Organizing

Community development relies on policies, resources, and recognition that were won by decades of organizing—and organizing remains essential to face new threats, preserve existing wins, and continue to fight back against the big lie that the way things are is inevitable.

organize mural

Organizers: There’s No Shortcut to Success

Overcoming the ideology of individualism and corporate power is achieved not through framing or advocacy but through the experience of collective struggle. A review of "No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age" by Jane McAlevey.
community of people gathered

Reimagining a Neighborhood, The Way It Ought To Be

The arts have a long history of highlighting social issues and creating public conversation that results in measurable change. As an arts administrator with...
housing sign

Housing Advocates—Seize This Moment!

I’ve been working to address housing affordability since the late 1970s. There has never been this much media and public focus on the issue.
Chicago resident Tom Gordon speaks to a crowd. He, as well as other organizers, are fighting for a citywide community benefits campaign.

Chicago Activist Convention Shifts Focus to Community Benefits Campaign

Standing on a truck in front of a group of several hundred protesters, Tom Gordon expressed a feeling shared often at the ONE Northside...
North Minneapolis tenants pose together with their fists in the air during a barbecue

Despite Win Against Landlord, Minneapolis Tenants Still Face Eviction

North Minneapolis residents fight to take control of their buildings after city administrator finds homes to be uninhabitable.
women sitting in chairs on grass

Practical Ideas for Addressing Micro-Segregation in Mixed Income Communities

Practical lessons from long time community builders on promoting integration and interaction among residents of mixed income communities.
rent control

Here’s Why Costa-Hawkins Repeal Would Be Revolutionary for Housing in California

Rent control is one of the foremost demands of grassroots movements organizing around housing justice today. To activists across the country, from Los Angeles...
participatory budgeting fliers

Participatory Budgeting: Why Not Fix Everyone’s Sink?

Just like a focus group or any mechanism intended to give us a voice, participatory budgeting can offer a glimpse of how a more civically engaged society might work. But it’s also a distraction from the actual mechanisms of power, and can reinforce or even worsen existing inequalities.
A building in East Oakland with colorful murals painted on the wall. A graffitied fence is to the right of the building.

Why Tenants Should Be Given the Opportunity to Purchase Their Buildings

Unlike so many owners who are quickly selling their properties to the highest bidder amidst rising real estate values, an East Oakland landlord was intent on giving the existing tenants a fair shot to purchase the property.
cleveland streetscape

Remember Slavic Village? It’s Back

A Cleveland neighborhood made famous as an epicenter of the foreclosure crisis works its way back to stability. Here’s how.
several mural images

Generating Civic Power in North Philadelphia

An organization embarks on a community-driven design process to transform two vacant row homes into a site for residents, artists, and law enforcement to collaborate on new public safety strategies rooted in care rather than control.
polling place

Housing Advocacy Needs Housing Voters

Methods from a successful organizing campaign from the past can inform the basis of a new electoral constituency around housing.

Organizing for Hospital Community Benefits

Community development corporations need to become more educated about hospital community benefits. This is what can be done to get the process started.
Members of Boston Liberation Health hold a banner that reads, "Capitalism, racism, and heteropatriachy are making us sick. Join Liberation Health."

How Organizing for Justice Helps Your Mental Health

How do social justice, organizing, and mental health interact? Shelterforce chats with clinical social worker Dawn Belkin Martinez to find out.
Large group photo, black and white.

Empowering Human Development Across the Globe, Locally

One blessing of my job as CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) is being able to tap into the wealth of human...

In Detroit, the Fight for Community Benefits Begins Anew

For equitable development activists, Detroit’s Community Benefits Ordinance may seem like major progress. And it is—just not how they may imagine it to be.
A car and truck submerged on a flooded road.

Rules for Radicals to Demand a Fair and Transformative Disaster Recovery

At Texas Housers, we've confronted a series of natural disasters over the past decade that forced us to develop new approaches for our housing advocacy. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we find ourselves back at it. Here are seven lessons we have learned.
Photo courtesy of Right to the City Alliance.

Block by Block, the Renters Movement is Growing

“The string of victories in 2017 are a direct product of renters building power on the ground. Renters, faced with a historic housing crisis, are getting organized to change immediate conditions on the ground and build a movement to transform the way land and housing are treated in the country.”

When Disaster Hits, Your First Responder Probably will Not Be a First Responder

Social scientists reviewed all the recent research on disaster recovery and tell us that before the coordinated help arrives, before the Red Cross and all the other recovery groups descend with legions of volunteers, there are neighbors.
Close-up of the back of a t-shirt that says "Because the rent won't wait."

Renter Week of Action in Pictures

This past week, renter advocacy groups staged coordinated demonstrations in over 45 states to disrupt business as usual, including stand-ins at the personal residences of corporate landlords, banner drops, neighborhood tours of the housing crisis, and creative actions at city halls. With the help of #RenterWeekofAction convener Right to the City, Shelterforce has compiled photos from several such demonstrations throughout the country to highlight their scope.
Three women sitting on chairs on a sidewalk.

Hurricane Evacuees are Forcibly Evicted in Miami

More than 60 Miami families, many undocumented, have been homeless since last week’s hurricane and were forcibly removed last night by local officials.
Photo by charlene mcbride via flickr, CC BY 2.0

Industry versus Movement – Redux

Three years ago, I posted a blog in which I wrestled with the question of whether community development is an “industry” or a “movement.”...
Mural on wall with faces of girls looking into the distance.

Art in the Face of Gentrification

Four representatives of New York City organizations discuss their employment of art and artists to empower residents in the face of gentrification.
Illustration of muscular hand lifting scales of justice.

Trump Era a Time to Build Power, Not Buildings

This is a time that calls for us to start thinking a little less like an “industry” and more like a movement.
Neon sign in window reads "Real Estate Home Loans."

Despite What Bankers Say, Data Is Indispensable

The American Bankers Association (ABA) issued a white paper maintaining that the CFPB exceeded its mandate under Dodd-Frank. Full of rhetoric, the white paper makes a number of unfounded allegations about HMDA data and the CFPB final rule.

Developers: Organize Your Residents for 2018

On May 4, we applauded Congress’ dismissal of the Trump administration’s request for $18 billion in cuts to non-defense discretionary programs. It firmly rejected the administration’s proposals and (finally) approved a bipartisan spending bill for 2017, funding the government through Sept. 30. The lights will stay on in the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, and our worst fears that low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled might be literally left out in the cold are allayed … for now.

Failing The Equitable Development Test

I wondered whether the Americans who suffered the injustice of our most recent Great Recession haven’t already been not only forgotten but abandoned by the White House and Congress, despite their votes. 

CRA Should be Becoming Less Partisan. Instead, It’s More.

The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) is a law that requires banks to serve the credit needs, consistent with safety and soundness, of all...

10 Ways to Speak Truth to Powerful Lies

How to engage, inform, and fight back against falsehoods. ...

Local Contracting–Cost Cutting, Economic Development, Or Both?

We recently published both an article and an Answer column that shows how one group in Philadelphia, WPRE/NR, is...

Where Do We Go From Here? Toward a New Freedom Budget

If, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, a “budget is a moral document,” then this budget is a reflection of the moralities of the boardroom, the eviction notice, the emergency ward, and the pink slip.

Homeownership Equity Depends on Racially Equitable Policy

Once again, we hear rumblings that housing finance reform, the wind-down of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the...

Who Counts as a “Homeless” Child? It Matters

Are children in foster care homeless? It might sound like semantics, but it really makes a big difference. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is the...

Disclosure Remains Our Right

I was interviewed last month for a book on redlining that took me back to the ‘70s. Going through...

How Data Disclosure Will Help Prevent the Next Financial Crisis

It seems like an overstatement, but data disclosure can help prevent the next financial crisis. ...

Putting Housing Back at the Forefront of the National Conversation

Eric’s family purchased a Habitat for Humanity home in the Florida farming community of Immokalee, Florida, which among many...

Community Organizing: Integrating a Woman’s Approach

“In closed or structured societies, it is the marginal or ‘inferior’ person . . . who often comes to symbolize . . . ‘communitas.’” —Victor Turner

Three Dangers and an Opportunity

If it seems like we're approaching a domestic policy pivot point, it might be because we are. Since November...

Nonprofits–Yes You Can Advocate. And Now’s The Time

Amidst the chaos of the past couple weeks there has been at least one positive change—a lot more people...

OCC Moving Steadily Forward on Fintechs–Is This a Good Thing?

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) appears to be plowing ahead with its proposal to allow...

Organizing Will Win

For anyone who organizes and advocates for worker justice, the last months of...

The President as Developer-in-Chief

People have been asking me what I think about Ben Carson as the nominee to be Secretary of the...
Residents in Austin, Texas, sit in a micro-unit home.

Flipping the Script

A nonprofit forgoes the typical community meeting for a "living charrette," which leads to greater neighborhood feedback about a proposed 24-acre development in Austin, Texas.

You’ve Seen This Movie Before. You Know What to Do

I prebooked my post-election group therapy by getting a ticket to hear Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, speak...

Fighting Community Opposition in the Age of…Opposition

On Nov, 8, voters across the country heard the affordable housing call and approved numerous state and local housing...

Indivisible: How We Fight This–Together

For the most part, progressive organizations have been on the offensive for the past eight years, but now it is time to switch to playing defense. And, like any sport, that means pulling some players off the field and changing tactics.

An Opportunity to Shed Sunlight on Lender Legal Compliance is Missed

Bank regulatory agencies including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and others...

Making Community Benefits Agreements Count

CBAs can be extremely difficult to implement and enforce, which is why a detailed agreement in the early stages of the community-developer relationship is so important.

A Strong Rule and Reforms Are Needed to Combat Payday Loans

Something astonishing happened when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) asked the public for comments on its proposed rule to curb high-cost and abusive...

Gramm Wrong, Again, on CRA

In an effort to undercut future public investment in the nation’s infrastructure, Phil Gramm, former chair of the Senate Banking Committee and currently with...

Tweaks to CRA Q&A Document Miss the Larger Picture

During the dog days of summer this July, the federal bank agencies decided to quietly bunt instead of swing...

Our Denial and Inaction On the Issue of Lead

How far does the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) denial about leaded drinking water go? This week, I was having...

It’s Time to Talk about Cops

I don't need to revisit the hundreds of police killings around this country over the past few years (not...

The Romance and Reality of the New Financial Technology (Fintech) Companies

Technology is enticing. It's fun. It can make life easier. With a click of a button, consumers can purchase...

To Reduce Recidivism Rates, Turn to Housing Policy

A couple months ago here on Rooflines, I wrote about the value of addressing housing challenges that many former...

Out of Reach 2016: Much More than Bad News

“A worker earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would need to work 2.8...

Imagine if Banks Had a Rating Showing Compliance with Consumer Law?

When consumers shop for new cars or other major products, they often like to consult with Consumer Reports or...

Advocates: Let’s Get These Details Right From the Beginning

It’s rare when a major new national housing program comes along. The National Housing...

Jane Jacobs: Defender of Cities and their People

On April 10, 1968, New York state officials scheduled a public hearing to discuss their plans for an expressway...

Out of Homelessness, A Mom Turns Advocate

Jenean F. and her husband worked hard to achieve the increasingly elusive American Dream. She was a stay at...

CRA on a State Level Makes Sense

When practitioners in the affordable housing and community development field think about the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), they think...

Energy Efficiency: Vital to the Budgets of Low-Income Households

Electricity and water are indispensable for day to day living, and low income households pay a disproportionate share of...

Fracking Waste and Drinking Water, A Toxic Combo

Environmentalists have succeeded in making fracking, renewable energy, safe water, and climate change part of the presidential campaign. Hillary...

If It Can Happen in Virginia…

I've been reading Ruth Berta and Amanda Leonard Pohl's book, Building Power, Changing Lives, about Virginia Organizing. It's a...
Ralliers gather in Washington, D.C., with a sign that reads "Stop, Don't close public schools."

Don’t Call It a Comeback for Neighborhood Schools

In the face of widespread school choice, some D.C. residents are advocating for an equitable system of neighborhood schools. But what's the chance that will become a reality?

Interview with Gordon Chin, Founding Executive Director of the Chinatown Community Development Center

Gordon Chin started San Francisco Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC), a longstanding CDC well-known in the field, in the mid-1970s. In June 2015, he released Building Community, Chinatown Style, a book about his professional life, the founding and evolution of CCDC, and the future of community development. Josh Ishimatsu, director of Research and Capacity Building at the National Coalition for Asian-Pacific American Community Development, and a regular Shelterforce contributor, spoke with Chin about where community development is going, and where it should go.

Flint: Tainted Choices, Tainted Water

Like the water itself, the situation in Flint, Mich., should be crystal clear: elected and appointed officials, at the state and federal levels, have done...

CRA Exams Aren’t Cutting It For Communities in Need

In 1977, Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and required the federal banking agencies to assess a bank’s record of helping to meet...

Dr. King and The Poor People’s Campaign

Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in 1968 while in Memphis supporting striking sanitation workers. Up until that time, he'd spoken about the dignity...

How Are We Responsible for Baltimore?

Over the last few years, slowly but surely, the reality of the lived experience of black American women has continued to come to light....

How Did We Manage Stress, Media, and Technology in 2015?

As we near the end of the year, I find myself in reflective mode—is the work I'm doing having...

Looking for Solid Returns? Invest in Criminal Justice Reform

In my last life, I worked at a large public housing authority, where one of my tasks was to...

A Community is Organized, But Where’s Superfund?

It’s probably the worst Superfund site in the U.S.: a smoldering fire in a mismanaged landfill is less than...

Remembering Rick Cohen

Rick Cohen, a Shelterforce contributor, passed away suddenly on November 17. Known for his prolific writing focused on nonprofits and...

Review of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime & Resistance in the Heart Of San Francisco

I learned about the history of the Tenderloin, San Francisco’s maligned neighborhood, through walks in it with my Great Uncle, Milton Hendrick, and listening...

At Last, Apprenticeships Will Be for All People

Not surprisingly, last Friday's headlines focused on the announcement that the Obama administration had rejected the proposal to build...

Social Enterprise Movement Faces Growth and New Challenges

In September, I attended the Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) annual conference in Denver, Colorado. At the closing session, Tamra Ryan voiced a key conference...

Have We Forgotten How to Fight?

I write from Wisconsin, now in its fifth year of rule by an entrenched right-wing government that the voters...

NAACP’s Journey for Justice And Voting Rights

We live in interesting times.Two years ago, immigrant leaders from across the country camped out on the National Mall...

EPA Should Make Environmental Justice Job One

The EPA is making news lately.  Unfortunately, it’s not for protecting the environment or victims of pollution. Activist groups,...

Three Ways Your City Can Prosper by Embracing Equity

. Two years ago, New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio captivated voters with his “tale of two cities” narrative summarizing...

Can’t Be in the Gulf for the Katrina Anniversary? Watch These Films Instead

Tomorrow is the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, leading to all sorts of reflections on how far the city has...

Better Loans, Better Laws: Showing Communities What “Home” Looks Like

For generations, Americans from across the nation, the demographic spectrum and the income strata have strived for homeownership, working...

Cross-Community Collaboration on NYC’s Municipal ID Program

Lack of identification hurts many different groups in different ways—from the homeless to immigrants, and they all need to be considered in the fight for an alternative.
A woman in a red Cause Justa/Just Cause T-shirt holds a hand-lettered sign reading "Black and Brown for Tenant Protections Now"

Tenant Solidarity in Oakland

Q&A with Kitzia Esteva-Martinez, Causa Justa/Just Cause

Are You Hindering Your Organization’s Potential?

Last month I had the pleasure of hearing activist, teacher, and author Angela Davis as she addressed an audience...

REO to Rental: Wall Street’s Latest Idea Hurts California Communities

Over the last few years, communities have witnessed the latest iteration of Wall Street predation—the purchase in bulk of distressed single-family mortgages and foreclosed homes (REOs) with the intent to rent them—so called REO to Rental.

Industry and Advocates: To Truly Help Homeowners, Work Together

In recent months, the once very under-the-radar debate about manufactured home financing has gotten much more attention than is...

We Know Whose Fault Poverty Is–So Why Do Our Terms Blame the Poor?

Shelterforce began, 40 years ago, as a newspaper for tenant organizers. They were legal aid lawyers and similar rabble...

The Puzzle of Turning Vision into Action

Articulating a vision from the hopes and dreams of diverse community members is like piecing together a 250 piece...

Breaking Up the Pipeline to Prison

 President Obama is doing more than speaking out for criminal justice reform, he is taking action.Earlier this week, President...

Reframing Government’s–And Our Own–Role in Affordable Housing

Last Tuesday Scott Brown and Henry Cisneros, who serve on the executive committee of the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation...

Seizing the Moment to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing

Housing and community development issues do not get the attention they deserve in the national media, but our field is having a moment. Last...

Affordable, But for Whom?

How a box of felt pieces helps organizers help New York communities advocate for their real affordable housing needs 
Ai-jen Poo speaking.

Interview with Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance

Ai-Jen Poo has been organizing with domestic workers for over 15 years, helping in New York to win some of the first statewide labor protections for occupations often exempt from labor laws, and expanding this campaign to a nationwide vision for a strong caregiving workforce and infrastructure for elder care. In 2014 she became a MacArthur Fellow, but this was hardly her first award.

Place, Poverty, and Politics: A Growing Divide

Relocation or reinvestment? This longstanding debate has been reignited by recent events in Baltimore, Ferguson and many other cities, and the release of a...

Can Nonprofit Leaders Also Be Tech Innovators?

You may have seen my prior post on why the nonprofit sector is so tech averse. If you haven't...

The Role of Municipalities in Supporting Family Wealth-Building

How might a municipality leverage its resources and influence to better support its families?Hawai'i County, specifically the Office of...

Interview with John Henneberger, Texas Low Income Housing Information Service–Part 1

It’s not every year (or even every decade) that community developers and housers see themselves represented in the ranks of the coveted MacArthur Fellows (or “genius grant” recipients). That in and of itself would be sufficiently exciting, but when Shelterforce staff sat down to talk to John Henneberger of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, one of the 2014 MacArthur geniuses, we certainly found ourselves impressed and excited. Driven by a sense of justice since college, he has been on the frontlines of the fight for equality and equity since those years. Henneberger has extensive knowledge of the field, an ability to clearly relate many of our most basic concerns to each other, and a clear-eyed focus on end goals above interim measures. In this two part interview, he talks about expansive definitions of “fair housing,” exciting organizing work in Texas that the rest of the country should keep an eye on, the role of a state-level advocacy organization, and much more.