Southwest Organizing Project – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Local nonprofits win MacArthur awards Thu, 28 Feb 2013 22:49:42 +0000 Two local nonprofits are among organizations in fifteen countries announced Wednesday as recipients of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

The Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University and the Southwest Organizing Project will each receive a $750,000 award from the MacArthur Foundation.

The Children and Family Justice Center provides representation for youth in the juvenile justice system and advocates for reforms while teaching future lawyers and policy advocates.

“This award will allow us to expand our advocacy on issues ranging from the extreme sentencing of youth, fitness to stand trial, to the urgent need to assist incarcerated young people transition back into the community,” said Judy Biehl, executive director of the center.

Working in an ethnically diverse community hard-hit by predatory lending, SWOP members knocked on thousands of doors with information on foreclosure relief and helped nearly 500 families keep their homes.  The group is also working to bring vacant properties back on the market.

SWOP also applies community organizing strategies to decrease gun violence, involve parents in schools, and help immigrant families.

“We’re moved, we’re honored, and we’re excited by the MacArthur Foundation’s award,” said Jeff Bartow, SWOP’s executive director.  The group plans to use the funds to acquire permanent quarters to replace its cramped office and to build its technology capacity.

Championing neighborhood schools Mon, 21 Nov 2011 23:07:54 +0000 It’s now ten years since the launch of Renaissance 2010, the CPS campaign that closed scores of neighborhood schools and poured resources into scores of new charters.

The result?  Virtually no improvement in academic performance, according to the Chicago Consortium on School Research.  Better-resourced charters performing at the same level as neighborhood schools.  Worse, CPS’s racial achievement gap has only gotten larger.

The response from new city and school leadership?  They say they want much, much more of the same:  many more closings, many more charters.

What’s the alternative?  Nine community organizations are proposing a Neighborhood Agenda for Schools at an event on Tuesday.  They argue that since the vast majority of CPS students attend neighborhood schools, that’s where available resources should be focused.

The endorsers include groups that have long histories of involvement with schools, including nationally-recognized parent involvement, teacher training, community schools, anti-violence and student mentoring work.  Their recommendations flow from their extensive experience.

The groups include Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Enlace Chicago, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Organization of the Northeast, Southwest Organizing Project, and Target Area Development Corporation.  The College of Education of NEIU has also signed on.

The agenda will be released at a public event with 60 community activists from across the city, Tuesday, November 22, 10:30 a.m., at LSNA, 2840 N. Milwaukee.

Communities mark 9/11 with calls for solidarity Fri, 09 Sep 2011 18:23:45 +0000 On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, community interfaith gatherings will remember victims and the spirit of unity with which the nation responded to the attacks.

And one ongoing Jewish-Muslim collaboration founded in the days following the 2001 attacks is rededicating itself to work together “toward a more inclusive, diverse, and just society.”

In Marquette Park, community groups and religious institutions will gather on the steps of St. Rita of Cascia Parish, 6243 S. Fairfield (9:15 a.m., Sunday, September 11) to mark the loss of life including 9/11 victims, first responders and soldiers and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, while denouncing attempts to use the tragedy to scapegoat Muslims.

Participating groups include local churches in the Southwest Organizing Project, the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, Beth Shalom Synagogue, Holy Cross Hospital, and Ephraim Bahar Cultural Center.

“The events of September 11, 2001 only served to strengthen our resolve that diverse communities striving together towards social justice, human rights, and human dignity is the very solution to defying the divisive and destructive forces that endeavored to claim that day,” says Rami Nashashibi, Executive Director of IMAN.

On the West Side, ecumenical prayers will be offered by neighborhood clergy and health screenings will be provided by a group of Muslim medical professionals at a Partners for Peace event (3 p.m. on Sunday), at New Mount Pilgrim MB Church, 4301 W. Washington.  Sponsors include the West Garfield Park Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, the Leaders Network, and Elmhurst College.

The response to 9/11 “showed the resilience of the country, which is what makes us great – our ability to bounce back from that kind of attack on our freedom,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim and the Leaders Network.  He adds that he’s hopeful that with a similar “sense of urgency with the economic crisis, we’ll pull through and the best is yet to come.”

Chicago Is The World informs us that the Fulcrum Point New Music Project will present a commemorative program at the Harris Theater in Milennium Park (3 p.m. on Sunday) featuring songs and prayers from Buddhist, Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions, along with contemporary compositions.  (The blog also passes along resources to help journalists improve coverage of Islam.)

Ten years of Jewish-Muslim collaboration

Meanwhile, the Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative marks ten years since its creation by the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs as a response to increased violence and hate crimes against Muslims following 9/11.

JMBCI continues to hold Jewish-Muslim text studies throughout the year as well as events including the annual Iftar in the Synagogue, which last month brought together 400 Jews and Muslims in an interfaith celebration of Ramadan.

JMCBI also fosters interfatith organizing efforts, recently including the partnering of Jewish, Muslim and Christian youth groups to advocate for equitable school funding in Springfield, and support for anti-foreclosure efforts in Chicago Lawn.

JCUA issued a statement mourning the losses of 9/11 and honoring the courage of first responders. “Unfortunately, the justified fear and anger brought about by the attacks was in many cases misdirected. We witnessed the marginalization and demonizing of Muslim Americans, including hateful speech and violent actions.  As we collectively mourn and remember the victims of 9/11, we must vigilantly ensure that this shared tragedy does not become an opportunity for scapegoating.”

“Empowering each other by mutually respecting our differences is the spirit on which this country was founded,” ,” said JCUA’s Rabbi Asher Lopatin, co-chair of the JMCBI advisory committee. “It is this torch that we must carry forward as we commemorate our darkest times.”

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Fed Officials to Tour SW Side Foreclosures Wed, 30 Sep 2009 03:26:03 +0000 Federal Reserve officials will tour a Southwest Side neighborhood plagued by foreclosures and later meet with residents and community organizations to discuss the issue.

It’s part of an effort by a Chicago-based national network of community organizations to push for stepped up regulation to stem foreclosures, while giving local affiiliates a chance to raise the concerns of their communities.

Brighton Park Neighborhood Council became a HUD-certified counseling agency last year, and executive director Patrick Brosnan says that case-by-case consideration of loan modifications by mortgage services “just isn’t working.” “It isn’t even putting a dent in the problem,” he said.

Current loan modification efforts are purely voluntary, and it’s often difficult to get a response from mortgage servicers to requests for help, he said. It can take months to get an answer, and applicants who seem fully qualified can be rejected with no reason given — and no recourse or appeal.

The National Training and Information Center and local groups– including BPNC, Southwest Organizing Project, South Austin Coalition, and the Interfaith Leadership Project of Cicero — want the Federal Reserve to call together the banks with the largest number of foreclosures in the region to consider a plan to streamline their loan modification process and to offer assistance proactively to borrowers whose loans are unaffordable.

They also want the Federal Reserve of Chicago to work with them to examine whether banks are engaging in unsound business practices by basing their loan modification offers on statewide calculations for home values. Values have dropped much more dramatically in lower-income communities than elsewhere, said Jordan Esteveo of NTIC. “They could be shooting themselves in the foot by working under the assumption a property is worth a lot more than it actually is,” he said.

NTIC is pressing the Fed to expand the reporting requirements of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, a 1975 law which the group helped write. Originally aimed at redlining, the law requires disclosure of the race and gender of lending institutions’ customers. Other data including credit scores and loan-to-value and debt-to-income rations are needed to keep tabs on newer, more exotic loan products, Esteveo said.

They’re also calling for Congress to modernize the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 to include mortgage companies and other mortgage originators. “Across the country we’ve seen constantly that loans by institutions regulated by CRA are much less likely to go into foreclosure,” Esteveo said.

Thursday’s meeting is the seventh of nine hearings being held in communities across the nation (including an August 15 hearing in Decatur) following a meeting with Fed chair Ben Bernanke in March. A final hearing, with Barney Frank, chair of the House housing committee, takes place in Massachusetts on November 1. A followup meeeting with Bernanke is also slated.

“People who’ve been victims of foreclosure and people who are fighting it in different ways” will testify at the hearing, along with housing counselors and public officials, Brosnan said. It takes place at 5:30 p.m. at Shields Elementary School, 4250 S. Rockwell.

Local groups are also pressing for an expansion of the definition of property owner in by the city’s ordinance requiring registration of vacant properties — they want institutions that have foreclosed to be covered even if they don’t hold title. And they want a portion of registration fees to go to foreclosure prevention outreach strategies, Brosnan said.

They particularly want support for homeowners to fight foreclosure in chancery court, he said.

Youth to lobby for summer jobs Tue, 27 May 2008 06:00:00 +0000 With violence surging on Chicago streets, a hundred young people from the South Side are travelling to Springfield this week to press for funding for summer jobs for youth.

Youth unemployment has also surged — 90 percent of Chicago black males aged 16 to 19 are unemployed, according to Jack Wuest of the Alternative Schools Network — reaching “historically unprecedented” levels since federal funding for youth employment was eliminated in 2000, according to a study just released by ASN.

On Wednesday, participants in youth leadership development programs at the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and area high schools will lobby for funding for the Community Youth Employment Act. HR 4553 was approved last week but still requires an appropriation for funding. It aims at creating 2500 jobs for youth in low-income communities this summer, and more in the future.

Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization says a stepped-up effort should take advantage of the capacity of community groups to reach young people most in need.

KOCO: From 100 jobs to 5

In the early 1990s KOCO had federal funding through the city for nearly 100 summer jobs for youth, Brown said; in 2005 there were five slots, and he scrambled to find support for a few more positions. The group integrates a range of life skills and leadership development trainings for teens who work at its summer camp.

The additional programming makes a big difference, Brown said. “A lot of our young people improved their job performance, and some who had left school returned to school,” he said. The group helped find year-round jobs for the most successful summer workers.

SWOP: Summer jobs and neighborhood safety

A handful of youth joined scores of Southwest Organizing Project members for a recent lobby day in Springfield, and neighborhood safety activists decided to focus on the youth employment measure, said Sandra del Toro. “We want to be less reactive, to do more than just responding to shootings,” she said.

SWOP works in an area with one of the highest concentrations of youth in the city. “Summer jobs are a great asset for young people,” said Torres. “They need an opportunity to achieve and excel, and summer jobs give them that — and it keeps them off the streets, expecially with the rise of violence we’re seeing.”

Mayor Daley has coordinated a range of public and private resources to provide nearly 20,000 youth jobs this summer. In 1984, when federal funding was in place, the city provided 40,000 such jobs, Brown said.

Youth employment declined during recovery

With the elimination of federal funding, youth employment has been left behind in the recent economic recovery.

Between 2003 and 2007, for the first time ever, youth employment rates continued to fall during a period of general employment expansion, according to a national study (pdf) released at an ASN rally last week.

Youth employment rates have declined by nearly a third since 2000, according to the study; if the nation’s teens were employed at the rate seen in the year 2000, there would be 2 million more teenagers working.

The problem requires action on the federal level, Wuest said. “Whatever the state or city or county can do is great — but they just don’t have the money” to address the scope of the problem, he said. He’s supporting a bill providing a $1 billion supplemental appropriation for youth employment that was introduced in February (it’s consponsored by U.S. Representatives Davis, Gutierrez, Jackson, Rush and Schakowsky from Chicago).

Chicago’s share of total federal employment funds have dropped from $220 million in 1980 to $26 million this year, he said.

Restoring funding to 1980′s level “would significantly reduce the violence in the streets,” Wuest said.

Youth employment is also a major factor in subsequent success — most jobs require previous experience, and it is work experience that puts people on a path of improved earnings.

Wuest points out that low-income kids are three times more likely to be unemployed than middle- and upper-class youth.

Report: Mortgage Counseling Needed Fri, 30 Mar 2007 06:00:00 +0000 With the subprime mortgage industry reeling from rising foreclosures – and mortgage rescue fraud a growing problem – a new study is expected to show the continuing relevance of a controversial state law requiring outside review of high-cost and high-risk mortgage loans.

HB 4050, requiring reviews by nonprofit counseling agencies of high-risk loans, was suspended by Governor Blagojevich in January, four months after it was implemented as a pilot program in ten Southwest Side zip codes. Last week the state proposed new rules for the program, expanding the pilot area to all of Cook County; a 45-day comment period is now in effect.

While mortgage brokers criticized the program for inhibiting home sales, a large majority of the transactions reviewed under HB 4050 were for refinancing mortgages, not home purchases, according to Livia Villarreal of Southwest Reach Center, a nonprofit housing counseling agency.

About half of the loans reviewed were found to be unaffordable based on the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio, she said, and many borrowers did not fully understand the terms of their loans.

Bob Palmer of Housing Action Illinois said a report on data collected by counseling agencies under HB 4050 would be released next week. Among the concerns raised will be ensuring that counseling agencies have the capacity in place to handle the increased volume of mortgage reviews expected with the expanded pilot program, he said.

According to recent reports, refinancing rates are increasing as subprime borrowers face rising rates and scramble to avoid default and foreclosure.

Foreclosures often come after troubled homeowners have refinanced their mortgages one or more times, said David McDowell of the South West Organizing Project.

A Woodstock Institute report this week found that foreclosures increased last year by 36 percent in the Chicago area, driven in part by “complicated and risky products combined with loose mortgage underwriting standards that often include no documentation of borrower income,” according to Geoff Smith.

Rising foreclosure rates have also meant rising mortgage rescue fraud. Homeowners should be wary of mortgage rescuers who promise to save homeowners from foreclosure and instead strip homes of equity, observers say. “We advise people not to sign a deed to their home without checking with a lawyer,” said Bruce Gottschall, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Service. “And if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

NHS and other nonprofit housing counseling agencies offer workshops on avoiding foreclosure, provide individual counseling, and will negotiate workouts with lenders. NHS also offers fixed-rate refinance loans to help homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure. (Information is at 1-800-882-0882.)

Mortgage Counseling Law Defended Tue, 21 Nov 2006 06:00:00 +0000 Lenders who refuse to operate in the pilot area for a new state program which tracks mortgage fraud and provides consumer counseling could be illegally redlining, said State Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-16), defending the controversial program at a recent community meeting.

“If any lenders are pulling out, they are the ones who are redlining, and we need to prosecute them,” said Collins, chair of the Senate Financial Institutions Committee and a sponsor of the Predatory Lending Database Pilot Program Act, also known as HB4050.

The bill establishes a data base for all mortgage loans in a ten-zip-code pilot area on the Southwest Side and requires mortgage counseling for borrowers whose credit rating or loan terms indicate vulnerability to predatory lending.

Lenders Pull Out

A list of about two dozen lenders said to have suspended or limited lending in the area was circulated to members by the Illinois Association of Mortgage Brokers in September. It was based on written confirmations from each company, said IAMB executive director Marve Stockert. Lenders are concerned the new requirements have the potential to complicate title and lien issues, he said.

“Nobody is saying they aren’t going to lend in the area ever again,” he said. “They’re taking a wait-and-see attitude.”

Stockert echoes the observation of many HB4050 supporters that “there’s a lot of misinformation” circulating about the law. One example: “They’re saying people can’t get loans, and that’s not true.”

Indeed, the second of two lawsuits currently challenging HB4050 (filed November 15 by attorney David Richardson) has three plaintiffs who claim they were unable to obtain mortgage loans as a direct result of the law.

‘Loans Being Made’

Southwest Reach Center, one of a dozen counseling services taking referrals in the pilot area, has had 100 transaction reviews under the program in its first two months, said director Livia Villarreal. “That’s 100 people who have secured financing,” she adds.

“We are getting calls every day,” said Mike Reardon of Neighborhood Housing Service of Chicago Lawn and Gage Park. “Loans are being made and homes are being sold.”

Some 145 banks and mortgage companies have financed loans in the pilot area in the first two months of the program, said Geoff Smith of the Woodstock Institute.

‘Legislative Redlining’

At several heated community forums, the major objection to the new program is the predominantly minority composition of the population of the pilot area. Felicia Stovall, an Englewood community activist with the Coalition to Rescind HB4050, calls it “legislative redlining.” And both lawsuits charge the program discriminates against African Americans and Hispanics in its choice of pilot area.

Collins said she initially pressed for a county or statewide program but was blocked by the real estate lobby. “The people who keep saying it’s discriminatory are the same ones that fought us when we wanted to make it statewide,” she said.

The final legislation left the choice of a pilot area up to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which is charged with implementing the law, and directed it to include areas with higher rates of predatory loans and home foreclosures.

That requirement skewed it toward Black and Latino communities, where historical redlining has allowed predatory lenders to move in, Smith said. Minorities are steered into high-cost, high-risk mortgages – even when they have credit ratings that would qualify them for prime loans – at much higher rates than whites, he said. The pilot area has a home foreclosure rate nearly twice the Cook County average, he said.

“This bill doesn’t target minorities,” said McDowell of SWOP, which was a major proponent of HB4050. “The predatory lenders have been the ones targetting the minority community for years.”

SWOP pushed to have its neighborhood included in the pilot area, as did several of the bill’s legislative sponsors, according to McDowell. The Southwest Side has been hard hit by predatory lending and is on pace to see over 1800 foreclosures initiated by the end of the year, he said.

Other community concerns include electronic information transferral and government data collection, but these are no different than existing mortgage brokerage communications with lenders or the information given on tax returns, McDowell said.

Counseling and Enforcement

The counseling sessions required by the program focus on ensuring that purchasers understand the mortgage product they are getting and know their options, Villarreal said.

“Sometimes the mortgage broker has done a good job and [consumers] know exactly what they’re getting,” she said. “In other cases it’s totally different than what they thought they were getting.”

In particular, consumers too often think they are getting fixed-rate mortgages when they aren’t, and their interest payments will be subject to annual increases, she said

“A lion’s share of the foreclosure cases we’ve seen involved people who didn’t understand what mortgage product they bought,” said Jim Capraro of Greater Southwest Development Corp., which cosponsors the Reach Center with the Instituto Progreso Latino.

Another purpose of the program is to establish a data base to track all mortgage loans in the pilot area, in order to enable regulators and law enforcement to crack down on violators. Fraudulent loans are often hidden in the secondary mortgage market, McDowell said, and predatory lenders often change affiliations and tactics.

Counselors can flag loans for possible fraud, said program administrator Philip Dalmage of IDFPR, who said the department is exploring a joint task force with the Attorney General’s office to investigate cases of suspected fraud. “Enforcement is a big priority for the department,” Dalmage said.

In response to the controversy, IDFPR is holding a public hearing on HB4050 and proposals to amend it next Monday, November 27, at 1 p.m. on the concourse of the Thompson Center, Randolph and Clark. People wishing to testify are asked to submit witness cards and written testimony, said Susan Hofer.