This week in community development: 2/14/14

Every week, Praxia Partners shares important community-building news. Check out what we we’ve been reading this week.

Poverty and inequity

Past efforts to improve public schools have often been based on the assumption that there are “silver bullets”—more money, more accountability, more choice, more charter schools. None of these approaches has resulted in consistently better schooling for low-income children.  This is because none focuses directly on improving what matters most in education: the quality and consistency of the instruction and other learning experiences provided to students.

Fair and affordable housing

  • The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard reports that over 7 million low-income American households have to spend at least half of their total income on housing, creating an enormous strain on their budgets. They write, “Assistance efforts have failed to keep pace with this escalating need, undermining the nation’s longstanding goal of ensuring decent and affordable housing for all.”
  • NPR reports how nonprofits are banding together with “a new, more business-like approach to buying real estate” by creating a real estate investment trust.
  • Rachel Godsil’s “Autonomy, Mobility, and Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing in Gentrifying Neighborhoods” delves into the multifaceted issue of gentrification. She weighs the positives of gentrification– increased home value, an influx of services and supports– with the negatives. She discusses how the working class and those at, under, or near the poverty level are too often left out of the economic progress, and suggests that renters should be protected and allowed to choose whether they would like to leave or stay, rather than being forced out of their community by skyrocketing rent (or, in her words, municipalities should “restore the autonomy of in-place residents”).

Innovative finance

  • We covered how Cuyahoga County– the most populous county in Ohio, home to Cleveland– will use Pay for Success (or social impact bonds) to help homeless families stay together by helping mothers access mental health care and housing. The county will save millions and, more important, children will avoid entering the foster care system.
  • Community-owned energy is growing in popularity in the US, and so are innovative ways to finance it. Residents in Colorado can explore the option of a shared solar loan. From the Renewable Energy World article: “Traditional solar loans are secured (or collateralized) with a home equity loan against the house on which they’re installed. In other words, they are wrapped up in the value of the home, not secured by the panels themselves.” The article adds, “[S]hared solar represents an excellent proposition for lenders — a large potential customer base that typically has a very high repayment rate.”

Inclusion

  • Inclusion at Praxia PartnersThe Sochi Olympics– and Russia’s anti-LGBTQ laws— have rightly brought the LGBTQ experience to the forefront of our consciousness this week. Meanwhile, protests were organized in at least 19 cities across the globe. (BBC)
  • A Virginia judge has declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.  USA Today helps you stay up-to-date on the rapidly changing marriage equality landscape with this map.
  • There’s no doubt that media representation changes how we think about ourselves and others. Much has been made of the record-breaking number of “minority” actors and directors nominated for Oscars this year, but the Toronto Star offers a nuanced critique of just how far we have go.
  • Facebook will increase its number of gender categories available in user profiles, including transsexual, androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, and gender fluid. (The Guardian)

Community power

  • Community-owned solar power with Community Renewable EnergyCommunity-owned solar power is on the rise. With the shared solar model, everyone has a chance to support– and benefit from– renewable energy. Praxia Partners’ Community Renewable Energy is proud to help community groups such as the Solar Farm Co-op explore their solar options and contribute to America’s nascent energy democracy. From the Networx article:

This concept is one among many initiatives across the United States to turn away from unsustainable methods of energy generation, and in doing so, to also build community. The great thing about community-owned solar gardens is that they provide an opportunity for all members of a community to get involved with solar panels, including renters, people without structures suitable for solar panels, those with heavily shaded yards (of course, your Phoenix landscaper may be able to help with that), and people facing other issues like financial barriers to installing full solar arrays. By democratizing energy independence, solar gardens make alternative energy affordable.

What do you think was the most important community development story this week? Share your insights and thoughts below or by email.

For news about solar power and sustainability, visit Community Renewable Energy’s blog.

About Holly

Holly Jensen is a writer and poet who has worked with nonprofits and businesses for over a decade. She also serves as editor of The Ghazal Page, an international literary journal.
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