CEDAM Blog

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Introducing New CEDAM Team Member Ben Dowd

Ben PictureCEDAM is excited to announce Ben Dowd as its new Controller! Dowd will manage CEDAM’s finances, including grant and budget management for CEDAM’s programs, as well as provide human resources support to the CEDAM team.

Background

Ben has been working in banking for 15 years, 12 of which have been spent as a manager at PNC Bank. He spent most of his time in the Saginaw/Bay City area and moved to Lansing in 2015 to manage PNC Bank branches in Lansing.

“Through my employment at PNC, which is cool because PNC is a partner with CEDAM, I’ve actually been involved in Show Me the Money Day events as well as VITA tax preparation locations mainly in the Lansing and the Saginaw Area,” Dowd said.

In his most recent position with PNC, Dowd not only managed his team of bankers and the day-to-day operations, but worked on community development initiatives as well. This entailed getting to know the businesses and organizations involved in the community, acquiring new businesses to work with the bank and building relationships with key partners.

Outside of work, Dowd was on the board of the nonprofit Perceptions in Saginaw, and now sits on the board of Lansing’s Old Town Commercial Association (OTCA), serving as the treasurer as well as sitting on several committees. Dowd has also been involved in Lansing 501 events, Meals on Wheels and has worked closely with the City of Mason’s Chamber.

Why CEDAM?

“A lot of my passion lies with working in communities and really being involved in the nonprofit world,” Dowd said. “A lot of my time outside of my nine to five job is already spent doing those things in our community, so the draw was a natural fit for me.”

Dowd is looking forward to the opportunity to expand his work with communities and finding ways to help them achieve their determined success. “If they have a plan and things established, what can CEDAM do to help boost that and what I can do specifically in my role to help them see success?”

Finally, Dowd is looking forward to increasing his involvement in CEDAM’s programs. “The opportunities are endless… I  am super excited for a chance to join CEDAM and be a part of the work that they’re already doing and will continue to do in the future.”

 

Avenue for the Arts Program Creates Strong Sense of Place

By Camille Allen, Communications Intern

Downtown Grand Rapids between Fulton and Wealthy Street lies the South Division commercial corridor, a street blossoming with art, culture and character. Every month, Avenue for the Arts shines a spotlight on this street with their First Friday event, which brings attention to the Grand Rapids art scene and the small, local businesses that line the street. Avenue for the Arts is a program supported by CEDAM member Dwelling Place, and the program aims to strengthen the creative community in Grand Rapids by creating a collaborative event in which business owners, residents and visitors alike can participate.

Rachel Hurd is a Learning Lab intern for Avenue for the Arts invested in the event and its effect on the community.

“First Friday is an event we hold the first Friday of each month, and it captures the business owners, the restaurants and bars and all of the studios on the avenue,” Hurd said as she showed us around the Avenue for the Arts studio where they exhibit and sell artwork by local artists. “Our mission is to encourage people in Grand Rapids and visitors who are interested in the art community to bridge the gap between artists and art enthusiasts.”

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Artwork by Debra Dieppa (left) and artwork by Mary Tobias Prevost shown by Rachel Hurd (right) 

A stroll down South Division Avenue highlights the strength of the art community in Grand Rapids. It proves to be a marketplace of creativity, with niche stores, specialized studios and a diverse selection of restaurants. There is also a blend of new and old on the avenue — you can find stores that have stood strong for decades managed by the same people, as well as galleries run by art students fresh out of university. Among the latter are resident gallery owners Maddie May and Gina Masterson of Bend Gallery.

“We are normally open by appointment,” May said, “but we are open every First Friday with a new exhibition for the month, so every first Friday you can find a new show. We also do a lot of community stuff, but art is our main focus.”

Their involvement with Avenue for the Arts is largely due to the initiative displayed by Dwelling Place’s neighborhood revitalization specialist Jenn Schaub.

“I was really inspired to do this because Jenn Schaub does the First Friday monthly programming,” May said. “I was really interested in challenging myself to come up with monthly exhibitions. I know Gina and I really wanted to spotlight local artists, but also national and international artists.”

The two are part of Dwelling Place’s live-work space housing program, and their street-side space boasts living quarters in the back of the building.

“We rent through Dwelling Place,” Masterson explained. “So we live here, but it is also a commercial property, a live-work space.”

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Maddie May and Gina Masterson (left) and a gallery attendee perusing artwork at Bend Studio (right)

The organization provides apartments tailored for creative business owners and entrepreneurs, with the appeal of a studio and the amenities and comfort of a loft, all at an affordable price. This initiative allows these artists and entrepreneurs to be surrounded by other creative minds, and facilitates the transformation of the avenue into an arts neighborhood.

Avenue for the Arts not only includes art galleries in their First Friday events, but also small businesses and stores like Vertigo Music, a record store that has been on the avenue for over 17 years.

“Jenn Schaub reached out and she’s been very proactive and has got everybody involved,” said Baker. “She lets me know the information that is pertinent to Vertigo, and we are always open the days of the events that are happening for Avenue for the Arts.”

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Vertigo is located at 129 S Division Avenue, Grand Rapids, MI

Many small businesses are battling the convenience of online shopping, and there has definitely been a shift in consumer behavior in the music industry.

“My whole industry has changed so dramatically in that everything has gone digital, with the exception of the small niche category that is vinyl, which is exploding.”

Dwelling Place’s Avenue for the Arts program recognizes that both small businesses and a strong art presence is vital to the strength of local economies and communities. The intersection of the two, as highlighted by initiatives like the live-work space program, is helping Dwelling Place create a sense of place one Friday at a time.

What’s in the Final Tax Bill?

Written by Jessica AcMoody, Senior Policy Specialist and Grace Hough, Policy Intern

The House and Senate reached a compromise on their individual tax plans last week creating a merged tax bill. The bill passed the House on December 19 by a vote of 227-203, and passed the Senate early Wednesday morning by a vote of 51-48. The bill must go back to the House for another vote due to Senate rules, which prevent the bill from including any measures considered “extraneous” to budget matters. The bill will then go to the president’s desk for his signature. The effects of the bill on affordable housing are not as detrimental as may have been expected, however most reports indicate that the bulk of the benefits go to upper-income households with middle- and lower-income households ending up worse off.

Low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), the New Markets Tax Credit and private activity bonds (including multifamily housing bonds) were retained in the new GOP tax plan. The 20% Historic Tax Credit made it into the final bill, but would have to be spread over five years as opposed to current policy where it can be taken up front in the first year of the project.

The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was repealed in the bill beginning in 2019 which, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would leave as many as 13 million fewer people without health insurance. There is also fear that with no mandate less people will buy insurance, which may result in increased premiums for everyone else.

The child-tax deduction was doubled to $2,000, but only the first $1,400 is tax deductible. In addition, families with an income of up to $400,000 annually may apply for this deduction. Some estimates suggest that low-income families could see a token benefit of as little as $75 or less.

While the House was not successful in repealing the estate tax they were successful in doubling the exemption limit bringing the percentage of Americans who could be affected by the tax to almost zero. The mortgage interest deduction, previously set at $1 million, was decreased to $750,000. While this is a step in the right direction, advocates who have been urging mortgage interest deduction reform for years were hoping the savings would be dedicated to producing more affordable housing instead of to offset corporate income tax reduction.

The provision in the House tax plan to overturn the Johnson Amendment, which bans religious institutions and all nonprofit entities organized as 501(c)3s from endorsing political candidates, was not included in the final bill. Advocates are concerned that a repeal could come up again soon. According to the Washington Post, “President Trump promised to ‘totally destroy’ the Johnson Amendment at the National Prayer Breakfast in February.”

Other important provisions of the plan include:

  • Lowers many individual tax rates with a change in tax brackets
  • Lowers the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, effective January 1, 2018
  • Nearly doubles the standard deduction
  • Eliminates personal exemptions
  • Caps state and local tax deductions at $10,000
  • No longer allows a deduction for the interest on home equity loans
  • Preserves smaller tax breaks such as deductions for medical expenses and student loan interest
  • Keeps the tax-free status of tuition waivers for graduate students

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the plan will increase the budget deficit by $1.46 trillion over a decade. In order to keep the increase under the maximum $1.5 trillion it could add to the deficit under rules set by the Senate earlier this year, the individual provisions in the tax bill expire by 2025, but the corporate tax cuts are permanent. The GOP has said they want to cut anti-poverty programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and SNAP under “welfare reform” in 2018 to help pay for the tax cuts.

According to the Tax Policy Center, while most Americans would see a tax cut in 2018, the richest Americans would by far benefit most. With many of the individual cuts expiring in 2025, many lower- and middle-class Americans will have higher taxes a decade from now.

CEDAM Member CAHP Hosts Open House for Rehabbed Lansing Home

By Meghan Kuhr, Communications Intern

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On Tuesday, November 12, CEDAM member Capital Area Housing Partnership (CAHP) held an open house for their newly rehabbed Lansing home. The almost 100-year old house was beautifully restored with 3 bedrooms, 1 ½ baths, original wood floors, modern conveniences and a two-car garage.

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Executive Director Sage Hales-Ho talks with fellow CAHP staff Emma Henry and AmeriCorps member Olivia Rice at the open house on December 12, 2017.

CAHP provides livable homes, increases housing values and ensures each home they renovate is safe and affordable. They empower families to improve their financial health and help homebuyers become successful homeowners.

“[The house] will be sold to a family at or below 80% of the area median income and so, for a family of 4 in Lansing, that’s about $54,000 a year,” said Sage Hales-Ho, executive director of CAHP.

With housing prices only increasing in the U.S. and in Lansing, CAHP’s work is critical.

“It’s really hard for families and working people and not working people, people who can’t work, to find homes that are decent and safe,” Hales-Ho said. “There’s a high need for the affordability, there’s a high need for the healthier homes, like the decreased led exposure and there is a high need for homes that are energy efficient.” IMG_4594

This fully renovated home, which had previously been vacant, already has a purchaser.

“Our impact on one block really helps the whole neighborhood or our impact in one house helps the whole block,” Hales-Ho said. “So slowly we are revitalizing communities of Lansing.”

How Do Key Provisions Differ in the Senate and House Tax Bills?

The Senate tax bill passed in the early hours of Saturday morning with only one Republican, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) voting against it. The bill now heads to conference committee where the House and Senate will try to reconcile the differences in their two tax reform plans. Once negotiations are finished a draft of the conference report must pass through each chamber before being signed by President Trump. While there are large differences between the two versions of the tax plan, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars, Trump could see a draft as early as next week.

The following chart presents the differences on many key provisions in the Senate and House plans:

House Senate
Standard Deduction Doubled Doubled
Personal Exemptions Eliminated Eliminated
State and Local Tax Deduction Limited to $10,000 for property taxes Limited to $10,000 for property taxes
Child Tax Credit Increased to $1,600 Increased to $2,000 but the second $1,000 is nonrefundable
Mortgage Interest Deduction $500,000 cap Preserved at $1 million cap
Alternative Minimum Tax Repealed Preserved
Estate Tax Reduces estate and gift taxes by doubling the exemption and then ultimately fully repealing the estate tax Reduces estate tax by doubling the exemption
ACA Individual Mandate Repealed Repealed
Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) Retain Retain
Private Activity Bonds (Including Multifamily Bonds) Repealed Retain
Historic Tax Credit Eliminated 20% HTC
Corporate Tax Rate Lowers from 35% to 20% Lowers from 35% to 20%
Johnson Amendment Repealed Retain

 

Both nonprofits and affordable housing organizations are adversely affected by the tax plans. Fewer people are expected to donate to nonprofits because the standard deduction is doubled and the estate tax is repealed (House) or has more exemptions (Senate).  The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that charities, including nonprofit arts organizations, could see a loss of up to $20 billion annually as a result of this tax policy change.

With the corporate tax rate significantly reduced, the value of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) will be much less. According to Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, “The bill also triggers a 2010 law that almost immediately forces sequestration cuts on some mandatory spending, including a 6.6% cut to the vital national Housing Trust Fund.”

The GOP tax bills also increase the debt by at least $1 trillion — and 62% of the benefits of the bill go to the top 1% of earners. Republicans in Congress have said that they plan to tackle welfare reform, make cuts to entitlement programs and decrease federal spending to make up for the debt increase.

It’s not too late to make your voice heard. The conference committee must still reconcile the differences between the bills, and then the House and Senate must both vote on the final bill. Please continue to reach out to your Representative and Senators and urge them to defeat this tax plan and instead work on a bi-partisan bill.

Resources for Contacting Legislators

Contact information for your Representative and your Senators.

Talking points on how the House and Senate plans impact affordable housing development.

Information from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Information about the Historic Tax Credit.

CEDAM and Partners Lead Michigan Children’s Savings Account (CSA) Consortium

On Friday, November 3, organizations from across the state of Michigan representing community foundations, nonprofits and local governments met to discuss the future of Children’s Saving Accounts (CSAs) in Michigan. CSAs are long-term savings or investment accounts that help children (ages 0-18) and their families, especially those from low-income families, build savings for the future. CSAs:

  • Provide incentives to grow savings, such as initial deposits, savings matches or prize-linked savings and;
  • are usually used for postsecondary education (e.g. college, vocational/technical schools), though other possible uses include homeownership and financing a small business.

Led by Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM), Barry Community Foundation and City of Lansing – Office of Financial Empowerment, the role of this consortium is to advance the field of CSAs in Michigan. The Consortium spent the day discussing how they can bring CSAs to their local communities, tackle asset building policy issues in Michigan and ways to support their local CSA efforts.

When asked why organizations were inspired to launch a CSA program, representatives mentioned that they feel CSAs are a tool to end generational poverty, give low-income families hope for their child’s future, combat the student loan crisis and create communities of caring.

A new report from Prosperity Now, Investing in Dreams, found the following CSA benefits:

 

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The Michigan Children’s Savings Account (CSA) Consortium plans to host its next meeting in mid-February. Interested organizations that want to learn more or join the conversation happening right now about CSAs can contact Brian Rakovitis for additional information.

From Youth Programs to Land Use Projects, Urban Neighborhood Initiatives Reflects on a Successful Year

By Camille Allen, CEDAM Communications Intern

Many urban programs are directed at youth, but it is not often that we see these programs driven by youth themselves. For CEDAM Member Urban Neighborhood Initiatives (UNI), this is nothing out of the ordinary. This past year, over 1,500 adolescents engaged in the organization’s leadership programs, which include youth designed and facilitated workshops on substance abuse, movies in the park and a school lunch improvement campaign.

Part of UNI’s mission is indigenous leadership, meaning they aim to have a staff that is more reflective of the community it serves, and provide the youth of Detroit with leadership positions in these programs that ensures that they will be able grow into positions with more responsibility. UNI puts young people at the forefront of their movement, and this philosophy is strongly reflected in their video titled Why Youth:

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with executive director Christine Bell to discuss UNI’s annual breakfast, a day for the organization, along with guest speakers and members of the community, to discuss successes from the past year and plans for the one ahead. As 2017 comes to a close, it is clear that Detroit, and the state of Michigan, have much to be proud of when it comes to this nonprofit organization. IMG_0195

Recognized for their youth-centric philosophy, UNI was deemed a lead agency for Grow Detroit’s Young Talent this past summer, providing nearly two-hundred youth individuals with work experience. The organization brings individuals into the workforce through their community-based programs including their Southwest Urban Arts Mural Project, their Urban Forestry and Recreation program and their Apprenticeship Program which places youth in local businesses and organizations that correlate to their career goals for the future. In addition to being named a lead organization, UNI was the only organization in the entire city of Detroit to utilize America Saves, a savings program aimed at teaching children about banking and saving.

“All of our young people have opened banking and savings accounts,” Bell said.

Their youth has collectively saved $92,000 dollars and pledged to use their savings for education. This pledge largely sets them apart from other programs which do not prioritize saving for education. Not only were they first in the city to use this program, but they are one of thirty organizations in the nation to implement it.

In addition to youth development, UNI focuses on land use and economic development. Through their Land Stewardship Program, residents identify vacant lots they would like revitalized and UNI supports them in the restoration process. Bell stresses that they try to create a sense of self-sufficiency in the community.IMG_0179

“Our goal is to get residents to a point where they can care for the land themselves,” Bell said.

This past year 55 lots were beautified and they have claimed over 150 for the long-term stewardship of the residents.  This year their Green Team, which is part of their Urban Forestry and Recreation Program, redeveloped and beautified three pocket-parks in the city, creating safe spaces for children and families to enjoy.

Just as much as the organization strives to beautify the area and get the best use out of its land, they also care a great deal about justice in the community. This is reflected in their ongoing project to renovate the Lawndale Center. The Lawndale Center is set to become the first community-based justice center in the state, with future tenants including Lakeshore Legal Aid and the Southwest Detroit Community Justice Center. This center will provide an accessible way to address crime and reconnect people with their communities.

This year UNI made significant progress on the Lawndale Center renovation, and a unique aspect of this ongoing renovation is its participatory design process. This allows stakeholders and community members to have a say in the design of the center and influence the outcome of the project.

“There is nothing we’ve done that hasn’t come from the community,” Bell said. “We believe that residents know what the problems are in their community, and need support solving those problems and have a better understanding of how to do so.”

IMG_0171Bell also discussed some of the organization’s plans for 2018. In addition to beginning the renovation process on the other half of the Lawndale Center, UNI plans to develop a community land trust. Through their partnership with ProsperUS Detroit, a community development organization that focuses on entrepreneurship training and business services, they will be hosting classes and looking into new ways to provide residents with more economic opportunities.

 

With all of this in store, Urban Neighborhood Initiatives has given us much to look forward to in the upcoming year.

GOP Tax Plan Unveils Corporate Cuts, Consolidated Tax Brackets & Cuts to Economic Development Programs

On Thursday, November 2, House Republicans introduced their plan for tax reform. Entitled the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the plan cuts corporate income taxes, consolidates income tax brackets for individuals and families and makes cuts to multiple key economic development programs. Below are highlights of the GOP tax plan:

  • Permanently lowers the corporate tax rate to 20%
  • Raises the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly
  • Limits the Mortgage Interest Deduction to loans up to $500,000 on newly purchased homes going forward
  • Eliminates personal exemptions
  • Increases the child tax credit to $1,600
  • Creates two new $300 tax credits, but they would be in effect only for five years and would not be refundable. As reported by CNN Money, the credits would be for non-child dependents and for each spouse if they file jointly
  • According to CNN Politics, individuals would be able to deduct local and state property taxes, but only up to $10,000

Under the proposed plan, income tax brackets are consolidated into four:

  • 12% (on the first $45,000 of taxable income for individuals; $90,000 for married couples)
  • 25% (starts at $45,000 for individuals; $90,000 for married couples)
  • 35% (starts at $200,000 for individuals; $260,000 for married couples)
  • 39.6% (starts at $500,000 for individuals; $1 million for married couples)

Other repeals and eliminations in the plan include:

  • State and local tax deductions
  • Alternative minimum tax
  • Estate tax, phasing it out entirely in six years
  • Student loan interest deduction
  • Medical expense deduction
  • Historic Tax Credit
  • New Markets Tax Credit

The GOP tax plan specifically retains the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, but it does repeal the tax exemption for private activity bonds, including multifamily tax-exempt bonds.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the Johnson Amendment is also repealed allowing tax-exempt nonprofits to endorse candidates and engage in politics “so long as the charity organizations are engaging in political speech in the ordinary course of business and spending a “de minimis” amount of money on that speech.”

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), the legislation is estimated to increase the national deficit by $1.51 trillion over a decade. The NHLIC points out that increasing the deficit in this way will likely lead to deep spending cuts in the future to important domestic programs, including affordable housing and community development programs.

The goal for the House Ways and Means committee is to start considering the plan next week, with the full House considering the bill the week of November 13.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to consider its version of the tax reform legislation, which is expected to be more moderate, the week of November 13 with a full Senate vote before Thanksgiving. After working out the differences between the two bills, Congress’ goal is to send a final version to the President by the end of the year.

Talking Equity and Destination: Vibrant Communities with James Crowder

For community development organizations, practitioners and advocates; developers and housing providers, equity should be at the forefront of our neighborhood revitalization strategies. We already know this, but how successful are we at implementing equitable strategies into practice? Is equity actually the focus of our organizations’ community development strategies? Are we leaving anyone out of the conversation?

In his Destination: Vibrant Communities & Financial Empowerment Summit session Equitable Development Strategies: Learnings From Philadelphia, James Crowder of PolicyLink will facilitate an honest discussion about equity in community development, and give insight into successful equitable strategies.

Crowder has worked in the affordable housing and community development field for the length of his career, and says that improving the quality of life for low-income families in distressed communities of color is the overarching mission that drives his work.

james_crowderIf we head back to where Crowder launched his career, we’d land in New York where he started at New York City Housing Preservation and Development in a fellowship program. He had the opportunity to work in many facets of the agency, working with homeowners to encourage them to take out loans to improve their homes, strategic planning, preservation as well as working on LIHTC applications.

Next for Crowder was BCT Partners, a black-owned and led consulting firm.

“We were fortunate enough to have the technical assistance contract for choice neighborhoods,” Crowder said. “[We were] working with choice neighborhood grantees across the county to help them better implement their choice neighborhood plans.”

Following BCT Partners, Crowder was a program officer at LISC and focused on place based neighborhood revitalization in West Philadelphia. Today at PolicyLink, an organization focused on advancing racial equity, Crowder is a Senior Associate working on several projects around the country.

“We define equity as just and fair inclusion in a society where everyone is able to reach their full potential,” Crowder said. “The way that manifests itself in my work is primarily through different projects.”

One of those projects is All-In Cities, where he works with coalitions and city leaders in places like Fresno, Sacramento, Cincinnati and more to advance equity. The second focuses on economic inclusion in southern states. “[We’re] working in five states with partners to first better understand the barriers that folks are facing to getting employment,” Crowder said. The goal is to then develop policy campaigns in an effort to dismantle some of those barriers.

For him, now is the time to take action.

“Our country is changing. Demographics are changing. Our country is going to be primarily people of color by 2044. And the longer that we wait to invest in communities of color and people of color, the longer we do a disservice to our country,” Crowder said.

For Crowder, the focus on equity is as much about economics as it is morality.

“It’s in our best interest to invest in equity now. If we want to continue to be competitive in the 21st century economy moving forward — that’s why it’s critical to me,” Crowder said. “We can talk about the moral case and the injustice of the past and the housing policies that have gotten us to the segregated poverty and blight — we can dwell on that and talk about that all day long. There is a sufficient body of research on that already — ultimately, this is where we are right now. What can we do right now to get ready for the inevitable shift in this country?”

With a breadth of experience in the field, Crowder will lead an important discussion enabling attendees to realize concrete ways to move forward.

“The session is going to offer a frank discussion on the status of where things are in Michigan and some promising practices that other localities have done to address some of these issues, and space and time for folks to have focused conversations on what it would take to turn the needle there in Michigan.”

Follow this link for more information and to register for Destination: Vibrant Communities & Financial Empowerment Summit. 

Staff Member Feature: Brian McGrain Celebrates 11 Years at CEDAM

Brian McGrain, CEDAM’s Associate Director and Chief Operating Officer, isn’t exactly the new kid in town.

He’s celebrating 11 years at CEDAM, though his work first started here in 1999 as an intern when he was in graduate school. We don’t want to spoil his whole story, however, so check out our latest Staff Member Feature video below. Congrats, Brian!