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10 Place-Based Holiday Activities in Michigan

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or some combination of many holidays, it is a time of year where the hustle and bustle is in high gear and the holiday spirit is shining. People exchange gifts and laughs, holiday parties are constant and many people take time off to spend with family and friends.

capitol-tree

Photo copyright David Marvin.

Placemaking initiatives have enhanced the unique culture, geography and personality of places across Michigan. This holiday season, we encourage you to discover fun, local events that support the uniqueness of which Michigan is made. Discovering new places or what your own hometown has to offer helps to build a sense of place while supporting a local economy. Who doesn’t want to live in a fun place?

Here are 10 wonderful ways to enjoy the holidays and explore your community:

1. See the Official State of Michigan Christmas Tree at the Capitol Building in Lansing.

2. Ice skate in Downtown Detroit at Campus Martius.

3. Enjoy the Bavarian experience in Frankenmuth, including lights and holiday shops.

4. The Frederick Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids features a world of winter magic celebrating Christmas traditions around the world.

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Farm by Lantern Light, Grayling. (Photo from City of Grayling www.grayling-mi.com)

5. Farm by Lantern Light in Grayling is a full evening activity including a sleigh ride, a visit to the historic farm and a full length play all rolled into one.

6. Walk around and experience the winter Zoo Lights in zoos across Michigan, including Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, Potter Park Zoo in Lansing and the Detroit Zoo.

7. Take in the beautiful views of the Soo from 210 feet in the air at the top of the Tower of History in Sault Ste Marie.

8. Take in a lantern lit ski or snowshoe trail. With no shortage of parks across the state, the beautiful Porquipine Mountains offers one unique opportunity to take in nature.

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Light up the Soo (Photo from saultstemarie.com)

9. Embrace arts and culture with a play, musical, concert or story-telling. The Nutcracker Ballet is at the Ramsdell Theatre in Manistee. The Detroit Theatre has a full list of holiday show including the Trans Siberian Orchestra, The Great Russian Nutcracker and a Christmas Carol. Stories will be read in Leland. Holiday concerts will be performed by the

Flint Symphony Orchestra, and a variety of up north locations  to name a couple.

10. Watch holiday classic movies at the Historic Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor.

These are just a few ideas.  What else are you planning to do in your community this holiday season?

Happy Holidays to you and yours, and we for a safe and healthy 2015!

 

Market Alternative to Payday Lending: It’s Working in Texas

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Payday loans: you too can give your money to the man in the window. For a two-week $100 loan you pay $15, an APR of 400%. Photo by Taber Andrew Bain

“Once payday lenders in Texas get a hook on you, the system is designed so that you can never get out of it. Other states have rate caps. We have nothing. It is very much the wild west. For a 14 day $500 loan, the fees in Texas are $115, two times what it is in other states.”

The fee for a $500 payday loan in Michigan is $65. That has done little to curb this type of predatory lending in our state.

Matt Hull, Executive Director of the Texas Association of CDCs (TACDC), went on to say that in 2013, Texas payday lenders extracted $1.49 billion from Texas residents – the ones who make so little they have to rely on a 14 day loan at 400-700% APR to cover emergency costs. In other words, payday lending is massively successful at profiting off the poor.

When the TACDC brought this up with the legislature, payday lenders pushed back by stating they were actually doing a wonderful service for low-to-moderate income people by providing quick cash. Policymakers agreed.

“The legislature is not going to do anything about it,” Matt Hull said.

An Alternative to Predatory Lending

Very well. If low-to-moderate residents need “quick cash,” why not beat predatory lenders at their own game? TACDC and Citi Community Development researched alternatives to payday lending that could be brought to scale. They found one program at a local CDC in Brownsville, Texas, adapted it, used startup funds from Citi and piloted the Community Loan Center Small Dollar Loan Program.

“It’s a market-based approach. There is no storefront. It’s an employer-based loan to workers. They are fairly priced small-dollar loans with reasonable terms. It will offer direct competition to high cost lenders. It’s nonprofit driven; that’s the key component.”

These small loans work as follows: Texas Community Capital, a nonprofit loan fund TACDC started 10 years ago, operates the program and distributes the copyrighted loan software. TACDC then recruits local nonprofits to participate in the program. Each nonprofit is in charge of loan origination, processing and servicing. The nonprofits recruit local companies to participate in the program. Participating employers offer small loans to employees via payroll deduction, which is all done through computer software. Employees can apply online.

Loan terms:

  • Max $1,000 loan (or up to ½ of borrower’s monthly gross pay)
  • One year loan term, with no prepayment penalty
  • 18% interest
  • $20 origination fee
  • Repayments are $23/week or $94/month
  • May only take out one loan at a time
  • Can’t refinance until six months later

No credit history is required, approvals are quick, there is no collateral and the loan money is placed directly into the employee’s bank account usually within 24 hours. Free financial counseling is available to anyone taking a loan through the program. Counseling is not required, since required education causes people to avoid the program and continue going to predatory lenders. Plus, the Community Loan Center needs to make a large number of loans in order to break even financially.

“This is a volume business. Since margins are thin, volume has to be high. In order to make this work, you need to do about 150 loans a month. You need companies that have 5,000-6,000 employees. Here that’s not hard to do because a single school district can have 10,000 employees.”

The Pilot Yields Positive Results

The three year pilot program in Brownsville, Texas originated 3,600+ loans through 50 employers with 10,000 total employees. During the first year of the pilot they made almost 800 loans without trying; that’s how great the need was. At the end of the second year the program was breaking even. The current default rate is 5%, and the only time default happens is when the employee separates from the employer – they lose their job, for instance.

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The Loan Center saves borrowers $782 per $1,000 loan. Photo by Tax Credits

The Brownsville pilot saved borrowers about $782 per $1,000 loan for a total of $2,000,000 in savings.

Most people in the program take out the $1,000 maximum. In fact, people are taking out loans through the Community Loan Center to pay off payday loans. Though, “We don’t know yet if people are both using this program and payday lenders,” Matt Hull said.

Employers in the program haven’t been wary or resistant to joining, especially since they are already used to getting calls from payday lenders to verify employment. Many employers like the Community Loan Center because it’s online. Employers sign a MOU that they can leave the Community Loan Center program at any time.

TACDC and Citi Community Development are rolling the Community Loan Center out to several new Texas communities and aspiring to grow to other states soon.

“We’re very interested in making a fund to bring this to scale,” Citi’s Community Officer Mark Nerio said. “Even if we can’t fund a particular state for CRA credit, we could attribute it to NACEDA [a national organization], and NACEDA could distribute it to those other states as an intermediary.”

Bringing this model to Michigan would involve:

  • Preliminary research on compliance requirements for Michigan. TACDC had to be licensed as a lender, which took about six months.
  • $500,000 in loan capital for year one.
  • A full time staff person completely dedicated to the project.
  • Copies of the licensed loan software.
  • Nonprofits that can be local lenders and recruit employers. (CDFIs, for example.)
  • For market viability, a statewide reach of about 10,000 employees in order to generate 150 loans a month.

Great Lakes Capital Fund (GLCF)Do you want to see this in Michigan?

This article is made possible by the Great Lakes Capital Fund. Thank you for sponsoring our attendance at the national NACEDA Summit in San Antonio, Texas so we can bring these best practices back to Michigan and our members.

RESOURCES
Community Loan Center website.
See what the loan application looks like.
Download the program brochure.

loan-vs-payday

Payday loans trap people in a cycle of debt and poverty. This chart compares the pilot loan program with payday loans in Texas.

Development Without Displacement

trash-dumped-by-lake_w725_h488With the rise and fall of different economies nationwide and changes in where people choose to live, we’ve witnessed disinvestment of commercial districts, neighborhoods and even whole parts of cities. Resulting vacant property becomes the dumping ground for garbage and toxic waste, and are not only unappealing to potential residents or businesses, but are also, unsafe. But eventual re-investment in these areas can result in displacement of the people who stayed during the tough times if rents rise and redevelopment of residential spaces forces them out.

To combat this risk of displacement, local initiatives across the nation are considering values that should guide decision-making and ways to integrate community-minded strategies with development policy. Government planning, corporate investment and community-based visions paired together can collectively change the resulting patterns to advance development. Communities can revitalize and develop while benefiting all residents and stakeholders.

Community Land Trusts As an Option

Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are nonprofit organizations that use various sources of public and philanthropic capital to acquire homes in a geographic focus area. Residents own their home outright, but lease their land from the CLT. Their annual fee supports operations and the CLT retains permanent ownership of the land. Homeowners are free to update and change their home or sell it to whomever they choose. However, the home prices are set by the CLT and remain affordable. New residents agree to the same requirements around resale and home maintenance. CLTs are governed by a mixture of community residents, stakeholders and experts, and are designed to stabilize neighborhoods while keeping community control and public interest as the major strategy for future growth.

The Dudley Street Neighborhood Example

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Photo from the DSNI website: http://www.dsni.org/

In the 1980s, the Dudley Neighborhood in Boston was vacant, abandoned and a garbage dump for the rest of the city. In an effort to take control of their own future, they created a bottom-up revitalization plan and led the efforts to reclaim vacant property. Dudley Neighbors, Incorporated (DNI) was created to serve as player in the housing development portion of their comprehensive master plan drafted by the residents. In 1988, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) granted DNI’s status as a 121A Corporation, allowing them the power of eminent domain to acquire privately-owned vacant land in the area designated as the Dudley Triangle. Through this, the DNI structured a CLT and has changed the entire face of the community with a total of 225 new homes and two community spaces or micro-centers built on DNI land.

Detroit Development

Last month, Detroit stakeholders collaborated at the Financial Institutions Community Development Conference (FICON) to collaborate and share proactive initiatives focusing on two things: community involvement and the avoidance of displacement. While Detroit has lost 60% of the population over the past 60 years, the transformation that is in action right now is a partnership and collaboration of land banks, city and county government agencies, community development and block groups, Detroit Future City, individuals and others. There is a resurgence of growth and momentum sparking engagement and a public forum for activity. The City of Detroit progressively works to turn the lights back on, maintain parks and find alternative solutions for vacant property that involves investment and adoption by existing neighborhood residents. Community-based groups such as the North End Woodward Community Coalition (NEWCC) take matters into their own hands by obtaining funding and installing solar lighting throughout the neighborhood to increase visibility and safety.

The Possibility of a CLT in Detroit

Reimagining vacancy is an opportunity to analyze possibilities from a new perspective. Partners want to grow by adding jobs and higher density development. Neighborhood stabilization and improved, yet affordable, quality of life for all current and future residents is critical. Transforming open areas into safe spaces for public gatherings, gardens or some other yet to be determined use is desired and on the table.

Would a CLT benefit Detroit? As the path toward a brighter future is defined, it is important to note the existing work that is taking place. The City of Detroit is actively trying to use the limited available resources as proactively as possible to merely get back to the starting line. Through this, stakeholders are not standing by as spectators. Instead, momentum grows each day with engaging activities working to empower residents and collaboratively define what Detroit will become. Maybe it will ultimately take form as a CLT in some neighborhoods. The concept has positive results in Boston and other areas. Detroit might just benefit from it too.

For additional information, check out The City-CLT Partnership Report: Municipal Support for Community Land Trusts.

What do you think?

Vote With Every Dollar

By Guest blogger Jon Barth, Southwest Detroit Business Association

Paying with Debit CardThe days are getting shorter, the leaves are falling and most Americans are gearing up for their annual holiday shopping spree. Last year, Americans spent more than $600 billion on gifts. A well-known superhero was once told “with great power comes great responsibility;” I’d say that $600 billion is a lot of power and responsibility. That’s enough money to buy 600 billion fast food cheeseburgers. Or 30 billion pairs of clearance rack jeans. Or you could even pay off the City of Detroit’s pre-bankruptcy debt 33 times.

Every dollar is a vote. When I buy a $1 cookie from the bakery down the street, I’m voting for that bakery to continue making cookies. I’m also voting for the company that supplied the bakery with their flour, the farmer that grew the wheat, the governments that the bakery pays their taxes to and so on.

Choosing to purchase the cookie from the bakery over one from a grocery store even if the price is a little higher and the quality is the same means that I value my community and want those dollars to benefit those within it. When a package of cookies is purchased from a grocery store owned by a company based out of California, a portion of the money spent goes to California, some goes to the bakery that made the cookies and some goes to all the supply-chain folks in between. Also, that’s a dollar I won’t be spending in my community, because I only have so many dollars, and I only need so many cookies.

Last year the average American spent a little over $700 on holiday gifts. While it pales in comparison to $600 billion, $700 is nothing to sneeze at. With $700 you could cast a major vote for American manufacturing, innovation in Silicon Valley or small-scale goat farming in Vermont. Every dollar you spend on a particular business makes it a little more likely that they will succeed in the marketplace and continue to do what they are currently doing. For example, if everyone in America buys goat cheese for someone on their list this year, next year we will still have farmers making the cheese, and the supply may even increase. But if nobody gives the gift of goat cheese, goat farmers may choose to focus on other pursuits.

Holiday shopping is small potatoes when compared to the impact of our day-to-day spending choices.  A couple of weeks ago I was ordering office supplies online for my office. I had my choice of products and a variety of opportunities use my organization’s dollars to vote. I work in Southwest Detroit, which happens to be home to the second most polluted zip code in the state of Michigan. Further, my office is located adjacent to the most polluted zip code in Michigan, and I experience the effects of this on a daily basis. My need for office supplies granted me the opportunity make my purchasing decisions around small, but very deliberate, votes. For example, I opted for non-toxic oil-based soap rather than a competitor’s floor-cleaning product that contained toluene, a toxin known to harm the central nervous system when inhaled. It only cost a couple of dollars more, and in doing so, I voted for non-toxic cleaning products and better air-quality in my office building.

Nobody’s perfect. Even the most principled individuals have to compromise on their values from time to time, especially when your ideal choice is cost-prohibitive. Sometimes, we don’t have enough information to know we’re making the right choice. Sometimes there really isn’t a choice. Regardless, we all have the power to make at least a small difference.

What are your values?

Think about how your spending habits might be voting for or against some of those values. Are there any ways that you might be able to change your spending habits to better support those values? If you want to keep American manufacturing alive, maybe it means spending a little more on your next TV to get the American-made set. If money is tight, maybe it means cutting back on non-essentials so that your spending on necessities can be more in line with your values.

What I’m really saying is that every dollar you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in. I’m not trying to tell you how to spend your money, but am asking for you to think a little bit about how you are wielding your spending power.

Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.

Jon Barth works with the Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA). The SDBA is a coalition of businesses and community interests committed to facilitating the continuation and enhancement of a stable, economically healthy Southwest Detroit. The SDBA employs strategies that support existing business and industrial enterprises, enhance the climate for public and private investment and economic growth and act as a vehicle for cooperative ventures that support economic development in Southwest Detroit. For more information, visit www.southwestdetroit.com.

Foreclosure 101 and Step Forward Update

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Full training available on CEDAM’s YouTube!

Last month Tracie Coffman, Coordinator of the Michigan Foreclosure Task Force, gave an in-depth introduction to tax and mortgage foreclosure for new MFPC AmeriCorps members. This is an excellent primer for anyone new to the foreclosure process in Michigan.

1 Introduction: http://youtu.be/rnM8hm6N-Nc
2 Foreclosure Terminology: http://youtu.be/-tyfw3CYRbY
3 Foreclosure Timeline: http://youtu.be/zfVib81xpKE
4 Loss Mitigation: http://youtu.be/CooBrDQFeLY
5 Step Forward Update: http://youtu.be/f0kL1QsiVuw

On a related note, the Step Forward Michigan program expanded. The following is the text from the official announcement:

In order to increase activity and more funding in our Step Forward Michigan’s Unemployment Mortgage Subsidy (UMS) and Modification Plan (MP) programs, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has approved our request for expanded guidelines. Please share this information with other staff members in your office as you continue to help applicants apply for Step Forward assistance.

Below are some highlights of the expanded eligibility requirements:

Unemployment Mortgage Subsidy Program (UMS)

The UMS program is now open to homeowners facing either of the following situations;

  • A 20% or greater reduction in gross income; includes self-employed applicants.
  • Received Michigan unemployment income within the last twelve months.

This program continues to subsidize the monthly mortgage payment, reinstate the delinquency and can now pay outstanding property taxes or condominium association fees directly to a participating county treasurer or condominium association when;

  • There is no mortgage lien.
  • The mortgage lien is current and held by a non-participating mortgage lender.
  • The participating mortgage lender is unable to establish an escrow account.

Modification Plan Program (MP)

The MP program is now open to homeowners facing either of the following situations;

  • Loan to Value above 115%.
  • Mortgage Payment to Gross Household Income ratio above 45%.

Up to $30,000 is available to pay toward negative equity, reinstate the delinquency and re-amortize the existing balance to reach a more affordable payment. The mortgage lender/servicer determines whether to do a modification or only a recast.

Loan Rescue Program (LR)

No changes

Principal Curtailment Program (PC)

No changes Program Funds may be exhausted by 11/01/2014.

Meet ALICE

By Nancy Lindman, Director of Public Policy & Partnerships, Michigan Association of United Ways

What if I if I eliminated all the extras from my budget – how much money would I need to live in Ingham County?  Before meeting ALICE, I really didn’t know what it would cost for just the very basics: food, transportation, housing, childcare and medical.  And while I was aware of Michigan’s poverty and unemployment rates, I was clueless about how many employed people in my community still did not make enough to cover the basics.

Now I know.  United Way’s ALICE Project has the facts on people making more than the official poverty level, but less than an individual or family needs to cover essential household expenses. What I learned from ALICE startled me - forty percent of Michiganders earn too little to cover basic necessities!

ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. ALICE represents those among us who are working yet struggle to afford the basics. ALICE is someone you meet every day. She/he is someone you depend on to care for your kids, fix your car and tend to your elderly relative. Despite working, often at more than one job, ALICE households struggle financially – and their kids, your neighbors and our community will pay the price in the long run.

The conditions that put forty percent of Michigan’s families into the ALICE demographic is our focus at United Way. We believe everyone deserves opportunities to have a good life: a quality education that leads to a stable job, enough income for a family to be financially stable, and good health.

Our hope is that the ALICE report ignites an informed conversation about the need for long-lasting changes. By shedding light on ALICE, we want to understand the magnitude of financial hardship on local, county and state levels and mobilize the caring power of people in public, private and nonprofit sectors to develop solutions.

Now that I’ve met her, I feel committed to helping ALICE.  I know that her fate and mine are intertwined.  ALICE opened my eyes – I invite you to read the Report, available here.

Funding Sources for Community Economic Development

Looking for grants in these places could bring you some unexpected funding! Photo credit: Pup Fan 

Below are some of the best places to use when you are seeking funding for community economic development in Michigan. CEDAM members can log in here to see more grant tools and our list of foundations and businesses that fund CED.

Every month CEDAM members also get a “Funding Alert” email containing relevant grants that are open for application. Typically there are 10-20 grants we find each month related to housing, placemaking, transportation, fresh food access, at-risk populations, development projects, main street improvements and so on. Though these particular examples are no longer available, below you will see some of the different varieties found in the funding alert:

Lansing Sense of Place $5,000 – $75,000
Placemaking projects that are taking place in the City of Lansing are eligible for funding from the City. Deadline is August 15, 2014.

Rural Home Rehab and Repair Up to $50,000
The USDA provides these grants to organizations and municipalities to assist low-income rural homeowners with home rehab and repair. Grants can also be used for rental units if the units are made available to low-income tenants. Deadline is July 24, 2014.

Gardening and Green Space $1,500
Miracle-Gro grants support community gardens and other green space projects. Deadline is February 17, 2014.

Note that the funding directory and funding alerts are only available to members joining as an organization and not an individual person.

Good luck!

Welcoming the Next Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Corps Members

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

- Margaret Mead

10,627. That’s the number of homeowners facing foreclosure served through intake and triage by AmeriCorps members in the 2012-2013 program year.

30,000. That’s the number of hours that MFPC members provided of service to their host organizations in the 2012-2013 program year.

Last week, the newest group of Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Corps (MFPC) members began their year of service with a certified housing counseling agency in Michigan. This group of people, some brand new and others returning for an additional term, will spend their time on a variety of projects that help people who are facing foreclosure. They will offer countless hours of volunteer recruitment, marketing and outreach and intake and triage services. They will be empathetic toward homeowners and support them as they prepare to see a housing counselor, making sure that their process is as complete and organized as possible.

Many AmeriCorps members are just entering the professional world, others are new to this particular field. It is a big job with a lot of warm and fuzzy payback, but, as in any job, can be overwhelming. In preparation for their orientation last week, members from the last program year offered some advice.

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click to view the pdf

What advice would you add?

Microenterprise Month: Putting the Heart in Michigan Communities

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By Marcy Kates, Coordinator of the Microenterprise Network of Michigan

Pretend you can fly. As you soar through a bright blue Michigan sky, skimming the tops of brightly-hued autumnal trees, you spot your community and your neighborhood. Dip down closer, see the tops of the houses and buildings. Tilt your wings and swoop over a commercial area near where you live—maybe it’s the actual Main Street, or perhaps it’s simply a nearby smaller commercial/business enclave.

Land somewhere at street level, and look around. What do you see? A barber shop or salon that’s been there for decades? A husband- and wife-owned bakery? A neighborhood bookshop? Perhaps a local coffee shop or teahouse? The list may go on and on. Take a walk through your local farmers market or craft mall, and you’ll meet many more of these individually owned businesses.  Imagine visiting any of these microenterprises, and listen to the conversations that occur on a daily basis. See commerce happening—money changing hands, with approximately eighty cents out of every dollar staying right there in the community.

Click to download the pdf

(Click to download the pdf)

Now imagine that these microenterprises don’t exist.
How does it change the character . . . the atmosphere . . . the HEART of your community? How would the relationships change—who might never meet and become acquainted? Would the same level of collaboration and network exist? Are there business partnerships that might never happen?

Last destination (for today at least)—think about your local organizations, including municipal boards and committees.  Who are the people who serve your community’s civic groups? Who are the Board Trustees, the Chairs, and the board members? Who do you see at every community event, ribbon cutting, and festival? Are they the same people who operate the smallest of businesses (or those who started small and grew)? In my small community, well over half of the people who regularly volunteer to serve on boards and help run our civic organizations are small business owners.

Microenterprise owners pour their hearts and their wallets into starting their businesses, at the same time often becoming the foundations of communities. This is why Microenterprise Month in Michigan is a celebration! We celebrate and appreciate these entrepreneurs.  Please comment and tell us about the special small businesses in your own communities!  #MIMicroBiz #MIMicroBizMonth

Utility Data & Energy Efficiency Pilot Programs

Organizations that utilize grants or other federal programs to fund projects understand that reporting and data are important, constant indicators of program monitoring and success. Gathering and processing data can be time consuming and tedious for everybody involved.

Making Data Collection Easier

A variety of software applications and processes are becoming readily available to make this process simpler and more accurate. Processing tenant utility data is one such example and MSHDA is working to reduce and simplify the approach through a pilot program in collaboration with New Ecology and WegoWise. This application pulls the data directly from DTE or Consumers Energy via a landlord portal, thereby eliminating the need to enter any data.

Read the full article by Catherine Schirm about the pilot program here.

Multifamily Energy Savings in Michigan

This application and pilot program ties into a bigger initiative to help increase energy efficiency and meet the needs of multifamily housing developments. This is a collaborative effort initiated by Consumers Energy formed a partnership with MSDHA, Michigan Energy Options, Elevate Energy and Michigan Saves. The program is designed to provide a one-stop-shop with a single point of contact to help you through the process of an initial energy analysis, contractor recommendations and implementation. Coupled with credits through Consumers Energy and loan options through Michigan Saves and others, it is an unbeatable deal for organizations to consider.

Listen to the discussion with Ed Love the Program Manager for the Consumers Energy Multifamily Energy Savers and also with Michigan Energy Options, and Todd O’Grady, the Michigan Saves Finance Consultant and hear more about what the pilot program involves and who qualifies.

Energy efficiency is coming to a head in Michigan. These are only a couple of programs available that help organizations meet their needs, and there are seemingly more every day. Let us know how we can help you find those resources and help you help your community.