Posts by Author: Zoe Sullivan

To Solve Food Access Problem, Cincy Neighborhood Looks to Model from Spain

Apple Street Market owners celebrate at Cincinnati City Hall after their development partners received city funding to acquire and build-out the future site for their market. (Credit: Apple Street Market)

Diane Hurse, 63, has lived in Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood for all of the 33 years she has lived in Cincinnati. She raised a family here while working at a bank. When the local Save-A-Lot grocery store shut down in 2013, life got a bit more complicated. Although the Northside still has places where canned food is available, there is no place to get fresh meat and vegetables, according to Hurse.

“We have a car now, [but] we used to have to take three buses to get to the grocery store,” says Hurse.

To fill the gap in her neighborhood, Hurse has joined her neighbors to organize around the creation of Apple Street Market, a unionized, community-owned food cooperative.

“The majority of the people I’ve spoken to, they’re happy about it, [the future market] being walking distance from their home here,” says Hurse.

Apple Street Market is connected to a number of local organizations that are working together to make it a reality. There’s Northsiders Engaged in Sustainable Transformation (NEST), a “conscientious community redevelopment corporation” that brings vacant properties on the Northside back into use. NEST has primarily worked in housing, but last year, working with city government and funders, they secured funding from city council to acquire the former Save-A-Lot building in Northside, which NEST will lease to Apple Street Market.

“This property is at the center of the neighborhood, and it’s one of the largest pieces of property,” says Christopher DeAngelis, the Apple Street Market organizing coordinator. “If it does not get developed, it’s going to drag the neighborhood down.”

The city council funding will also cover the property’s environmental remediation and the market’s construction, according to DeAngelis.

There’s also CAIN, Churches Active in Northside, a faith-based group in the neighborhood that has been helping recruit community owners. The cost of an ownership share in Apple Street Market is $100, or $10 for anyone who qualifies for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps), free or reduced school lunch, or Medicaid.

“We want to have at least 2,000 owners before we open,” says DeAngelis. Currently, the project has 1,243 community owners.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, DeAngelis admits: “Large institutions that normally one would go to for institutional support … in Cincinnati, that’s a really hard sell because this is the home of the super-center grocery store model, which is a model that creates food deserts. It creates food insecurity. So, people don’t see that as a problem.”

Then there’s the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative (CUCI), which incubates union cooperative businesses. If all goes well, Apple Street Market will be the next addition to the network of union cooperatives CUCI has incubated so far. The first project the incubator launched was the Our Harvest food and farm hub, and it’s also launched an energy efficiency retro-fitting co-op and an affordable housing initiative.

CUCI’s seeds were planted in 2009 following conversations between U.S. Steelworkers and representatives of Spain’s Mondragon cooperative business network, according to Kristen Barker, CUCI’s Executive Director. Mondragon’s network includes 120 worker cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain, employing over 70,000 worker-owners.

The union cooperative model adds a twist to the worker-cooperative model that cities like New York, Cleveland, Rochester, Madison and others are now supporting in various ways as a strategy to encourage the creation of quality jobs. Taking inspiration from the Mondragon cooperatives, the union cooperative model combines the democratically shared decision-making and shared ownership of a co-op business model with a collective bargaining agreement for workers covering wages, benefits, working conditions and other workplace issues. As part of a local union, a union cooperative also gets access to shared resources and collective power that it would not otherwise have, such as the ability to gain access to lower cost, higher quality health insurance, retirement plans, industry and market research, education and training, finance, and public policy initiatives

Launching CUCI was no small task. “I’m the parent of a child with special needs, and people would come over to my house at 9 o’clock when she was in bed, and we would just work, actually, every night,” Barker recalls of back in those early days. “It was a really intense time, but very exciting because we want to create an economy that works for all. Especially those who’ve been historically excluded.”

Barker points to Cooperative Homecare Associates (CHA), a home-healthcare service based in the Bronx that has also adopted the union co-op model. CHA is currently the largest worker cooperative in the United States, with more than 2,000 worker-owners. In Barker’s view, a union co-op is more equipped to reach a larger scale, without compromising its values, than a non-unionized worker cooperative model.

“We are very interested in our co-ops being able to scale with their values intact,” Barker says. “And to maintain participation and transparency and everything we care about.”

Several of CUCI’s founders live in the same Northside neighborhood as Hurse, making the food access issue personal for the organization.

The project needs to raise $700,000 in order to open, DeAngelis says, but he his “aspirational goal” for fundraising is $923,000. The aim is to open the market in 2019. Hurse says she’s ready to bring her skills as a troubleshooter within a bank to the co-op’s finances.

“Any co-op, their biggest challenge is having sufficient working capital to deal with surprises,” DeAngelis says. “They are a new business, and all the market studies in the world, all the customer surveys in the world, are, at best, a compass. They’ll show you how you think you want to go. They’ll help tell you where you’re off course. They are a compass, not a crystal ball.”

 

Will this Historic Memphis Venue Ever Serve its Community Again?

The Mid-South Coliseum, in Memphis. (Photo by Sean Davis)

Angela Barksdale, 62, still vividly remembers going to concerts at the old Mid-South Coliseum, in Memphis.

“I was in love with Patti La Belle,” says Barksdale. “One particular concert, I’ll never forget … she came out of the ceiling in a birdcage. She had on this feather suit, and I just thought that was awesome.”

Barksdale, like a majority of Memphians, supports the idea of re-opening the Coliseum. The 10,000-seat venue closed in 2007 because of its lack of compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

When the City of Memphis announced it was going to demolish the arena in 2014, a few community members launched a petition to save the building, which is part of the historic Memphis Fairgrounds. That initiative grew in strength with groups such as the Coliseum Coalition and Friends of the Fairgrounds emerging to draft plans to remodel the Coliseum and make it viable for a new millennium.

This coming Saturday, the Coliseum Coalition hosts the third annual “Roundhouse Revival,” crowdfunding to support the performers, including professional wrestlers. It’s a nod to the venue’s past, as well as suggesting a potential future for the venue as a local recreational space and economic engine for the Orange Mound, one of the first communities in the south built by and for African Americans.

“The Coliseum was the focal point for Orange Mound at one point. There were wrestling matches. There were basketball games. There were all types of events,” says Barksdale, who grew up in the neighborhood. “When they closed it down, that took away jobs. That took away our sense of having a location [that] we could call our own.”

But re-opening the Mid-South Coliseum has not been simple or straightforward. In the decade since its closing, the city, which owns the complex, has backed itself into a legal corner as part of financing a newer, larger venue for the city’s professional basketball team; meanwhile, the Orange Mound is no longer as connected to the Mid-South Coliseum as it once was.

“There are two ways people squelch any conversation about the Coliseum. There was a false narrative that was put out there that it was a dilapidated building that was falling down and should be torn down,” says Marvin Stockwell, who co-founded the Coliseum Coalition in 2014 and since moved on to co-found Friends of the Fairgrounds. “The other impediment that keeps progress from being made is what’s known as the Grizzlies’ non-compete.”

The city issued $250 million in municipal bonds to finance the 18,000-seat FedExForum to serve as the home of professional basketball’s Memphis Grizzlies. That venue opened in 2004, three years before the Mid-South Coliseum closed. Per the agreement to finance the FedExForum, the Grizzlies organization is on the hook for any operating losses by the venue. The city says the agreement has saved it millions of dollars. But the agreement also includes a non-compete provision that says the city of Memphis shall not provide financial incentives to any project with an indoor performance venue of 5,000 or more seats because such a venue would compete with FedEx Forum for concerts and other shows.

The Mid-South Coliseum isn’t the only project that has encountered this unusual barrier to public financing. Elvis Presley Enterprises, which operates Elvis’ Graceland, is currently embroiled in litigation with the regional economic development agency to obtain public financing for a proposed expansion to Graceland that would include a concert venue.

Stockwell suggests that the Grizzlies are missing the big picture vision and that a renovated Coliseum could host the team’s developmental league affiliate, among other sorts of events and activities.

The Grizzlies declined Next City’s requests for an interview or comment on the matter.

In the meantime, the Coliseum Coalition drafted a business plan that calls for the structure to be remodeled to comply with the ADA, which would actually reduce its seating capacity to approximately 5,000. The plan estimates that the overhaul would cost approximately $25.5 million. The group’s business plan also outlines a strategy of re-opening the venue alongside an amateur sports complex — which jives with a city proposal for the site.

The City of Memphis put out its own proposal for the creation of a tourism zone at the Memphis Fairgrounds that would allow a proposed youth sports facility to use income generated by its own activities to help cover its building costs. The city’s plan posits such a facility as the host and magnet for local and regional indoor competitions.

“Our goal is to try to improve the area around the Coliseum and activate it with assets like a youth sports complex that will provide more likelihood of a private investor wanting to put money into the Coliseum,” says Paul Young, Director of Memphis’ Division of Housing and Community Development. “Are there uses other than an arena? That’s what we think is really a way to get that building really back activated.”

But the city’s plan doesn’t include investing in the existing venue. The city has yet to issue a request-for-proposals for what to do with the Mid-South Coliseum itself.

“I 100-percent agree with the folks on that side that want to see it re-opened because it’s a cool venue and it definitely has historic implications and a lot of nostalgia,” says Young. “[But] the reason the Grizzlies have a non-compete clause is because they have agreed to take on any losses associated with the operating aspect of the FedEx Forum. So, when you add new venues into the city and into our market, it is inherently going to compete.”

The Memphis area has a number of other venues already, such as the Landers Center in nearby Mississippi; Overton Park, Minglewood Hall, and the Orpheum Theater.

“If you analyze it like we have, you realize there are all sorts of event types that the non-compete does not require that [the team] be consulted and that there are lots of event types that would be appropriate for the Coliseum that would not be appropriate for FedExForum,” Stockwell says.

While others in the city want to see the area revitalized, they have additional concerns about the priorities being pursued.

Britney Thornton is a Memphis native who, like Barksdale, grew up in Orange Mound. After completing a master’s degree in social work, Thornton returned to her hometown to teach. The neighborhood where she grew up, however, had changed.

“The Orange Mound of the present day has no direct contact with the Coliseum,” says Thornton. “The people who love [the Coliseum] the most are probably not going to be in that physical place as of yet because of mobility constraints. They’re 70- and 80-year-old seniors, and their sons and daughters … have moved out of the community.”

Another factor Thornton noted is that the community has lost homeowners and tipped to become a majority rental neighborhood.

“What they’re planning now isn’t really conducive to people who are impoverished,” she said. “The average Orange Mound resident, they’re not engaged. The idea of taking a bike ride and crossing two bridges [to get to the venue] is foreign to them.”

Thornton established a non-profit organization, Juice Orange Mound, to engage residents. Yet, the lack of engagement, she says, means that plans for revitalizing the Memphis Fairgrounds as a whole need to consider how to facilitate access and stimulate participation from the neighborhoods that surround it.

Thornton says she plans on running in the next city council elections.

A 2015 analysis from the Urban Land Institute on plans for the Fairgrounds recommends creating a “Midtown Collaborative Initiative” focused on engaging Orange Mound and other neighborhoods surrounding the Fairgrounds.

Aaron Shaffer, a research scientist involved with a process to develop a skatepark in Memphis, says it’s normal for planning processes to take time and involve lots of back and forth. Agreeing with Thornton, Shaffer says that the central issue in the project should be the benefit to the city’s residents.

“I just want to see the Fairgrounds be a place where we really increase the quality of life for our citizens. Memphis is a place where we don’t have a lot of natural attractions. And we need to build more. We don’t have mountains. We don’t have clear lakes. We have a giant Mississippi that you can’t do anything with,” Shaffer says. Further complicating the situation, Shaffer says, the city has lost attractions such as the Liberty Land amusement park that was on the fairgrounds, and a nearby freshwater beach.

“We don’t have a lot of room for fooling around with money when it becomes available,” says Shaffer. “Is a sports complex really going to increase quality of life for most Memphians? … I don’t think it is. That’s where I’m at.”

 

Houston’s Third Ward Residents Want More Say over Development

Project Row Houses is a non-profit arts organization established by black artists and community activists in Houston's historic Third Ward. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Assata Richards is a third-generation resident of Houston’s historically black Third Ward. She credits strong organizations and institutions in the Third Ward for allowing her, as a single mother, to graduate from the University of Houston, and go on to get her Ph.D. from Penn State University. “And then come back to the community using my understanding of power, systems, inequality, social mobility as a sociologist,” she adds.

Gentrification, however, is threatening families like Richards’ who have long resided in the area, which is near Houston’s downtown. A Houston Chronicle report said that housing prices in the Third Ward went up 176 percent between 2000 and 2013.

In response, while also serving as founder of the Sankofa Research Institute, Richards has been one of the driving forces behind Houston’s Third Ward community land trust initiative, which has gained the support of Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department and Mayor Sylvester Turner.

“There is no zoning in Houston, and there are very few policy mechanisms to control what happens with the land,” Richards explains. “Because we don’t have zoning and we don’t have many regulatory processes, the community land trust means that we at least have an opportunity to determine who benefits from development in our community.”

A city-recognized network of volunteer-run civic clubs, block associations, neighborhood development organizations and other civic organizations have traditionally been local powerhouses that have determined what kinds of businesses and development would take place within Houston communities. But the civic organizations generally restrict membership to property owners. Richards points out that 70 percent of the Third Ward’s residents are renters, and the same percentage earns less than $21,000 per year. The area also has the second highest unemployment rate within the city’s urban core. These low incomes prevent the bulk of Third Ward residents from qualifying for most existing homeownership programs that help people become property owners.

The community land trust initiative grew out of recommendations developed by students from Texas Southern University’s master’s program in Urban Planning and Environmental Policy, says Jeffrey Lowe, an urban planning professor at Texas Southern University’s Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs. As the neighborhood’s Emancipation Park embarked on a $34 million redevelopment, Lowe had his students examine how the park could be better connected to the northern section of the Third Ward.

“Given what we already know about parks, how [they] can facilitate gentrification, there were real concerns,” Lowe says. “In the resources being placed in this park, it pretty much turned a neighborhood park into a destination park in many ways.”

One of the recommendations the students developed was that long-time residents needed to gain more control over land use and development through a community land trust. In 2015, the Emancipation Economic Development Council was born. One of the council’s working groups focused on ensuring access to affordable housing and adopted the community land trust model for that purpose.

Kirk Jackson, another long-time Third Ward resident, has been another important player in the project. He now chairs the Emancipation Economic Development Council’s housing committee. “Developers are looking for ways to fund themselves. They aren’t looking for grants. They’re moving right along,” he says. “You can stand on a vacant lot in Third Ward, and if you don’t move, you’ll be part of the sheetrock.”

To help counter this frenzy, Jackson has hope for the Midtown Redevelopment Authority, which, he says, has about 4 million square feet of property in its portfolio, much of it in the Third Ward, and it has a mission to develop affordable, low-income housing.

“We hope that at some point when that land is released, they will release it to the [Emancipation Economic Development Council] and other faith-based or economic-development corporations in the area for the sole purpose of developing low-income and affordable housing,” says Jackson.

Yet even if that land does become available, Richards recognizes that the community land trust model challenges some core beliefs around economic security, particularly for African-Americans, many of whom have looked at homeownership as a source of protection.

“What we realize is that individual ownership has its limits for protection, that it has not securely protected communities and African-Americans,” says Richards. “We’ve lost our homes to the sub-prime lending. We’ve lost our homes to increases in taxes. We’ve lost our homes to foreclosure. We’ve lost our homes to eminent domain.”

Those historical patterns, Richards argues, mean that collective models represent a critical tool for black and low-income communities.

At the same time, the Emancipation Economic Development Council is incubating cooperative businesses so that community residents not only have housing but also sustainable incomes and dignified work.

Lowe also explains how community land trusts help democratize society.

“At least one-third of the board members are supposed to be people who are living on the land trust. Those people can be homeowners, they can be renters,” he explains. Another third would come from areas adjacent to the trust and the remaining third would come from other areas of the city — typically, with community land trusts, these “external” board members are professionals who can contribute real estate, business or financial expertise to the group.

“By doing it that way, you see how it helps build this notion of community,” says Lowe. “I think this is really important in a city that historically, until relatively recently, a renter could not be, say, an officer in one of the [civic clubs].”

 

Local Dollars Funding Local D.C. Sustainable Energy Contractors and Workers

A worker installs solar panels. (Photo by Jon Callas)

Humberto Garces was a third-year medical student when, in 2000, he and his brother were forced to flee Colombia.

“I was shot the same day that my father was assassinated,” says Garces, whose father was a journalist and union leader in Colombia. Garces was shot five times and spent about six months in the hospital recovering.

“I couldn’t walk for about a year. As soon as I could walk, I came here to the States,” says Garces. He and his younger brother came to Washington, D.C., where a friend studying at Howard University took them in.

The two started building bridges between Latino and African-American communities and, with the help of local church members, they launched a landscaping company. That eventually led them into home repair work. In 2011, Garces struck out on his own, founding Green Construction Services Group.

“I decided that the vision of the company was to start implementing environmental and sustainable energy programs,” says Garces. “We as human beings have to understand that we have to take care of the planet.” He attributes his interest in the environment to the time he spent as a youth in the Colombian countryside.

Garces landed his first contract on an energy efficiency project with the D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility earlier this year, after a workshop hosted by the agency.

“I’ve been working for the government for the last 14 years, but not as a contractor directly, as a sub-contractor,” says Garces. “This is the first project that I have ever been a contractor directly with the government, which makes me very happy because there wasn’t a lot of paperwork. It was simple for an immigrant and a small-business owner like I am.”

Garces is just one beneficiary of economic development work by the D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility, which gets its funding via a surcharge on all electric and natural gas utility ratepayers in the District. The agency has hired more than 500 D.C. residents for agency projects since it was established 10 years ago to help make the District more energy efficient.

More than 70 percent of the District’s carbon emissions come from its built environment. So far, through various projects it has commissioned through contractors like Garces, the D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility has eliminated 3.8 million metric tons in annual carbon emissions, equivalent to annual emissions by 830,000 cars. As Garces’ story conveys, the agency is also invested in generating economic opportunity for the District.

“A lot of the contractors that we were working with seven or eight years ago were small Mom and Pop shops,” says Ted Trabue, executive director of the D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility. Now, he says, those businesses are larger with greater capacity to provide services and hire other local D.C. residents.

“Our budget is about $20 million a year, so they know they can count on a large amount of money being spent in the energy efficiency space to meet the demands and to meet the workloads that we’re putting on them,” Trabue says.

In addition to workshops for resident D.C. contractors like Garces, the agency also offers training for the people those contractors hire.

“It’s the people who are being trained to work inside of the buildings as building operators who are making sure that the heating systems and air conditioning systems in these buildings are operating at maximum efficiency,” Trabue says. “We’re training more people to do all of these things, bringing people into the green economy and helping people get jobs in this new workspace.”

The agency offers ten weeks of basic training and then selects candidates for a four-month, paid externship with an employer such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority. The program has a 95 percent job placement rate, Trabue says, and it helps the agency reach its annual mandate of creating 88 full-time jobs for Washington, DC residents.

“There are no other programs that we’ve found in the country that are combining energy efficiency goals and social equity goals,” Trabue says. “Not only are we pursuing energy efficiency and installing renewables, but we are also combining that with social equity work of working with low-income communities.”

Twenty percent of the agency’s budget goes to low-income households, working with local contractors and generating local revenue, according to Trabue.

“The D.C. Sustainable Energy program is one of the most effective I have ever participated in,” adds Garces. “[The program] is trying to encourage people to reduce energy consumption. and it’s also bringing opportunities to small businesses like mine that don’t have opportunities in other arenas because of all the competition.”

 

Putting Human Faces and Bodies on Abandoned Building Data

Residents protest lack of electricity in Moreno, near Recife, Brazil, late Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. Thousands of homes lost their electricity and water supply after heavy rains hit Recife and neighboring cities. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

After losing her job at a restaurant in Recife, Brazil, Maria Dos Prazeres de Jesus, 37, couldn’t pay her rent, and she and her youngest children ended up on the street. That was almost two years ago.

Since April, she’s been participating in the Marielle Franco Occupation in central Recife.

“I’ve been here fighting for a dignified home all this time,” Dos Prazeres de Jesus says, explaining that she was involved with another occupation prior to this one.

Approximately 200 people, or about 70 families, began occupying the SulAmerica building in central Recife just a few days before Rio de Janeiro City Council member Marielle Franco was assassinated in March. Organized by Brazil’s Homeless Workers Movement, known by its Portuguese initials, MTST, the occupying group chose the six-story building to make a point. The building owes more than 1.5 million reals (approximately US$400,000) in back taxes, and more than 90 percent of those taxes are owed to the city.

It is far from the only building in the city with a similar debt, based on research by a coalition of organizations, including Habitat for Humanity Brazil and FASE, a Brazilian social justice organization. The coalition found debts of 346 million Reals in the downtown area of the Brazilian metropolis associated with 42 buildings with five or more floors that have been abandoned or are under-utilized.

Based on those calculations, “we could have 2,106 housing units just in these buildings that are abandoned or under-utilized in this neighborhood [and owe back taxes],” said Rodrigo Rafael Souza e Silva, a coordinator with MTST. “When the issue of affordable housing comes up in relation to the center of Recife with public officials, the main argument they use against creating housing is that there is no land, there is no place to build in the city center. But we’re showing that it is possible to create affordable housing in downtown Recife.”

Souza e Silva says that the country’s last census showed 6.07 million abandoned buildings and 5.08 million families in need of housing. “And this difference has increased over the past few years,” he says. “So we want to have this debate.”

Reporting from Ágencia Pública, an investigative news organization that covers all of Brazil, found that there are 10,304 abandoned buildings in the country. The same report noted that buildings in both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have been converted to low-income housing through Minha Casa, Minha Vida Entidades, a government program. The program aims to support housing cooperatives.

According to the City of Recife, there are 50 legal cases regarding the SulAmerica building’s debt. The city did not answer whether it has any specific initiatives underway to reclaim abandoned buildings like the SulAmerica, but the city does tell Next City there is no law that establishes the loss of property due to debt, regardless of the time elapsed.

As Souza e Silva sees it, real estate speculation is complicating the possibility of implementing the coalition’s affordable housing plan. Instead of putting buildings into use based on local demand for affordable housing, Souza e Silva thinks property owners are waiting to see if a tech company or private university announces expansion plans so they can sell or lease the properties.

“We have a real fight for the center of the city,” Souza e Silva said. “There’s a city policy that lowers taxes on businesses like the Digital Port with the aim of helping the Digital Port access this real estate stock in the city center.” (The Digital Portis a technology park in the historic center of Recife.)

Socorro Leite works with Habitat for Humanity Brazil. She tells Next City that the research “aimed to provoke the government with concrete information on this situation.”

The lack of affordable in Brazil has been a chronic issue for decades and is one of the factors behind the country’s myriad “favelas,” or informal settlements. But occupations are also a common feature in the urban landscape. In early May, a 24-story building that was occupied in downtown São Paulo collapsed. Later that same month, Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor ordered the creation of a working group to discuss the situations of families living in occupied spaces, but housing advocates worry because civil society groups haven’t been invited to participate in these discussions.

The campaign also reflects a shift in Habitat for Humanity’s approach to housing. “Habitat realized some years ago that just building houses doesn’t solve the problem,” says Leite. “In many cities, the issue of access to land is lies behind the lack of housing. In many cases, people are already living in places that they built themselves, and what they need are just improvements and security in terms of land ownership.”

According to Brazil’s constitution, buildings must perform a social function, which, Souza e Silva says, these abandoned buildings do not. Likewise, Brazil’s constitution guarantees the right to housing. Nearly half of all the workers in Recife’s downtown area live outside of the city, with low-income workers more likely than the average worker to live outside the city, according to a report from Marco Zero, a local investigative news outlet.

Leite hopes other cities can adapt Recife’s research and occupation model. “The methodology is available and can be replicated,” she says. “Provoking governments with impactful information like this helps to create pressure for effective action.”

 

Baltimore Worker Cooperative Continues Expanding and Evolving

The worker-owners of Red Emma's, a worker cooperative bookstore, cafe, and event space, soon to move into a new, larger location in Baltimore's Mt. Vernon neighborhood, where the business first opened in 2003. (Photo courtesy of Red Emma's)

It was a real struggle for Red Emma’s the first time they were looking to finance a new, larger location for their bookstore and café space. What began as a small bookshop in 2004, with a vision of building infrastructure for communities centered on solidarity, was taking off. By 2013, Red Emma’s had outgrown its original location, but because it is a worker cooperative, most financing entities didn’t know how to engage.

“Nobody would take a chance on us because they didn’t understand what we were,” says Kate Khatib, one of Red Emma’s founding worker-owners.

In a worker-cooperative, each worker-owner has an equal share of ownership and management of the business, often operating on a principle of “one-worker, one-vote,” especially for major decisions like moving or expanding.

Now, Red Emma’s is on the move yet again, to an even larger space, thanks to financing from BRED, the Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy. BRED is one of the local hubs for a national peer network of worker-cooperative lenders and incubators. Red Emma’s is now one of nine different Maryland worker cooperatives that BRED is currently supporting in different ways.

In addition to more space, the new location allows Red Emma’s to be a little more efficient with how they manage the different parts of the business. In their current location, covering 5,000 square feet on one floor, “there’s some flow, but there’s no functional separation between the restaurant, the coffee shop, the event space,” Khatib says. “It’s all in the same place.” That, Khatib says, has some downsides. For example, in order to open in the morning to just sell coffee, five people have to come in so that the various work stations are covered — like the the bookstore checkout and the food and cafe counter, which are on opposing sides of the floor plan. An evening event often means closing down the bookstore early. With three floors at the new location, Khatib explains, each of the individual spaces can develop their own identity and schedule.

In some ways, the new location is a return to Red Emma’s roots: the bookstore sits in the basement of the three-floor site, as it did in Red Emma’s original venue. It also brings Red Emma’s back to the Mt. Vernon neighborhood where it first opened. But it’s also an indication of how the business continues to evolve. As Red Emma’s has grown and brought on new worker-owners, each shapes the business as they begin bringing their own perspectives, interests, and talents into the business. From a founding group of seven, they’re up to 25 worker-owners, all earning a living wage. The new location will allow for 10 more worker-owners — and they’re adding a bar.

“It’s something we know that is needed,” Khatib explains. “Our worker-ownership is made up of a lot of people who are representing different identity groups that are often made to feel uncomfortable in mainstream spaces. So, one of the things we are really, really thinking a lot about, especially as we increase our alcohol component, is how do we create a bar that feels safe, that feels welcoming, that does not replicate many of the problematic and uncomfortable environments that many spaces do in other parts of the city.”

Mel Gross is a newer Red Emma’s worker-owner. They originally encountered Red Emma’s while studying interdisciplinary sculpture at the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art. Gross took some time off of school, and spent that time in Los Angeles, where they helped open three different restaurants.

“I think a lot about systems,” Gross says. “So, when I got to Emma’s, it was really interesting the systems that were in place there already.” Some, according to Gross, are really innovative; others are leftovers from the cooperative’s early days.

A background in sculpture also offers Gross an important lens for examining Red Emma’s space. “It is really important to have spaces that make people question their everyday interactions with spaces, and with people, more importantly,” says Gross. “So much of it is not having this coded language around who’s allowed to be in a space and what you’re allowed to do in a space.”

In many spaces in the city, there is a “white, heteronormative, gentrifier archetype,” Gross says, and that is not the community Red Emma’s aims for.

On the contrary, Khatib points out that one of the cooperative’s main goals has been to provide a sustainable source of dignified employment, especially for people representing groups that have traditionally been excluded from economic security. “People who have grown up low-income and working class, which is a huge part of our worker-ownership,” Khatib says.

Red Emma’s is almost (and likely soon to become) a majority of workers who are trans and queer people of color — hard communities to be a part of in Baltimore, Khatib says. “We also have young, black men who have spent their whole lives in Baltimore,” she adds. “There’s an incredible amount of trauma that’s associated with that trajectory.”

Khatib says that as the cooperative has grown, their goal of providing family-sustaining work has gone from aspiration to reality.

“I think a lot of people were worried that we were trying to become more corporate with the move because we’re expanding,” Gross adds. “We’re trying to make something where the people who work [at Red Emma’s] have a little bit more control, a little more capital to work with. But also, where this business can become a way to fundraise and distribute money and collect ideas and share conversations in a little bit more organized way than we’re doing at the current location.”

 

More Cities Are Focusing on Wealth-Building at an Early Age

In May, Christine Pineda completed her associate’s degree. She started school more than a dozen years ago, but a variety of factors led her away from school and back to her family’s roots in El Salvador. There, Pineda married and had a daughter, Abigail.

“Back when I was [studying] at City College, it was something I was paying for on my own,” says Pineda.

Pineda returned with Abigail to San Francisco two years ago and went back to school at the same time her daughter enrolled in kindergarten. Even though City College of San Francisco is now free for San Francisco residents, Pineda hopes that her daughter, Abigail, will have savings to help her face the costs of wherever she chooses to go to college.

San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College program aims to support precisely that goal. The program provides every kindergartener enrolled in San Francisco public schools with a savings account, an initial deposit of $50, and a range of bonuses and other financial incentives to encourage families to save for their children’s higher education.

“The additional savings will come in handy for books, and transportation and food,” says Pineda. “There are things that are not covered by financial aid and by scholarships all the time. So, I’m saving for whatever she decides to pursue.”

Since San Francisco created its program in 2011, a number of similarly structured childhood savings account programs around the country have emerged at the city as well as state levels. Along with San Francisco, Jackson, Miss., St. Louis, Mo., Durham, N.C., and Lansing, Mich. are just some of the 17 cities or states listed as partners on 1:1 Fund, an online platform that connects childhood savings account programs to matching donors. The online platform is a project of Prosperity Now, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that promotes childhood savings accounts as part of its work across the country. Recently, Prosperity Now began supporting newly elected St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, that city’s first black mayor, in his efforts to create such a program for his city.

“It’s not just looking at the child, but looking at the whole family, and how do we address things that are part of our society that maybe have been systemic, that have prevented families from either breaking the cycle of poverty or breaking the cycle of education where you might not have been able to obtain the education that you need in order to secure a living-wage job,” says Kaohly Her, St. Paul’s policy director in charge of developing its childhood savings program.

Some don’t believe childhood savings programs go far enough to address systemic inequality.

“From my perspective, the savings account proposals, for the most part, the ones that would give each child the same amount, don’t even begin to address the issue of wealth inequality,” says Prof. William “Sandy” Darity of Duke University.

Instead, Darity and his colleague, New School Researcher Darrick Hamilton, propose a federal Young Adult Trust Fund Program, or “baby bonds” as it is becoming known. The goal of this program would be to address the United States’ dramatic racial wealth gap. Research by Darity and others shows that white families living near the poverty line still have roughly $18,000 in wealth, black families in similar circumstances have none. The research says that while income differences stem from the workplace, “wealth is built primarily by the transfer of resources across generations.”

Further, about many childhood savings accounts that focus on saving for college, Darity notes that post-secondary education doesn’t guarantee a shift in wealth status for black families.

While still focused on wealth at an early age, the baby bonds idea wouldn’t technically be a program to encourage families to save.

“We don’t want parents or relatives involved in the funding of this account. It would be publicly funded in its entirety,” says Darity.

The amount that would be initially put into each child’s trust fund, ideally at birth, would be dictated by the family’s wealth position, Darity explains. So, like San Francisco’s childhood savings account program, their proposed young adult trust fund program would be a universal program — but unlike San Francisco’s, it wouldn’t be uniform. The children of wealthiest parents would get what many childhood savings account programs provide today — just a $50 initial deposit. Meanwhile, children born in to the least wealthiest families would get something closer to an initial deposit of $50,000 or even higher. All “baby bond” accounts, regardless of initial size, would be guaranteed an interest rate of at least one percent.

Lucy Mullany, a consultant for childhood savings account programs, has different expectations. She argues that the goal of childhood savings programs isn’t to reduce the racial wealth gap.

“While equity is a priority for [childhood savings accounts] in many cases, it’s often one tool in a much larger tool box,” Mullany says. “So, it’s really about providing an account in many cases, an account at birth, with an initial investment that can be a tool for further growth and can be an investment in a child. And it’s about the motivational change it has on children.”

Research from Washington University in St. Louis found that 55 percent of young people without savings accounts did not attend a four-year college by the time they were ages 19 to 22. Those with an account were seven times more likely to go to college than those without. The study also found that young people who had their own savings accounts were more likely to expect to graduate. Another study from University of Michigan researchers suggests that childhood savings accounts “may complement schools’ academic objectives.”

In St. Paul, Her also sees other benefits from childhood savings accounts besides supporting access to higher education.

“Our goal is not just about the child to understand the financial impact having an account has on them, but for parents,” says Her. “How do we ensure that our parents who are unbanked or underbanked have access to banking products that help them build credit?”

Her says that the design process is taking into consideration issues of systemic oppression and structural racism, and that these considerations helped determine the city’s choice of banking partner for the program, Sunrise Banks — certified as a community development financial institution, giving the bank access to additional federal resources for developing products designed to meet the needs of low-income households.

“What we are doing is figuring out how we can help people build capital,” Her says. She hopes that families can start building assets, “that they wouldn’t have known that they either needed or could have.”

 

From Farm to Factory: The Rural-Urban Coalition for Immigrants’ Rights

Jenny Estrada lives in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a small city on Lake Michigan surrounded by dairy farms. She’s a rural organizer for Voces de la Frontera, an immigrants’ rights organization based in Milwaukee. “Lots of these small towns recognize that immigrants grew the town out,” she explains. “They realize that without immigrants, the town would die.”

Still, for immigrants who see friends and neighbors picked up by ICE when they appear for court dates or who hear about raids on dairy farms, the situation is tense. “People are afraid. The fear is real that [deportations] are going to happen.”

Part of Estrada’s work involves recruiting and training rapid response teams who protest ICE when the agency raids a workplace or picks up someone without papers. Group members will also accompany people to court dates since ICE has been using those situations to detain people. This kind of initiative, she says, along with know-your-rights trainings, create a space for non-immigrant community members to get involved and show solidarity.

“We’ve seen an uptick in volunteers. People are starting to realize that this is everybody’s issue,” Estrada said. “Before there were groups that didn’t work with Voces even though they were working on the same issues because they saw us as too political. That’s changed.”

Estrada’s work means dealing with prejudice and racism. “There’s been so much crap in the media,” she says. “There is definitely a divide between urban and rural areas. People will say: ‘You guys are exaggerating.’”

But that didn’t prevent Estrada from filling 11 buses from rural areas north of Milwaukee. On May 1, the group and its partners converged on downtown Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb. They mobilized some 10,000 people from rural counties and cities, including a number of Democratic gubernatorial contenders. Approximately 100 businesses closed in solidarity as well. Marchers demanded an end to the county sheriff’s collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) 287(g) program.

Estrada is just one of the many people forging a visionary alliance between urban and rural workers — an alliance aimed at staving off federal intervention on farms and in cities. Voces has never been shy about using economic pressure to achieve its goals, and the power behind that pressure comes from its member-driven organizing decisions. In Wisconsin, “America’s Dairyland,” many dairy farms rely on immigrant labor to stay in business. Dairy farms generate $43 billion in annual economic activity, powering the state’s economy. This economic influence means that farmer — and farm worker — voices occupy a key space in state and local politics.

As Wisconsin has become a political battleground and a testing ground for conservative policies, Voces has worked to protect immigrants’ rights. At the same time, the group stresses how anti-immigrant measures divide and weaken the greater community. In the face of dehumanizing proposals, Voces has organized to empower workers and their allies to pull the economic levers that will influence policy.

Political Power Without Votes

Chief Russell Jack runs the police department in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and coordinated with Voces on the march. “Legally, the could’ve come to our city a day before the march and said, ‘Hey, just so you know, we’re marching tomorrow.’ That’s their constitutional right,” he says. “They didn’t. They came five weeks before the event and had multiple meetings with me and my supervisors and really worked with us in order to have a safe march.”

And while Jack says that he and Voces’ Executive Director, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, don’t see eye-to-eye on everything politically: “they were outstanding to work with as far as their cooperation.”

This kind of praise may seem odd coming from the head of a police department — often an organization seen as the adversary of immigrants and communities of color. But Voces has cultivated just such an organizing style to build support in a range of both rural and urban areas across Wisconsin.

Voces de la Frontera Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz holds a poster designed by Milwaukee artist Pete Railand. (Credit: Voces de la Frontera)

President Trump’s election galvanized the group to mobilize roughly 50,000 people in Milwaukee shortly after the inauguration for a march they called “A Day Without Latinos, Immigrants and Refugees.” Then, another 30,000 marched for International Workers’ Day, on May 1, 2017. These demonstrations were a counterpoint to steady and virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric and harsh policies emanating from the White House.

Neumann-Ortiz herself embodies the state’s German heritage and its growing Latino population; her father is German, and her mother is Mexican. The family moved around quite a bit during her childhood but lived in Milwaukee when Neumann-Ortiz attended elementary school. Years later, it was the place Neumann-Ortiz decided to make her home — and to grow Voces de la Frontera.

Section 287(g): Profiling Immigrants or Protecting Communities?

Since the state legislative session began last fall, Voces has battled both statewide anti-sanctuary bills and Section 287(g) plans in sheriff’s offices across Wisconsin. An amendment to the Immigration and Naturalization Act, 287(g) gives power to the federal government to deputize local law enforcement officials to act as immigration agents. As President Donald Trump and others have stoked anti-immigrant sentiment, cities and states around the country disagree on how to deal with immigrant populations. Jurisdictions that offer “sanctuary” to immigrants have been threatened with the loss of federal funding, even as the concept of sanctuary itself can be inconsistent and poorly defined from city to city.

Within days of taking office, Trump issued an executive order calling for local government participation in immigration enforcement under the 287(g) program. A memo from then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary (now Chief of Staff) John Kelly called 287(g) a “highly effective force multiplier,” and The Washington Post reported that Kelly “instructed his deputies to expand it ‘to the greatest extent practical.’” ICE’s website says that it currently has 287(g) agreements with 78 law enforcement agencies in 20 states.

In Wisconsin, Republicans in the state legislature introduced bills AB 190 and SB 275 last year; both would prohibit municipalities and counties from passing ordinances to opt out of cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Still, even as Voces and its allies were fighting against these statewide anti-sanctuary bills, Waukesha County Sheriff Eric Severson signed a 287(g) agreement with ICE. The agreement stipulates that the Sheriff’s Office will cover the costs of the program.

Section 287(g) requires local law enforcement agencies to sign memoranda of agreement with the Department of Homeland Security. It also authorizes local law enforcement to issue “detainers” (requests) to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours after the charges that resulted in their detention have been resolved. Some attorneys and law enforcement officials are skeptical of the program’s legal underpinnings. The Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA) issued a press release in January 2017 criticizing President Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities. The statement notes that federal courts have ruled: “that the ICE detainers referenced today do not provide sufficient legal justification for detention, arrest and incarceration by local officers.” The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) said in its report, “Cogs in the Deportation Machine:” “Courts have established that detainers are merely requests, and compliance cannot be mandated.” AILA also points to legal precedent for local liability when non-citizens have been held solely because of a detainer request.

Complicating matters further, some sheriff’s offices have agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to receive payment for housing detainees. The Austin Statesman and other media outlets have argued that this can introduce a financial motive for local law enforcement to participate in immigration operations, even if immigration violations are civil and not criminal matters.

The Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to several requests for an interview. ICE told Next City that the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office does not have a pay-for-service agreement to house immigrant detainees.

Chief Jack does not oversee the Waukesha jail, nor does his department have any agreements with ICE. He runs the local police department, not the sheriff’s office. Jack also describes a decades-long relationship with the local Latino community center, La Casa de Esperanza. And while the police department’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) says that “immigration status is irrelevant with respect to Waukesha Police Department’s (WKPD) routine contacts,” Chief Jack says the department will contact ICE in certain cases — typically when violent crime is involved.

“I spoke to about 400 people at a forum, and I gave them copies of our SOPs in English and in Spanish,” Jack tells Next City. Voces de la Frontera and La Casa de Esperanza organized a forum in March that Jack and the Mayor of Waukesha attended. The chief asked the crowd: “Does anybody here, regardless of their immigration status, want people in the city of Waukesha who have been arrested for armed robbery, homicide, sexual assault of a child? And of course not.”

Assessing the Collateral Damage

Although Jack presents seemingly clear-cut boundaries for his interactions with ICE, the real-world toll that policing takes on immigrants and communities of color is not so easily parsed. Research from the University of Illinois in Chicago has found that local law enforcement partnerships with ICE dissuade immigrants from reporting crimes. This, the study suggests, reduces public safety overall.

Likewise, while 287(g) originally targeted violent criminals, a 2011 report from the Migration Policy Institute found that, nationally, half of those targeted under 287(g) agreements had committed only misdemeanors or traffic violations.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) amendment to the Immigration and Naturalization Act authorizes local law enforcement to issue "detainers," or requests, to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours after whatever charges that originally resulted in their detention have been resolved. Legal experts emphasize that compliance with these "detainers" cannot be mandated. (Photo by Susan Ruggles)

Eduardo Castro, a junior at a Milwaukee high school, shared his fears about the program with the crowd at the May 1 march in Waukesha.

“My father works around here in Waukesha and he’s been stopped three times before by a local law enforcement officer; and in one of those instances my father was threatened to get deported if he kept driving.”

Neumann-Ortiz says that Voces de la Frontera has gotten similar reports from others in the area as well.

“Driving without a license comes with a criminal charge, and if you get enough of those, you will be processed through the county court system or the county jail,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “The deputies in the jail that [the sheriff] is planning to deputize [as ICE agents], their primary function is to quickly identify who’s undocumented; process, get their information, look for someone who’s undocumented, and deport them,” she said.

Wisconsin now has one of the toughest driver’s license/photo ID requirements in the country, which has become a significant obstacle for the immigrant laborers who sustain Wisconsin’s dairy industry.

Assembling the Infrastructure for Mass Deportations

“They know the infrastructure needs to be built up for mass deportations,” Neumann-Ortiz tells Next City. “It happened under Obama. They’re quickly building it up and getting much more aggressive.”

A Department of Homeland Security investigation into law enforcement practices around 287(g) in Arizona and North Carolina found both racial profiling and unauthorized policing methods. Another report from the Center for Migration Studies determined that significantly higher numbers of Latinos were being arrested by a Maryland Sheriff’s Office “than would have occurred in the absence [of the 287(g) program].” Neumann-Ortiz says the “driving while Latino” anecdotes she’s heard confirm a similar phenomenon in Waukesha County.

Yet, for Neumann-Ortiz, the issue goes beyond a dragnet effect. “The part that is very clear is that this is lining up with the Trump agenda of discrimination and mass deportation,” she says. “Because their agenda has been to force local government to take on this role, and local law enforcement … So, for me it’s part of the Trump administration trying to test what they can get away with in terms of violation of constitutional rights.”

Julio Correa is one of the business owners who shut his doors in solidarity with the May 1 march. He runs a Mexican restaurant in the city of Waukesha. Correa is originally from Mexico and has lived in the U.S. since 1997, most of that time in Waukesha, where his brother lives. “It’s really calm here,” he said, and that makes it an attractive place to live.

In 2008, though, Correa spent 30 days in a detention center after being arrested. He ultimately won his case and has legal status in the US. Still, he says, “it was not fun at all.”

“I don’t have children, but I imagine what it would be like to go through [being separated from one’s children]. It’s really important to stand up and stop this program from passing.”

Shoutout to the Civil Rights Movement

Nearby Milwaukee is one of the poorest and most segregated cities in the United States. It has also become one of the most polarized, surrounded by what are referred to as the conservative WOW counties — Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington — that helped propel Scott Walker to the governor’s office in 2010. Milwaukee has a long history of civil rights struggles, and the state has the highest incarceration rate of Black men in the U.S.

In its 2006 march for immigrants’ rights, Neumann-Ortiz said Voces specifically chose to cross the Sixth Street Viaduct as a “shoutout” to the city’s civil rights history, referencing a famous 1967 NAACP Youth Council march that traversed the 16th Street Viaduct.

Echoing that sentiment was Mandela Barnes, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, who attended the Voces annual meeting. A veteran community organizer with the faith-based group Micah, Barnes underscored the connections between Black and immigrant struggles.

“The same laws, the same mindset that make Wisconsin the number one incarcerator of Black males is the same mindset that gives us an anti-immigrant sentiment,” Barnes said.

“People need Voces. People need the fight.”

Voces de la Frontera has approximately 1,500 dues-paying members, nine adult chapters and 15 youth chapters in schools. Neumann-Ortiz credits a ground-up, participatory organizing model as the basis for the group’s success. “We don’t do anything that the members don’t want to do,” she explained.

Months before Voces’ annual meeting in January, members discussed the possibility of a two-day strike among dairy workers. Cows must be milked twice daily, which makes the dairy industry a labor-intensive, seven-day-a-week commitment. Neumann-Ortiz believes a key factor in sinking the legislature’s anti-sanctuary AB 190 and SB 275 bills was the rumor that thousands of immigrant workers might abandon the state’s $50-billion industry for a strike.

At the annual meeting, Waukesha members decided to focus on organizing a one-day strike for May 1st. After the strategy sessions, Voces staff member Nancy Flores shared her own experience with the assembly.

“I know that the atmosphere in Waukesha is different from the atmosphere in Milwaukee because in Milwaukee there are lots of races, right?” Flores said. “I grew up in a town of 7,000 people where less than five percent of the population were not American. I know what it feels like. It’s like going up against a wave, right? So, I understand the members. My advice is: Don’t give up. In Walworth County, people need Voces. People need the fight.”

“I didn’t think I could cry anymore”

Voces funds its rural organizing work through a grant. That grant allowed them to hire Jenny Estrada, whose personal experience with immigration enforcement motivates her peripatetic campaign. Estrada is a white Wisconsin native. Her husband of 16 years, Jaime Martinez, was deported in 2012, although Estrada says it was because of a re-entry violation, and that he had never been charged with any criminal act. He had volunteered with the local YMCA and been an active member of the community.

“People rallied around me. They looked at him as a person and not as a demographic,” she explained, describing how many friends and neighbors had assumed that if he was married to a US citizen, then he must be a citizen, too. “This is your friend. It was eye-opening for people.”

After her husband’s deportation, Estrada followed him to Mexico with their children. It was a traumatic time for the family. “Three houses down from where we were, two ladies were decapitated. We had four small children.” So, Estrada returned to Manitowoc, and as the years and distance divided them, the couple grew apart and divorced.

The experience toughened her, and made her a passionate advocate. “I didn’t think I could cry any more,” Estrada says. But seeing Attorney General Jeff Sessions announce that the U.S. will separate children from their families, that made me cry.” She has no doubts what she would do if the tables were turned. “Would I cross that river for a better life for my children? Absolutely. Five times.”

Estrada asserts that not a single chief of police in the 35 small communities where she’s organizing supports programs such as 287(g). Requests for an interview with one of those chiefs went unanswered.

Saving Face and Navigating Pride

One of Estrada’s allies is Matthew Sauer, a Presbyterian pastor at the Manitowoc Cooperative Ministry. Sauer’s congregation spreads out over three churches; he shares the ministering responsibilities with Judine Duerwaechter, a United Church of Christ minister. Having grown up in Phoenix, Sauer says that as a young man, he witnessed both degrading treatment of immigrants and clergy who were arrested standing up for immigrants’ rights.

“In Wisconsin, [immigrants’ rights] wasn’t a big priority for many years,” he said. “Now, over the past few years, it’s come to the fore. Manitowoc is a big dairy community,” Sauer explains. Immigrant workers keep the farms running. “Our [congregation is] involved in building places of sanctuary and hope. We don’t ignore the law, but the first responsibility we have is to justice.”

The dairy industry injects $43 billion into Wisconsin's economy annually, giving its largely immigrant labor force significant economic bargaining power. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Sauer’s progressive positions have generated some pushback within the community, so he says he navigates relationships with care. “I know when to keep my mouth shut and do more listening than talking. Because I have been here enough, I know who to call upon after the fact to be able to say: ‘I heard this going on. Can we have a conversation about this?’”

Saving face is important in the community, Sauer explains, and so taking the time to speak with people can allow for change without calling people out. “If you can sit down and have a cup of coffee with them in their office or something, you’d be amazed at what can happen.”

Strategies to Leverage Economic Power

This kind of approach has also allowed Voces de la Frontera to work with different groups while applying political and economic pressure. “Part of the whole process was that the initial step was quiet, and the threat was that we would go public,” Neumann-Ortiz says, describing how the group handled retaliation against workers who demonstrated for immigrants’ rights in 2006. Finding pressure points was critical.

“There was a tortilla chip factory where they had fired the workers and then they only took back the permanent workers; the temporary workers were excluded,” she says. “And through talking with [the workers] we found out that one of the largest purchasers of their product was a large local supermarket owned by an immigrant family that very much supports the fight for immigrant rights. And so, they were the ones who followed up with our call to the owners to say: ‘You should be bringing these folks back.’ And ‘this is a worthy cause, you should be supporting it.’ And they did. And all of those workers were reinstated. But it was … analyzing where was that potential leverage and alliances.”

Farmers in Wisconsin are well aware of the role that immigrant workers play in the dairy industry. The Wisconsin Farmers’ Union sent a representative, Nick Levendovsky, to Voces’ annual meeting. “The agriculture industry is an $88-billion industry, and it wouldn’t be that way without the help of immigrant labor,” he says. (The Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, a trade group, declined to comment for this article.)

Voces has also made deals with farmers. Neumann-Ortiz says the group has had a core of farmer advocates with a spectrum of political affiliations since 2007. As the state legislature debated measures in 2016 banning sanctuary cities and local IDs for undocumented immigrants, Voces planned A Day Without Latinxs and Immigrants strike. In one meeting, Voces representatives explained to a group of farmers what the legislation would entail and asked for their support. The farmers agreed, and the two groups worked out a compromise that enabled most workers to participate in the march while skeleton crews kept the farms going. In exchange, the farmers agreed to lobby their representatives against the anti-sanctuary bills. Those bills ultimately died.

“One of the dairy workers was saying how after this Day without Latinos and Immigrants in 2016, they more deeply understood the importance that they had, like they didn’t really appreciate their importance to the economy until that point,” Neumann-Ortiz says. Unlike what happened in the aftermath of previous marches, she says that as of mid-May, Voces had received no reports of retaliation against workers who participated in the May 1 strike.

Our features are made possible with generous support from The Ford Foundation.

 

D.C. Cemetery Finds New Life As Stormwater Retention Model

The Nature Convervancy Urban Conservation Director Kahlil Kettering leads attendees on a tour of new stormwater retaining infrastructure at Mt. Olivet Cemetary in Washington, D.C., during a dedication ceremony in May 2018. (Credit: The Nature Conservancy)

In early 2015, Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment, Laudato sí. In it, the pontiff argues that, regardless of religious faith, “the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone.” The Archdiocese of Washington ,D.C., has taken this call to heart.

On May 7, D.C. Archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl offered a blessing at the District’s Mt. Olivet Cemetery, which dates back to 1858. That blessing was directed at the new, green infrastructure that has eliminated some of the cemetery’s impervious surfaces, making it a friendlier receptacle for rainwater. The changes also help reduce an annual fee of nearly $140,000 associated with water run-off, or $25.18 for every 1000 square feet of impervious cover.

Impervious surfaces make won’t allow water to pass through them. Concrete, asphalt and metal structures can end up creating steams of water that rush into urban drainage systems and then overload water treatment plants. If that happens, the excess water simply gets flushed directly into local water ways, complete with whatever bacteria, pollutants, trash and sediment it happens to pick up along the way. Untreated stormwater run-off has contributed to creating a critical situation in the Chesapeake Bay, which has been grappling with pollution issues for years.

Chieko Noguchi, spokesperson for the Archdiocese, explained some of the changes made in Mt. Olivet Cemetery to make it more absorbent: “Unused access roads were replaced with water-filtering bio-retention cells, and in some cases, wide roads were narrowed down to one-lane roads.”

Prior to the modifications, the cemetery had 437,000 square feet of impervious surfaces. Noguchi says that 18,000 square feet have been removed so far. The more sophisticated water-retention structures are also being helped by newly planted flower beds, shrubs and trees.

“Because it was in a cemetery, we also wanted to make sure that none of the burial sites were disturbed,” says Noguchi And, it was also very important to us that any of the construction work would happen around any already-scheduled burials, and we didn’t want it to impede with anyone coming to visit their loved ones in the cemetery.”

To finance the landscaping changes to Mt. Olivet, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., worked with District Stormwater LLC, a new investment fund jointly managed by NatureVest, the investment arm of The Nature Conservancy, and Encourage Capital, an investment firm that specializes in investing capital to address social and environmental issues. The fund itself received $1.7 million in seed capital from Prudential, the insurance and financial services giant.

Instead of making the Archdiocese repay District Stormwater LLC for financing the stormwater retention work, the fund will seek repayment from a whole new market — from the sale of stormwater retention credits.

In 2013, the Washington, D.C. Department of Energy and the Environment launched new rules that govern how new properties — or old ones undergoing significant remodeling — deal with stormwater. The new rules create tradeable stormwater retention credits, enabling developers to comply with the more stringent stormwater retention rules while also generating investment capital for stormwater retention projects. If a property doesn’t meet its new stormwater retention volume requirements, developers can choose to make improvements to satisfy those requirements, or if the cost of those improvements is too much, they can purchase stormwater retention credits from those who can make such investments at other locations, such as the Archdiocese of Washington D.C

With its green lawns and trees but also plenty of access roads across vast acreage, not to mention its proximity to the Anacostia River, Mt. Olivet Cemetery presented an opportunity for a test case.

It was The Nature Conservancy that approached the Archdiocese with a proposal to identify and finance stormwater retention improvements. After making the improvements, generating stormwater retention credits for the Archdiocese, the credits can then be sold on the stormwater retention credit market to repay the up-front investment from District Stormwater LLC.

“[The new stormwater credit market] is great because it provides an opportunity to bring in new sources of funding to do conservation projects and also show that you can use private equity [to finance] conservation outcomes,” says Kahlil Kettering, The Nature Convervancy’s Urban Conservation Director. “It’s a new way to bring different partners to the table.”

As a “sunset cemetery” that will soon reach capacity and will remain a sanctified space, Kettering saw a key opening for long-term stormwater retention improvements at Mt. Olivet — there isn’t open land that could be threatened by sale to developers who would replace it with more impervious service.

“We know whatever we do there will be there for a very long time and will have a huge benefit for our rivers in D.C.,” says Kettering.

Noguchi also adds that as part of the Catholic Church, the Archdiocese will also have opportunities to share information and encourage similar stormwater retention improvements on church property across the country. “We’re doing something unique and innovative to deal with something that the secular world is deeply engaged in,” says Noguchi.

 

The Role of Community Land Trusts After Hurricane Maria

San Juan, P.R. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Lucy Cruz has lived all of her 58 years in Caño Martín Peña, an informal community centrally located in the Puerto Rico capital of San Juan. Eight distinct neighborhoods make up the community, clustered around a stream, a caño, that gives the area its name and identity.

Some 1,200 homes in Caño Martín Peña lost their roofs during Hurricane Maria, according to Cruz, who says that the community has worked collectively to gather supplies and rebuild those roofs. They have managed to rebuild 75 completely, but in many places, blue tarps keep out the elements, according to Cruz. Access to federal funds can make a substantial difference.

For working class areas of Puerto Rico, like Caño Martín Peña, it’s been a tough go of accessing those funds. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has strict requirements for emergency funding recipients to prove homeownership. Proving that in the aftermath of a Hurricane can be difficult.

“A lot of people [in Puerto Rico] have had problems because they don’t have any documents,” says Maria Hernandez, a law professor at the University of Puerto Rico, via email. “Or they had one, but it got wet or it got [lost in the flooding]. Or at some point, their grandparents had something written to occupy the land that they occupy, but now they can’t prove [ownership].”

Since the hurricane, Hernandez says she and other attorneys have went to many communities, working to get sworn, notarized statements as proof of homeownership. “In those cases, FEMA would grant assistance to some but not others,” she says. “We don’t know what criteria they used.”

Hernandez says that means some people get disqualified for the assistance to which they have a right.

Establishing community land trusts offers one strategy for overcoming the ownership hurdle. Residents don’t have to fight with administrators by themselves. After years of struggle, the residents of Caño Martín Peña won formal recognition in the form of a community land trust in 2009. The community land trust ensured that all residents of Caño Martín Peña had legal title to their homes. That title, however, is collective, not individual.

“We are really proud of what we have because to remove one person, you have to remove almost the entire community, and it’s not economically viable for the government,” Cruz says.

All that said, there has been some confusion among FEMA administrators working in Puerto Rico.

“Even with the community land trust, it hasn’t been easy for all the trust’s members or the people who live in the trust to get FEMA’s help,” Hernandez says. “People are making requests, complaining, and filing claims, but not everyone understands the model or these people’s right to be where they are.”

It’s not the first time Caño Martín Peña residents have had to fight for their collective ownership of the land beneath their feet. The community survived a government attempt to revoke its trust about a month after it was originally established in 2009. Community members like Cruz organized a campaign to ensure that whoever was elected mayor of San Juan and governor of Puerto Rico in 2012 would support their right to collectively-owned property.

FEMA responded to an inquiry from Next City and said that survivors of the hurricane who live in Caño Martín Peña who can prove home ownership may be eligible for disaster assistance. The agency said that if standard ownership documents are not available, it may accept a written statement as an alternative form of proof.

Other communities on the island are now exploring the possibility of establishing community land trusts. They’ve taken note of Caño Martín Peña´s success, in part, says Maria Hernandez, because the land trust has helped satisfy FEMA’s strict requirements for proving ownership.

The time will come to turn from disaster relief to recovery and rebuilding the island’s economy. Some foresee community land trusts as having a key role to play in those efforts as well.

Cristina Miranda leads the board of directors for the Trust for the Development of Rio Piedras, in Puerto Rico. She believes that the community land trust model could benefit many areas. Her trust focuses on the Rio Piedras area’s community and economic development. Nearly 1,500 homes in the Rio Piedras area are abandoned. The trust prioritizes recovering abandoned properties to develop affordable housing, businesses, and non-profit organizations.

In late May, the Trust for the Development of Rio Piedras submitted comments to the Puerto Rico Department of Housing in relation to the department’s action plan for a federal community development block grant aimed at disaster recovery efforts. The comments criticized a long-standing tendency on the island to develop new, luxury buildings instead of rehabilitating existing structures. The action plan argues: “Densifying population in urban centers like Río Piedras has the multiple effects of increased use of public transit, strengthen locally owned small business and making more efficient governmental centers.”

The residents of Caño Martín Peña seem to already be fighting the fight against the potential for displacement by post-disaster redevelopment projects. After a few minutes on the phone, Cruz has to wrap it up and head to another meeting. “It’s with FEMA,” she says. “Because FEMA thinks it’s better to remove people from flood-prone areas and not to help us with this. It’s not right that we who built it get displaced from this community so that others can come live in the Caño.”

 



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