Shelter Shorts

“NEWS” Experiment to Save Communities

The Center for Neighborhood Technology has developed a computer system, the “Neighborhood Early Warning System (NEWS)” for use in a pilot Neighborhood Housing Intervention Program. With funding from the Chicago Department of Housing, this computer system was designed to let community organizations type an address into a computer and learn about a building’s status – from ownership to court activity – that may indicate problems. Once buildings are identified, organizers can contact tenants and owners to help develop problem-solving strategies. So far the experiment has resulted in a range of interventions, from legal action to providing management and financial assistance. For more information about the system, contact Michael Freedberg, 312-278-4800 x119.

Americorps: 20,000 Volunteers For Community Work

Community organizations, especially if they join in coalition with others, may be able to employ federally subsidized volunteers in education, human services, public safety and environmental projects as a result of the National and Community Service Trust Act enacted in September.

The Act requires that each state establish a bi-partisan commission for national service which will select most of the programs that will operate in their states.  Only some of the state commissions have already been appointed. Community-based organizations and other nonprofits have an opportunity to influence appointments and monitor commission activities to ensure that they operate fairly and in the interest of disadvantaged people.  But there is no assurance that groups representing low-income people will have a major voice on these commissions.

In 1994, $51.8 million in Americorps funds will go on the basis of population to states with plans approved by the Corporation for National and Community Services.  In addition to state grants, the Corporation will distribute $51.8 million to the state commissions on a competitive basis; $1.5 million to Indian tribes; and $48.5 million to national, regional and other innovative national service programs.  The new Corporation (202-606-5000) will also administer programs formerly run by ACTION, including VISTA.

Nonprofit organizations, public agencies, universities, colleges, Indian tribes, local schools, police districts and coalitions of such entities will be eligible to receive awards. Because the Administration wants to have 20,000 Americorps volunteers in the field by the end of 1994, the Corporation will favor large institutions that can use at least 20-100 volunteers.  To get a few volunteers, small community groups will need to act quickly to form coalitions and/or partnerships with larger institutions.

National Service Volunteers and VISTAs will receive a minimal wage and an educational benefit of $4,725 per full year of service for up to two years.  In general, Americorps sponsors will be expected to pay 15 percent of stipends and healthcare, plus 25 percent of other operating costs – a substantial obstacle for small groups with little flexible money.  VISTA sponsors will not have to provide matching funds during 1994.  That break plus VISTA’s ability to place one or two volunteers with a single group make VISTA generally the best resource for volunteers within the Americorps program.

While the regulations prohibit “activities such as organizing protests, petitions, boycotts and strikes”, there is still room for using volunteers for community outreach, bringing people together to work on community problems, etc.

The VISTA program will expand some to support about 4,500 VISTAs. To apply for volunteers, contact the state ACTION agency or call 1-800/424-8867.  For information about the continuing struggle to make Americorps as useful as possible for low-income communities, call the Center for Community Change at 202-342-0519.

This public policy paper was reprinted with permission of CCC.

Corporate America Offers Increasing Support

Although corporate giving is on the decline overall, many companies (as well as an increasing number of foundations) are redirecting their resources to community development. LISC, the nation’s largest community development support organization, which has raised nearly $300 million since 1979 to assist 875 resident-led organizations across the country, received over sixty percent of its support from corporations. Nationally, corporations account for only five percent of all giving.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently gave LISC a $1 million grant. They joined 283 new (since 1991) corporations that now support LISC, including Allstate, Morgan Stanley, Mobil, Fleet Bank and Texaco. Don Parfet, Executive Vice President of The Upjohn Company said, “It’s simply good business for Corporate America to improve its communities. It builds stronger customer bases, stronger employment bases and improves the economy.”

Community-based development organizations should carefully research and approach those companies with a presence in their community; even a local office of a national or out-of-state company can provide an avenue of access to that company’s corporate giving program.

Community Groups Steamrolled on Interstate Branching

Interstate branching legislation recently rolled right over community groups in the House of Representatives, which passed a bill on the “suspension calendar.”  Normally reserved for non-controversial bills, items on the suspension calendar are not subject to amendment on the floor of the House.  This means that the Kennedy/Mfume/Wynn community benefits amendment and the Fields/Wynn/ Roybal-Allard basic banking amendment never came up for consideration.  As far as the House is concerned, interstate branching is a done deal.

Sponsors of the amendment, Mfume in particular, argued with the House leadership that the matter should not be handled in this manner.  However, it became clear that the pro-interstate forces had the upper hand.  Particularly disturbing in this whole venture, from the vote in the Banking Committee on, was the fact that many of the Congresspeople normally considered supportive of low-income housing and related issues were on the other side of the fence.  Even Congressmen Vento (D-MN) and Schumer (D-NY), both of whom had sponsored similar “community benefits” amendments when interstate banking bills came up in past Congresses, voted against the provision this time around.

In a small note of irony, the American Banker newspaper this week published a major article quoting bankers and bank analysts alike as saying that the cost savings of interstate branching are likely to be minimal.  Yet, this is the primary argument that supporters have made in favor of the bill.

The full Senate has yet to take up interstate branching legislation, and community advocates are pondering the possibility of finding sponsors and votes for similar amendments on the Senate side. The prospects, however, are not great.

Regulators Appear Poised to Scrap Centerpiece of Proposed CRA Regs

On the very day that the comment period closed on the proposed new Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations, Federal Reserve Board Governor Larry Lindsey announced that it is likely that the regulators will drop a major provision of the regs.  Apparently Governor Lindsey did not feel it was necessary to read the public comments before he reached this conclusion.

The provision in question is the comparative market share analysis, which would analyze the extent to which banks were being as aggressive in seeking to do business in low- and moderate-income communities as they were in upper income areas.  It is the centerpiece of the proposed reg – the part that represents the “performance oriented” approach to community reinvestment that President Clinton promised during his campaign.  This provision has received strong support from community groups, although many have made suggestions for ways to strengthen the test.  However, it was harshly criticized by the banking industry, which apparently has succeeded in convincing the regulators that the test is not workable.

Lindsey’s comment was made to the Fed’s Consumer Advisory Council, which was meeting in Washington this week.  He claimed that the other regulators, including the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), agreed with his view.  The OCC is the Administration’s point agency on this issue.

While saying that he is not sure what alternative might be offered to the market share analysis, Lindsey said that he was convinced it would not work “on the ground” and that he could not support adoption of a regulation he knew would not work.  He hinted, not for the first time, that a second version of the proposed regulation might be put out for public comment. There has been no official comment on this yet from either the OCC or from the White House, which had wanted the new regulations in place by last January.

Community Reinvestment Information was provided by Debby Goldberg, Neighborhood Reinvestment Project, Center for Community Change.

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