The Week in Community Development—June 21

News from—and affecting—the community development world. This week: NYC Plan for Rikers Will Be Uphill Battle | New Tax Credit for Multifamily Housing? | Affordable Housing-Further Out of Reach | Atlanta Schoolyards Will Open to Public | More...

summer hydrant water bronx
Fire Hydrant in the Bronx. Image credit: Chris Goldberg via flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Summer is here, and we wanted to share this (cool) effort in Atlanta to open the city’s public school park grounds to the public during off hours. Despite the city ranking high among the country’s largest cities with the most trees, Atlanta lacks actual public park space (on average, residents have to walk 10 minutes to get to their nearest public green space). A team of organizations, including The Trust for Public Land is piloting a plan to open Atlanta public school yards to the public, capitalizing on the fact that the city’s public school system is the largest landowner in Atlanta, and there are quite a few non-operating hours—evenings, weekends, and summers. Approximately one dozen schools will participate in this pilot, which includes some ground and facility upgrades.

A New Tax Credit? Remember that Shelterforce article about organizations that worked to develop a tax credit program to spur investment in distressed urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods? That work is getting more traction—this week, the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act (H.R. 3316) was introduced into Congress. The bill calls for private investments to build and rehabilitate 500,000 owner-occupied homes over the next decade. “A reinvestment program to address the aging 1- to 4-family housing stock would expand our reach to thousands of cities, towns, inner-ring suburbs, ‘middle neighborhoods,’ and rural places across the country where we currently have little or no presence,” wrote Carey Shea, a founding member and coordinator of the Neighborhood Homes Investment Coalition.

Plans to shutter Rikers Island, NYC’s notorious jail complex, are underway, and they include opening several small prisons in the city’s boroughs. Initial hearings for feedback on proposed plans did not go well, as residents and community board representatives in several neighborhoods voiced their disapproval. With so many interests that have to be considered, this effort to remake the city’s criminal justice system into something more fair and restorative will be an interesting example for the rest of the country.

Money for affordable housing: Google announced that it will invest $1 billion in housing across the Bay Area, which it expects will lead to the building of thousands of affordable units. According to CityLab, it’s the single largest commitment by a private employer to address the area’s affordable housing crisis. Amazon is donating $3 million to support affordable housing in Arlington, $5 million do the same in Seattle, and it will match its employees’ contributions up to $5 million. (Of course, we mustn’t forget that it was not too long ago when Amazon threatened to leave Seattle after officials passed a bill that would have raised money to fund affordable housing and homeless services by taxing larger companies. The tax was eventually repealed.) But these contributions beg the question: Should cities be relying on private companies for investment? As this article reports, donations aren’t subject to the same oversight as long-term public revenue. Only time will tell.

We love reading stories about local currency projects, and this one in a recent LA Progressive about BerkShares was so uplifting. Sharing examples like this, and this one that appeared in Shelterforce a few years back, helps provide counterpoint to the argument that luring large corporations to cities is the only path to successful local economic development. Let’s all keep spreading the word.

The 2019 Out of Reach report, which shows how rental housing costs are unaffordable for millions of low-wage workers, has been released. There is a ton of data to comb through, but one quick stat: a person who earns the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour must work more than 100 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment in the U.S.

It’s not enough that the president treats non-citizens as non-humans, now he’s going after citizens in an effort to become the evictor-in-chief. What do residents of public housing or people who receive housing assistance have in common with people from Central America fleeing poverty and persecution? Hmmm. How do the powers in Washington sleep soundly at night? Simple, they sleep on beds instead of concrete floors, and without a hint of shame.

What we’re reading: The Children’s Defense Fund’s newly released report on childhood poverty, its impacts, and remedies. And in international housing news: Berlin will freeze rents for five years.

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