Poverty's Edge

The Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley's take on poverty, how it affects our communities, and what we're doing about it.

17 Nov

FIRST-EVER FUND TO ENCOURAGE LANDLORDS TO REINVEST IN ALLENTOWN CREATED

Media Contact:Alan Jennings(610) 248-9900 CACLV Partners with TD Bank on Innovative Initiative The Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley will hold a press briefing on Tuesday, November 19th, to announce a significant new tool to continue the revitalization of the neighborhood just northwest of the Neighborhood Improvement Zone in center-city Allentown. TD Bank representatives will join with CACLV to detail a new fund created with the bank to encourage apartment owners to make improvements to their center-city investments. The press conference will take place at 1:30 PM at 220 North Tenth Street in Allentown. The project is another resource for improving the housing stock and the economic vitality of the neighborhood. In October, the agency announced its “priority block” initiative in which significant resources will be focused on one key block with the intention of stimulating investment in nearby properties. This project is the first to assist investors with maintaining their tenant-occupied buildings. Historically, the Lehigh Valley’s urban communities have focused all of their programs on homeownership. Allentown remains committed to that goal. However, the city cannot allow its housing stock to deteriorate and diminish the appeal of that housing on the market. CACLV operates a wide range of programs designed to improve the quality of life for low-income people in the region. Those programs include the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Sixth Street Shelter, housing initiatives like homeownership counseling and foreclosure mitigation, rehab, and new construction. The agency operates entrepreneurial programs that make loans and offer small business training. It also does extensive neighborhood revitalization work in downtown Allentown, south Bethlehem and the Slate Belt, ranging from façade improvements and creating pocket parks to planting trees and streetscaping. Only 32% of its budget comes from government funding, a proportion without equal among more than 1,000 Community Action Agencies in the nation. #         #         # ...

06 Nov

Readers React: Public school funding locks inequity into our society

The Morning Call ran a brilliant front-page article in the Sunday edition about our public education system. As the opening salvo in a series the paper is running that looks, in depth, at poverty (finally), your reporters made one key point very clear: How we fund and govern public education in Pennsylvania is the single, most effective way we lock inequity into our society. ...

22 Oct

REGIONAL GROUPS COMBINE ON EFFORT TO NEGATE THE IMPACT OF RACISM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE​​​​​ CONTACT: ​Alan Jennings ​​​​​​​​​​​610-248-9900 REGIONAL GROUPS COMBINE ON EFFORT TO NEGATE THE IMPACT OF RACISM Multi-year Strategic Plan Will Bring Socio-Economic Justice and “Make the Lehigh Valley a Better Place” An impressive array of Lehigh Valley’s key regional organizations have come together to confront what may be the most divisive issue of our times: racism. The project is called “Color Outside the Lines” and is intended “to identify and remove the systemic and structural barriers to racial equity and inclusion,” according to David Jones, a health benefits consultant and former three-term Lehigh County commissioner who will be co-chairing the project. “This effort will distinguish the Lehigh Valley from too many communities whose scars can’t seem to heal. Addressing the issue of how we deploy and even celebrate our diversity and actively seek to include rather than exclude is a labor supply issue, an economic development imperative, an educational challenge and a moral obligation,” Jones said in announcing the project. The coalition is seeking groups of people who are willing to assist them in developing a five- to seven-year Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion. Their hope is to engage hundreds of Lehigh Valley residents in a “conversation on race” that would lead to the creation of the plan. He introduced Kumari Ghafoor-Davis, Director of the Campaign for Racial and Ethnic Justice for the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, which organized the project and is providing staff support for the planning process. Jones encouraged those interested in participating to contact Ghafoor-Davis at 484-893-1033 or kghafoor-davis@caclv.org. The group’s planning process has been endorsed by some of the leading regional organizations in the Lehigh Valley. The coalition felt that these organizations’ participation would serve to both send a signal to their constituents that racism will not be tolerated in this community and that its presence harms the region’s economy. Don Cunningham, CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, who will co-chair the development of the plan, pointed out that a community that respects and celebrates its diversity is far more attractive to companies looking to locate in a new place than one that is intolerant and homogeneous. Other speakers at the news conference offered their own explanations of the importance of the Color Outside the Lines initiative. They included William Spence, Chairman and CEO of PPL and chairman of the Lehigh Valley Partnership, Vivian Robledo, Director of Student Services and Minority Affairs in the Bethlehem Area School District, Marci Lesko, Executive Vice President of the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley and Easton Mayor Sal Panto. The intent, according to the group, is to complete the plan by June. It will go back to each of the participating organizations for a new endorsement. Then, the group will enter a new phase of implementing the plan. The following organizations have endorsed the project and will participate in its development: Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation• Lehigh Valley Partnership• Greater Lehigh Valley Consortium for Excellence and Equity (school superintendents)• Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce• Lehigh Valley Arts Council• United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley• Workforce Board Lehigh Valley• My Brother’s Keeper Lehigh Valley• Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley Because this is a local project, only county and city elected officials were asked to participate. They include: Ray O’Connell, Mayor, City of Allentown, Robert Donchez, Mayor, City of Bethlehem, Sal Panto, Mayor, City of Easton, Phillips Armstrong, Lehigh County Executive, Lamont McClure, Northampton County Executive #​#​# ...

18 Oct

MEDIA ADVISORY: LEHIGH VALLEY COMING TOGETHER TO NEGATE IMPACT OF RACISM

MEDIA ADVISORY CONTACT: Alan Jennings 610-248-9900 LEHIGH VALLEY COMING TOGETHER TO NEGATE IMPACT OF RACISM Many of the Lehigh Valley’s major leadership groups will be coming together to announce an unprecedented effort to dull the impact of racism on the people who suffer its consequences. The project, called “Color Outside the Lines” will be announced at a press conference on Tuesday, October 22, at 11:00 PM. The press conference will take place at Northampton Community College’s Fowler Center on Bethlehem’s Southside. The project, organized by a diverse task force of community leaders, with staff support from the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, has been endorsed by some of the most powerful organizations in the region, including the Lehigh Valley Partnership, the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, a coalition of school superintendents called the Consortium for Excellence and Equity, Workforce Board Lehigh Valley, Lehigh Valley Arts Council, Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, My Brother’s Keeper and PPL. ...

11 Oct

MEDIA ADVISORY: CACLV INTRODUCES ITS “PRIORITY BLOCKS” STRATEGY FOR UPSIDE ALLENTOWN

MEDIA ADVISORY CONTACT: Alan Jennings 610-248-9900 CACLV INTRODUCES ITS “PRIORITY BLOCKS” STRATEGY FOR UPSIDE ALLENTOWN Tenth Street’s 200 Block is the First of What the Nonprofit’s Leaders Hope Will Be More On Tuesday, October 15, at 1:30 PM, the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley will introduce its honed strategy for housing-heavy neighborhood revitalization. The nonprofit community development organization will be holding a press conference to introduce the strategy and how it will be funded. Wayne Barz, President of the Board of Directors of CACLV, will announce the project and staff of the agency will present details on the sources of funding, the kinds of work that will be done on the block and how this project fits the broader strategy for the Upside neighborhood. Mayor Ray O’Connell will be present to offer comments. In addition, residents of the block who will benefit directly or indirectly will be offering their thoughts on the project. The press briefing will take place indoors at 220 North Tenth Street in the city. ...

26 Sep

CACLV SETS ITS AGENDA

Anti-Poverty Nonprofit Has Broad Agenda, Addressing Housing, Community Development and Helping Low-Income Find Their Voice September 26, 2019 The Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley held its Annual Meeting today in downtown Allentown with a sellout crowd of 260 people in attendance. While speakers focused on the agency’s accomplishments over the past year, the agency’s long-time Executive Director set the stage for its agenda in 2019-20. While offering few details, citing plans to hold three press conferences in the next month, Executive Director Alan Jennings set an agenda that reflects the wide array of programs and services as well as advocacy issues that has long been a trademark of the agency. He announced that the Lehigh and Northampton Counties Revolving Loan Fund is being merged into his agency and would be administered by their lending subsidiary, The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund. In discussing the agency’s plans in the Slate Belt, Jennings announced that the agency has taken over responsibility for administering the Slate Belt Council of Governments. Also in the Slate Belt, he announced that their community development initiative, Slate Belt Rising, would turn its attention this year to the “tiny borough of Portland, a community with so much potential, and then on to Pen Argyl.” He made it clear that his organization is continuing to expand its housing programs, including two new initiatives in Center City Allentown’s neighborhoods, the details of which will be outlined in separate news conferences over the next month. He reiterated an announcement made last week that the agency was going to shift its focus in Allentown to investing in its future labor supply, referring to kids with too few opportunities today. Jennings also announced that his organization was organizing “a major initiative on race,” but offered no details, once again citing a separate news announcement planned for October. Finally, Jennings noted that credit unions in the Lehigh Valley have a poor record of mortgage lending to households of color. Claiming that their tax-exempt status and lack of a law requiring reinvestment in low-income communities like those that apply to banks gave them an unfair competitive advantage over those banks. Without citing any specific credit union, he did specify that the largest in the region rejected applications from people of color 3 to 4 times more than rejecting white applications. “That’s a problem and we plan on helping them understand that in the year ahead,” he said. The theme of the program was “Together.” Acknowledging that current conventional wisdom is that our nation is too divided, CACLV Board President Wayne Barz said, “People who benefit from division, will foment that division. I believe CACLV foments togetherness.” CACLV operates a wide range of programs designed to improve the quality of life for low-income people in the region. Those programs include the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Sixth Street Shelter, housing initiatives like homeownership counseling and foreclosure mitigation, rehab and new construction. The agency operates entrepreneurial programs that make loans and offer small business training. It also does extensive neighborhood revitalization work in downtown Allentown, south Bethlehem and the Slate Belt, ranging from façade improvements and creating pocket parks to planting trees and streetscaping. Only 32% of its budget comes from government funding, a proportion without equal among more than 1,000 Community Action Agencies in the nation. #         #         # ...

25 Sep

2019 ANNUAL MEETING

25 September 2019 This is the highest turnout in the history of the agency, even topping the year HUD secretary Henry Cisneros spoke. There are over 250 good people here. Thanks to each and every one of you for giving a damn about the community in which you live. This may be a bit self-serving but there is something to be said about a community that is always trying to make itself better. We have well over 1,000 volunteers who assist in one way or another, some as board members, others just once, some who volunteer selflessly two, three, four days a week. We have thousands of donors, some barely able to give even a few dollars, but they give $25 or 50 or more. We have businesses, especially banks, whose donations are large enough to help us make over whole city blocks. We have friends who are generous after they have left this world behind. And we have political allies, both Democrats and Republicans, who are there when we need them. I like to think that this is an agile, powerful, financially fit, neighborhood-based community development organization. Hopefully, as a result of your being with us today, you will agree. So, this is what you can expect from your community action agency in the fiscal year that began July one. Two or three of these initiatives will get only cryptic explanations because they are not yet public information but the press conferences are planned over the next few weeks. If I divulge too much today, the press won’t cover it. You know how they are. In no particular order, here they are: We are in the process of implementing a plan for strengthening Allentown’s center-city neighborhoods by concentrating the rehabilitation of properties on one or two blocks at a time. That’s all I can say to avoid tipping off someone trying to get a scoop. That announcement will be made in the next couple of weeks. To complement that project, we will hold a second press conference to announce a new initiative we are doing with TD Bank.  And speaking of plans, we are hard at work developing a new Neighborhood Partnership Program for the neighborhoods right outside this building. We expect this plan to focus on the development of our future labor supply so that today’s young people have cause for hope and we will do what we can to convince the PA DCED to embrace it. Chris Hudock and Pat Johnson’s comments were the first time the merger of the Lehigh and Northampton Counties Revolving Loan Fund with CACLV, to be administered by our lending subsidiary, The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, were mentioned in public. It has been a long and challenging process (we are, after all dealing with, in part, the federal government, which doesn’t like to make anything too easy). We also brought the Seed Farm, the unique incubator for new farmers, into the agency and under the Second Harvest Food Bank. Job One is to stabilize the program, get it more sustainable, and build a program that can do more of the innovation for which it is known. Administratively, we will be consolidating our array of housing-related programs into a single, more agile, and more productive unit. Within the month, we will be announcing a major new initiative on race. In Bethlehem, we hope to be helpful to the city as it turns its focus to a neighborhood on the north side of the river that is dealing with some of the challenges that are all too common in our urban communities. To the credit of Mayor Bob Donchez and his community development director and former CACLV board president, Alicia Miller Karner, and others in City Hall, they are getting a jump on this neighborhood before its circumstances become too grim and prohibitively expensive to correct. We are excited by the prospect of teaming with the city. In the Slate Belt, our attention turns to the tiny borough of Portland, a community with so much potential, and then on to Pen Argyl. So much is happening up there and Slate Belt Rising is in the middle of it all, with CACLV staffing its Council of Governments (also announced here for the first time in public) and playing a pivotal role with the LVPC in the development of a multi-municipal comprehensive plan. We are in the early stages of challenging the Lehigh Valley’s credit unions to do the right thing. They have the image of being the workingman’s bank, with nonprofit status that lets them off the hook on certain taxes; also, there is no Community Reinvestment Act to force them to, in fact, reinvest in their community. Consequently, they are given a distinct advantage in the marketplace over our friends in the banking community who, as you know, actively reinvest in all corners of their market and pay taxes. My friend and ally, David Jones, and I had a recent meeting with the CEO of the largest credit union in this community and let them know that we know they reject Latino applications at a rate three times higher than they do white applicants; they are four times more likely to reject an African-American mortgage applicant.  Friends, these are just the new initiatives. You can count on us to continue to deliver our best possible product at the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Sixth Street Shelter, and its longer-term transitional housing programs, our entrepreneurial assistance, neighborhood revitalization projects, weatherization and other initiatives I hope you will read about at your convenience. The resources we have to produce this massive volume of output are not ours. They are yours: your tax dollars, your charitable contributions, your talent, wisdom, and time. But I can assure you that every single person in this agency is working themselves to near exhaustion to make our world a better place. I’d like to offer our thanks to them for their hard work. And our world needs to be a better place. Frankly, I used to believe that we understood our problems and made decisions individually and collectively whether and to what degree we want to solve those problems. But, over the past few years our world has been scrambled, conventional wisdom set aside, the clock turned back, history forgotten. It’s okay again to waste energy. It’s okay to bring our world to the brink of war. It’s okay to forget your manners and scoff at diplomacy. It’s okay to hate someone just because they don’t look like you. If you are here today, you have a sense of decency. You know what a civilized society should look like. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, brown or white, Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, red state, blue state, Christian, Muslim, Jew. It doesn’t matter if you’re a redneck or a liberal elite, doesn’t matter if you are young or old, urban, suburban, rural. You know that we can do better, so much better. And we can do even better still, if we all work… together. This may sound hokey, but there is nothing we as Americans can’t do if we put our collective resources together with the will to do it. I would argue that we share so much more in common and have so much more reason to work together than we do in the things that separate us. The words “liberal” and “conservative” really don’t mean that much. At CACLV, we are liberals because we believe the market can be tweaked to work better for more people. We are conservatives because we believe people need to accept responsibility for themselves and their actions. We are liberals because we want to help. We are conservatives because we don’t do anything for anyone; instead, we teach people how to solve their own problems and not be dependent on anyone. We are liberals because we think we can do more for others. We are conservatives because we are cheap. I know I sound angry. I am angry. Too many judge people by the way they look; too few have even met someone who actually looks different from them. Too many think we waste too much money on welfare; too few realize that our welfare system is so bad that only a few thousand people in our two counties with a population in excess of 650,000 are even on welfare. Too many make decisions considering only what’s best for them; too few consider the impact on others of the decisions they make. Too many have too much; too few share. As most of you know, my health is taking me down. I think I have less than two years of effectiveness left in me. This community needs more people to stand up, challenge those who would hold us back, have the vision of what we can be and the resolve to get there. You will meet with resistance. But engage those who resist – their input can make your ideas better and your implementation more effective. Every one of us can do more. Every single one of us. We can push people to vote, write checks, reach out to a child or elder, call an elected official, challenge your friends to get involved, write checks, paint the Sixth Street Shelter, write a letter to the editor or, did I say? Write checks? We can make our world a better place. But we need to do it with a sense of urgency. Patience is no virtue – it is a luxury of the fortunate, of the comfortable, of those who would protect the status quo. We can, indeed, make our world a better place. But one thing – one thing – is very, very clear: we can only get there together. Join us! ...

15 Jul

REPORT TO THE COMMUNITY IN RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS ABOUT CACLV’S ADMINISTRATION OF ITS FACADE IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMS

In the interest of transparency, we are posting the following report in response to an unfortunate accusation made against the agency last year. It has diverted a substantial amount of attention of several staff and board members. It unfairly led to a mildly unfavorable article in The Morning Call.  While we assert that the accusations were reckless with the facts, the special board committee that investigated the episode did make a series of suggestions that have been or are being addressed by the agency. The agency notes that we remain one of the most consequential nonprofits in the area with more problem-solving initiatives in the planning stages. We appreciate this community’s support of our work. Alan L. Jennings Facade Program Review Executive SummaryDownload ...

15 May

STATEMENT BY ALAN JENNINGS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR COMMUNITY ACTION COMMIITTEE OF THE LEHIGH VALLEY

The County of Northampton is embroiled in a battle over there need to improve their voting machines to protect against voter fraud. CAC LV plans to weigh in at the Council meeting tomorrow evening. Susan Dallandan will represent the agency. She is very knowledgeable about the issue. She will make the following statement on behalf of our executive director, who will be out of town. That statement is as follows: There is no greater privilege that we Americans have than participating in our democracy through the power of the ballot box. Our right of free speech enables me to stand before you and ask you to do the right thing. But the right to vote, the power to vote, the obligation to vote, the ability to vote, is a treasured right guaranteed us more than 240 years ago.  That right to say what we believe and to petition the government would have minimal benefit without the right to choose those who are being petitioned. If every American is not guaranteed that right, then our democracy falls short. If those who can, do, but those who cannot, do not, then we have no claim to being among the great nations in history. Any obstruction that keeps any voter away from their polling placecalls into question the legitimacy of that election. We have the technology to make sure every single person – black, white, brown, male, female, property owner or pauper, educated or not, housed or homeless, strong healthy and able-bodied or saddled with limitations – every single person can exercise their privilege of voting. County Executive Lamont McClure and his administration are proposing a system that has, as far as I can tell, every element needed to ensure that those who need our government most, those with any of the vast array of physical limitations so many people bear, are able to be proud participants in the democracy we hold so dear. On behalf of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, mindful of how our system leaves so many behind, I urge you to acquire the system that makes our democracy as powerful as it can be. And that, to me, appears to be the XL system. By supporting this choice, you can do your part in ensuring that every resident of Northampton County, regardless of their physical limitation, can vote. ...

19 Mar

JENNINGS COMMENTS ON TRUMP’S PROPOSAL TO SHUT DOWN CACLV

“The Contrast Between Right and Wrong Has Never Been So Clear”         Donald Trump has issued his proposed budget that eliminates all of the federal funding in the annual budget of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. Alan L. Jennings, the agency’s executive for 28 years, issued the following statement in response to the president’s budget proposal:             The president of the United States has defined himself, once again, by the actions he has taken. In order to fund a wall that won’t work, a defense budget the Joint Chiefs of Staff didn’t seek, and a tax cut the people who benefitted most didn’t need, Mr. Trump has proposed a federal budget that turns its back on tens of millions of Americans. If we interpret a budget as a reflection of the priorities of the individual who proposed it, this president, once again, has made it clear that he has lost any claim on a moral compass. Lacking that compass, the president can stake no claim on right versus wrong. It would be wrong to shut down the largest shelter for homeless families with children in the region. It would be wrong to shut down our revitalization of neighborhoods. It would be wrong to shut down a weatherization program that reduces heating costs, wrong to shut down programs that teach people to help themselves, wrong to stop saving homeowners from foreclosures, wrong to look someone in the eye and tell them they don’t matter. The contrast between right and wrong has never been so clear.              In dramatically reducing and, in some cases, eliminating funding of such programs as the Community Services Block Grant, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the Community Development Block Grant, the Weatherization Assistance Program and others, the president’s budget, if adopted by the Congress, would shut down the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. CACLV has stood up on behalf of those who have been knocked down for more than five decades. And, while barely 20% of our funding comes from federal funding, this funding is key to the agency’s ability to leverage other funding.         We look forward to the support of the majority in the Congress, both Republican and Democrat, and yearn for the day when Americans relearn the lesson that we are only great when everyone has access to opportunity, the ability to pursue that opportunity and a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. Great countries do not turn their backs on those whose skills are of limited value in the marketplace or those too old or too young to work. Great countries invest in themselves, learn from the past, improve on the present and build a future that leaves no one behind.  Mr. Trump has, yet again, divided our country. There is not a single person who has gone down in history admired as one who divided people, pitting them against each other, turning a deaf ear to their cries or a blind eye to their suffering. The great, admired, respected people throughout history have always been those who stood up to injustice, fought back against oppression and lifted up those who fell down. ...

04 Mar

BITS AND PIECES

Here is a quick update on some things going on around the agency and the wider community: WEATHERIZATION AND FURNACE REPAIR OR REPLACEMENTAs we slowly work our way through the waning weeks of winter, those who struggle to pay their bills should be encouraged by the warming weather. On the other hand the arrival of spring makes it easier for the public utility companies to shut off service. CACLV has a long history of helping families survive the cold weather. We have weatherized more than 20,000 homes throughout the six county region our weatherization program serves. In the process, households can either make it more affordable to keep their home more comfortable , which is especially helpful for infants and older Americans, or they can save a lot more money by continuing to resist the urge to turn up the heat A little-known aspect of the work we do is the repair and even replacement of furnaces of low-income people, meaning those with incomes below 150% of the federal poverty level. This translates to about $36,000 annual income for a family of four. So far this year our weatherization program has repaired or replaced furnaces in over 170 homes. SUSAN WILD GETS KEY COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTCongresswoman Susan wild has been appointed to a seat on the labor HHS and education committee. From that position she will be in place to play an important role in such issues as the minimum wage, workplace safety and the reauthorization of programs like the Community Services Block Grant, the key funding source for Community Action agencies like CACLV.THE COLOR OF JUSTICEIn partnership with the three local chapters of the NAACP, CACLV is helping to organize a forum on the reform of criminal justice laws. I think most of us, at least those who respect the facts, recognize that people of color are treated differently than those of us who are white. Perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than in our criminal justice system. There are a number of things we can do to level that playing field without putting anyone’s personal safety at greater risk. To put this issue on the agenda for public discussion, we are holding a forum called The Color of Justice. The keynote speaker will be Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. A panel discussion featuring Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Edward Riebman and Northampton County Court of Common Pleas Judge Craig Dally and Workforce Board Lehigh Valley Executive Director Nancy Dischinat. There will be plenty of time for discussion. I am excited that PBS 39 will be broadcasting the forum. Details to follow. The forum, including lunch, is $25. Scholarships are available for low income people unable to afford that fee. It will take place in Wood Dining Room in Iacocca Hall on Lehigh University’s mountaintop campus. It isn’t too late to register, but hurry, the event will take place on Monday, March 11, from 11:45 AM to 1:30 PM. PA DCED AWARDS CACLV $175,000 FOR HOUSING REHAB IN ALLENTOWNThe behind-the-scenes part of this story is intriguing, to us it is infuriating. Allentown’s community development director decided that participating in the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Keystone Communities Program, which gave communities priority status when applying for grants, was not worth his staff’s effort. So we agreed to do it for them.Last week, we received word that we will be receiving $175,000 for housing rehab in the neighborhood we call Upside Allentown, immediately surrounding the NIZ. Thanks to DCED; raspberries to Leonard Lightner. ...

24 Jan

CASEY/WILD GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN PRESS CONFERENCE

22 January 2019 SHARON’S PANTRY Comments of Alan L. Jennings Executive Director Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley The people who brought us the idea that we as a nation could go as low as to wrench children out of the arms of their immigrant parents have turned that mean spirit on those in our communities who need us. They want to build a monument to xenophobia, to the kinds of base emotions that have no place in this small world. That poor people have become pawns in the game of thrones is one more demonstration of a way of thinking that is not worthy of the ideals of a great nation. I want to thank Senator Casey and our new congresswoman (great word, isn’t it?), Representative Wild, for standing up for those who need us, insisting that we leave no one behind. Every one of us, of course, is affected by our federal government. When that government is down, some of us can survive for longer periods of time than others.  How cynical do you have to be to think that taking food from the mouths of children is a good way to settle a political score? Tens of thousands of our neighbors here in the Lehigh Valley are receiving SNAP benefits, child nutrition programs, and other assistance. Yes, we would all like everyone to work. Most do but their skills are not given the value they need to pay the bills. Some can’t; they’re too young, too old, or they have a disability. Great nations don’t use these people as pawns. The nonprofits that get some or all of their food through the Second Harvest Food Bank serve, collectively, more than 50,000 of our neighbors each month. It has long been our goal that we never find ourselves in a situation where someone among us needs assistance and we have no food with which to respond to that need. We have not turned a soul away due to lack of ample supply. We have been able to make that bold claim for more than 25 years. So far, we are fairly flush with product. If this shutdown continues, that statement, “We have not turned a soul away due to lack of ample supply” will be relegated to history because of an act of our own making. So, I want to thank Senator Bob Casey and Congresswoman Susan Wild for believing in the power of collective action by civilized people, meaning government, in ensuring no one is left behind. ...

09 Jan

Bits and Pieces

CADC Bethlehem Moves the Needle The homeownership rate in the Hayes Street area (specifically block group 112-02) has increased 9.1% from the 2008-2012 period to the 2013-2017 period. Comparatively, during the same time period the City as a whole experienced a decrease in homeownership rates of 5.2%. Since most of the Hayes Street investments began around 2013, this time period pretty accurately reflects when we would expect to see a change due to collective revitalization efforts. Digging a bit deeper, this neighborhood’s homeownership rate had been declining since 2000 and hit its lowest level in 2010—this is a major shift in the other direction. CADC Allentown Does, Too The most recent crime reports out of Allentown indicate that serious crimes declined citywide in 2017 by 12%. In the center city neighborhoods where CADCA focuses its work, including its Neighborhood Partnership called Upside Allentown, crime declined by a robust 20%! Allentown’s Department of Community and Economic Development Sticks It to CACLV One would think that the award-winning transformation of Seventh Street by CADCA, the $550,000 in corporate contributions we bring to the city annually for Upside Allentown and countless other efforts, the city would do all it can to have us do even more. However, after more than two years of planning, pocked with lengthy delays by the city, CACLV was about to begin a $1.1 million housing rehab effort. We brought matching funds totaling more than $600,000. Without warning, the department moved $700,000 that had been committed to us to Habitat for Humanity to build 8 houses on Tacoma Street, a long way from the struggling neighborhoods downtown. That Habitat took the money when they were originally going to lead the rehab effort but withdrew, citing inadequate capacity, is pretty low but I guess beating up a struggling nonprofit would be tacky Wayne Barz Takes the Wheel for CACLV Wayne Barz, long-time financing whiz at Ben Franklin Tech Partners, has taken the helm as president of the Board of Directors of CACLV. Wayne is an economist by training and a long-time, active board member, serving as the lead at CADC Allentown, The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, and now CACLV. ...

04 Jan

We Can’t Let 2019 Be More of the Same

And, so, another new year has begun. I’m guessing that most of us are more than a little scared of what might be in store for us; optimism seems to be in short supply, anxiety plentiful. Many of us are downright scared of the path. We have an impulsive president who has a dangerous perspective on our world. It is a world where my gains are mine and don’t even think that I might share them. It’s an us-versus-them or, more accurately, me-versus-them perspective. Standing on the threshold of that path, I have to admit I’m scared to death. I’d really rather not head down it, not with this president leading the way. I’d rather take that path over there. Yes, it’s less traveled. But we have to abandon the route that takes us to a society where climate change is putting the human species at risk, where too few accumulate most of the spoils and too many pay the price, where bullies prevail, where a nation that professes faith behaves in ways that are totally at odds with that faith. This is what I think needs to happen in 2019: the hourly minimum wage should be increased immediately to $15 and indexed for inflation thereafter; we must offer early childhood education to every three- and four-year-old, then fund K-12 public education equitably; we need to respect all people – not just those who look like me, but with particular sensitivity to the needs of those who don’t; we need to find a way to give all who want a college education a way to afford it; we need to acknowledge that far too many of us have behavioral health problems (addiction and mental illness), remove the stigma and begin to ramp up resources to rescue those individuals and their families from the devastating effect of the dark corners of our world; we need to shift hundreds of millions of dollars from subsidizing big homes with gigantic mortgages in favor of those whose alternative to a subsidized, low-cost apartment is the street; and we need to stop placing the burden of the availability of health insurance on employers. But we won’t. We won’t because too few of those in Congress and Harrisburg either understand or even care about these issues. We won’t because voters don’t reward politicians for negotiating a deal that works for most, they reward politicians who score points with the extremes of their parties by being the loudest obstructionists to progress. And we won’t because too few of us understand that we all win when we all win. These are public policy issues for federal and state governments to address. Local efforts to confront the challenges we face have a very different dynamic. There is very little partisanship at the local level. At the municipal and county levels, the sides are different: it’s suburb versus city or suburban versus rural; it’s wealthy, mostly white school districts versus poor, mostly minority districts; it’s pro-development versus anti-development, warehouse versus cornfield. Alliances aren’t rigid, they’re agile, shifting. The Chamber of Commerce can promote locally-owned and urban instead of suburban big box. The Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley can push back on those who think “gentrification” is a bad thing. The Workforce Investment Board can say, “we don’t want your stinkin’ warehouse and its handful of $13 per hour jobs.” The hospitals can promote better care for poor people because they figured out that the cost to ignore them is too high. A diverse coalition of stakeholders can declare that this region is going to find a way to include everyone and spurn racism, sexism and any other divisive ‘-ism.” The colleges and universities can work with local groups to find competitive, local minority applicants to help them achieve the diversity they claim to seek. Banks and community development groups can seek creative ways to reduce income and wealth disparity. Or we can follow Harrisburg’s and Washington’s leads. We can blame the victims. We can let the lucky few off the hook. We can punish people for being poor. We can stop reading the newspaper and stay blissfully ignorant. We can think and act only for ourselves and thumb our collective noses at everyone, anyone else. Hell, we can build a wall along the Delaware River to keep those folks from New York and New Jersey out. The Lehigh Valley is a pretty good place to be. But it can be better.  All aboard! ...

03 Dec

COMMUNITY ADVENT BREAKFAST

On Saturday morning, our executive director, Alan Jennings, was the guest speaker at Bethlehem’s 53rd annual Community Advent Breakfast. Here are his comments, relative to the season and the state of our society. COMMUNITY ADVENT BREAKFAST Moravian Village DECEMBER 2018 CACLV has been around since 1965. I started in December, 1980, right out of college, desperate to make a difference in the world. People ask me how I got to be the way I am. The question is a little disconcerting: “What do you mean, “the way I am?” [I explained how being a middle child, paying attention in church and having an older brother were the major factors.] We run a broad array of programs, including sheltering over 100 homeless families with children at the Sixth Street Shelter and another two long-term transitional housing, weatherizing more than 1,000 homeless, supplying 9 million pounds of food to 200 nonprofits in six counties through our Second Harvest Food Bank, revitalizing neighborhoods like the Southside, Easton’s West Ward, downtown Allentown, and, now, four boroughs in the Slate Belt. That community revitalization work has included dressing up more than 300 building facades, replacing 150 sidewalks, installing street lights, planting hundreds of trees, creating or reviving small neighborhood parks and helping people start their own businesses and lending more than $7 million to businesses that can’t get bank financing, helping families buy their first home, rescuing 1,200 families from the torture of losing their home, helping more than 5,000 households maintain their electric service. A couple of new programs we’ve started are designed to help people of color overcome some common challenges, like keeping girls from making foolish mistakes that could lead to a lifetime of poverty and helping high school kids get into college. I absolutely love this time of year. I love the cold snap in the air; I love to retreat to the coziness of my home; I love the way the flames dance and fire crackles in the fireplace. I love the lights; I love the music, both sacred and commercial; I love the food, the smell of pine; I love the Christmas movies, the Christmas specials, the Christmas cartoons that I’ve watched every year at least once for more than 40 years; I love the candlelight Christmas services; I love the nostalgia for years passed; I love the hopefulness that comes with the new year; I love the kindness; I love the reverence; And I love the poetry of the King James version of the birth of the Christ child [RECITE] The story has been told so many times Oddly enough, no matter how many times you look, there is nothing in there about fat old bearded guys in goofy red suits there is nothing in there about eggnog, chocolate chip cookies or mistletoe; there is nothing in there about lavish spending on gifts for people who already have so much there is nothing in there about the bustle of shopping. So let’s take this time and take a minute to take a deep breath and relax; close your eyes, listen to the sound of nothing. And let’s take a look at that story again: Mary is little more than a child; biblical scholars place her around 15 years old; she’s pregnant but not married. er soon-to-be husband learns that the girl he will marry is pregnant and he knows he is not the father; the story she tells is that she is pregnant by God. They have no place to lay their heads; technically, they are homeless: The son of God is born amidst the stench of the barn, in a trough, no throne, no armies. God sends the angel to deliver the news- not to the kings or the merchants, or even the common laborers but, instead, to the shepherds who were the lowlifes of their times. I’m not a genius but I’m pretty sure God is trying to tell us something here: Christmas really isn’t about those of us who are winners. Christmas is about the losers. It’s not about the haves, it’s about the have-nots; It’s not about those who can, it’s about those who can not; Not those who are with but those who are without. It’s not about those of us who are lucky enough to be surrounded by love, it’s about those who are lonely and forgotten. So, where are our leaders? They are spraying tear gas on people fleeing places where there is nothing, places where oppression and deprivation, often reinforced by our own policies, is a way of life and they cannot live with it any longer! They are poking at hornets’ nests, provoking disputes with countries that have nothing to lose but are capable of leveling cities and killing millions, countries led by people with horrifically skewed views of the world. They are dividing us: black against white, Christian versus Jew, black vs. white, working class vs. elite. If God is love then it seems to me the rest is pretty easy: Love means we treat each other with respect; Love means we insist on fairness; Love means we care for those who have too little; Love means we visit the lonely; It means we lay down our weapons, turn them into plowshares; Love means we educate the children; It means we protect people from harm; Love means we treat people the way we want to be treated; It means every decision we make is not focused on what’s good for ourselves but what is good for others, for our community, for our nation, for our world. Friends, there are so many good people in this community who do no harm, who embrace these ideals, who make selfless decisions without a shred of publicity. I have no doubt that includes most, if not every person in this room today. But there are also far too many who can sign up, but who turn away; too many who can give more, but who squirrel it away. There are far too many who have time to give, but who guard that time. Not enough people show tolerance toward those who don’t look like them or speak the same language; too many guns, not enough books; too many self-absorbed, patronizing politicians, not enough with the courage to lead on unpopular but righteous causes. As Lennon said (the Beatle, not the Bolshevik), “And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?” I have worked at a frenetic pace for my entire life, trying desperately to make a difference. Now I am 60 with Parkinson’s. I have no idea how much longer I can keep this up. I need your help to save one, two, two hundred, two thousand more souls. I am cynical enough to know what I am up against, but optimistic enough to pick the fight anyway. Merry Christmas! ...

19 Nov

BITS AND PIECES

17 NOVEMBER 2018 OK, I get it that some folks might get bored with the opinion columns. So, as an antidote, here are some briefs on activity around the agency: 1,200 Homeowners Rescued From Foreclosure We just did some math and found that CACLV saved more than 1,200 families from the heartbreak of losing their home to foreclosure. Imagine: • 1,200 families whose kids don’t have to be embarrassed that their family lost their home; • 1,200 blocks where property values weren’t diminished by a vacant house rotting as it goes through the foreclosure process; • 1,200 families whose lives weren’t disrupted by being forced to move, costing the kids some friends, distracting the kids from their school work; • 1,200 properties remaining in the tax base. We share that cause for celebration with our friends in both Lehigh and Northampton counties’ courts of common pleas. Together, we developed a “diversion court.” Basically, it requires the lenders’ lawyers to appear before this side court with the homeowner and her/his representative. That representative is, almost always, a CACLV housing counselor. This is not a hostile, one-on-one battle. The banks don’t want the property; it is almost always a loss leader. So, they would really rather work out a deal. And, by the way, very few of those 1,200 homeowners were owners who had gone through our homeowners’ educational seminars. Our folks bought responsibly and largely survived a nasty recession. More Kudos from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency I had the pleasure of attending an awards luncheon conducted by PHFA at which CACLV was named “Best Agency” (But there were four of us, so it’s not quite right to use the superlative.) Susan Gottwald and Dawn Godshall joined me (they’re the ones who do the real work). We thank Brian Hudson, CEO of PHFA, for the kind recognition. This is our fourth award from PHFA. Estamos Listos is Winding Down We are making one last push to raise funds for the evacuees who fled Hurricane Maria. We have a very generous anonymous donor who is offering to match any donations over $500. We were hoping to raise at least $50,000, half of which will be distributed as gift cards for use during the holidays and half will be used for rent assistance, by far the toughest challenge our new neighbors are experiencing. Hispanic Center, Casa Guadalupe and the Hispanic American Organization have been leading the way in the resettlement process. The contributions made to CACLV will be divided appropriately between them. The agencies report that families continue to arrive but the volume has subsided considerably (by roughly two-thirds). They note that they continue to work with many of the families already here. We are winding down the agency’s role in the effort. We should all be proud of how this community came together to prove that we can all be Americans together, offering lots of support to the 3,000+ Puerto Ricans who fled the island following the hurricane. We would welcome any sister organization in the region to the staff support role. City Lights Flicker Out We came so close. We tried so hard. We raised more than $1 million in subsidies on the $6 million housing development, we got a waiver (thanks, in part, to Senator Lisa Boscola) on a key restriction related to the steep slope. We had consultants, architects, engineers, bankers and others being very helpful. City Hall deserves our thanks, Lamont McClure’s people were terrific. NeighborWorks America was very patient. Charlie Tuskes, from whom we were buying the land, was also patient. Friends, this failure is a poster child for why we have an affordable housing disaster on our hands. And not enough people are doing anything about it. You would think the folks who lead the cheers on economic development would step up. If you expect people to live on the $15 an hour jobs the warehouses are bringing us, you better get the housing production going! Up Ahead I expect to start doing much more of this kind of update than the op-eds. We plan to continue posting these kinds of short hits on CACLV’s endless campaigns to make any part of our communities more resilient. ...

05 Nov

JENNINGS: TRUMP’S CYNICISM STOKES THE FIRE OF HATRED

CACLV Executive Director Alan Jennings offers his thoughts on the challenges of finding common ground on the otherwise intransigent issue of immigration in America in the following post.  His comments set up the discussion at the Hispanic Center’s Health Equity Summit on Election Day. IMMIGRANT HEALTH SUMMIT 6 November 2018 We have come here today to discuss an issue so complex, so divisive, so emotional, so dangerous, that it threatens to tear us apart as a nation, as a people. It is being stoked by a president so cynical, so utterly incapable of empathy, so megalomaniacal, that he would use it to drive a bigger wedge deeper into the chasm that increasingly separates us, even though we are, fundamentally, a nation of immigrants. Friends, poor, white, undereducated madmen who are paranoid as well as well-armed, are on hair-trigger alert for the latest sign from whoever is in their heads telling them to light the fire. They are opening fire on whatever group doesn’t look like them, sound like them, or share the killers’ views on religion. Hatred, of course, is born of ignorance. What few of these angry white men seem to get is that none of us own the gates, we are all, or at least, ancestors, of immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants. If you love your country, you are loving our immigrants. Those who come to the land of the free, the home of the brave today, come for the same reasons those who came before them had. We have welcomed people from around the world for our entire history as a nation, one that has held itself out as a beacon of hope and opportunity. How do people go about coming to the conclusion that their lives are so bad that they are willing to walk hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles with nothing, and face the mightiest military in the world in the most inhospitable environment in search of that hope and opportunity? Do we as a nation, one that teaches its children to pledge allegiance to that nation alleging that we are one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, really plan on a confrontation with thousands of such seekers? And with what weapons, tear gas? Tasers? Automatic weapons? Shoulder-launched missiles? Or, worse, will we send them back? Wrench their children from their mothers’ arms? I fear that this confrontation might produce the kind of images that become icons of American hypocrisy, like My Lai, or Selma, Alabama. After all, we are a nation of immigrants, so none of us here can lay claim to this land. The Lenni Lenape were the first humans to settle in the place we all now call the Lehigh Valley; they arrived approximately 10,000 years before the first Europeans showed up. And those newcomers, all of whom looked like me, promptly moved them elsewhere, most ending up in the Plains states. Those first Europeans were Scots-Irish. William Penn opened up the area we now call Pennsylvania as a place of religious tolerance in the 1730’s, bringing Reform Protestants, many of which were German, thus making the region populated by people we now call Pennsylvania Dutch. What is widely considered the United States’ first wave of immigration took place from 1840 to 1889. This brought more Germans and other western Europeans to the Lehigh Valley. Large numbers of Irish immigrants began arriving in the 1840s during the Potato Famine. By 1850, half the foreign-born population of Pennsylvania was Irish. The first Jewish settlements in the Valley appeared in the 1840s in Allentown and Easton (although a Jewish trader of Spanish-Portuguese ancestry was one of the founders of Easton in 1750). Easton, in fact, is home to the tenth oldest Synagogue in the country. The Welsh arrived in the 1840’s to work in the quarries in the Slate Belt and stayed to work in textile manufacturing. We are a nation of immigrants. The second wave of immigration to the U.S. took place between 1890 and the start of the First World War and brought Italians, Portuguese, Asians, and Eastern Europeans, including people from the Balkans, Poland, the Czech and Slovak republics, Hungary, and Russia, many of whom ended up working for Bethlehem Steel or in other industrial jobs. Among these new arrivals were large populations who were Jewish or Catholic. Folks who looked like me didn’t like those new arrivals, either. In fact, just about every newcomer was treated like pariah, often by the folks who had just shown up themselves. In 1916, the first immigrants from Syria arrived in Allentown. Others followed, “lured” by local Presbyterian missionaries and a booming economy. We are, indeed, a nation of immigrants. In 1923, 200 Mexicans arrived in Bethlehem to work at the Steel. In 1930, approximately 6,000 Slovenians (also called Windish) arrived in Bethlehem to work at the Steel or the Lehigh Valley Railway. In the 1930s, Puerto Ricans also began moving to the Lehigh Valley, like so many before them, recruited to work in the steel and textile industries. The population of Puerto Ricans grew through the 1980s. Puerto Ricans, of course, are not immigrants but you wouldn’t know that by how they are treated Clearly, most immigration in those days was a source of cheap labor for major employers. The third wave of immigration began in the mid-1960s and brought immigrants primarily from Latin America. According to the U.S. Census, between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic/Latino population in the Lehigh Valley grew from 8.6% to 15% (a 74% increase). We all know that 3,000+ more came in just this past year, fleeing the horrific damage done by Hurricane Maria. I’d be willing to bet that Estamos Listos was the most hospitable welcome any wave of newcomers ever received when they came to the region. The Atlantic magazine notes that Pennsylvania demographers expect Lehigh County will be a majority minority community by 2030, about ten years before the rest of the country. Without these immigrants, the Lehigh Valley would not be one of the fastest growing regions in the Commonwealth. Will those who we treated with our usual xenophobia turn on us as retribution for our sins? We are, remember, a nation of immigrants. Having said all of that, I have to offer the following disclosure: I don’t have a clear position on immigration. We can’t throw open the doors and let everyone in. I get that. But I would argue that American foreign policy has created a climate in many countries that leads to the diaspora of people fleeing repressive dictatorships. We have a knack for being on the wrong side of the revolution. American troops, for example, have repeatedly intervened in most of the countries in Central and Mezo-America. Mexicans are being slaughtered by rival drug cartels that exist, almost entirely, to satiate the American demand for recreational but illegal drugs that probably shouldn’t even be illegal. One could make the argument that we owe these innocent victims of our questionable policies some consolation. Then there is our apparent need for workers. Those coming through the harsh southwest climate are outstanding workers. And, by and large, they are the folks most likely to do the jobs that no one else seems willing to do. Whom should we accept? Mr. Trump wants more people from Scandinavia. He likes the blue-eyed crowd. The darker ones? Not so much. Do we just allow rocket scientists to enter? Models? Wealthy people who can buy their way in by investing in urban redevelopment? Or will we take the huddled masses enshrined in the beacon of hospitality situated on a little island on the New York/New Jersey state line? And what if you’re here legally, waiting for the green light to citizenship and those here illegally are given amnesty ahead of you? If we were to stereotype Donald Trump, we would think he would be the kind of guy who would welcome the cheap labor. So, why is he demonizing people who want to be a part of this nation? They come from all over the world, after all: Kazakhstan, Columbia, China and Ireland. Sweden, Greece, Poland and the African continent. Somehow, though, he only focuses on certain people. You know, I’m pretty cynical; cynical enough to know what I’m up against, but optimistic enough to pick the fight anyway. But Donald Trump’s cynicism is deeper. It’s darker. And it works. If your views are so extremist that they are shared by just a vocal minority, the only way you win is to divide the majority. And, boy, have they gotten good at it! So, I look forward to hearing the views of others. I don’t want to hear from cold, calculating politicians for whom this issue works. I am really not interested in the views of well-armed militia who make villains out of poor people yearning for the freedom we espouse. I am interested in the views of each of you, whether those views come from personal experience or thoughtful exploration of this difficult matter. So, let’s talk. ...

31 Oct

ON BAILING OUT ON SOMETHING THAT WORKS

In 1989, Bill Dedman, a reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles that exposed distressing disparities in mortgage lending between households of color and their white counterparts. This, of course, was no surprise to the aforementioned households of color. Dedman’s work inspired the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley to take a close look at mortgage lending here in the Lehigh Valley market. We found that people of color were about five times more likely to be rejected than their white counterparts. Again, no surprise to the folks who have been treated like second-class citizens for centuries. Equally distressing, though, was that people of color were not even applying for mortgages; they knew the system didn’t work for them. We turned the information over to The Morning Call, which did a terrific article on the data we had uncovered. Banks were, to say the least, embarrassed. The embarrassment of the expose brought them to the table. Together, we developed some prescriptive measures to correct the problem: outreach to low- and moderate-income families to get them to apply, a homeownership counseling program that would teach people how to buy a home responsibly, an automatic internal review of rejected households in the protected class, special mortgage products with a variety of discounts, and a peer review process in which banks originating a mortgage they planned to reject would have their decision scrutinized by peers in the industry; in the process, banks were sharing each others’ rejections and turning them into approvals. Within four years the disparity went from a factor of five to just 30%. Working together, we were literally changing the complexion of homeownership in the Lehigh Valley. That differential stuck. A few months ago, new research was done. While 61 metro markets around the country were busted for here-we-go-again disparities, the report said that they could find “no clear evidence of discrimination” in this market. Embarrassment was a powerful tool. But so was an obscure federal law called the Community Reinvestment Act. After federal funding, CRA is easily the most powerful tool community development organizations like CACLV have for tackling poverty. And, believe me, if it weren’t for this law, access to credit, the life-blood of any market, would not flow as freely as it does here in the Lehigh Valley. There have been many situations in the Lehigh Valley where it was clear that CRA made access to credit possible. Any bank that would argue with me on this point is at risk of my citing specific examples… and be embarrassed again. Those of us in the housing, community and economic development world have used CRA as effectively as any community in the country has. The Lehigh Valley is clearly a better place because of it. Each time a merger occurs, we meet with the brass of the acquiring bank and discuss their CRA-related plans. I would estimate that the result has been commitments by banks totalling, easily, $800 million. Not surprisingly, the man in the Oval Office has targeted CRA for reform. They’re calling it “modernization,” probably because it sounds better than “turning back the clock” or “gutting” it. I don’t know if the President just likes the nineteenth century better, hates poor people, or just can’t keep himself from making the wrong policy choice over and over, but weakening CRA would be a colossal mistake. Let me be clear: the banks in this market are terrific. I like almost every CEO or market president in the business; I like the commercial lenders, the mortgage originators, the underwriters. I consider many of them to be good friends. They all try to do the right thing. But I think it is safe to say that, given the choice, most would rather do business on the golf course than in low-income neighborhoods. Many bankers say they understand the importance of CRA but they think it is an administrative burden. I would love to be sympathetic but have you seen how much money most banks are making these days? CRA does not require them to lose money serving poor people; in fact, safety and soundness always have and always will trump (ironic choice of words, eh?) CRA. But this law has made our communities more vibrant and more fair. How can anyone oppose that? If you want to help fight back, go to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s website (ncrc.org), where you will find resources to help you comment on the proposed rules. It will only take a few minutes and, I assure you, it will make a huge difference. ...

18 Oct

Neighborhood Partnership Program Funding Doubled

One of my favorite comments is, “I’m cynical enough to know what I’m up against but optimistic enough to pick the fight anyway.” Folks, getting results in the public policy arena these days seems almost impossible, especially in Harrisburg. But a statewide coalition of groups led by the chamber of commerce in Pittsburgh got a big victory this week. House Bill 512 passed! HB 512 doubled funding for the Neighborhood Partnership Program. Since the program was established almost 50 years ago, funding has been stuck at just $18 million. That paltry amount demonstrates how good we are at NPP’s, since we’ve had three in operation for the better part of 15 years, starting with Southside Vision 2012, which began in 2002. In addition to SV20 (the most recent iteration of our south Bethlehem effort), Upside Allentown and Slate Belt Rising (a ground-breaking, rural, multi-municipal NPP in northern Northampton County), are our other current projects (we also ran the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership for 12 years). Over the years, we’ve improved more than 100 residential facades, installed 170 sidewalks, planted hundreds of trees, started dozens of businesses, streetscaped streets, run a Main Street program and an Elm Street program, created three pocket parks, helped create Bethlehem’s Southside Greenway and its skate plaza, installed dozens of streetlights and a splash park, organized more than twenty street festivals, created community gardens, promoted regional cooperation, including signage, and many, many other initiatives. More and more communities are discovering the power of this program, making access to it more competitive. I’ve been worrying that renewals of our current projects might be so challenging that we might actually get rejected in the next round. While passage of 512 by no means guarantees ongoing good fortune, it certainly gives us more reason to be optimistic. Senator Mario Scavello, chair of the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, signed on as a co-sponsor and Senator Pat Browne, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, were both key to the big win. Both deserve our thanks. Cause for celebration! ...

27 Aug

ON ED PAWLOWSKI, MY FRIEND

I’ve always thought of myself as a cutting edge, hipster kind of guy. I’m a fan of the counterculture of the 60s, participated in many efforts to collectively change the world, listened to rock and roll and tried to dress with style but not flash. The work I do is, almost by its nature, the work of the change agent, trying to make the system work better for more people. The funny thing is the longer I’ve done this, the older I get, the more old-fashioned I feel. I still think we should have civil discourse, people should be rewarded properly for their hard work and that government has a role in making our world better. I still think people should push back when the forces of power push them around rather than shut up and get in line or, worse, give up and drop out. And, I still believe that loyalty to a friend is a good thing. I understand that many people have ordered a supply of tar and feathers from Amazon. They want Ed Pawlowski to pay for his sins. Some of the comments I’ve read on the blogs and the media’s websites have shocked me by the degree of contempt and call for vengeance in their comments. I know Ed Pawlowski. I know his strengths and I know his weaknesses. And I want you to know that the former far outweigh the latter and that the balance sheet is well in the black. His tenure as mayor brought vast improvements: he found a creative way to address the city’s looming pension crisis, played an important role in getting PA Senator Pat Browne’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone off to a good start, and so much more. And he didn’t raise property taxes in his nearly 12 years as mayor. He’s tough, he’s often Machiavellian but he also is sincerely sensitive to the needs of the many vulnerable people among us. He is a devout person of faith and never wanted any more than to serve; his desire to serve in higher office was motivated by a desire to reach more people. But Ed can be surly. He didn’t give us enough funding and he didn’t provide enough support for the systematic inspection of the city’s housing stock. He takes no prisoners and he allowed his ambition to serve to be perceived as something he wanted at any cost. And he let a modern-day Svengali play too aggressive a role as handler. I don’t condone the crime he was charged with committing. But he didn’t profit by his actions. Unfortunately, a jury of his peers listened to the testimony, looked at the evidence, and found him guilty. And now the judge, alone, holds his fate in his hands. I’m scared to death on behalf of my friend. Ed and I have similar commitments to protecting the vulnerable. Consequently, we worked together on many things over the years. A few years ago, I had some health challenges, which came to Ed’s attention. This mayor of the third most populous city in the Commonwealth canceled his entire day of appointments and spent many hours with me. His pastoral counseling instincts and training kicked in. Every day for more than a week he contacted me to check in. For weeks after that, again every day, he texted inspirational messages to me. He was an important part of the reason I was able to deal with those challenges. That’s the Ed Pawlowski I know. So, on Wednesday, I have an opportunity to stand with my friend the way my friend stood with me. I feel like the judge needs to hear these stories. He will not be wasting the life of a common criminal but a talented, empathetic fighter for justice. Ed has already paid dearly for his mistakes. I have no doubt that the vicious internet trolls who have nothing better to do than anonymously assassinate character will have a ball eviscerating me. I may be old-fashioned, but I think there is something to be said for loyalty to a friend. Your honor, have mercy on Ed Pawlowski. ...

08 Jun

PENNSYLVANIA SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE PUBLIC HEARING ON SB 512 Testimony of Alan L. Jennings Executive Director Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley

The Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley and its subsidiary community development corporations in downtown Allentown and South Bethlehem have run comprehensive community development initiatives in all three of our Lehigh Valley cities as well as a multiple municipal partnership in the boroughs of Wind Gap, Pen Argyl, Bangor and Portland for two years. These programs, known as Neighborhood Partnership Programs, have had an impressive impact on these communities. They provide tax credits to companies that make multi-year commitments of at least $50,000 per year. As is too often the case, there is far too little funding in the program. When it was started in 1971, the Pennsylvania legislature appropriated $18 million for the program. It’s funding has never been increased since those good old days. If the program had kept up with inflation, there would be over $105 million allocated. CACLV Executive Director Alan Jennings had the honor of being among the seven individuals testifying at a public hearing of the Pennsylvania Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, June 6. PENNSYLVANIA SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE PUBLIC HEARING ON SB 512 Testimony of Alan L. Jennings Executive Director Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley I have the privilege of serving as executive director of a nonprofit that was founded in 1965 to tackle the problem of poverty in the Lehigh Valley; I have been with the agency for 38 years. We have nearly 100 employees and an annual budget of $24 million when one factors the value of the 9 million pounds of food we distribute each year. Our Second Harvest Food Bank supplies that 9 million pounds of food to a network of nonprofit, mostly faith-based food assistance organizations that, together, provide food to approximately 60,000 people each month. We operate the largest shelter for homeless families with children in the region, two long-term transitional housing programs, a job readiness program, homeownership counseling and foreclosure mitigation, entrepreneurial training, micro- and small business lending, home weatherization, housing rehab and new construction, neighborhood revitalization and more. To provide a little context for my comments on the PA Department of Community and Economic Development’s Neighborhood Assistance Program, I would like to explain our position on how, as a society, we should address the challenge the marketplace has in reducing poverty. From our perspective, the common strategy for fighting poverty – helping people get out of the ghetto – is a fundamentally flawed approach: if we help the proverbial “winners” get out and leave the so-called “losers” behind, we concede the permanent ghetto. We believe that a better strategy would be to create neighborhoods where the “winners” choose to stay and there aren’t any “losers.” Our programs are directed at self-help initiatives, like teaching someone how to buy a house or start their own business. Homeownership not only stabilizes neighborhoods, it enables people to gain and grow wealth through equity in their home. Starting a business can create jobs and open many other doors. Planting trees, improving the appearance of properties, streetscaping, can improve your municipalities’ tax base and fund quality-of-life initiatives. So, our agency’s premise is that you can’t have a functional community without a functional marketplace. And the Neighborhood Assistance Program’s Neighborhood Partnership Program has been a critically important resource in our aggressive effort to challenge the forces that lead to a dysfunctional marketplace: disinvestment, the conversion of single-family homes into multi-unit apartment buildings, business closings, the decline of the tax base and, with it, the quality of life. We were introduced to the NPP by a bank in 2000. We decided to pursue the program for south Bethlehem and started Southside Vision 2012 (in those days, the program was a ten-year initiative; today, due to changes in the law made by former governor Ed Rendell, the program can be longer but most companies choose the low end of five or six years). I’m fairly certain that we have used the NPP more than any other nonprofit in the Commonwealth: in Bethlehem, we have operated Southside Vision 20/20 (the successor to 2012) for 15 years. In Easton, we operated an NPP for twelve years; in each case, we were working with, at most, about $160,000 per year in tax credits. In Allentown, we have used the NPP for 10 years, with two more remaining on the current program. In the process, we have offered a dizzying array of meaningful projects, to wit: • We have replaced 170 sidewalks • We streetscaped the longest and most challenging commercial block in Easton and improved 100 residential facades • We have run a Main Street Program that has won just about every award offered by the PA Downtown Center, improving more than 50 commercial facades and reducing the vacancies in empty storefronts from nearly 30% to barely 3% • We have created full-sized parks and pocket parks, installed dozens of street lights, a skate plaza and splash park • We have rehabbed blighted houses and built houses new • We’ve planted hundreds of street trees, thousands of flowers • We’ve held street festivals, started businesses, offered landlord training, small business assistance and homeownership counseling • We’ve done a wide range of youth development activities, like SAT prep classes, teen dances and sports tournaments. We have leveraged millions of dollars of funding from complementary sources. We have engaged hundreds of residents in the development of the plans for each of our NPP’s. The steering committees we organize to oversee the NPP’s are populated by all kinds of stakeholders, including mayors and other municipal officials, representatives of the corporate investors that receive the tax credits, business leaders, educators, economic development groups and others. If there is a problem with the program it is, of course, that there aren’t enough tax credits available and I’m afraid our agency has contributed to this problem. Because the minimum investment for which a company can receive credits is $50,000, the Neighborhood Partnership Program is overwhelmingly an urban revitalization tool. It is a rare company that is going to contribute $50,000 or more to a borough with a fraction of the residents that live in city neighborhoods. And, yet, boroughs have many of the same pressures on them that our cities have, just on a smaller scale. So, we are piloting DCED’s first-ever, multi-municipal NPP with four boroughs in northern Northampton County. The four distinct municipalities are working together like never before, planning their futures jointly, sharing resources, tackling problems across the region. They have even launched a branding campaign with a shared “look.” Frankly, I was excited by the idea and proposed it to DCED, which approved the pilot. This expansion should open the door to the Neighborhood Partnership Program to communities that have had little chance previously, hopefully making it more appealing to legislators who represent boroughs throughout the Commonwealth. Another suggestion I would have is that there be a carve-out for those municipalities with Main Street Programs for which public funding has been exhausted. If the legislature allowed for contributions of $5,000 to, say, $25,000, expressly and exclusively for Main Street Programs, I am certain more Main Street Programs would be alive today and more boroughs and small cities might be thriving. Finally, when a new NPP is started, companies that are new to the concept inevitably start with low-end financial commitments. It isn’t uncommon for a company that is new to the program to be excited by the results and willing to increase their support. However, because of the limited availability of funding, department staff do not allow for additional tax credits for projects in response to offers of increased investments or additional new investors. Consequently, it is more difficult to grow the program. Of course, the bad news is that if the legislature doesn’t increase the availability of tax credits the grossly inadequate $18 million now available will be spread even more thinly. I hate irony. And I really hate it when good ideas backfire. So, we need more money in this program; $38 million would be good. So, on behalf of neighborhoods throughout Pennsylvania, I join my colleagues in encouraging, no, begging this legislative body to invest just a little more in our neighborhoods to facilitate more private investment, more citizen engagement, more community problem-solving that will lead to more self-help, better quality of life, more opportunity, a better future. ...

12 Apr

COMMUNITIES IN SCHOOL

CACLV’s executive director, Alan Jennings, received Communities in Schools’ Annual Community Champion of Education Award on April 6, 2018. Following are his remarks upon receipt of the award. I want to start by thanking Tim Mulligan, Ed Baldrige, Rose Craig and anyone else who had anything to do with giving me this award. You’re all a bunch of poor judges of character… but I sure am glad you are. Aren’t we lucky that Tim decided to return to the area to be closer to his family? He grew up in Jersey. New Jersey’s affordable housing program is called “Pennsylvania,” so he ends up here. While Communities in Schools was a pretty solid nonprofit when Tim arrived, he has done a phenomenal job of growing the agency, its services and influence. Communities in Schools is my second favorite nonprofit. You’re doing critically important work helping kids change course and find new ways of dealing with a world that appears all too willing to pass them by. I truly appreciate this award. I am convinced that I am the most hated person in the Lehigh Valley. So, this kind of thing makes me feel like I actually have a few friends. Now, don’t take that humility too far. Because I don’t think I regret a single fight that I’ve picked over the last 37 years. You have to understand: I really am mad as hell. I think too few of us take our faith and moral convictions seriously; too few of us take our role as citizens seriously; too few of us think and act sacrificially enough; too few of us take the side of the victim when confronted by a bully; too few of us care when someone is left out. We should ask ourselves why we are finding so many kids in a world of their own, all but checking out of a world that is all too willing to neglect them. As life forms, we all need some basic things: food, water, warmth. As humans, we need sleep, a little fun in our lives, some personal fulfillment. But what we really need is companionship, sympathy, and understanding. What we need most is a four-letter word: love (I know, some of you guys are thinking, “This guy needs more testosterone coursing through his veins). Really, though. All you need is love. Love is all you need. Let’s do a little exercise for our hearts. Look around you. Look at all the good people, people who are giving of themselves to make our world a better place; many may well be good friends. Find someone other than the date you brought along and tell them you love them. Ready, set, go. Most of the people we love have probably hurt us at one or even many points in our relationship with them. When they do, hopefully there is an apology and other ways to make amends. But the children: that unspoiled innocence, that look of wonder in their eyes, the hope that, unlike us adults, seems so much stronger than the forces of despair. You want to hold them, protect them, from the darker elements of life. When society turns its backs on the kids, we should not be surprised when, 10 or 15 years down the road, the kids grow up to turn their backs on society. And, then, we may have lost them. When one looks at that precious, hopeful expression on a child’s face, it should inspire us to do all we can to sustain that hope, to show her the way, to make sure her mother (and, hopefully, her father) can pay the bills. We should want to prepare her with the skills to survive an increasingly merciless marketplace, to guarantee she has access to health care; to make sure her neighborhood is safe. And, yet, we don’t. Instead of guaranteeing that each child gets the benefit of early childhood education, that we know, empirically, pays for itself, we give them schools that struggle to teach. Instead of protecting them from harm, we let Grace Packer happen. Instead of making sure they’ll have marketable skills, we saddle them with mortgage-sized college loans. Instead of ensuring them access to opportunity, we give them a market that pays them too little and, because of the breathless pace of technological change, give them no reason to expect any job security, much less that they will work for the same employer for 30 or 40 years like their parents and grandparents did before them. Instead of access to health care we give them a system that nobody understands, fewer know how to navigate and politicians want to repeal anyway. Instead of a healthy environment, we give them an overheated planet. Instead of safe streets, we shoot them, unarmed, in the back, like a modern-day lynching. This is not a good way to demonstrate love, my friends. So much is broken these days. The ideologically-driven opponents of government in almost any of its forms, including volunteer and nonprofit, have been so effective at choking the system of resources that the system is guaranteed to fail. And then those ideologues claim victory when the systems do, indeed, fail. Amazingly, and in spite of any and all of that, many kids these days are thoughtful; they are paying attention; rather than a mass migration to the sprawling suburbs, with their fine-trimmed lawns, they are moving into the cities; rather than going to wet t-shirt contests during spring break, they’re going on mission trips; instead of staying home on election day, they are going all-in to pick responsible people; instead of being racists or homophobes, they are tolerant and embrace diversity; instead of throwing up their hands when some maniacal white guy turns a semi-automatic weapon on innocent school children, they are fighting back, with impressive organizing skills, leading with moral authority while their parents and grandparents apathetically threw up their hands and yielded to the gun lobby. Your support of Communities in Schools is important; so is adequate funding to make early childhood education an entitlement. Volunteering your time to coach your kid’s baseball team is important, but so is funding the development of affordable housing. Going to church to pray for your own better fortune is important, but so is living a life that is consistent with the teachings of Jesus or the Jewish prophets or Mohammed. Donating a portion of your wages to the United Way is important, but so is raising the minimum wage – substantially. I want to get back to what I believe is the simplest concept of all, one that every faith tradition embraces: God is love. And, if God is love, then the rest of our decisions ought to be pretty easy. But, if we claim to love the children, we have some serious work to do. Love is patient, love is tolerant, love is healing, love is kind. Love is sacrificial. Love doesn’t turn its back, love doesn’t leave people behind. All you need is love, my friends; love is all you need. [The Beatles song ended the comments.] ...

19 Mar

HAIL MARY PRODUCES MIRACLE

I am, unabashedly, a behavioralist: let’s stop suggesting that people who are poor are in that spot simply because the economy doesn’t or can’t create enough good-paying jobs to support every household in America. Without a doubt, it’s a tough world out there and too many are being left behind by a stormy marketplace and the people we elect to protect us from that storm. But those of us who care for those in need are at least naïve, at worst contributing to the problem when we deny that plenty of people are poor because they’ve made bad decisions. We all make bad decisions. For many of us, our circumstances are privileged enough that we can survive a bad decision or twenty. For poor folks, life is a constant struggle to survive crises, and it’s tough to make good decisions in a crisis; the car broke down, making you late for work – again. The employer’s had enough. Now you’re unemployed. Paying your bills was a challenge before, impossible when you don’t have a job. Getting your car back on the road isn’t likely to come easily without a paycheck. As Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., liked to say, and so it goes. When families with children become homeless, it should evoke heart-breaking sympathy. Unfortunately, it happens every single day – too often. But society has become hardened by the endless crises wrought on families, so they aren’t paying enough attention. Hopefully, that newly-homeless family can find room in a local shelter like the Sixth Street Shelter. CACLV’s shelter for families with children is an oasis in the desert of resources all around us. Although the Sixth Street Shelter is the largest family shelter in the region, the entire network of shelters in the region is full; often, people have to wait. When they finally get in, we expect them to immediately get to work to get their lives back in order. However, it is difficult to make the long-term decisions, like whether to go back to school and get that degree you never got, when you aren’t sure where your next meal is coming from. The 60 days our families get do not afford them the luxury of accomplishing much more than stabilizing their crises. So, back in the mid-1980’s, we pioneered the idea of long-term transitional housing. Instead of two months to get your life in order, we will give you two years. But while you’re living in our building the expectation is that you’ll add vocational plans to the social contract you are expected to develop to ensure your quick re-entry into the real world. This works, in part, because there isn’t anything close to an adequate supply of affordable apartments in the Lehigh Valley. You want time and support to get on track? Sign here to commit yourself to addressing all the issues that complicate your life. You’ve got two years: ready, set, GO! We’ve had pretty good success at this. None of our families who complete the program find themselves back in the mess of homelessness again for at least the year we follow them. Many get community college degrees and better jobs because of it. We don’t have the resources to track them for the three to five years we’d like to but we have lots of anecdotes of successes. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development decided that these programs are too expensive. They came up with this silly concept called “Housing First,” then sold it to shelter providers around the nation. The thought is that if we get folks into an affordable home, the stabilization of the crisis resolves a big part of the problem. If only. Here’s the problem: there is no affordable housing anymore. People need to be much more crafty to get their lives right. Getting someone a home without addressing their drug addiction or depression or their need for a job so they can afford to keep the apartment is a pretty good bet that resources will be wasted. I’ve been amazed at how ruthless HUD has been at forcing this new approach on local communities, including taking funding away from the entire community if that community insists on transitional housing being part of the mix of tools in the toolbox. Consequently, one such program has already shut down. One or two more are on the ropes. So, one of our two such programs (one in Allentown and one in Easton that, together, serve more than 20 families per year) lost its HUD funding last October. The other one is privately funded, so we can thumb our collective noses at HUD. We gnashed our teeth and wrung our hands trying to figure out what to do about that. Eventually, we gave up and decided to close the program in Allentown. “But wait a minute,” I said. “Let’s try a last-second equivalent of the Hail Mary Pass.” So, we sent a letter out to the 6,000 addresses on our mailing list, asking folks to step up or introduce us to that rich aunt or uncle who never had kids. To our surprise and euphoria, a couple emerged last week. This couple has been solid supporters of ours for some time and they have stepped up yet again, committing $60,000 this year and $50,000 next year to keep the program going while we find a more lasting solution. Hail Mary, full of grace! Thanks to our friends, once again, for demonstrating that the Lehigh Valley truly takes care of its own. And it’s a pleasure to thumb our noses at HUD once again. ...

17 Feb

MORTGAGE LENDING DISPARITY

Following are comments made by CACLV’s Alan Jennings at a press conference to discuss fair mortgage lending in this market. The press briefing took place on February 16, 2018. PRESS BRIEFING MORTGAGE LENDING DISPARITY 16 FEBRUARY 2018 In the late 1980’s, Bill Dedman, a reporter with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, won a Pulitzer Prize when he shook up the banking industry with an explosive expose of mortgage lending disparities in the United States. His series revealed that our banking system was denying mortgages to African-American and Latino borrowers at a rate that was far higher than their white counterparts. The story led us to do the research in our own market, made possible by the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, a 50-year-old federal law that requires mortgage lenders to collect and publicly disclose the number of mortgages they deny or approve by income, by census tract, by race/ethnicity and by gender. We found similar disparities here – banks rejecting people of color at rates that were three to five times higher than their white counterparts. What was worse was how few applications banks were even taking from minority prospective homebuyers. Some banks would go an entire year without taking an application from a person of color. From our perspective, few applied because few expected to be approved. Banks in this market, few of which still exist today, had largely been able to skirt the Community Reinvestment Act because, in those days, few were paying attention. It got my attention. We provided the data to The Morning Call, which ran a story that was more than two full pages. It embarrassed the most staid institutions in our community. It also ushered in a new era. Banks had no choice but to acknowledge their problems with color and work with us to address the issue. Together, banks and community development groups created a series of initiatives: We created the Homeownership Counseling Program, which conducted seminars on how to buy a home for people we recruited from street-level outreach efforts. And the region’s banks funded it. But before we got it going, we asked the banks to set up an internal peer review process so that any rejected mortgage would be scrutinized by a second underwriter to guard against one rogue decision-maker using the wrong reason to reject a borrower. Then we went one step further; we created a peer review process among the banks. Every other week, banks would bring applications they planned to deny. The bank would be challenged by its peers on the decision to reject. If the originating bank stuck to its decision, the other lenders at the table could take the loan off the originating bank’s hands. All of this was under the watchful eyes of and administered by Neighborhood Housing Service. The banks worked hard to approve their applications to avoid losing business. Within months, the banks had nearly wiped out the likelihood of a bankable borrower being rejected. The effort paid off. Within four years, the disparity was dramatically reduced; people of color were just 30% more likely to get news they didn’t want to hear. Over the years, while local banks were becoming regional banks through acquisitions and mergers, we made sure that those new institutions understood the culture of their new market. It is a culture that said, “Welcome. We want you to make money here. But we want you to extend credit to our families and their neighborhoods, regardless of income, regardless of color.” It was exciting to see banks competing for the opportunity to make loans to lower-income customers and people of color. With each merger, the region’s community, housing and economic development groups would invite the top executives of the acquiring bank to meetings where we made it clear that there was a price to enter this market: fair lending, even affirmative lending, in every neighborhood, to every prospective borrower, regardless of where they lived or what they looked like. We pressed banks to offer special mortgage products to lower-income borrowers; we pressed them to hire more originators who looked like their customers, underwriters who understood the market; we pressed them to advertise in Spanish; we pressed them to fund the nonprofits, like ours, that could deliver bankable minority and lower-income borrowers to the lenders. For CACLV’s part, our homeownership seminars CACLV are offered 7 times each year. Our average attendance is more than 50 people who dream that American Dream; two-thirds are African-American or Latino. Over these past 25 years, we have helped, at the very least, 150 minority families buy their first homes each year – easily, 4,000 homebuyers, literally changing the complexion of homeownership in the Lehigh Valley. And, as far as we can tell, almost all survived the foreclosure crisis born of predatory lending in the early years of this millennium. So, when a new group, the Center for Investigative Research did a study of lending data, released earlier this week, showing new evidence of disparate mortgage lending in 60 markets across the country, the Lehigh Valley was not on the list. Instead, we found these 6 words: The study “didn’t find clear evidence of discrimination” in this market. What a remarkable affirmation of the power of partnerships, when a community can collectively agree that it will not leave anyone behind! Most banks in this market have African-American or Latino originators, with names like Myrta Rodriguez and Celia Alvarado at BB&T, Juan Del Luna at Wells Fargo, Lillian Shelly and Rebecca Newsom at Lafayette Ambassador Bank, Cheryl Davis at Bank of America, Eli Betancourt at Quaint Oak, Abby Torres at Santander and Francie Cook and Joanna Aguilo at TD Bank; certainly they are not going to discriminate against their neighbors, friends and family members. Most banks in this market recognize that African-American and Latino borrowers are the emerging market; because of everyday experiences being victims of discrimination throughout their lives, these borrowers become loyal customers of the businesses that treat them right and give them the same respect they give any other customer. It won’t be long before these customers are the majority and the new face of America’s minority population will look like mine. Any bank that doesn’t return their calls will be in trouble when that time comes. Every bank in this market understands that it can’t make money if it doesn’t make loans. And no bank wants a reputation for turning its back on any class of customer, because the world is watching: regulators, advocates, urban municipal officials, reporters. Banks are the primary financial supporters of every loan program, every homeownership seminar, every initiative that extends credit where it is needed; they back their financial resources with volunteer support; some have practically begged me to produce borrowers for them. Don’t get me wrong, the LV has a race problem. And no discrimination is acceptable. But we have become very sophisticated in how we discriminate: large lot size requirements in suburban land use policies; public education policies that ensure that those districts with the biggest homes have the most money to spend on their kids’ education; a corrections system that corrects nothing; Realtors who, for years, steered buyers in blatant violation of fair housing laws. If one is looking for an explanation of any lending disparity that might exist, just look at income disparity: In Lehigh County, 30% of Latinos and 26% of African-Americans are poor, while fewer than 7% of whites are poor. In Northampton County, 17% of African-Americans and 24% of Latinos are poor while 8% of whites are. The median income in the Lehigh Valley is about $65,000, while the median income for African Americans is close to $45,000; for Latinos it is less than $40,000. Those numbers should be everyone’s concern. Here in the Lehigh Valley, people of color are far too likely to be poor relative to their white counterparts, they are far more likely to go to schools that struggle to teach, far too likely to miss the opportunity to go to college, and when they complain, far too many people turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, a cold heart. Stories that reinforce their other experiences with discrimination can be the determining factor in whether a person of color will try anyway. I want to be clear today: to each and every person of color who yearns to own their own home: get your credit score right, save a little money, take our homeownership seminar and look for a home you can afford. When you do, take advantage of the good work done by community-based organizations and the banks in this community who are anxious to help you help us make this community the best it can be and contact any of us. We’re all open for business. ...

14 Feb

JENNINGS’ COMMENTS ON TRUMP BUDGET PROPOSAL THAT WOULD KILL CACLV

The president’s budget proposes the elimination of funding for a series of programs that make it possible for the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley to offer a wide range of assistance to the Lehigh Valley’s low-income families, from weatherizing homes to providing food assistance to families, from small business development to neighborhood revitalization. The president’s budget would shut down the Sixth Street Shelter and undermine the Second Harvest Food Bank. Alan Jennings, the executive director of CACLV for almost 30 years, says Mr. Trump “doesn’t see, understand or sympathize with anyone outside the world of country clubs and limousines. I grew up learning about the Founding Fathers’ promotion of the ‘general welfare,’ God’s imperative that we care for the poor and Martin Luther King’s calls for economic justice. The president’s ignorance and absence of any empathy leads to a vision where darkness prevails and light shines on only the very lucky few.” Trump eliminates the Community Services Block Grant, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance, weatherization, and the Community Development Block Grant, all sources of funding for CACLV. Taken together, CACLV gets decimated, perhaps even closed. “My eyes can’t envision a world where so few matter. My ears can’t hear a world where the cries of those left behind can’t be heard. My hands can’t feel a society where we don’t reach out to hold the hands of others. And I simply can’t imagine a world where those in power have no sense of how much we need each other. But that’s the world Mr. Trump wants us to have,” Jennings said. “I can only hope that Congress dismisses the president’s budget as mean-spirited, impractical, and un-American,” Jennings concluded. ...

02 Jan

MY CONTRIBUTION TO FINDING CONSENSUS IN A WORLD GONE MAD

I run a nonprofit organization. It is called the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. As anti-poverty organizations go, it is pretty significant in size (95 employees and a $24 million budget). I have been here for 37 years. It isn’t a job; it is my life. I feel like I spend most of my time trying to convince people that as a society we should care more about those we leave behind. Consequently, messaging may be the most important thing I do. Like a candidate on the campaign trail who has a “stump speech,” I have stump phrases that I have used and reused over the years. For lack of a better word, I called them “Jenningsisms.” “Our ideology is only as useful as its practical application.” That’s one of them. The traditional line in the sand over which no politician is apparently allowed to step anymore should be a lot more blurred than the chasm into which moderates seem to get tossed these days. I would be willing to bet that most of us, on both the right and the left, would agree with the following points: If we believe in the marketplace, we ought to be able to agree that it should be fair. There are plenty of ways that intervention in the marketplace is appropriate, especially if we can lift up those left behind without squelching the competitiveness of those who lead the way. Random acts of kindness are nice. But they are random, meaning they are not systematic, planned, deliberate in reasoning through the consequences. It is difficult to lay claim to being a responsible steward of the resources entrusted to us when we act randomly. Systemic adjustments need to be based on common values, perhaps the most important of which is this: everyone must assume responsibility for their own behavior and nearly everything we do, especially when it comes to systems, should be designed to affect change in a way that brings those left behind into the mainstream. That doesn’t mean we should squelch individuality but it does mean that everyone should embrace behavior that contributes to civil society. Competition is a good thing. It drives you to excel. Even “greed” can be a positive thing if it means expanding the pie and everyone gets a piece. The best community development program is called “profit.” The best anti-poverty program is a job that pays adequate wages. Public schools should work for everyone. Burning the planet is a bad idea. No civilian should own a semi-automatic weapon. The Bill of Rights is a brilliant document. Democracy is good. My guess is that only a tiny sliver of the population would disagree with those points. So here is my list of “Jenningsisms.” Some sound liberal, some sound conservative. I’d welcome push-back from any ideologue, regardless of whether your ideology has practical application. Charity is what society does when it doesn’t have justice. We should pursue justice. You can’t have a functioning community without a functioning marketplace. And you can’t have a functioning marketplace if everyone is poor. Our country’s approach to poverty is barely an approach; it is, rather, a retreat, a full-blown, yellow-bellied, spineless denial of what a civilized society’s role in uplifting its most vulnerable should be. When society turns its back on the children, let’s not be surprised when the children grow up to turn their backs on society. Society is far more threatened when poverty and despair lead to apathy and dependence than when it leads to anger and activism. You really can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help himself. The highest form of self-sufficiency is civic participation. The old strategy of fighting poverty by helping people escape the ghetto was a mistake. If we help the winners escape and leave the so-called losers behind, we concede the permanent ghetto. Rather, we should strengthen the neighborhood so that those who succeed choose to stay and there are no losers. How can you think about your long-term career goals when you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from? How we govern and fund public education has become the most effective way we lock inequality into our system. If God is love, isn’t everything else pretty simple? I’d like to be judged at least as much by who my enemies are as by who my friends are. Patience is not a virtue; it is the luxury of the powerful, the comfortable, and the lucky. Don’t ask me to be patient on behalf of folks who are none of those. Anger is simply passion with an edge. I think I’m cynical enough to understand what I’m up against but optimistic enough to pick the fight anyway. And, finally, what are you doing with all that money you’re making? So, friends, let’s have at it. The sun is setting, the clock is ticking. Eternity isn’t looking so infinite. ...

21 Nov

Trying Not to Call Those Who Lie to Us Liars

Tell them you don’t want your money back.  Tell them you believe in America, that America’s promise is a level playing field and that public education, infrastructure and not letting a child starve are investments in ourselves as a civilized society, that taxes are the price we pay for that civility. Tell them what really irks you is when people who already have all the gifts they need to thrive in a complex world are given even more.  Tell them that Jesus never suggested cutting taxes for the luckiest few while cutting food assistance for the unfortunate many.  Tell them you see through their charade that they side with the middle class, that even the middle class needs a little help: student aid, schools, unemployment compensation, catastrophic health care, nursing care for our parents. Ask them whatever happened to their mantra that the deficit matters and whether their crazy “tax reform” scheme is just a front for looting the treasury for the benefit of the plugged-in, privileged class.  Ask them why adding $500 billion per year – yes, per year – is good for the country all of a sudden, when for years they said we had to cut aid for the poor to reduce the deficit. Remind them that Ronald Reagan made the claim that cutting taxes will generate economic growth and lead to more tax revenue.  Remind them that his promise was a lie. Point out that George W. Bush revived the lie, tried the same thing and all it did was leave people behind and run up the deficit. Remind them that it didn’t work that time, either. Have you heard about Kansas?  They tried the old trick of slashing government and cutting taxes and all it did was – you guessed it – run up the deficit.  Now they’re up the proverbial creek and they threw both paddles in. How many times can politicians make this same, tired claim before we call them liars? So, we see through this stuff.  We know that the majority in Congress really doesn’t side with regular folks. We regular folks are just fodder for their cannons. But we aren’t as dumb as we apparently look. Tell them. ...

04 Oct

God Save America

I have long said that I am cynical enough to understand what I’m up against but optimistic enough to pick the fight anyway.   Watching, disgusted and sickened by the presence of the devil in Stephen Pollack, tips the balance in favor of cynicism over optimism. All Americans should be embarrassed, ashamed and humiliated by the fact that we believe Stephen Pollack’s right to own automatic weapons that he turned like a coward on innocent people he never met is apparently more important than the right those innocents had to live. Each of us has tolerated for far too long the very existence of a massive, powerful organization that spits in the face of the American concept of democracy. How is it that a handful of lunatics who control the National Rifle Association can hold the throats of 535 members of Congress and keep them from making America right when it comes to guns. The notion that our forefathers intended for any American to own an automatic weapon when all they had in the 18 century were single shot muskets is a pathetic distortion of those forefathers’ intent.   Automatic weapons have no place in the hands of anyone in this country outside of our military and, maybe, some law enforcement officials   But just when you think it can’t get any worse, the manufacturers of these killing machines see their stock prices jump with each new horrific shooting. Shouldn’t we tax away every nickel of that profit and put it in the hands of the innocents and their survivors? Or maybe fund a campaign to point out how sick our country has become if, indeed, the murder of innocent schoolchildren or concertgoers doesn’t shake some sense into us?   Instead of singing “God bless America,” we should change the lyrics to “God save America.” We should all be on our knees begging for forgiveness.     Alan ...

04 Oct

ESTAMOS LISTO

  Diaspora: the movement, migration or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland.  That’s how the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it.  It’s one of those rarely used words that is almost poetic in its sound and rhythm, like ubiquitous and magnanimous – two words that also relate to the issue at hand.   The issue, of course, is the scattering of people away from Puerto Rico.  The images of the apocalyptic leveling of this beautiful island where so many Americans are victims of the latest natural disaster born of nature’s wrath make one feel helpless about how to respond. How long would any of us who are so safe here in Pennsylvania go without water? Or power? Or passable roads? Or the gasoline needed to even get on those roads if they were passable? Cell phones can’t work without electricity, toilets can’t flush without water. Food doesn’t appear magically in grocery stores. Paychecks aren’t issued if you can’t get to work or the company has been shuttered. Then there is the looting. And the endless scams.  Everything seems like a scam, everyone like a scammer. Much of it is, many are.   And your government lets you down, not just local government, but the federal government.  Did we learn anything from previous disasters that embarrassed us by our failure to do what a country that can produce heat-seeking missiles, ct scans and computers the size of a watch ought to be able to do in its sleep? Or is this just another case of a president who can’t seem to share in others’ pain?   The question now is whether the Lehigh Valley will rise to the occasion. I know we can.   The forces of the diaspora are in place.  People have begun to leave the island.  And they should – it will be some time before life will return to normal. Given how broken the Puerto Rican economy was before the storm, I’m not even sure what “normal” means.   About 30% of our employees are Puerto Rican. Every single one to whom I have spoken tells me they have family on the island – not just distant cousins, but moms and dads, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren.  And every single one of them expects some of them to leave the island.  Every single one of them expects their homes to be host – some temporarily, some permanently – to those loved ones in desperate need.  God bless them for loving them and for accepting their responsibility to be there for them when they are needed.   We can’t build a wall and make the Puerto Ricans pay for it. Puerto Ricans are Americans.  They are us.  How many will join the diaspora?  There are tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans here in the Lehigh Valley.  Do the math – if every one of them expects visitors, if not permanent guests, the Lehigh Valley will not be the same.   Imagine the implications: the kids need to enroll in the public and parochial schools; the parents will need jobs, the families housing.  The health care system will surely be tested. Demand-pull inflation (too much demand chasing too few goods) will drive up the price of just about everything. Some won’t speak the language, some won’t have drivers’ licenses, most will need help, challenging an already under-funded human services system.   Problems could become ubiquitous (“existing or being everywhere at the same time”). Or, kind, talented, magnanimous (“showing or suggesting a lofty and courageous spirit”) problem-solvers could become actively engaged. We need the latter to prevent the former. At least temporarily, some rules will need to be relaxed; we will need social services to assist with relocation (insurance trouble-shooting, rent assistance, job placement services), we’ll need translators, people to help people get to stores or health care providers, more child care.   The good news is that the leadership is already stepping up.  John Brown and Tom Muller, the county executives in Northampton and Lehigh counties, respectively, will be hosting a meeting of key decision makers to begin planning the effort to accommodate the migration and minimize the pain.  Every one of us will be affected, every one of us can make a difference: we can urge our employers to make adjustments; we can be more flexible with our leases; we can contribute to relief efforts; when someone makes a judgmental comment that sounds intolerant we can remind them that ‘there but for the grace of God go I;’ we can pray.   As always, the choice is ours.     Alan L. Jennings Executive Director Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley ...

27 Sep

2017 ANNUAL MEETING – MOBILIZE

These next 25 minutes are the best part of my year as I get to brag about what each of you and so many others in this community helped us make possible over the past year. I am going to introduce you to a few folks who will make most of us envious. Their grit. Their determination. Their resilience. Their ability to stare crisis square in the eye and not back down. Their hard work. Their refusal to give up even when the odds are so stacked against them.   Each of these individuals personifies the success that comes when you work hard, take advantage of opportunities and get some good old-fashioned luck. They are our neighbors, they represent the diversity of our community, they defy prejudice, they make me proud and, once you meet them, they’ll make you proud, too.   Let me start by introducing Jody Peterson. Betty Jean Wagner Traci McGinty Abbie and Eddie Dennis Iris and Jesus Olivera   [Each of these individuals provided impressive testimony to the role we played in their lives. We were humbled.]   I want to call to your attention the business directories you will find on the table. They feature nearly 200 businesses that received some kind of assistance from us, whether it was entrepreneurial training, technical assistance, marketing assistance, help getting certification as a women- or minority-owned business or financing. Take some with you. You can make a difference in your community just by patronizing those businesses.   While I will never be able to look back at my life and feel that I made the difference I expected of myself, I must admit to having at least a little bit of pride in the breadth and depth of the reach of this agency. We don’t rest. We don’t waste a penny. We don’t pay our employees too much. Our administrative costs have consistently been around 9% of our budget. In short, we take our responsibility to be effective stewards of your contributions and tax dollars very seriously.   [The staff was asked to stand and accept our thanks for their outstanding work.]   What you can always count on CACLV to do is drive itself and this community to be better. I would defy anyone to identify an organization that more effectively identifies the challenges we face, brings them to the attention of those capable of confronting those challenges, and bugs them to do just that. In addition to providing the sheer volume of services we offer, we are constantly mobilizing the resources of this community to find a way to shelter those who are left behind from the storm of the marketplace which, in my judgment, may be more unforgiving than ever. Essentially, what we are doing is challenging ourselves as a community to create a better marketplace, one that works not just for the lucky few but for each and every one of us.   Right now, we have several new initiatives that we are developing and I’d like to tell you about them.   [I ran out the back door when the video you can see on our website at caclv.org started playing. I took those watching on a tour of several new projects from the Slate Belt to Bethlehem and Allentown, then returned to finish my comments.]   So, in any given year, while we’re distributing 9 million pounds of food, sheltering more than 100 families, helping dozens of people start their own businesses, helping hundreds buy their first homes, improving dozens of residential and commercial facades, physically enhancing neighborhoods, helping thousands pay their electric bills, weatherizing 1,100 homes, rehabbing houses for resale, repairing or replacing more than 300 furnaces, we are also mobilizing the projects I just showed you.   And even that is not all.   Tyrone Russell has a pretty cool job.  He’s the coordinator of our campaign for racial and ethnic justice. Cool title, eh?  Tyrone had to be out of town this week, but take a look at what he’s doing.   [A second video was shown.]   The frustration that keeps me so unsettled is that I just can’t feel like we’ve done enough.  The stubbornness of poverty, despite the resilience of those locked in its grip, makes me restless.  Too few of us are shouldering this burden. Each of you deserves our thanks, but too many are sitting this fight out.   Consequently, too many remain on the margins. And, those margins are likely to get more crowded, as Mother Nature’s wrath, made more potent by our own unwillingness to accept and respect the facts about climate change, is unleashed on our friends in the Caribbean, most notably, our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico.  The island’s economy was already in shambles when the hurricanes mercilessly leveled untold devastation.   Will we as a community find ourselves forced to deal with the situation? Hell, yes. Have we learned anything about how to accommodate new peoples when we know they are coming?  Will we apply what we know?  That’s up to us, individually and collectively.  We better start planning.   So, can I get you to join me in bugging people? Bug people to be more polite.  Bug people to pay more attention to what’s going on in their community. Bug people to spend their money in our downtowns. Bug people to vote.  Bug people to contribute more. Bug people to reinvest. Bug people to go out of their way to patronize a minority-owned or woman-owned business. Bug people to acknowledge how much their good fortune is just old-fashioned good luck and that, when someone fails, it was not because they were lazy. Bug people to listen more. Bug people to fight back when they’re trampled on.  Bug people to stand up, brush themselves off, speak up.   Bug people to mobilize.   We are Americans, after all, and we are endowed with certain inalienable rights, among them, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; not just for some, but for all of us. ...

21 Aug

Collapse of Our World

Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness, wrote about “fascination with the abomination.” It explains people rubbernecking when driving past auto accidents.  It also applies to how I watch the news these days.   When this man was elected president, some of my friends, people I respect at the top ranks of the Lehigh Valley’s business community, implored me to give him a chance. I tried to soften my disgust with the election, knowing that this country was in deep trouble with this megalomaniac at the helm, finger on the button, cellphone in hand.   I understood why some voted for him: there was stupidity and racism to explain some.  They’re the ones who buy more guns when there is a mass shooting. Maybe some others might be so greedy that they believe that they could amass more wealth with a silver-spoon-spoiled lunatic at the helm, so who cared if he was a silver-spoon-spoiled lunatic? Others hated Hillary Clinton that much.   Add to the equation the millions of adults who claim to love their country but don’t bother to do the most important civic responsibility intended to keep their country great: vote. Despite all of that, I still don’t understand how this man is occupying the highest office in the land.   That ugly potion has produced the most scary era in the history of our nation.  The species is at risk: our world is being baked into oblivion by our own behavior, we have enough nuclear weapons to turn our planet into dust, wealth and income disparity are a threat to the peace, xenophobia is turning our country into an isolated nation losing what little respect we have left around the world. And our president is calling the victims the perpetrators.   America, take a deep breath.  To my friends on my left, put away the clenched fists – they won’t last long against the wackos among us who are armed to the teeth. To my friends on the moderate right, stop buying the lies that poor people like to be poor, that Latinos don’t want to learn the language or that African-Americans are lazy, or that we can fry the planet and still be happy.   To my friends on the left, taking every nickel from the lucky few in this country won’t work – they have money, they can afford to leave. To my friends on the right, you are not paying far too much in taxes and we are not spending far too much to support the many – and growing – among us who are being left behind.   What would it take to get everyone to stop lining up on one side or the other and start rethinking the positions we have taken?  Is it asking too much for each of us to start thinking sacrificially?  What can we give up and turn over to others?  What would be the damage to my own position to consider how every decision I make might affect my neighbors?   Too many of my white acquaintances take the following attitude about racism: “I don’t own any slaves, so why are you blaming me for your problems?” This is a reflection of never having put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Do you understand that how we govern and fund public education in this country is the most powerful way we lock inequality into our society? Do you understand that you can be as much as 25 times more likely to be poor in the Lehigh Valley depending on where you live? Do you understand that land use planning that requires minimum lot sizes on which to build your home is designed to exclude certain people? Do you understand that being excluded from the board of directors of a nonprofit or not being invited to join a country club cuts you out of the social network that opens doors to economic opportunity? Do you understand that very few unarmed white people have been shot by a rogue cop?   Friends, it is time to heal. Those of us who rightly worry that the American Century is coming to an end because our status economically is threatened by countries like China should be just as worried that it is coming to an end because we are a nation increasingly divided along cultural, political, religious and economic lines.   Do you have a young child? Do you know someone who does? Put down this newspaper or turn off the computer and go look in that child’s precious eyes and tell me why you would stick them with this world. ...

03 May

Budget Choices: You Decide

Written by Kathryn Hoffman SNAP Outreach Coordinator, Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania   The new Administration’s “Better Way Tax Plan” would deliver big tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. For example, according to the Economic Policy Center, and the Tax Policy Center, millionaires and multi-millionaires would get to keep, on average, $302,000 more in their after-tax incomes by 2025. And those making less than $25,000 a year would get an average tax cut of fifty dollars. No households in the bottom 95% would see an average tax cut larger than $410, and some would see their taxes go up. This actually is a complete reversal on the campaign pledge the President made that his tax decisions would benefit American workers and families, and what his Secretary of the Treasury promised, that there would be “no absolute tax cut for the upper class.” In contrast, consider the Administration’s plan to cut a program that benefits Community Action agencies all over the nation. That program, the Community Services Block Grant, or CSBG, helped over 15 million low-income Americans last year. This planned cut illustrates the choices embedded in the proposed budget, which Congress will study, and vote up or down or alter, so that the U.S. fiscal year is funded. The CSBG grant program has been around since Pres. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Federal CSBG funds are now awarded to all 50 states, to D.C., and to several U.S. territories, to provide services that address poverty, and help people achieve self-sufficiency. Over 1,000 Community Action Agencies, including ours, get CSBG funds that help support job training, preventative health, education, nutrition and housing services. In the case of CACLV, all of our federal funding would be zeroed out in this proposed budget. That means that Sixth Street Shelter, Second Harvest Food Bank, small business assistance and loans, foreclosure assistance, and home-ownership counseling, weatherization, neighborhood revitalization, housing rehab and more would likely be shut down. By all measures, CSBG is a good investment of our public funds: In our case, for every $1.00 of CSBG funding spent, CACLV is able to generate $16 from other sources. Why would we abandon this effective anti-poverty effort, turning our backs on neighbors who need help? So, I will let you be the judge. CSBG grants are deleted from the President’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017-18. That may be just 6% of our CACLV budget, but it is vital to attract other funds that pay for our programs to benefit local lower-income families. Which expense (because cutting taxes is “an expense” in a budget that comes from Americans paying taxes) is the one you would pick to keep? ...

31 Mar

Loan to “Shapewear” Retailer Royal Lioness Puts The Rising Tide’s Lending Over $5 Million

Local Community Lender Has Best Year in its Sixteen-Year History Brian Nguah, owner of Royal Lioness, is one happy entrepreneur.  He credits his $25,000 loan from The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund with helping him double sales of his very hot-selling line of “shapewear.”  Chris Hudock, director of The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, though, won’t accept that credit. “Brian is the reason Brian is so successful,” Hudock said, adding, “We just did what we are here to do: invest the community’s capital in dreamers whose plans are solid enough to turn those dreams into reality.” The Kenyan immigrant’s loan was used to purchase additional inventory, buy equipment for the kiosks he places temporarily in local malls (his kiosk in the Willow Grove Mall opens May 1) and for working capital. Sales growth from the loan, most of which follows national trends toward online retailing, enabled him to add two employees. The loan to Royal Lioness pushed The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund’s total lending over $5 million.  Seven more loans since the Royal Lioness loan have brought The Rising Tide’s total lending to $5.24 million.  The Rising Tide has made 180 loans to 155 businesses, only 16 of which have been charged off, with a net charge-off ratio of 4.62 percent.  In the past 12 months, The Rising Tide booked 23 loans, eclipsing its previous high of 16. Of the 180 loans, 114 were made to businesses owned by women, 73 to entrepreneurs of color and 126 to borrowers whose income was below 80 percent of the area’s median income or whose business is located in a low- to moderate-income census tract. In the process, 590 jobs have been created or retained. The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund is the only federally-certified community development financial institution based in the Lehigh Valley. It serves Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Monroe and upper Bucks counties. Its products include microloans up to $50,000, loans up to $150,000 to small businesses and lines of credit. It is a subsidiary of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. #          #          # ...

16 Mar

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Trump Turns His Back on Low-Income Americans

Proposed Budget Would Shut Down CACLV   Donald Trump’s first demonstration of his priorities through his proposed budget makes it very clear that the billionaire whose father set him up in business doesn’t understand how much a few friends can make a difference.  As expected, his budget seeks huge cuts in domestic discretionary spending in order to fund massive increases in military spending.  Today, details emerged and the nation’s attempt to reduce poverty through Community Action Agencies like the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley has been  surrendered to “an ugly willingness to abandon the weakest among us,” according to Alan Jennings, Executive Director of CACLV, whose key funding sources would be eliminated. The cuts, if enacted, would force the closing of an award-winning agency that serves tens of thousands of low-income people and their neighborhoods in the Lehigh Valley.   Trump’s proposed elimination of the Community Services Block Grant, which is just 6 percent of CACLV’s total budget but is the core of the agency’s funding that enables it to leverage millions more, would kill the agency.  Neighborhood revitalization efforts in the Lehigh Valley’s cities and the Slate Belt would be without an administrator.  Prospective entrepreneurs would lose technical assistance and access to credit. Elimination of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and Weatherization Assistance Program would mean hundreds of area families would be forced to make a “heat or eat” decision.  Dozens of families would not have their homes weatherized and scores would not get their malfunctioning heating systems repaired or replaced.  The Sixth Street Shelter’s ability to serve over 100 homeless families with children each year would be jeopardized.   “Great countries don’t turn their backs on the poor, the disabled, those whose skills have little value in the labor force,” Jennings said.  “Our president’s vision for America lacks an understanding of how weak our country will be if only a handful of us are strong. Thankfully, we still have the right to fight back.  And that we will do with every ounce of our energy.”   #          #          # ...

31 Jan

EVENT ADVISORY: Slate Belt NPP

DCED Secretary Davin to Join Slate Belt Community Leaders to Announce Neighborhood Partnership Program Rural, Multi-Municipal Project is First of its Kind   The Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV) will announce the approval of the first multi-municipal Neighborhood Partnership Program, “Slate Belt Rising,” at a press conference on Thursday, February 2, at 1:30 PM. The briefing will take place at Bangor Trust Brewing, 11 Broadway, in Bangor.   The boroughs of Portland, Bangor, Pen Argyl, and Wind Gap will jointly plan and implement community revitalization initiatives through this six-year project. Corporate partners Merchants Bank of Bangor, Waste Management, ESSA Bank & Trust, and Lafayette Ambassador Bank have pledged a total of $775,000 to this project. In addition, the Northampton County Department of Community and Economic Development has committed $20,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funding and $50,000 in Community Investment Partnership Program funding in the first year of the project.   The Neighborhood Partnership Program is a tax credit offered through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. Slate Belt Rising is CACLV’s sixth Neighborhood Partnership Program following two in Allentown, two in Bethlehem, and one in Easton. It is also the first multi-municipal Neighborhood Partnership Program in the Commonwealth and the first to focus on the revitalization of boroughs. In part because of the groundbreaking nature of this project, Dennis Davin, Secretary of DCED, will be participating in the press conference.   Slate Belt Rising Steering Committee Chair Mike Ortoski will chair this event and will be joined by Pen Argyl Borough Manager Robin Zmoda, Secretary Davin, senior executives of the corporations investing in the project, Northampton County Executive John Brown and CACLV Executive Director Alan Jennings. ...

04 Jan

It’s up to moderate Republicans to restrain Trump

What separates us from any other species on the planet is our ability to reason. That ability forces us, too, to consider ourselves in the context of others. How close do we live to one another? How much do we interact? With whom do we interact? How much business do we do with them? How much do we care for another?   We know pleasure and we often give it. We know abundance and we share it. We know love and we offer it.   But we also know pain and yet we inflict it upon others. We know poverty and oppression and yet we turn our backs, sometimes even jeer. We know loneliness and yet we exclude.   I have no idea which way the president-elect will take us as a nation. He strikes me as someone loyal to no party, no ideology, no particular principle but his own self-promotion. Maybe he will come to the conclusion as many others have that we are at the top of the food chain, and, therefore, closer to God and that there is more to our presence on this earth than accumulating as much as we can for ourselves.   Maybe not.   Whether you are pro-Trump or anti-, I doubt that anyone reading this would believe that somehow the president-elect will have an epiphany and decide that, indeed, we are all better when we are all better.   When one considers the cabinet he has chosen, one would have an even tougher time believing that that epiphany might be coming. Assuming all of his nominees are approved, almost every federal department will be headed by someone with extreme views on those issues. You can almost see some of these people licking their chops at the prospect of dismantling the apparatus that protects our water, guarantees equal opportunity, educates our kids or feeds the hungry and shelters the homeless.   So, what are we to do? We can pray (I think many of us already have been). We can be patient. We can fight like hell. We can sell out, join his camp, turn our backs.   Here is our only hope: Charles W. Dent, Member of Congress. Charlie is a conservative in the traditional sense of the word; he is not in the Ted Cruz strain of conservatism that is all too popular in today’s Republican Party. He is thoughtful, he has guts and he has gained considerable clout as a moderate by today’s standards.   “Charles W. Dent,” is also a metaphor for dozens of Republicans who make up the moderate Republican caucus our Charlie Dent co-chairs called the Tuesday Group. When Trump moves too far right, we need to make sure that our congressman and dozens of his moderate peers around the nation hear the loud but beautifully harmonic refrain of constituents saying, “this is not okay,” or, “we can do better,” or, “you do that and you have no chance of getting re-elected.”   Charlie’s party is in the majority in both chambers. He and his colleagues call the shots as chairs of every committee and subcommittee. Once you experience that leadership role it is hard to go back, so you act in ways that protect your position; one doesn’t do that by appealing to a narrow sliver of the population.   Charlie has now achieved coveted “cardinal” status as one of just 12 chairs of the subcommittees of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. From my perspective, he has used this role effectively, protecting and even enhancing funding for some programs that are important to my agency and tens of thousands of our neighbors. I can almost guarantee that everyone reading this article is or knows someone whose life has been enhanced by our work. Millions of Americans in communities throughout this land have benefited from similar organizations in their own communities. Charlie knows how funding for infrastructure makes a difference in his district, how much his constituents appreciate a clean environment or well-paying jobs. He won’t abandon us; if he does, he puts his own job and agenda at risk. But he can’t balance the many interests that compete for his support if he doesn’t know about those interests.   That means we have work to do. If we do it well, maybe next year or at least four years from now, Charlie’s party will moderate because guys like him showed those few folks who really call the shots that they will only be so lucky if they are smart enough to keep people like him in Congress. Otherwise, they will overreach, the American people will get another harsh education about the realities of their government and throw a whole new set of bums out. Charlie ain’t no bum. ...

14 Dec

Second Harvest Celebrates Successful Fundraising Campaign

New Home Dedicated to the Late Sharon Gausling   The Second Harvest Food Band of Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania celebrated the completion of its $3.3 million fund raising campaign to pay for its new warehouse at 6969 Silver Crest Road in East Allen Township.  The 65,000 square foot facility is nearly four times the size of the facility it occupied in southwest Allentown since the early 1990’s.   Campaign co-chairs David Shaffer of Just Born and Anne Baum of Capital BlueCross spoke at the event.  Shaffer expressed pride in “a community that gave so generously to make sure their neighbors would never go hungry for lack of food assistance,” while Baum, “expressed thanks to the more than 700 donors for the generosity that made it all possible.”   The building was christened Sharon’s Pantry after the late Sharon Gausling, who died in September 2015.  Her husband, Mike Gausling, one of the founders of OraSure and a partner in the venture capital firm Originate Ventures, was on hand to honor his late wife with a touching tribute.  Sharon’s mother and father, Patricia and Robert Mesmer, and sister Debbie, were also present for the announcement.   The East Allen Township location is more centrally located within the six-county territory served by Second Harvest than the building in southwest Allentown was.  While the new location is a slightly longer drive for Allentown area agencies that receive some or all of their food from Second Harvest, it is far closer for the many agencies outside of Lehigh County (the Food Bank serves Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Monroe, Wayne and Pike counties).   The cavernous facility also enables Second Harvest to solicit and distribute much more fresh product, which is generally more nutritious than non-perishable products that have dominated the food bank’s product line throughout its history.  Its cooler capacity in the old building was approximately 5,800 cubic feet while the new building has 20,500 cubic feet of cooler space; the old building’s freezer had 7,200 cubic feet of storage space while the new building has 32,000 cubic feet of freezer storage space.   More than 200 nonprofit organizations throughout the six counties get some or all of the food they distribute from Second Harvest, collectively providing food assistance to more than 60,000 people each month.  The Reverend Everett Upton of Common Ground Ministries spoke at the event, representing those organizations.   The Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania is a program of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, which created it in 1982. The Food Bank is an affiliate of Feeding America, the largest food assistance network in the United States. ...

13 Dec

RenewLV Smart Growth Summit

RENEWLV SMARTH GROWTH SUMMIT 2 December 2016 KEYNOTE   Let’s talk about the market place.   I know: in our divided, us vs. them, i-won’t-get-mine-if-you-get-yours world, you all have already started the fissure in your minds. On the left: Jennings, you’re a liberal, stop trying to blend in with the Republicans. On the right: Jennings, what the hell do you know about the marketplace?   Well, the reality is, the world is a market economy; even the People’s Republic of China gets that. And with Fidel gone, Raul will be getting it, too. The market economy forces people to compete on ideas, on skills, on drive and, until monopolistic forces kick in, the market economy forces efficiency.   On the other hand, competition creates winners and losers. And the modern marketplace is crueler than past markets. If you lose, the storm can be perfect.   From my perspective, government needs to step in and create the shelter from the storm. But election after election demonstrates that Americans are too conservative to be willing to pay for an adequate safety net.   Then there is regulation.  Even worse, government regulation. But regulation or restriction or prohibition of certain behavior doesn’t just happen.  There aren’t little bureaucrats sitting in windowless offices in Washington dreaming up new restrictions on Americans’ actions, restrictions that annoy the rugged individualism to which so many Americans still adhere. Every rule that’s been written was conceived out of a climate in which somebody did something stupid. Or selfish. Or evil. The lawmakers, the rulemakers, the deciders, create restrictions that are designed to never let that irresponsible action occur again.  The accumulation of these actions, while intending to protect against over-reach, become a new target of the folks who believe in the unfettered market.   It affects every aspect of our lives: personnel policies, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the products we buy, the shows we watch.  And, yes, it affects how we plan the use of our land, whether our food is grown locally, how and whether our kids get an education, whether the suburbs let people who don’t look like them in.   And then we blame government for all of this, as if government has its own life, like the Blob.  This is a democracy, my friends, and that creature, however ugly it sometimes is, is us.   But I would argue that the power of the marketplace is far greater than the power of government.  Some of us liberals might wish otherwise and some of you conservatives might argue otherwise, but it is.   Fundamentally, the question is, can we agree on some basic truths, some basic protections, and even some basic liberties, and create a market economy that we drive as a kind, inclusive, fair market?   The truths: people who look like me have created a marketplace that works better for those who look like me than it does for others. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.   Another truth: we are better off when we think collectively than when we flail away, fighting for ourselves rather than for others.   And another: we can do better.   And yet another: when the few are able to dupe the many, the many pay a huge price – stagnant wages, failing schools, behavioral health problems, inadequate housing, no savings. The folks who build our cars, make our toasters, finance our lives can’t make any money if people can’t afford to buy those cars or toasters or get a mortgage.   Here are some other truths: we can’t have functional communities if the marketplace isn’t functional and we can’t have a functional marketplace where everyone is poor. So, let’s get over the red herring of gentrification.   And another: our safety net is a joke.  But a more generous safety net must be built around the notion that, except for those with serious disabilities, we can’t help those who won’t help themselves.  The safety net, then, must be oriented to incentivizing changes in behavior.   Finally, we have to stop thinking we can control the natural environment.  Indeed, we are being warned that we are threatening the very existence of the species. Whatever you’re thinking: profit is more important than the survival of the species, God will provide or even that fairies will save us, we better get a grip real soon.   Let’s start here: sacrifice.  It’s a lost art.  It’s each of us for ourselves out there in a world that is leaving more of us behind every day.   Do we need a huge house on a big lot on a green field that requires a long commute? That’s not even a question of sacrifice – that’s just a question of taking more than you need.   When we hate paying taxes, is it because we can’t afford to pay or we don’t want to help fund other kids’ educations after someone else helped fund our kids’ education?   When I speak to groups about what’s going on in our community, someone will inevitably ask what they can do to help.  They expect me to ask for money.  Which I do.  But then I throw the curve: “But what’s the most folks give? 5%? 10? No offense, but that isn’t going to make a ton of difference.  What will really make a difference is what you plan to do with the 90% you will spend. Will you take your family to a locally-owned, preferably urban restaurant like Roar or Sette Luna or the Apollo Grill? Or will you take them to a place that calls itself the neighborhood grill but isn’t located anywhere near a neighborhood?   I’m really asking you all to look at the world through an altogether different lens.  In every decision you make, don’t think about how that decision will most improve your life.  Instead, ask yourself how you can best impact others’ lives by the decisions you make.  Be an affirmative consumer.  Look for opportunities to spend your money downtown, or support a minority- or women-owned business.  Buy local –don’t send your money to the Walton family in Arkansas.   If we could make money solving problems, there wouldn’t be any problems. That’s the whole notion behind the concept of social entrepreneurship. Motivated by a desire to make a difference rather than by greed, the social entrepreneur uses her or his gifts (adult ADHD, drive, determination, arrogance, ability to pivot, creativity, or good, old-fashioned luck) to solve problems.  Profit is secondary.   There are far too few social enterprises in this market. I wish we could stop having to look at what other communities are doing and start being the innovators from whom others learn.   So, if you don’t want the government to tell you how much you have to pay your workers, pay workers better wages voluntarily.   If you want to get paid more, work harder, better.   If you want your workers to work harder and better, give them a share of ownership in your company.   If you treasure open space, don’t buy a house on a half-acre lot.   If you don’t want to be fined for spoiling the environment, clean up your act.   I think most of us generally understand how to make our world a better place.   And if we disagree, let’s discuss it.   But let’s discuss it with civility. Stop the hateful words, the inference that the person with whom you are disagreeing must be less God-fearing, a communist, fascist or, worse, an immigrant. Turn off the talking heads and the radio fear mongerers.   Have you ever noticed that the farther apart we are the easier it is to hate, be rude or inconsiderate? God, do we hate those bastards on the other side of the planet! Road rage is a function of not knowing the person who just sparked your rage.   Then there is the grocery store. It’s amazing how polite people are when they’re trying to squeeze their shopping cart through the aisle, when you encounter somebody in the way and have to look them in the eye. You smile, you both defer, you exchange pleasantries. There is a metaphor in there.   So, in all we do, let’s approach the challenges that lie ahead like we’re in the grocery store. If we keep this discussion local, maybe we can put down our weapons, look each other in the eye and have a productive exchange of ideas. Hell, if Snoopy and the Red Baron could do it…I’m sorry, if the Germans and French could do it – even if for one day – surely we could do it, maybe even long enough to solve some real problems. OK, so you ask, what do we do when everyone knows what the proper course of action is but some powerful, intransigent, absentee entity stands in the way. Like, for example, Norfolk Southern. Oops, did I say that? Norfolk Southern is single-handedly blocking what every one of us agrees would be good for this community in almost every way.  Well, we do what CACLV has done many times over the years – we take them on, we fight like hell, we embarrass them, we buy stock and protest at their shareholders meetings, we find out where the CEO plays golf and take busloads of people and embarrass the hell out of them.   What’s different? Consensus. Peace, love and understanding only goes so far.  Patience, my friends, has its limits.  It is the luxury of the powerful, the affluent, the comfortable.  Don’t ask us to be patient at the expense of those who are anything but powerful, affluent or comfortable.   We can do this.  We have to do this.  Far too much is at stake.  We have to be more creative, more determined, more deliberate in the consensus building process.   Renew Lehigh Valley was established to bring together all stakeholders in a campaign to make our urbanized population centers vibrant, healthy marketplaces, to preserve open space and to modernize local government.  These summits are designed to stimulate that process, discuss new approaches, find common ground, make our world a better place.   So, as I invite the panelists to join me on the dais, I would ask us to be thinking about how we find civility in a world that, just a few weeks ago, was turned on its head.   ...

22 Nov

A LETTER TO THE SOCIETY THAT RAISED ME

I’m shocked. I’m scared. I’m lost.   You taught me that we are a great nation. Great nations don’t bully the weak.   You taught me to be tolerant. Tolerance is not roughing up people who don’t agree with you.   You taught me that we should love our enemies. Then don’t taunt them.   You taught me that Jesus said the meek shall inherit the earth. The meek don’t say “I alone.”   You taught me to embrace family values. But you chose someone who was married three times and bragged about violating others.   You taught me to judge carefully. But you stereotype.   You taught me to share. But you keep taking more and more.   And now you want me to accept this outcome.   We don’t honor liars. We don’t name streets after hypocrites. We don’t build monuments to those who represent all that is wrong.   But we do elect them president.   America, I don’t know you.   But I want to know you.  I want desperately to understand.  Please don’t respond anonymously with vitriolic screeds here or on the blogs. Please tell me that the Golden Rule means something, that we really should treat others the way we want to be treated.   Let’s talk as a community about some things on which we might all agree: that we all need decent jobs that pay the bills, that we all want to be safe, that we all want to be respected, that the color of our skin, the faith we choose, the sexual orientation with which we were born, should not be factors in whether we might get those jobs, that safety or respect. Please tell me that we all still embrace those certain inalienable rights we guarantee each other in our Constitution and its Bill of Rights so many of our loved ones died to protect. These seem to me to be the things on which all of us might be able to agree. They make us Americans.   The question, then, is how we get there.  Let’s put down our fists, our signs, our hateful but anonymous e-mails.  Let’s be the Americans we were all raised to believe made us special.   I have put everything I’ve got into trying to make our world a better place for those who are left out. I learned it in church. I try to run CACLV based on core values; we are super cheap, with administrative costs below 10% of our expenses and our salaries well below most others with similar skills. As the years have worn on I am finding those who oppose the principles I listed above to be nastier, more intolerant, less sympathetic. I have often fought fire with fire, contributing to the ratcheting of rhetoric to meaner levels. You say I am at fault; I say you are at fault. I say yes, you say no; you say stop and I say go, go, go.   Can we agree on some other things? Can we agree to stop using hateful, childish names in reference to the people with whom we disagree? Can the folks on the right stop accusing people whose limited skills are of little value in today’s market of being lazy welfare bums?  Can the folks on the left stop acting like every successful businessperson is a money-grubbing, worker-screwing, environment-spoiling creep?   Can we agree that the world is getting too small to spend so much time taking each other down rather than building each other up?   If we can’t, the future is grim. Our children and our children’s children will pay a horrendous price. Surely, we can all agree that that is just not acceptable. ...

21 Nov

PRESS RELEASE: THE RISING TIDE ADDS A LINE OF CREDIT TO ITS SMALL BUSINESS LENDING PRODUCTS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE    CONTACT:  CHRIS HUDOCK  (T) 484.893.1039  (C) 484.553.3171 The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund has expanded its services yet again, announcing today the creation of a first-of-its-kind line of credit for micro-enterprises, start-ups and other businesses that struggle to get financing from traditional lending sources. The federally-certified, nonprofit community development financial institution will offer lines as low as $3,000 and as high as $15,000. The interest rate will be determined based on the circumstances and set by a committee of volunteers. Chris Hudock, Director of The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, said, “We find many of our existing borrowers expressing a need for a line of credit. In the Lehigh Valley, if you can’t find a bank that offers a line of credit, The Rising Tide is the only option,” adding, “We understand your need, are sympathetic and are anxious to help you grow your business.” The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund is the only federally-certified community development financial institution headquartered in the Lehigh Valley. It offers loans to micro- and small businesses that have difficulty getting loans from conventional sources. The Rising Tide has awarded 166 loans totaling just under $4,600,000 since its inception, creating at least 250 jobs and retaining 306 others in the Lehigh Valley. Of the 166 loans, 104 have been granted to women-owned businesses, 67 have gone to minority-owned businesses, and 113 benefited low- to moderate-income individuals and their communities. The Rising Tide works with individuals who are unable to secure traditional loans, yet only 15 loans have been written off as uncollectible, while 99 have been paid in full. ...

24 Aug

Have You Seen Someone Who is Food Insecure Today?

Contributed by Sue Dalandan, Coordinator, Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council Have you seen someone who is food insecure today?  Is it the cashier at the store? Is it your parent’s care aide? It could be your daycare worker, school aide, your neighbor’s children, or the elderly gentleman who opens the door every Sunday for you at church.  The face of food insecurity is often invisible. According to Feeding America, hunger in America increased by 13 million people in just one year.   Every county has residents who are food insecure.  The Lehigh Valley has a close and varied supply of fresh, healthy foods, but the ability to afford fresh, healthy food is a problem for many.  The 2016 Health Profile of the Lehigh Valley reported that 12% of the families living in Northampton County and 13% of the families living in Lehigh County experience food insecurity (Health Care Council of the Lehigh Valley).  The impact is far worse for children.  Nearly 1 in 3 (27%) of our children in Northampton County and more than 2 in 5 (37%) of our children in Lehigh County are living below 160% of the Federal Poverty Level.  These children are eligible for free and reduced lunch and the Summer Foods Program.  Are the Lehigh Valley’s children not well fed? Here is where policy impacts quality of life and well-being.   The Summer Food Service Program is based on blanket eligibility for a school district when 50% or more of a school district’s children are eligible for free or reduced lunches.  How does this translate into real numbers and real lives?  Small school districts can serve the Summer Food Service Program for their children if the district is predominantly low-income.  That could be 50 children.  A large urban school district with primarily low-income families can is eligible, so Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton school districts all qualify. Now let’s look at a glaring example of policy failing our children and their families.  The Parkland School District Food Service Director, along with Food Service Directors of other self-operating districts, approached the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council. Our task is working together to find solutions for their children experiencing hunger in the summer and through the holidays.  In 2014, only 10% of students in the Parkland School District were eligible for free or reduced lunches, so the district is not eligible for the Summer Food Service Program.  Ten percent does not sound like a lot, but real numbers in this large school district equal more than 500 children.  Changes in the school district in one year increased eligibility to 22.69%. This represents 1,675 children.  These eligible children are scattered across the large school district. Even using census district eligibility, the school district cannot qualify for the Summer Food Service Program. How, then, do we ensure that these children and their families are not food insecure? What factors contributed to this situation and how do we change them? How can we serve children and families in school districts that are eligible but do not utilize the programs? The Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council is working to find answers to these questions. The Council has a singular vision:  All people in the Lehigh Valley can eat healthy and nutritious food that is available locally, with regular and independent access and supported by a thriving local food economy that uses our resources sustainably. The need to invest in food systems is just as important as investing in the public infrastructures of housing, health, and transportation.  These infrastructures are entirely interdependent, and local policy determines whether they function well for a vibrant, healthy community.  Recognizing this, the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council formed nine working groups.  Each of these working groups is tackling a piece of the problem that can be improved through local policy development and then working together to improve our community.  Please, join us, as we build from the ground up. For more information about the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council or to get involved, contact Sue Dalandan at (610) 691-5620. “Like” or follow us on our Facebook page. ...

08 Aug

We Do That, Too

CACLV is, to say the least, a complicated organization. With a budget in excess of $25 million (counting the value of the food distributed by the Second Harvest Food Bank), programs such as the Sixth Street Shelter, Weatherization and Community Action Financial Services, subsidiaries like our lending unit, The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund, our housing development unit, the Lehigh Valley Community Land Trust and our community development corporations in Allentown and Bethlehem, the administrative support we provide the counties for some of their activities and our community problem-solving and public policy advocacy work, few really understand it all. It’s really frustrating. We get tons of press coverage and we do plenty of outreach, but we can’t seem to communicate effectively the breadth and depth of the impact we have, not just here in the Lehigh Valley, but statewide and even nationwide. In The Morning Call today, there are two significant stories about good work being done in our community. One is a front-page story about splash parks. We do that. The other is a feature in the lifestyle section on a program in Easton that teaches kids about cooking and nutrition. We do that, too. In the story about splash parks, the reporter does mention that Bethlehem has one in Yosko Park on the Southside. In partnership with the city, our CDC made that possible. We provided much of the funding through Southside Vision, our Neighborhood Partnership Program (funded, at the time, by Just Born, Lehigh Valley Health Network and PPL with tax credits from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development), and the city’s workers installed it. It is great to go by there at this time of year and watch the kids enjoy the spraying water, oblivious to who made it possible. In the story about teaching kids how to cook with emphasis on nutrition, our Cooking Matters, part of the Second Harvest Food Bank, has been teaching kids, their parents and even their grandparents how to cook for several years. Hundreds of people each year have participated in the program. I’m not complaining that the paper didn’t name us. But I am frustrated by how few people know the full extent of the difference we make every day. We are often out front, leading the way, but we often just play the organizing role with little attention. So, almost anywhere you might be reading this the chances are pretty good that you will be very close to a difference we have made – a weatherized home, a business that got its funding from us, a family that has food on its table, a home we saved from foreclosure. We thank the thousands of people who, as donors or volunteers, helped make it all possible. You, too, can help or benefit. Perhaps you already do and don’t know it. ...

15 Jun

PRESS RELEASE: CACLV RAISES MORAL ARGUMENT AFTER JUDGE JOHNSON DISMISSES THE LEGAL ARGUMENT

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE    CONTACT:  ALAN L. JENNINGS  610-248-9900 CACLV Challenges Hospital to Respond to Its Own Needs Assessment In the wake of Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas Judge Brian Johnson’s evasion of retired judge Robert Young’s challenge of the adequacy of Lehigh Valley Health Network’s charitable care, the executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley says Judge Johnson, understandably, looked only at the legal side of the issue.  As a community, Alan Jennings said, we now have the responsibility to elevate the moral argument on the unmet health needs in the region, especially the inadequacy of the availability of behavioral health care. Calling those among us who have mental illness or addiction, “the final frontier of the campaign for human rights in America,” Jennings cited the “abject inadequacy” of services as a “moral failure of historic scale.” Having slipped the grip of the court, Jennings called on the hospital’s leadership to respond to its own needs assessment and acknowledge that behavioral health needs demand far greater attention than our community has given them and to lead the region with both resources and expertise in a comprehensive campaign to respond to the epidemic of mental illness and addiction. “Behavioral health problems impede every aspect of our region’s quality of life,” Jennings said. “They impair worker productivity, destroy families, fill our jails, cost infinite amounts of money and diminish the success of even the best healthcare in the Lehigh Valley. LVHN CEO Brian Nester, an extraordinarily gifted entrepreneur and physician, has an historic opportunity and obligation to lead the way.” Acknowledging that there are many other unmet health needs and that we all have an obligation to find solutions, Jennings argues that the depth of behavioral health needs and the inadequacy of services should put the issue in the front of the triage line. Jennings reported that he has met with dozens of representatives of non-profit organizations and spoken with countless people in the region, all of whom have stories to tell. “Every one of us, while still sensitive to the stigma attached to mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction, has a friend, a family member or a coworker who struggles to cope,” Jennings said. He offered CACLV’s assistance in the endeavor to Nester. *     *     *   ...

25 Feb

Homeownership Is No Longer the Key Driver of America’s Industrial Economy

Homeownership is No Longer the Key Driver of America’s Industrial Economy   One of the biggest issues of the 2008 financial crisis was the housing crisis with the sub-prime mortgages that caused thousands of families to lose their houses, via foreclosure. As a new report from the real estate website Trulia presents, the great reset in the housing market is from owning to renting. The report analyzes the growing trend on renting versus owning across the U.S., as well as the rise in rental housing prices and the growing housing burdens faced by renters between 2006 and 2014. The report states that U.S. households’ rent increased from 36.1 percent in 2006 to 41.1 percent in 2014; while the share of households who own their homes declined over that same period of time. The “millennials” was the sector of the population where renting was most notable. The percentage by group ages was as follows: renters by the ages of 18 and 34 jumped from 62.5 percent in 2006 to 71.6 percent in 2014; the increase was even bigger between the ages of 26 and 34, with 10.9 percent between 2006 to 2014; for the younger group the increase was 5.9. As the report says: “Traditionally, young adults have become first-time homebuyers as they grow older and have [advanced] in their careers and incomes. This suggests that the fundamental shifts in the economy (job loss, low-income growth, diminishing affordability of homes) may have caused the increase in renting for those in the 18-34 year-old group”. The percentage of renters’ increase on all the group ages; 35-54 increase from 33 to 40.7 percent and from 55 an older they increase from 24.4 to 27 percent. As of 2014, 66.1 percent of Hispanics and 61 percent of African American were renters; compared to just 34.4 percent of whites, Hispanics was the racial group with the highest increase from 57.4 to 66.1 percent, for a 8.7 percent increase, while African Americans increased from 56 to 61 percent and whites from 29.5 to 34.4 percent for a 5 percent for both groups. It will be very interesting to find out how these numbers, from the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country compare with the Lehigh Valley. The report, Justice for All, Challenging Wealth Disparity in the Lehigh Valley, already established a big disparity on homeownership and home values across race and ethnicity. Is time to start thinking that the American Dream of Homeownership is changing to the new normal of renting.   ...

04 Feb

Does Acting from your Values to Change or Improve Something — Or Right a Wrong…WORK?

Written by Kathryn Hoffman Food Stamp Outreach Coordinator, Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania Does acting from your values to change or improve something — or right a wrong…WORK?  Every one of us at some point wonders that.  Time is precious, and jobs, kids, relationships, cooking, cleaning, living — takes up most of our time on this earth.  Here are some cases where taking action has brought about some real changes in 2015.  These actions were initiated not by some agency, some rich or powerful person or persons, but by regular types like us. However, despite the fact that they are regular people, the changes these people initiated turned into movements that have echoed into this year, and beyond.  Kudos– congrats,– ‘props’ to the people in our midst who took the chance to speak up and act on something they cared about! Here are several  examples “ripped from the headlines”: 1.Black Lives Matter—need I say more?  The killing of mostly black and Latino, mostly young, men and women, has happened without headlines for decades in the U.S.  At traffic stops , in the street, during a confrontation where whites normally don’t wind up dead, so many people of color do.  Young people started it, Occupy gave it voice  then all across the nation, people reacted to Trayvon, Sean, Michael,  Freddie, Walter,  Tamir , Laquan, Sandra, Rekia, Betty, and all the rest whose lives ended–  due to racism, incompetence,  assumptions of impunity. 2.Inequality and the Movement for Raising Wages.  The AFL-CIO, whose unions and affiliated groups represent 12.5 million U.S. workers, reported last week that “over the last year, income inequality has shifted from a problem we discuss, to a problem we can solve.”  The majority of states now have either raised their minimum wages higher than the Federal minimum of $7.25 or have bills in play to do so.  And cities and whole industries,  fast food and city workers, businesses like Sheetz and Wa-Wa,  have raised their minimums,  even over  $10.10/hr. (Even Walmart just announced they are raising their hourly pay).   We are still struggling to raise the minimum in PA.  Related to this is the movement to make corporations pay their fair share in taxes—instead of ‘off-shoring’ their profits to  some island so we can’t fund our schools and roads and bridges adequately—This struggle too, is gaining momentum because so many of us said yes they should, and are backing candidates who back this. 3.Leaving the planet in some kind of livable shape for our children and theirs:  Youths as young as 12 have begun a movement to sue the fossil fuel companies, asking them to stop polluting the planet that youth will inherit, to leave off the burning of coal, oil and gas and switch to renewables for the sake of their own lives, and those of the generations that come after them.  And courts have given these young people  standing to sue, and are hearing their cases in several states. So, does raising your voice sometimes, speaking up for someone, or joining a group to speak together, demonstrating, or calling a legislator, news outlet, or city hall—matter? ...

02 Feb

Seriously, Bernie?

Over in the goofy world of blogs, I’ve been vilified once again by my friend, Bernie O’Hare. There are lots of weirdos in the shadows, trolls who take strong positions attacking people they don’t know, lying and wishing they mattered. The trolls don’t bother me. They’re cowards; they don’t have the guts to identify themselves. I get a kick out of reading their blather and figure that infuriating them by making a difference in the lives of people who are voiceless must be a good thing. But Bernie is different. He isn’t afraid to speak his truth. He’s damn smart. And he provides an important service, making no money on his volunteer work, which he does almost full-time. But he is often wrong. Or he looks at the world in a way that suggests he hasn’t been around a lot of people who call the shots. So, yesterday he called me a prostitute. Why? Because I had the nerve to suggest that Allentown is better off today than it was a few years ago. He hates when I thank people for doing the right thing. He thinks that anyone who does better than he has in the private sector is a scoundrel. I wish I made the rules. I don’t. The folks who call the shots are the folks who have most of the money. They need regular folks if they are going to make lots of money. They need their cheap labor. They need their apathy, their disenfranchisement. They need us regular folks to hate each other, whether it’s because they look different, or sound different or come from another place. They sure as hell don’t want us to organize. So, I’ve made a point of figuring out who can help me. I’ve made a point of figuring out who has money and power AND has a sense of common decency. And I’ve found that there are lots of those folks who fall into that category. They want to do the right thing. They’ve earned their money honestly. Many of them want to use their wealth to advance the lot of those who have little. Bernie wants me to tell them to go to hell. Seriously, Bernie. Just try to make the world a better place without engaging those who have money and power. The world will never be a better place if people can’t find common ground. I think it could only be a good thing if someone who has stands with someone who has not, if someone who can stands with someone who cannot, if someone who is with stands with someone who is without. And if they do, I’ll be right there, thanking them. There are lots of good people out there, Bernie. I’m sure you’re smart enough to know who they are. I just hope you’re smart enough to acknowledge it. ...

29 Dec

Valley blossoming, but still work to be done

I grew up in the church.  I’ve considered myself a person of faith for most of my life.  That doesn’t mean that I am not challenged by many aspects of my Christian faith tradition.  What bugs me the most?  Why doesn’t God get on his microphone, turn up the amp real high, and tell us all, in no uncertain terms and just in case you forgot, that he judges us?  Why doesn’t He post a message on every billboard or interrupt every television show and remind all of us that He is watching?  And maybe he could interrupt all those shallow tweets from self-absorbed pop stars and athletes with His own message reminding us that his judgement is based on how we treat each other.   I am convinced, having drawn the conclusion from a lifetime of sermons, that God and his message can be reduced to a single, four-letter word: love.  If you treat others like you love them, there will be no war, religious extremists who slaughter innocents in the name of God would lose their way, bigots would hug the people they hate, we would stop heating up the planet. We would stop complaining about paying taxes to help the poor; we would end the inexcusable disparities in our public school system.   Muslim, Jew, Christian and nearly every other believer on the planet would lay down their guns, smile at strangers, happily raise workers’ wages rather than keep more profit for themselves. We would confront our friends when their behavior suggests their position on race is, well, racist.   Amazingly, it will soon be 2016.  It feels to me like time is running out.  But for the many reasons to be pessimistic, even fatalistic, there are plenty, too, to give us cause to be hopeful.   First, I believe the so-called “Millenials,” those young adults in their twenties and early thirties, are an enormous force for good: they reject the suburban cul-de-sac in favor of vibrant urban streets, they don’t promote the products they buy by blazing corporate logos on those products like the generation before them did; they don’t understand why their parents’ generation was so homophobic and they are paying attention to how to make their communities better.   Second, the Lehigh Valley is coming alive. For years we have characterized the region as being a place that’s near where you want to be; I think the Lehigh Valley is starting to be transformed into a place that is worthy in its own right, a progressive place with viable cities, a place that takes care of its own, welcomes the stranger and accepts people without being so quick to make assumptions about their character. We can laugh at Billy Joel rather than whine about the damage he’s done.   Here’s where we are:   We are (generally) receptive to Herculean measures to revitalize our cities. People of color (African-American and Latino) are organizing and our elites are recognizing that that is a good thing. We are appalled by the rapid loss of farmland to warehouses owned by companies that will only ever see us as being near where they want to be while paying pathetic wages and offering awful working conditions. Those who live here but work in north Jersey and New York or just want to visit want to take a train to get there. More and more of the high school graduates who come here to get a college education are staying rather than returning to their home states when they graduate.   These are good things and demonstrate my point that the Lehigh Valley is getting cooler as a place to live, work, raise a family and have some fun.   But we have plenty of work to do if this is going to stick:   We have to find a way to get wages up and/or get housing costs down. We have to break up the concentration, isolation, alienation and disenfranchisement of poor folks and find a way to raise their voices so they can fully participate and be a part of the action. We want our food to be grown down the street instead of poisoned in a lab from afar. We have to take radical steps to end educational apartheid that locks injustice into our society. Perhaps most importantly, we need to stop electing people who hate government and do everything they can to demonstrate their radical notion that government doesn’t work by making sure government can’t work.   We need to embrace the notion that we can, indeed, make our world a better place, that we have the power to do it if we only demonstrate the will.   John Lennon got it right: all we need is love.  Happy New Year. ...

20 Nov

Trafficking in the Lehigh Valley

“Human Trafficking is the fastest growing criminal activity in the world and is the 2nd largest criminal activity with drug trafficking being number one. Human trafficking can be in the form of labor or commercial sexual exploitation.” Valley Against Sex Trafficking (VAST). Talking about prostitution often finds people sharing misconceptions – wrong ideas about what it means when a girl or woman is trapped in sexploitation. There is a notion that the sex industry can be acceptable. In reality, most women who are prostituted come from poverty, from abuse, or from incest or sexploitation. A local organization named VAST, the Valley Against Sex Trafficking, has a simple plan for working to end sex trafficking: Awareness, Action, and Aftercare. Awareness means educating the community, building a network to identify signs of trafficking and identifying at-risk populations; Action means working toward effective legislation, enforcement of existing laws and rescuing trafficking victims; and Aftercare means caring for the needs of victims and reintegrating them into the community. Sex trafficking is not, as may be assumed, moving girls and women from place to place; rather, trafficking looks like this: • Pimp-controlled street/indoor prostitution • Commercial-front massage parlors • Strip clubs • Closed residential brothels • Victims advertised on internet sites, then placed in hotels/motels where customers use them • Commercial-front business, agricultural operations • In PA, many truck stops are known for playing host to sex trafficking. The average age of entering into prostitution is 13 years old. According to VAST, young girls are lured into prostitution as a means of survival and, often, with promises of love and caring by the men who exploit them. Once trapped, victims have little hope of extricating themselves. The “sweeps” that round up prostitutes and the men who patronize them usually label the girls as juvenile delinquents while the men are often free from serious punishment. Victims of trafficking, in the Lehigh Valley and around the world, need hope and services – food, health care, job training, help getting a job, and housing. For more information, visit the VAST web site: http://thevast.org/. ...

23 Oct

Alan Jennings’ 2015 Annual Meeting Speech

I was raised going to church. I thought I heard Pope Francis saying the same things in Philadelphia the other day that I was hearing in that church. As a nation of believers, whether Protestant or Catholic or Jewish or Muslim, we are all called to take what we need and leave the rest; that we should sacrifice in order to make room for those left behind; that we should treat others the way we hope to be treated. So, when I see a small, virulent extreme element of our Congress or state legislature proving that government doesn’t work by cutting funding so much that it ensures that it can’t work, I wonder how many actually heard what Francis said. I wonder if they just block that out when it comes to a vote to cut taxes on the lucky few while cutting food assistance or housing subsidies for those on the margins. Several years ago the youngest of my three daughters asked me this at the dinner table: “Dad, why do you always focus on the problems?” I stuttered for a moment, wondering how much therapy this kid would have to pay for having been raised by me. Then I recovered and said, “Well, how can I be effective trying to make the world a better place if I am not focused on the problems that need to be corrected?” I am, despite being a grouchy, angry, impatient, pugnacious old goat, hopelessly optimistic and idealistic. And, I think many of you are, too (not grouchy, angry, impatient, pugnacious old goats, but hopelessly optimistic and idealistic). I am guessing that each of us can spare a little bit more time, a little bit more money and a little bit more energy to join us in making our world, our neighborhoods, our homes a little more hospitable to those who need us. There are storm clouds gathering. Few of us can really predict any more accurately than a 69 News weather forecaster can predict the weather where our world is taking us.  But understanding how those clouds gather is key to figuring how to make them dissipate. Racial conflict is so much more volatile than most people understand. Both sides believe the other side doesn’t get it. One side will say, “Why are you pressing me? I don’t own any slaves! ”  They don’t understand the subtleties of racism, like land use plans that require minimum lot sizes, or school funding formulas that do more than anything else to lock inequity into our society, or having a board of directors that is all white. People of color see racism everywhere. We must find a way to coexist, using each other’s gifts as a buffer against the push in the wrong direction. Stagnant wages mean more and more of us are falling behind. Between 1947 and 1973, workers’ productivity improvements resulted in higher wages. Since then there is little evidence of any gains of any significance despite considerable improvements in productivity. We must find a way to give some kind of advantage to the labor force. The last several years have brought major change to the housing market: the millennials, who have little expectation of spending their entire career with one employer like many of their parents did, have minimal interest in being tied down to a home they own; incredible numbers of foreclosures have tossed lots of former homeowners into the rental market. Then there are those who never had any hope of owning a home and who won’t. All of this combines to put enormous pressure on the rental market while risking the equity people have in their homes. The primary institutional workforce development mechanism is our public school system. Few believe that we are preparing our children as effectively as we once did. Far too many of our urban schools have a toxic climate where the peer pressure is to fail, not to succeed. Our secondary schools are increasingly failing our kids, leaving too many behind. Finally, while women are appropriately making significant gains in the workforce and the broader marketplace, this doesn’t mean that the rising tide is, indeed, raising all boats. I would argue that most of today’s poverty is the result of women making bad decisions about men in their lives. Today’s inner-city girls lack the self-esteem to stand up to the boys and tell them to drop dead. Instead, they are allowing themselves to be judged by the babies they bear at far too young an age.  We need to change the power dynamic between men and women, between boys and girls. So, here is what you can expect from your Community Action Agency in the year or more ahead: We will continue to push a minimum wage increase whether our friends in the private sector agree or not; and, in my opinion, that minimum wage should be 30% to 50% higher than the measly $10.10 an hour we have been seeking and failing to pass We are going to continue to expand our intervention in the housing market with emphasis on rehabilitating or razing homes where the conditions are worse than substandard and might not even belong in the Developing World, much less the greatest country on Earth We hope that formal discussions will begin soon with some allied non-profits that develop affordable housing on the idea of strengthening our collective capacity by merging The Water Fountain Project, formed to reduce wealth disparity, will develop campaigns to widen the wealth-building expertise of middle-class people of color and begin to narrow the college admissions gap between white and minority young adults We will broaden the reach of our small business lending subsidiary known as The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund by adding a line of credit to our product line; we have already expanded our service territory into Monroe, Carbon, Wayne and Pike counties We will use neighborhood partnership tax credits to invest at least $1 million in our urban neighborhoods. We will try to find the funding to begin to intercept young urban teens from making the kinds of terrible decisions that can lead to a lifetime of problems. I truly believe, and you may say I’m a dreamer, that the solutions to most of our problems are within our reach. We can find resources; but we lack the will. The consequences of our failure to find real solutions have the potential to be disastrous. There are too many among us who are too quick to criticize, too slow to raise their hand to volunteer, too many among us who turn their backs rather than open their minds.  We can love our neighbors or we can fend for ourselves. We can see the world getting smaller every day and try to find common ground or we can blow each other to smithereens. We can pursue justice or we can crank up charity. Fortunately, CACLV’s Second Harvest Food Bank will be poised to make sure that no one will go hungry because of our failure as a society to bring economic justice to our communities. In November we acquired a building in East Allen Township that is three times the size of the building we expect to sell in the next few weeks. We were able to acquire the building thanks to a loan from National Penn Bank. All we have to do is pay the loan back. With selfless leadership from Anne Baum at Capital BlueCross and David Shaffer at Just Born and thanks to a lot of generous people, we have raised almost $1.9 million toward our fundraising goal of a little more than $3 million. Lately, David and Anne and I have been frustrated by the slow pace of the response to our appeals. Enter Mike Gausling. For those of you who don’t know Mike, Mike is a super achiever driven by personal goals that few mortals can match. Along with his brilliant partners, who are here with Mike today, they created Orasure and located it in south Bethlehem. Mike has been a key leader on the board of CACLV as Treasurer, making sure that we succeed in all we do. I love that guy. When you are around him you know that mediocrity isn’t an option, much less failure. Last week he lost the love of his life. Sharon was the kind of person who made you humble. She was gentle but resolved. She loved but held you accountable. She was smart but never made you feel dumb. Mike met her in Ohio and, together, they came to the Lehigh Valley where she practiced pediatrics, raised their son and made any of us who ever got to know her well better people. She honored us by being among us. Her passing leaves a gaping void. To honor Sharon, Mike and their son, Andrei, a sophomore at Miami University of Ohio, have pledged $500,000 dollars to the capital fundraising campaign to pay for the warehouse. He has invited anyone who has not yet made a gift or pledge to join him, collectively, in matching his gift. This contribution is the largest contribution from a private citizen we have ever received. I can say without hesitation that this gift will ensure that no one, especially the precious little children who motivated Sharon the most, will go to bed hungry at night for lack of food in the emergency assistance system in the Lehigh Valley. The building that will enable us to increase the amount of food we distribute for years to come will now be called Sharon’s Pantry. Yes, giving it such a humble name when 8,000,000 pounds of food moving through a 65,000 ft.² facility to 200 non-profits in six counties that collectively feed over 65,000 people a month, epitomizes Sharon Gausling. I have a pair of the best binoculars on the planet because Sharon wanted me to have them. I saw my first-ever Bachman’s Warbler in their backyard in Asheville, NC, thanks to Sharon.  In helping me see clearly what might have been a blur is a metaphor for the work I do. Ironically, I will never get to show Sharon the wood ducks that kept eluding her when we went looking for them. I will never again hear her espousing the dignity and virtue of the lowly turkey vulture.  I will never lose another game of Scrabble to her.  I will never give up on another argument with her.  My bluster and arrogance will never again be disarmed by her. But I will think about her every day as we make sure that, indeed, nobody – nobody – will go to bed hungry again in the Lehigh Valley. ...

16 Oct

CACLV: Our Past, Present, and Future (Part Three of Three)

Our Future At CACLV’s annual meeting, held on September 30th at the Renaissance Hotel in Allentown, Executive Director Alan Jennings shared his vision for some of the things CACLV will work on in the next year: “We will continue to push a minimum wage increase whether our friends in the private sector agree or not; and, in my opinion, that minimum wage should be 30% to 50% higher than the measly $10.10 an hour we have been seeking and failing to pass. We are going to continue to expand our intervention in the housing market with emphasis on rehabilitating or razing homes where the conditions are worse than substandard and might not even belong in the Developing World, much less the greatest country on Earth. We hope that formal discussions will begin soon with some allied non-profits that develop affordable housing on the idea of strengthening our collective capacity by merging. The Water Fountain Project, formed to reduce wealth disparity, will develop campaigns to widen the wealth-building expertise of middle-class people of color and begin to narrow the college admissions gap between white and minority young adults. We will broaden the reach of our small business lending subsidiary known as The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund by adding a line of credit to our product line; we have already expanded our service territory into Monroe, Carbon, Wayne and Pike counties. We will use neighborhood partnership tax credits to invest at least $1 million in our urban neighborhoods. We will try to find the funding to begin to intercept young urban teens from making the kinds of terrible decisions that can lead to a lifetime of problems.” And this is just a small sampling of the many activities, programs, and initiatives that CACLV will organize and lead in 2015-2016. It will be a busy year, indeed! And one that is full of measurable progress toward creating a better Lehigh Valley for all of its residents. Annual meetings provide an opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed and the year that is to come. CACLV also has a five year strategic plan which is used to guide our priorities over a slightly longer period of time. But this year’s annual meeting marked a special milestone, the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and of our organization. Yes, we have much to celebrate. Thousands of homes have been weatherized, millions of pounds of food have been distributed, hundreds of people have gained job skills, and countless people’s lives have been improved. Because of ability to work together as a community, tens of thousands of Lehigh Valley residents have been given the chance to meet their basic needs, more fully participate in economic opportunities, turn their lives around, and become more self-sufficient. But there is still much more to be done. According to the 2014 American Community Survey, recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, 11.5% of Lehigh Valley residents (more than 70,000 people), 16.2% of families with a child under the age of five, and 7% of senior citizens live in poverty. That’s less than $24,250 per year for a family of four. Nearly 20% of Lehigh Valley households have annual income under $25,000. More than 3500 Lehigh Valley residents who work full time, year round live in poverty.  Far too many Lehigh Valley residents are experiencing unemployment and underemployment, substandard living conditions, violence, and, worst of all, a sense of desolation that things could not possibly improve. That tenor of apathy is not isolated to people who are struggling to make ends meet. At the annual meeting, Jennings also said, “There are too many among us who are too quick to criticize, too slow to raise their hand to volunteer, too many among us who turn their backs rather than open their minds.  We can love our neighbors or we can fend for ourselves. We can see the world getting smaller every day and try to find common ground or we can blow each other to smithereens. We can pursue justice or we can crank up charity.” If we are to eliminate poverty in the Lehigh Valley in the next 50 years or, at the very least, dramatically reduce both its existence and its impact, we can’t give up. Ever.  No matter what. Every setback needs to strengthen our resolve and push us to be more creative, more collaborative, and more dynamic. Fifty years from now, I don’t want to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the War on Poverty. I want to celebrate its victory.   This blog post is part of a three-part series, Community Action: Our Past, Present, and Future. This is the final installment. The full text of Alan Jennings’ annual meeting speech will be published next week.   ...

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