Bosnia, and Chiapas, Mexico.

Other keynotes during the Congress will be by Angelica Castellanos of Colombia, Fathiyeh Gainey of Palestine, and Mohammad Salah of Iraq.  PCT has long-term projects in all three countries.

CPT opposes the Colombia Free Trade Agreement now under consideration in Congress, saying it “threatens to exacerbate the ongoing human rights crisis in Colombia.”

The group cites its Colombian partners as saying the pact “will continue to impoverish small-scale farmers, expand economic mega-projects that cause environmental destruction, and undermine labor rights, all of which will contribute to further displacement of millions of Colombians.”

 

Related: Community Organizer Visits Baghdad, Newstips 2005

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Communities to banks: You can fix housing crisis, economy http://www.newstips.org/2011/08/communities-to-banks-you-can-fix-housing-crisis-economy/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/08/communities-to-banks-you-can-fix-housing-crisis-economy/#comments Sun, 21 Aug 2011 16:43:22 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4704 Banks caused the housing crisis — and the financial crash which threw millions out of their jobs — and they can fix it, according to a new report.

By writing down underwater mortgages to market value – using a relatively small portion of bailout financing they’ve received – banks could put a floor on the housing market, stem spiraling foreclosures, and provide the economy with a badly-needed second stimulus, creating millions of jobs over the next decade, the New Bottom Line Campaign argues in a new analysis.

It was released in Chicago last week at a vacant home on the West Side that’s being rehabbed under a new program — which demonstrates how community pressure can force banks to step up and take responsibility, organizers say.

(And it came out the same day Mayor Rahm  Emanuel announced a foreclosure recovery program that includes not one single community on the hard-hit West Side.)

The South Austin Coalition, one of nearly a thousand community organizations nationwide (including Chicago-based National Peoples Action) in the New Bottom Line Campaign, released the report at a home in the Austin community that’s being rehabbed by the Westside Health Authority.

Financing comes from a $2.4 million community restoration fund, won after a long campaign by the Coalition to Save Community Banking that targeted U.S. Bank after it took over the locally-owned Park National Bank in 2009.

WHA is rehabbing three homes in Austin – employing ex-offenders to do the work – and Housing Helpers is rehabbing three homes in Maywood in the first phase of the fund’s operation.  It’s a small-scale success that points to what’s needed on a far grander scale, organizers say.

Second stimulus

According to the NBL report, 23 percent of American homeowners owe a total of $709 billion more on their mortgages than the market value of their homes.  Writing down underwater mortgages to market value with 30-year fixed-rate mortgages would cost banks $70 billion a year, money that would instead go into consumer spending.  The average homeowner would see mortgage payments reduced by $6,500 a year.

Injecting that kind of increased consumer demand into the economy would fuel a million additional jobs a year, the report estimates.   It would constitute a second stimulus for the economy, at no cost to taxpayers – indeed, increased economic activity would add to government revenues and reduce the deficit.  NBL calls it the “win-win solution.”

In Illinois, with 483,517 underwater homeowners (21.7 percent of the total) owing $29 billion more than their homes are worth, NBL’s proposal would create nearly 43,000 new jobs a year, according to the report.

As it is, the housing crisis and jobs crisis continuously reinforce each other, creating a vicious cycle, according to the report. Federal foreclosure programs, focused largely on protecting banks (and shying away from principal reduction), have fallen far short. Economic stimulus efforts have averted freefall but failed to spur sufficient growth.

“Working families across the country have seen their home values plummet, have had their life savings wiped clean, have been powerless to help when their loved ones lost their jobs, and in too many cases watched helplessly while they lost their homes to banks that continue to post billion-dollar profits,” according to the report.

And banks are sitting on unprecedented cash reserves, with the top six banks reporting $1.64 trillion.

Banks can afford it

Writing down underwater mortgages would help investors who back mortgage loans, who typically come out ahead when foreclosures are avoided with loan mods including principal reduction (mortgage servicers, on the other hand, take in huge fees in foreclosures, sometimes as high as 75 percent of unpaid principal).  It would put a floor on the falling housing market and remove clouds on mortgage-backed securities held by banks.

“Banks can afford this” — and “we have already paid for it,” with $14 trillion worth of federal bailouts and backstops for banks, some of which has been repaid but much of which never will be, the report argues.

“The banks created the housing crisis with their reckless and predatory lending practices,” NBL argues.  “They should be held accountable for the damage they have done to our economy and be forced to do their part to clean up the mess they have created.”

“It takes community organizations to force the hand of the banks,” said Theresa Welch-Davis of SAC.  “We need aggressive action now that creates a new bottom line for homeowners and the American economy.”

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On TIF reform, Bronzeville has ideas http://www.newstips.org/2011/08/on-tif-reform-bronzeville-has-ideas/ http://www.newstips.org/2011/08/on-tif-reform-bronzeville-has-ideas/#comments Tue, 02 Aug 2011 21:57:47 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4639 Bronzeville residents turned out in impressive numbers for last Thursday’s public forum of the Mayor’s Task Force on TIF Reform, which was held at the Bronzeville Chicago Military Academy.

Other communities were represented, but more forums in additional communities would certainly offer the task force greater breadth of public input.  But last week’s was the only hearing that is planned.

Bronzeville is one of the city’s most heavily TIFed communities, with thirteen TIF districts covering 80 percent of the area, many created to finance CHA redevelopments – with more in the works had Mayor Daley won the 2016 Olympic games, according to Housing Bronzeville.

Sheila Carter testified on behalf of the group that TIFs have “failed local taxpayers” in their lack of transparency and accountability.  It’s been “virtuallly impossible for local residents to understand how TIF monies were being raised and spent in our area,” she said, suggesting “this confusion and lack of documentation was intentional.”

She slammed Daley’s skimming of $10 million from the King/47th TIF to help fill last year’s budget gap, saying it was done without community consultation.  “No TIF money is ‘surplus’ in Bronzeville when our development needs are so great,” she said.

And TIF projects driven by outside developers and downtown planners have ignored long-range planning by local organizations, she said.

A housing plan for Bronzeville

In referendums held in 2004 and 2008, Housing Bronzeville won overwhelming voter support for a proposal to create a Bronzeville Housing Trust Fund to develop affordable housing on 500 of the nearly 2,000 city-owned vacant lots in the area.

The group was in discussions with the city over a pilot project along those lines, possibly using TIF funds to cover some costs, but talks are on hold since the new administration entered office, Rev. Jeffrey Campbell, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, told Newstips.

Among many other Bronzeville residents who spoke, Sandra Bivens of the 51st Street Business Association proposed using neighborhood business groups which serve as delegate agencies for the city to monitor TIFs and conduct outreach to residents. “The community has yet to see a report on the number of jobs and small businesses created by TIF,” she said

Bernard Loyd, a local entrepreneur who’s getting TIF funding for a commerical development at 51st and Prairie, pointed out that Bronzeville TIFs have heavily favored residential projects and done little to create local jobs.  The program is geared toward large corporations, and approaches aimed at small businesses should be included, he said (more below).

Pilsen, Englewood, Austin

Other communities were represented.  “In Pilsen, TIF has been used as a tool to eliminate affordability and displace working-class families,” said Rosalie Mancera of the Pilsen Alliance.

“In Pilsen, TIF has not benefied the larger community; it has benefited private developers.,”  she said.  “We are subsidizing our own displacement.  This is wrong.”

Cherice Price of the Residents Association of Greater Engelwood called for training elected officials so they can promote TIF opportunities to district residents.  “People in our community may not even know there’s a TIF, and they don’t know how to go about applying,” she said.  “It’s people outside our community who are taking advantage of the opportunities.”

She called for a single advisory committee that would provide local oversight for several TIFs in Englewood.

Dwayne Truss of the South Austin Coalition challenged task force chair Carole Brown’s assertion that “TIF collections do not come at the expense of other taxing bodies.”  (In fact, as all readers of Ben Joravsky know, TIFs freeze property tax revenues going to the city, county, schools, and parks, and divert any additional revenue to a separate development fund.)

“We know that the money you give to corporate welfare comes out of our communities,” Truss said.  He called for an emphasis on jobs, pointing to a $3 million subsidy to Coca Cola to move a bottling plant from Little Village to Austin (AustinTalks recently reported the plant employs only 28 residents of the Austin area).  “How many teachers, how many park district jobs, would that money have saved?” he asked.

Community leaders representing the Albany Park Neighborhood CouncilLakeview Action Council, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Action Now in Englewood – and Melody McCorey, a young homeless mother of four small children, for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless – testified in favor of Sweet Home Chicago‘s proposal to devote $100 million in TIF funds for rehabbing foreclosed properties as affordable housing.

Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative called for shutting down the LaSalle Street TIF district, calling it an “egregious misuse of public funds.”  The city should declare a TIF surplus and return $200 million from downtown TIFs to the tax base, she said.

She called for dedicating $100 million to affordable housing and pulling CPS out of the TIF program.  “Given the economic crisis that we are in, it makes no sense that the city holds on to over $850 million in tax dollars, while our communities are struggling,” she said.

TIF funds “shouldn’t be going to make rich corporations richer” while class sizes are increasing, said Kristine Mayle of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Wendy Katten of the Raise Your Hand Coalition expressed disappointment that, despite promises of reform, the city just approved $7 million for an upscale grocery store in Greektown. CPS’s share of that money would have provided music or language programs for 50 elementary schools with 25,000 students, she said.

“Our schools are in dire need of the tax money that is being diverted from them, and our children can no longer afford to lose teachers and programs,” she said.

Katten called for sunsetting TIFs “that have served their purpose” and restricting new TIF designations to blighted areas.  She urged the task force to consider removing CPS from the TIF equation.

In the 47th ward, where she lives, “we have million-dollar homes and six TIFs diverting money from schools,” she said.  “It’s a shame.”

One size doesn’t fit all

Bernard Loyd’s Urban Juncture is developing a “culinary destination” in a large turn-of-the-century building at 51st and Prairie – four restaurants, each featuring different aspects of black cuisine, and a produce market, with 140 jobs projected.  TIF funding has been approved to cover $3 million of the project’s $9 million cost.

As a former partner at McKinsey and Co., a major management consulting firm, he’s become well-versed in the differences between big and small business.  The way the TIF program is structured and administered is fundamentally geared toward large corporations and developers, he said.

Businesses don’t operate that way, he points out.  “When GM is selling to Avis or to an individual consumer – they want to make the sale in either case – but everything is different, the sales effort, the terms – even the car will be different.”

With TIF, it’s the same application process, the same basic deal structure.  “In the vast majority of projects outside of affordable housing, a developer or a corporate entity has brought it to the city, and the city is reacting,” he said.  “That reactive posture puts the onus on the community to generate opportunities, and that’s part of the reason you have very skewed usage of TIFs.”

In Bronzeville that means five TIFs with nearly $100 million in revenues have generated only nine projects, seven of them residential, and only one (Urban Juncture’s) commercial.

The city needs to develop “a much more proactive and streamlined approach” to promote community economic development, he said.  “There’s a huge need to educate business folks and residents about what [TIF] is and how it can be used.”  (At this point, the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development “doesn’t have the resources to do a lot of outreach,” he said.)

Capital rich, capital poor

And while corporations have easy access to capital and residential developers can tap a range of public funding sources, getting private financing for a commercial project in a neighborhood like Bronzeville is a very tough climb.  There may need to be flexibility in the proportion of costs TIF will cover — and in the way deals are structured.

The typical TIF deal is back-end loaded. “For a corporation it’s a sweetener, and they have a hundred other places they can go for cash.  We’re in Bronzeville, virtually cut off from capital,” said Loyd.  “We need money up front.  But the city tells us, hey, great project, we’re going to help, and by the way, when we get a certificate of completion, then you’ll get payment.”

City development staff “really worked with us” to get a TIF note which Urban Juncture could borrow on, “but it was a whole long negotiation,” Loyd said.  And some of the funding is still being held back.  (Loyd’s group has invested $1.5 million in the project and is working with nonprofit lenders.)

“The city is used to working with huge corporations,” said Loyd.  “But a process that will work for United is almost certainly not going to work well for us.”

“We need to realign our thinking as a city to invest in neighborhoods, because it is not trickling down from downtown,” he said.  “Many of our neighborhoods are in bad, bad shape, and we have to do a lot better creating jobs for residents. We’re not capturing the opportunities.”

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