Broad Shoulders Update

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Archive for the ‘new york’ tag

A Victory for Fair Housing

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This week’s landmark fair housing settlement in Westchester County is a reminder that we still have a long way to go to achieve truly fair, equitable communities in America – but that we’ve also got the tools we need to make real progress.

The case brought into stark relief the impact that where we live has on how we live. Communities disconnected from jobs, good schools, parks, and other amenities do not provide the opportunities to succeed that all people need and deserve. Far too often, residents of low-income communities and westchesterhousing.jpgcommunities of color are literally cut off from real economic and social opportunity.

While individual discriminatory landlords have long been targeted by advocates and local law enforcement, the broader community- and region-wide issue of housing segregation has rarely been given this much ink – and federal attention. By re-opening that discussion and bringing tangible measuring sticks to bear, the Westchester case has given a jolt of energy to efforts to fight regional housing segregation.

The case has garnered much-deserved attention in large part because of three important developments:

  • An Equity Standard

By putting the onus for housing integration directly on affluent communities, this settlement helped create a benchmark for equity in all communities.

  • White House Backing

When the Obama Administration (through HUD Assistant Secretary Ron Sims) spoke out  in favor of residential integration, the full force of the federal government came with it.  Bold federal leadership is required to bring the broad solutions needed to address this deep-seated problem.

  • Power of the Purse

By tying federal money for infrastructure to an affirmative effort to integrate housing, the federal government used its primary lever (its money) to advance equity and opportunity for millions of Americans.

By ruling for the plaintiffs that the federal money for community development requires an affirmative effort to integrate housing, the courts affirmed that the federal government can use its primary lever (its infrastructure money) to advance equity and opportunity for millions of Americans.

We hope Westchester County steps up to its settlement to begin to open new doors to communities of opportunity.  PolicyLink, in the meantime, wants to work with the growing ranks of equity advocates to build on this win and continue pushing for robust expansion of these approaches from local, state and federal resources.

Written by Kalima Rose

August 14th, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Healthy Food Access, Coast to Coast

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The Gotham Gazette, a New York news and policy site, teamed up with The Huffington Post for a piece on fresh food availability in New York City.

The article, complete with interactive map, shows a huge disparity between food availability in Manhattan and the outer boroughs.

According to the map, some Manhattan neighborhoods have over 20,000 square feet of supermarket space per 10,000 residents. In a neighborhood like that, all residents could fit into their local supermarkets with two feet of wiggle room. Some neighborhoods have as much as 30,000 square feet per 10,000 residents.

Compare this to neighborhoods in the outer boroughs; the map tells us that Brooklyn’s tenth district has around a third as many square feet per residents as Manhattan’s 10th. That’s around 7000 square feet of supermarket space for 10,000 residents.

But not all of Manhattan has satisfactory fresh food availability;

“I live in the West Harlem area, and it is incredibly difficult to find quality fruits and vegetables,” writes Erin Barker. “It’s a big problem. Even when stores have this stuff, it’s usually not in good shape — bruised or not usable. I think it is more difficult in my neighborhood than it is in wealthier areas of Manhattan that have more upscale grocery stores.”

Check out the article for more, it really puts food access in the NY metro area in perspective.

The city is working on the problem, Gov. Paterson’s office sent out this press release in May.

On the other side of the country, in Oakland, an effort is being made to bring fresh foods to low income neighborhoods, as covered by The San Fransisco Chronicle.

Opened this past June, Mandela Foods Cooperative is located near an affordable housing complex called the Mandela Gateway.

Drawing about 300 customers a day, the new co-op only stocks healthful things, barring products including common ingredients like high fructose corn syrup from their shelves.
They have an interesting business model:

It’s a worker-owned cooperative. Eight local residents are worker-owners who make all the store’s business decisions and perform all its functions - including cashiering, stocking shelves, cleaning, taking inventory and ordering.

One third of the profits will be returned to the community in the form of a credit union next door.

Fresh-Food Financing in the NYT!

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Excellent piece today in the Times’ business section about the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative…and the effort to replicate it in New York.

 The ShopRite owner, Jeffrey Brown, a fourth-generation grocer, said it would not have made economic sense to open the $14.5 million store, which is at 52nd Street and Parkside Avenue, if not for a Pennsylvania grant and revolving-loan program aimed at improving access to nutritious food in places with few, if any, good stores to choose from.

“In neighborhoods like this, people have less money and the first thing they cut out are all the high-margin items,” said Mr. Brown, citing prepared foods and fancy breads as examples. Costs, like extra security, tend to be higher in poorer neighborhoods, he said.

Through the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, Mr. Brown, who owns 10 other supermarkets in the Philadelphia area, got a $1 million grant and $7 million in federal New Markets tax credits, which are aimed at stimulating investment in low-income communities. Several customers said the prices at Mr. Brown’s store were fairer than what they had been used to.

Inspired by Pennsylvania’s example, New York City officials have developed an initiative of their own to bring new neighborhood markets selling fresh food to areas of the city where they say the need is greatest.

PolicyLink, The Reinvestment Fund and The Food Trust are also working to bring this idea national. Check out a great two-page primer on the federal possibilities here.

Today in Equity

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Daily equity news 

 “Customers Prove There’s a Market for Fresh Produce,” - The New York Times

How green are trains, public transportation, and hybrid cars? It depends,” -  Christian Science Monitor

 ”Investors bet on Detroit housing market,” - CNNMoney.com

Written by Keith Forest

June 11th, 2009 at 6:35 pm

The Leveling of Citigroup

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The idea that Citigroup could support the family by gambling didn’t begin with Robert Rubin. It’s part of a long tradition. What was different in the most recent go-round is that, this time, Citi didn’t invent the game. Of course, once it got to the casino it characteristically placed larger bets than anyone else.

Word that Citigroup is teetering on the brink of break up brings a certain wistfulness to this former Citibank speechwriter. Not because intensive care is something new for the old bank — it isn’t — but because it ended up on life support by following the crowd instead of leading it. For well over a century, Citigroup and its precursors — First National, the City Bank of New York, First National City, Citibank, and Citicorp — were innovators. They didn’t just overdo the fad of the moment, as they have done with mortgage-backed securities of one sort or another: they created it. They led the Charge of the Light Brigade.

New York was America’s imperial city, and Citibank was a vehicle for imperial vision by people who lacked imperial lineage.

When trade followed the flag to Latin America and the Philippines, Citi was there to count the cash. The vision of the bank as a financial supermarket didn’t begin when Sandy Weill stepped into the picture; it had its antecedents in the 1920s when Charles Mitchell, chairman of the National City Bank, merged commercial and consumer banking with his “bank for all”. His vision that was still ruffling feathers six decades later, when senior vice-president Eben Pyne bitterly told me, “Charles Mitchell ruined my grandfather’s bank [Farmers Loan and Trust], and they’re doing the same thing now with these credit cards.” After acquiring Grandpa Percy’s FL&T for its retail customer base, National City stuffed customers accounts with speculative paper from Latin America. Think Bernard Madoff with widows and orphans.

Walter Wriston was CEO when I arrived at Citi in 1980. Walt used to say that when he entered banking soon after World War II, it seemed like the embodiment of everything dull. Over his next years as Citicorp Chairman, he would certainly turn up the excitement. He pioneered the negotiable certificate of deposit, shepherded the career of consumer banking king John Reed, and above all attacked the regulatory and legal regime that had been erected during the Depression, all under the watchful eye of a portrait of Austrian economist Frederich Hayek on his office wall. The strategy that emerged late in his tenure was known as the “Five I’s”: institutions, individuals, investments, insurance, and information. They wanted to do it all. And to do it, Citi needed to create a level playing field. Other institutions not regulated as banks could perform bank-like functions, while banks couldn’t reciprocate. Merrill Lynch’s money market accounts, which offered interest along with checking privileges, were a case in point.

The deregulation campaign provided plenty of work for the speechwriting team. Ronald Reagan’s first term, when Adam Smith neckties were all the rage, was a propitious time to turn up the heat. The anti-regulatory fever that we were doing our utmost to spread was more reasonable then than many people now credit. At the time, we liked to remind everyone that the prohibition against interstate banking dated from an era when people traveled by horse. Under unitary banking laws then current in Texas, for example, each standalone ATM required incorporation as a bank. The commercial market allowed corporations with excess cash to lend to other corporations by way of Wall Street, bypassing the banks. It seemed as though any financial company that didn’t have a bank charter was free to poach on bank territory, while we had our hands tied.

Citibank was constantly challenging these constraints, legally, operationally, and, happily for me, rhetorically. Some of the ideas were just plain dumb. One was a travelers-checks-by-mail scheme that would allow consumer deposits to be collected across state lines. What was missing was any sense that consumers could actually be induced to do business this way; one thing I did learn at Citibank was that consumer behavior often failed to keep up with the brilliance of these innovators.

There was a pervasive feeling that Wall Street’s profits were unjustifiably high, and that we should be allowed to compete. We needed the regulatory freedom to enter each new line of business that just wasn’t there for banks. If Merrill Lynch could offer interest-bearing checking accounts and Sears could issue credit cards and sell insurance, why shouldn’t we sell mutual funds and insurance policies in our branches? We had machines to do mindless tasks like taking deposits and dispensing cash; why shouldn’t we use our people to do things that only people can do?

But as we achieved some of our legal and regulatory goals, the true prize only receded. The head of our private banking division once confided in me, for no good reason, “Do you know how hard it is to beat the S&P 500 day after day?” Citibank was discovering, yet again, that it’s hard to make a whole lot of money in banking all the time unless you’re smart and nimble enough to adjust to changing economic circumstances.

Citibank was nimble of mind but slow of foot. Profitability depended on finding an occasional niche and driving a truck through it, whether it was lending to Latin America, commercial real estate, or credit cards. At some point, John Reed told us that Citibank was a credit card company with six or seven [unprofitable] lines of business. At other times the investment didn’t pay off at all. Remember Quotron, the dominant player in desktop information for brokers around the world? Even the bank’s own due diligence showed that it wasn’t worth the $1.5 billion price tag. But we wanted to buy market share in that fifth “I”, the financial information business. This transaction made Daimler’s acquisition of Chrysler look like the Louisiana Purchase. At the time, there was a former trader named Bloomberg just entering the picture. Within a couple of years, it was his name, not Quotron’s, that sat on every trading desk in the world.

In the early 1990s, as its stock fell below $10, necessitating a Saudi bailout, Citibank abandoned one of its most cherished traditions, the continuous payment of dividends for more than 100 years. A tradition sustained for many years, as it turns out, by borrowed money, not earnings.

Fast forward to this week: a lead headline in the New York Times business section reads, “Citigroup Plans to Split Itself Up, Taking Apart the Financial Supermarket”. The playing field is now level. Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Citi have all been leveled by their gambles in the same lousy securities.

Citibank was always a bi-polar kind of place. It alternated eras of rash and brash with periods of sober and staid, sometimes with new senior management and sometimes with the same team that created the mess to begin with. For now, the mania is over. Current CEO Vikram Pandit, described in the press as a technocrat, has put Smith Barney up for sale. It’s back to basics. Both Grandpa Percy Pyne, and now Grandson Eben, can take time out from turning over in their graves for a little schadenfreude. If we’re lucky, Citigroup will be just a bank… until the next time.

Henry Ehrlich is a footnote to the financial history of our time. He was a senior speechwriter for Citibank for 11 years, where he served the great, the near great, and the not so great. Among other things, he wrote every speech for the senior bank negotiator during the early years of the 1980s LDC debt crisis. He is author of Writing Effective Speeches and The Wiley Book of Business Quotations.

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Written by Henry Ehrlich

January 16th, 2009 at 5:00 am

Stop The Wall Street Bonuses

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These are tough times for Michael Bloomberg’s free-spending “luxury city.” High-end condominium speculators – long considered impervious to the mortgage crisis – are shivering in the bitter cold this winter. Four billion dollars in building projects have been postponed or canceled outright, in large part because Wall Street’s bonus babies are getting a tad less than they are accustomed to.

Despite this, I would suspect most of America thinks Wall Street, and New York’s financial community, has not suffered enough. Industry bonuses are still expected to total well over $20 billion – small compared to last year’s stupendous $33.2 billion, but not an insignificant New Year’s present for the very people who have played a crucial role in wrecking the world economy.  read more »

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Written by archive

January 6th, 2009 at 5:14 am

America Has No Cause to Fear Political Dynasties

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It’s been a tough winter for those concerned about dynastic politics.

One-time First Daughter Caroline Kennedy is angling for a Senate appointment from the governor of New York. In Delaware Vice President-elect Joe Biden tapped a longtime aide as a placeholder for the Senate seat he will soon vacate, so his son, state Attorney General Beau Biden, will have a leg up in the 2010 special election. And an oft-mentioned Colorado Senate replacement for Interior Secretary-Designate Ken Salazar is his brother, Rep. John Salazar.  read more »

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Written by David Mark

December 24th, 2008 at 6:29 am

Posted in from the news feed

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Good-Bye, Gentry

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The proposed investiture of Caroline Kennedy as the replacement senator for Hillary Clinton has inspired a surprising degree of opposition – at least from other claimants to the throne, such as the Cuomos, and from those obstreperous parvenues, the Clintons.

Perhaps less obvious may be a wider disdain expressed by even liberal New Yorkers who feel Kennedy’s elevation may be one celebrity rising too many. Although the big New York editorial boards are expected to line up, like so many obedient lap dogs, grassroots dissent seethes.  read more »

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Written by archive

December 23rd, 2008 at 5:44 am

Did You Miss These? (October 24 Edition)

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A recap of this week’s equity news.

8,800 Road Home properties to return to private hands, ” - Times Picayune

Actor Wendell Pierce and trumpeter Terence Blanchard have come back to their old neighborhood, Pontchartrain Park, and are poised to take over one of every nine properties there — so they can build and sell affordable homes,
On Monday, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority will vote on an agreement to transfer 114 abandoned and vacant properties to Pierce and Blanchard’s Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corp. It’s a big moment for the star of HBO’s cop drama “The Wire,” the Grammy-winning musician and some of their childhood buddies and fellow investors, who want to return New Orleans’ first middle-class black subdivision to its pre-Katrina glory.

Homeless numbers ‘alarming’,” - USA Today

More families with children are becoming homeless as they face mounting economic pressures, including mortgage foreclosures, according to a USA TODAY survey of a dozen of the largest cities in the nation.

Local authorities say the number of families seeking help has risen in Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle and Washington.

ACORN fights back,” - San Francisco Chronicle

In the midst of the predictable partisan exaggerations, distortions and occasional lies that close election races generate, ACORN has become the focus of an extraordinary amount of attention over our voter-registration program. We submitted nearly 40,000 voter registration applications in San Diego and throughout California, and 1.3 million nationwide. In communities across the country, anxiety about the direction of our country, and more specifically our economy, is driving much of the interest in this year’s presidential election. Voter turnout is expected to be of historic proportions. What is surprising is that these attacks, issued from partisan sources, have become relentless, and wildly exaggerated. We’ve even been accused by some Republicans of causing the global economic crisis.

The truth, plain and simple, is that no illegal votes will be cast as a consequence of ACORN’s voter-registration program. In fact, illegal votes constitute fewer than 1 out of a million votes cast, and no illegal vote has ever been tied to ACORN, in spite of the almost 2 million registrations we submitted in 2004 and 2006. The small percentage of problematic cards that we have submitted to local election boards in 2008 - and that we are required by law to submit, even cards that we can plainly see are invalid - will not result in any illegal voting, contrary to over-the-top partisan claims. The irony in these attacks is that our registration drive and get-out-the-vote program is nonpartisan.