Hope, Action, Change

Reading David Moberg’s article on presidential candidate Barack Obama’s days as a community organizer, I was struck by a quote from an Obama fundraising letter urging supporters to host local events that could build a grass-roots movement for “hope, action, change.”

Hope, action, change: These simple yet stirring ideas provide the context for much of what I’ve experienced during the past few months, and much of what’s in this issue of Shelterforce.

Hope

Something new is happening across the land, and I got wind of it at two recent annual meetings in Washington — those of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC). Maybe not new, but certainly something I haven’t seen or felt for a while.

There was nothing new about many of the issues that engaged participants, including the urgent need to increase the availability of housing assistance for very low-income people, reversing the federal abandonment of public housing and extending the Community Reinvestment Act so that it also applies to non-bank financial institutions, which now comprise the lion’s share of mortgage lending yet have no CRA obligations. And one of this year’s most pressing problems-the tidal wave of foreclosures that’s begun to inundate communities across the land-is hardly a surprise, but rather the predictable result of longstanding regulatory neglect of predatory and sub-prime lending practices.

What was truly different was the palpable sense of possibility in the air. It was the realization that for the first time in more than a decade, the political structures are in place to ensure that our work will not just be a holding action, preserving endangered programs important to low-income families, but can focus on strengthening those programs and creating new ones aimed at reducing poverty and redressing social and economic inequities.

Congressman Barney Frank, now chair of the powerful House Committee on Financial Services bluntly said that increasing affordable housing, and especially providing more rental assistance, is at the top of his agenda. This is no mere pipe dream, but an assurance backed up with legislation and hearings that Frank and his committee would soon be proposing. Senator Hillary Clinton took on the mounting foreclosure nightmare with a detailed analysis of the problem and specific policy and regulatory suggestions for solutions.

It was an exhilarating experience that reminded me that political winds do change, and with enough tenacity and patience advocates can harness that change to create programs and policies that support America’s poor and working class.

Action

Tucked between the NLIHC and the NCRC meetings was the first policy conference of the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations (see Editor’s Note, SF #147). Representing statewide associations of community development corporations, the newly formed NACEDA adds an important voice to the affordable-housing and community-development field.

In three days of meetings, leaders from 17 statewide associations and a few city or regional networks, representing well over 1,200 CDCs, charted the nascent group’s near-term course. Leadership from many major national organizations, including Local Initiative Support Corporation, NeighborWorks America, Enterprise, Housing Assistance Council, NCRC and NLIHC were on hand to lend support and offer the opportunity for collaboration.

From policy initiatives and capacity-building strategies to research and communications, NACEDA hammered out an action agenda to define, support and expand the world of community development.

Change

For decades, many of our readers have developed community land trusts, limited-equity cooperatives and other innovative housing models that have stabilized communities, given residents control over how and where they choose to live and have struck a balance between individual wealth and the retention of scarce dollars that we rely on to subsidize affordable housing. And since the advent of these models, Shelterforce has written about them and encouraged their expansion. In this issue, we ask: Are these shared-equity homeownership models now ready to become effective tools for solving a significant part of America’s housing crisis?

And Change at Home

Beginning with this issue, Alice Chasan steps in as Shelterforce’s new editor. Alice joins us from Beliefnet, the largest Web site of religion, faith and spirituality, where she oversaw coverage of politics, ethics and morality, international affairs and Judaism.

Over her career, she served as the editor of World Press Review, a monthly magazine of international affairs, and New Jersey Reporter, a monthly magazine of politics and public policy. She also has been the executive editor of Tikkun and The American Prospect and served as program and editorial director at the Committee to Protect Journalists, the New York City-based international press-freedom advocacy organization. Her talent as a writer and editor and her life-long dedication to social justice will surely make Shelterforce a more potent voice for equity and a more useful tool than ever before.

After nearly 14 years as editor, I have come to know many of Shelterforce’s readers, gaining an understanding of your daily trials as advocates and activists and an appreciation for your hard-won accomplishments. I hope that my new role as publisher will allow me to spend even more time getting to know you, so that Shelterforce, our Web site (nhi.org), the research and other work we do can better serve your needs.

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