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Casinos are Parasites

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It is not news that communities desperate for jobs and economic development often make terrible long-term decisions, welcoming in development and developers that are damaging in all sorts of ways—environmentally, socially, economically for the long-run. Casinos are one new face of this: They promise a huge burst of jobs, both construction and staff level, plus tax revenue, and play neighboring communities off each other. Given the dazzling short-term numbers thrown around, casino development in a state where they have been recently legalized, as here in New York, is very, very hard for a local community to turn down. Bill Sisk Of The Rockefeller Institute Smashes A Slot Machine In Front Of The State Capitol, October 2013. Photo from The Albany Web Log     But if they know what's good for them, they will.

Written by Rooflines

April 15th, 2014 at 3:00 pm

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Six Tax Reforms to Increase Economic Security for All

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Ivan and Sandra Silva of South San Francisco paid off debts and bought government bonds with a $6,000 federal tax refund they received last year thanks to a tax credit for low- and moderate-wage workers. The Silvas, who have four grown children, serve to illustrate how progressive tax code reforms can help all people, including low-income people of color, save and build the assets that are essential for upward mobility.

“We saved because you never know what can happen,” said Ivan Silva, an airline baggage handler who immigrated to the United States from Nicaragua. His wife is a home caregiver and an immigrant from El Salvador. Together they earn less than $50,000 a year. “Our savings is not for ourselves but for whichever one of our children needs anything,” he said.

MEDA Happy Tax Reform

Photo courtesy of MEDA

new national initiative is calling for a more inclusive and equitable tax code — one that provides fair benefits for all. Led by a network of grantmakers, the Tax Policy Project is pulling together asset-building and equity advocates, researchers and tax experts, and organizations with deep roots in communities of color, including PolicyLink, to push for changes in a tax code that has become a driving force behind the nation’s soaring inequality.

Last year, more than half of the nearly $1 trillion that the federal government spent on tax benefits for households went to the wealthiest fifth of the country. The benefits — written into the tax code as deductions, exclusions, credits, and preferential rates — subsidize higher-income households to build wealth, while offering few opportunities for lower-income households, disproportionately of color. build the long-term financial security of all American families and contribute to economic stability and growth.

Most of these benefits are designed to advance worthy goals such as buying a home, encouraging college education, or supporting secure retirement. In other words, these benefits should build the long-term financial security of all American families and contribute to economic stability and growth.

But as structured, many tax benefits are out of reach for the people who need them most. If families do not own homes — and fewer than half of all households of color do — they are cut off from the benefits of home mortgage and property tax deductions. If workers do not have access to an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan — and only 40 percent to 50 percent of employees of color do — they cannot take advantage of tax benefits to encourage retirement savings.

And if low-wage workers lack access to high-quality tax assistance, they often cannot take advantage of the few benefits designed specifically to help them, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

That’s what happened to Ivan and Sandra Silva. For years they paid a commercial tax preparer who never told them about the credit. They learned about it only after they turned to the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) in San Francisco, a community-based organization that offers free tax assistance and financial services as part of a comprehensive approach to economic justice and neighborhood economic development in the Mission district and other low-wealth neighborhoods.

Federal policies and investments can create an equitable tax code that helps all taxpayers to invest in themselves, their children, and their communities. Here are six policy changes prioritized by the Tax Policy Project to make taxes work for low-income families:

  1. Expand tax incentives that are accessible to working families. In 2012, the EITC lifted 6.5 million people out of poverty. But millions of families may lose their benefits if improvements passed by Congress in 2009 expire in 2017. These improvements must be made permanent, and the benefits must be expanded to more people, especially low-income workers who aren’t raising children. Take a look at our infographic below to learn more about federal initiatives to expand the EITC.
  2. Replace current home mortgage deduction with tax savings for all low-income households. Tax incentives for homeownership cost the federal government almost $200 billion in 2013, but 70 percent of these tax benefits went to the wealthiest 20 percent of households and almost nothing to the bottom 40 percent. The majority of people of color don’t benefit because they don’t own a home or they don’t itemize on their tax returns. Turning the home mortgage deduction into a tax credit would make it more equitable because households could claim it even if they don’t itemize. But this doesn’t address the issue that a mortgage credit still encourages families to take on debt rather than build wealth through homeownership. Several policies targeted to building wealth for low-income households are gaining attention; read about them here. A comparable credit for renters is also needed to make sure those who can’t afford to buy a home aren’t locked out of receiving wealth-building tax benefits.
  3. Target higher education tax incentives to lower-income families. Higher education offers a critical pathway to prosperity for youth by increasing their earning potential. That’s why tax code provisions help families save and pay for college. These tax benefits — not Pell grants — are the largest form of federal student aid, and they go mostly to higher-income students. One exception is the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), which is accessible to more low- and moderate-income households. Tax code provisions that disproportionately benefit wealthier households should be streamlined, and the savings used to make the AOTC fully refundable and permanent, in order to reach more youth in need.
  4. Support children’s savings accounts. Research shows that children with savings in their name are much more likely to succeed, particularly children of color and children from low-income families. One promising approach to supporting child savings is the ASPIRE Act, which has been proposed in prior sessions of Congress with bipartisan support. The Act would seed a savings account for every newborn child, providing an initial deposit and progressively matching contributions. Savings would grow tax free and could be used for post-secondary education, homeownership, or retirement. Cities, counties, and states are already taking the initiative; MEDA, the community-based agency in San Francisco, has partnered with the mayor’s office to provide accounts for every child in the city, and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, has launched universal accounts, as well.
  5. Make retirement savings available to more workers. Millions of American workers are headed toward poverty in retirement because their employers don’t offer retirement plans and they earn too little to save through Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). Automatic IRAs are one solution. The basic idea is to require all employers who don’t offer a retirement plan for their employees to set up an automatic IRA savings plan that would allow people to access tax benefits for retirement savings. Several states, including California, are pursuing similar approaches, and it has been proposed by federal legislators and the Obama administration.
  6. Provide tax incentives for flexible savings. Families need savings that can be easily accessed to handle financial emergencies — a broken-down car, an unusually high heating bill, or the death of a family member — and prevent a downward financial spiral. These sort of “flexible” savings are particularly important for households of color, who are unlikely to have any resources to address short-term emergencies. The Financial Security Credit Act of 2013 offers lower-income households a refundable tax credit (like the EITC) if they deposit their tax refund into an eligible savings account. If passed, it would help more families weather short-term financial crises and save for longer-term investments.

In addition to these tax reforms, Congress should pass the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Act, which would extend a program that supports organizations like MEDA to provide reliable, timely tax preparation services at no cost to low-income households, enabling millions to claim the benefits to which they are entitled.

To keep abreast of these initiatives and other policy developments, check out the Tax Policy Project website and read about how closing the racial wealth gap will help grow the economy in the previous issue of the America’s Tomorrow newsletter.

This story is adapted from an article written by Heather McCulloch, Manager of the Tax Policy Project of the Asset Funders Network. Read more about the organization’s work.

Read the rest of the April 9, 2014 America’s Tomorrow: Equity is the Superior Growth Model issue.
Subscribe to the America’s Tomorrow newsletter.

Written by America's Tomorrow

April 15th, 2014 at 2:00 pm

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The City of Chicago announced the Large Lot Program as a new vehicle for homeowners to purchase City-owned vacant lots on their block for $1. The program is being piloted in Englewood, West Englewood, Washington Park, Woodlawn, and parts of Greater Grand Crossing and New City.

The Large Lot Program is a policy innovation that emerged from resident input during the 18-month Green Healthy Neighborhoods land use planning process.

Written by Teamwork Englewood - Latest news

April 14th, 2014 at 6:00 pm

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The City of Chicago announced the Large Lot Program as a new vehicle for homeowners to purchase City-owned vacant lots on their block for $1. The program is being piloted in Englewood, West Englewood, Washington Park, Woodlawn, and parts of Greater Grand Crossing and New City.

The Large Lot Program is a policy innovation that emerged from resident input during the 18-month Green Healthy Neighborhoods land use planning process.

For more information on the application process and to search for a city owned lot vistLargeLot.Org

Written by Teamwork Englewood - Latest news

April 14th, 2014 at 6:00 pm

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Continuar el debate sobre la secundaria Ames

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Written by Logan Square Neighborhood Association - Latest news

April 14th, 2014 at 6:00 pm

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A day of volunteering: what’s the impact?

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Volunteering is a fun way to be part of MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive on Sunday, May 25.

But did you know your volunteerism has a direct impact on Active Trans’ success? Each volunteer is a part of something larger.

Let’s take a look at how our volunteers fit into the bigger picture of Active Trans’ work.

Great volunteers = great events
Over 600 pre-event and day-of-event volunteers help the Active Trans staff produce MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive. Volunteers distribute registration materials, fix flat tires, pass out refreshments at the rest stops, cheer on riders and set up an amazing post-ride festival in Grant Park. Volunteer support makes it all come together into one memorable biking event.

Great events = fundraising
Over 20,000 people participate in MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive – all supported by our volunteer team. Proceeds from these registrations provide essential funding for our advocacy work.

Fundraising = great results for Chicagoland
Buoyed by volunteer support and event proceeds, Active Trans works to make Chicagoland a better place to walk, bike and take transit – in other words, a better place to live.

Here are just a few of the things we do around the region:

Help expand the region’s network of protected bike lanes    Bus Rapid Transit advocacy
Bike safety education and outreach   Trails advocacy

What’s the impact of volunteering?
All these project wins are made possible by our volunteers’ contribution of time, talent and hard work. Be part of this special group. Six hours goes a long way to make Chicago a more livable city in which to bike, walk and take transit.

Join us. Be part of the movement. Sign up to volunteer today.

Written by djones

April 14th, 2014 at 5:13 pm

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TIGER Grants Represent Opportunity for Equity Leaders

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By Melissa Wells, Program Associate, PolicyLink

Transportation has the ability to enhance access to life’s critical resources— jobs, schools, grocery stores, and healthcare. Access to transportation infrastructure and services, and the quality of such services are not created equally, however. These differences are vividly illustrated when comparing thriving economic communities with severely distressed communities.155096822_47

Today transit-dependent people face major challenges. According to the American Public Transportation Association, more than 80 percent of the nation’s transit systems have proposed or have already cut service hours, eliminated routes, or increased fares. Improving transportation in ways that are inclusive of the needs of low-income people and communities of color, and that increase pathways to opportunity, requires targeted action by decision-makers. Targeted and equitable investments in transportation may be enhanced further when local decision-makers are equipped with the authority and resources necessary to develop and implement them.

Funding for locally-designed infrastructure projects is currently made possible through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). TIGER grants provide much needed resources to help state and local decision-makers implement transportation projects that increase economic mobility by way of improved access to reliable, safe, and affordable transportation. Projects that increase access to job, education, and training opportunities for low-income communities are featured among TIGER eligible projects.

This grant is also an important opportunity for equity leaders to advocate for resources that benefit low-income people and communities of color. The deadline for applying is April 28, 2014. Contact your local transportation department or metropolitan planning organization and find out if they plan to submit a TIGER application. If you want help, an excellent resource is the Transportation Equity Caucus, co-chaired by PolicyLink and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Learn more about the fiscal year 2014 TIGER grant program and the Notice of Funding Availability here.

Written by Debi Kar

April 14th, 2014 at 3:20 pm

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The Fair Housing Act in 2014

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April is Fair Housing Month – a time to reflect on the passing of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Even though the policy was signed forty-six years ago, it is still very relevant today. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was a landmark policy that demonstrated the importance of furthering open and inclusive communities. Signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Act was enacted in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King tirelessly advocated for an end to housing discrimination and a law that would support fair and open housing. Everyday housing advocates honor his life’s work by furthering his dream of equal rights and social justice. Though we have progressed as a nation, there is work to be done to truly achieve Dr. King’s dream.

Through the work of community leaders, the housing sector is becoming more inclusive. The original act prohibited housing discrimination against residents on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. In a 1989 amendment, the protected classes of persons with disabilities and families with children were added. Over the years, state and local jurisdictions have adopted other protected classes to further the mission of fair housing and enable a more equal housing market.

Unfortunately, housing discrimination still occurs today. While discrimination is not as blatant and ubiquitous as it was prior to the Fair Housing Act – think redlining and blockbusting – it continues to persist. Some realtors show houses in specific neighborhoods based on their clients’ race. Some banks charge higher interest rates on loans for minorities. Advertisements for rental units sometimes encourage certain groups of people to apply or exclude other groups. The Fair Housing Act is still needed to combat housing discrimination.

Segregation has permeated the nation’s cities for many years, and ending a deep and complex problem takes time. The Fair Housing Act includes a clause that affirmatively furthers fair housing, which aims to tackle historic segregation patterns. Affirmatively furthering fair housing provides better access to opportunities by promoting diverse and inclusive communities. It intends to reduce discrimination through open housing options for people of color as well as persons with disabilities.

To adhere to the clause to affirmatively further fair housing, communities that receive government funding must create a fair housing action plan to promote equal and diverse housing opportunities for residents. This section of the Fair Housing Act is an essential part of the mission of fair housing, but has lacked clear guidelines and little enforcement. In 2013, an updated rule aims to help municipalities affirmatively further fair housing through the use of assessment tools and public data. The new and improved clause provides a proactive approach to developing inclusive communities. This updated rule demonstrates that the nation still needs accountability and assistance in order to provide fair and open housing.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was a landmark policy that demonstrated the importance of furthering open and inclusive communities. This April, there is much to celebrate from the past forty-six years, but there is also more work to be done. Fair Housing Month reminds us of both of these things as we continue in the fair housing movement.

By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator

Written by Casey Griffith

April 14th, 2014 at 2:59 pm

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Housing Finance Reform Doesn’t Need to Start with Congress

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Later this month, as every reader no doubt knows, the Senate Banking committee will mark up the bipartisan housing finance reform bill put forward by Chairman Tim Johnson and Ranking Member Michael Crapo. There has been a lot of commentary on the bill in these pages and elsewhere by housing advocates, including some rather strong critics of the bill’s complexity, servicing regimes and perceived risk to the economy. As the bill is not, of course, the final word on housing finance, for manufactured housing there are some positive pieces that should be preserved or built upon as the process goes forward. That the bill recognizes that manufactured housing plays an important role in the provision of affordable housing is a critical, and easily overlooked, milestone. As the Manufactured Housing Institute remarked when the text of the bill was released, manufactured housing loans have made up less than one percent of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s secondary market efforts, which seems woefully inadequate in light of the outsized share the sector makes up as homeownership for low- and moderate-income Americans. In its direction to the new Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation (FMIC) to develop rules to support underserved markets, the bill cites manufactured housing as an example. The mandate sounds a bit like the yet-to-be-adopted Duty to Serve (DTS) regulations that Congress required the GSEs’ regulator to issue to support manufactured housing, rural markets and housing preservation. So while the paucity of GSE activity on manufactured housing in the past and the fact that proposed DTS rules have lingered for four years should give us pause, we should be hopeful that the secondary market will at some point more fully embrace manufactured homes and their long-ignored owners. The committee and staff did tremendous work on the bill, regardless of the criticisms of it. Specifically, CFED commends the staff for including manufactured housing advocates and others in its discussions in the run up to the bill’s release. One noteworthy mention is that manufactured housing is explicitly cited as eligible for the Market Access Fund (MAF).

Written by Rooflines

April 14th, 2014 at 2:09 pm

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How to improve the Lakefront Trail detour at Navy Pier

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After years of anticipation, construction has finally begun on the Navy Pier Flyover. However, the current bike and pedestrian detour around the construction zone is leading to confusion and potentially unsafe conditions for people walking and biking.

The huge numbers of people that use the Lakefront Trail at peak times deserve a safe and easy to use detour throughout the duration of the construction.

When completed, the Flyover will carry people walking and riding bikes up and over the street-level congestion near Navy Pier, the popular tourist destination. Construction is slated to take several years, during which time Lakefront Trail users will be re-routed around the construction site.

Here’s a map of the current detour provided on the project website:

A bit confusing, wouldn't you say?

We’ve been hearing from many members and supporters with concerns about safety and ease of us for the thousands of people who walk or ride through this corridor everyday. So we went to scope out the situation first hand yesterday and then sent the following comments to CDOT on how they can improve the detour during construction of this exciting project:

Improve map: The detour map provided on is confusing. Separate routes should be marked for pedestrians and cyclists (ideally with different colors and patterns). This map, along with information about the Flyover, should also be prominently displayed in Jane Addams Park.

Separate modes: Currently the detour consists of pedestrian only routes and shared ped/bike routes. Given the high number of lakefront trail users, we believe separation of modes would be preferable and separate detours should be provided for people walking and riding bikes.

Provide alternate on-street route: In addition to being a popular recreation destination, the Lakefront Trail is also a key bike commuter corridor. More seasoned riders may prefer to take an alternative on-street route rather than ride through the construction zone. CDOT should develop alternative routes that enable seasoned bike commuters to bypass the construction.

Ensure detour meets trail design standards: On the north end of the construction zone, the detour leads users onto a sidewalk that is too narrow and does not meet the Lakefront Trail design standards. We are concerned the heavy volume of mixed traffic may result in an uncomfortable experience for cyclists and pedestrians, and may lead to increased incidence of crashes. Given the long term duration of the project, we recommend this segment be widened to align with existing lakefront trail design standards.

In addition, the detour instructs cyclists to use the north side of Illinois, however this route forces people riding bikes into an unsafe bottleneck at the intersection of Illinois and Streeter Dr. Currently, on part of the segment of Illinois between Lower LSD and Streeter Dr. jersey barriers are being used to create, what appears to be, a temporary on-street path over the fire lane adjacent to Lake Point Tower (LPT). However, this path stops abruptly at a LPT driveway/loading dock and was obstructed by illegally parked cars during our observations. This is not a sufficient accommodation for peak hour volume of bicycle traffic.

Improve signage and markings: In order to clarify the recommended trail routing for through trail traffic as well as people walking or biking to Navy Pier, detour signs should say "Lakefront Trail Detour" in addition to "Bike/Ped Detour." Perhaps spray paint or temporary spray chalk stencils could also complement signage to direct users to the proper route for their specific mode and destination.

In addition to routing signs, at the entry points of detours signs should explain in text or visually the routes for bikes/peds (i.e. Lower LSD closed to bike traffic between Grand and Illinois. Use Streeter Dr. to access southbound trail at Illinois.) Detour warning signs placed in advance of the detour could help alert trail users to the approaching detour and encourage them to be cautious through the construction zone.

If you have identified other issues or have other ideas on how to improve the detour, leave us a note in the comments or shoot me an email at We’ll be sure your comments and concerns make it to the good people at CDOT working on this exciting project.

Written by jmerrell

April 11th, 2014 at 10:12 pm

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