Two seemingly disparate events occurred in the past few weeks. In LA Antonio Villaraigosa just became the first Latino mayor of that city in a century. He won decisively by engaging with every demographic segment of the city. His victory, he says, “wasn’t a Latino victory, it wasn’t about Latino power; it was about building a coalition.” LA has seen such progressive coalitions in action for years. In 2002, the Housing LA coalition won the largest Housing Trust Fund in the country. And in 2001, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy successfully organized to create the first Community Benefits Agreement as part of a major development project (LA’s Staples Center) that received public support.
In Washington a bipartisan bill, H.R. 1461, emerged from the House Financial Services Committee that could generate up to $1 billion a year for the production of low-income housing. The bill’s main purpose is to create a more stringent regulatory system for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Bank. To get support from the Democrats, the two key Republicans on the Committee and its housing subcommittee, Michael Oxley and Robert Ney, agreed to Democrat Barney Frank’s proposal to earmark 5 percent of the pre-tax earnings of each of these GSEs for the preservation, rehab and construction of low-income housing. The bill was passed out of committee for debate by the full House with a stunning 65-5 vote.
Like Villaraigosa’s victory in LA, the success of H.R. 1461 did not come out of a vacuum. For years, advocates in DC and in municipalities, regions and states throughout the country have been engaging in campaigns to influence their elected officials to support affordable housing production. One result is over 300 local and state housing trust funds. At the federal level, the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Trust Fund Campaign has over 5,000 endorsers who have been making the case for a national affordable housing production fund for many years. That work – lobbying inside the Washington Beltway combined with local constituent engagement throughout the country – made H.R. 1461 possible.
These two things, coalition building and engagement, were key to both of these victories and thread through the articles in this issue.
CANDO’s Rise and Fall
Dan Immergluck traces the rise and fall of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations (CANDO). It began as an advocacy organization, confronting Chicago government to change public policies. As Chicago politics shifted, benefiting CANDO’s agenda, the organization became less confrontational and more collaborative. Soon it became a “service” organization, with significant funding from City Hall. But when the political tide shifted again, CANDO no longer was able to challenge the system. In Immergluck’s assessment, it was the change in CANDO’s approach to engagement, and the changes in the character of its coalition, that ultimately led to its demise.
A Model Housing Court
Cleveland, a city rife with problems, is redefining housing court. As Robert Jaquay tells us, the court has moved beyond the traditional role of enforcer to become a true agent of change in the city’s many troubled neighborhoods. Its judge, Raymond Pianka, a former CDC director, still practices community development. And to Pianka, community development is a two-way street. It’s not unusual for him to hold court at the site of a problem, to work with about 50 citizen members of the court’s Neighborhood Code Enforcement Advocates Consortium, or connect elderly and poor homeowners to the many community-based organizations ready to help.
In Minneapolis, one CDC has made listening to its community a foundation of its work. Mary Keefe describes how her organization, Hope Community, is developing a method to intentionally engage with residents on specific projects, such as the park development described in her article, and more broadly so that they have a say in their neighborhood’s future. Like Lawrence CommunityWorks in Massachusetts, Hope Community understands that neighborhood revitalization is about far more than bricks and mortar. It requires neighbors who can make their voices heard.
At the end of the day, engagement is about power and change. In his review of Theda Skocpol’s latest book, John Atlas suggests that many 20th century organizations like the Grange and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs did more than provide a friendly place for like-minded people to socialize. These associations, national in scope and membership driven, gave people their first opportunity to engage with power. While having many ugly blemishes, these organizations politicized and connected people around the country, leading to social programs like the G.I. Bill, farm supports and old-age pensions. Their lessons in citizenship may be key to re-creating a robust progressive movement.
Perhaps the examples of coalition building and civic engagement seen in this issue’s stories, the LA and DC victories and in the work of scores of networks locally, regionally and nationally mean that some of the lessons Atlas points to are taking hold, albeit in a very different form. Time will tell.