Thursday, December 29, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Do you follow media coverage of national officials and policy makers dealing with an issue you know? Lots of folks in Washington, DC get paid to do this. Way too often we wind up wondering: "What are these people thinking? Don't they know ....?"
I'm an Inside the Beltway veteran. I’ve got decades of experience helping local nonprofits across the country mount comprehensive efforts to create healthy, prosperous, equitable communities that stand the test of time. They have developed tens of thousands of affordable homes and apartments. In recent years, most of my work has taken me to rural America.
Along with my smart, engaged 90 year old mother, I’m increasingly distressed by the country’s failure to confront reality when it comes to adequate affordable housing for our aging population, many of whom do and will need it. Like it or not, 76 million Baby Boomers are coming! Every day this year and for the next 19 years, 10,000 Americans will turn 65. By 2020, there will be 10.2 million new households headed by individuals aged 55 to 74. By 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 or older. By 2050, nearly five percent of us will be 90 or older.
A tenant tends her plot at Desert Gardens, the first affordable apartments ever built for retired farmworkers, developed by the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition in Indio, CA.
Seniors aren't all rich or even financially comfortable. An Urban Institute study shows that in 2009, 34 percent, or one in three seniors, were poor or near poor. That's more than 13 million seniors. According to federal standards, housing is affordable when it costs 30 percent or less of income. Using this standard and the 2011 poverty line, a single poor senior should pay $361 or less per month. Are there many ‘decent homes in a suitable environment’ at this price where you live?
The Great Recession took and continues to take a heavy toll on older Americans. Retirement accounts have recovered some, but these shrank by 20 to 30 percent. Seventy percent of seniors own their own homes; about one in five owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. It's no accident that Florida and Nevada, retirement meccas, are ground zero for foreclosures.
Even when foreclosure isn't the issue, many seniors are trapped in homes they can't afford. They can't refinance or renovate because they can’t get loans. They can’t sell because buyers can't meet newly stringent credit criteria and appraisal standards. The rental market has tightened and rents are rising. Unemployment for workers 55 and more is usually lower than the rates for the rest of the workforce. While this is still true, rates for this group have doubled and it takes over 55s more time to find new jobs than other workers. Also, pension benefits are declining or disappearing.
Yet senior housing barely gets a mention, much less serious consideration, in high level discussions about the deficit. It's all about cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Where are seniors supposed to live? What is it going to cost? Who is going to make it happen? You can bet your bottom dollar that the for-profit private sector isn't going to meet the housing needs of poor and near poor seniors absent significant public incentives and subsidies.
This oncoming train wreck will damage rural people and places most. The proportion of seniors in the population is higher in rural than urban areas. It is growing due to an influx of retirees, many of whom are seeking lower cost living. Incomes are low and so are wages. More rural than urban seniors depend on Social Security and food stamps for their livelihoods. The supply of appropriate affordable housing falls far short. Rural seniors have a hard time ‘aging in place’, meaning ‘staying’ in their homes. More of their homes are isolated. Public transportation is sketchy or nonexistent. So service delivery is a bigger problem, everything from medical care to meals on wheels. Younger family members are often away in cities seeking better opportunities.
Do you ever wonder why people in Washington go around in circles? One big reason? They don't ask the rest of America for advice on their communities’ priority needs and how these can best be met. They don’t invest in the people’s ideas. There are literally thousands of nonprofit community developers and service providers ready, willing and able to tackle senior housing issues. Many have already proven what works in their communities. They pursue innovative solutions. But no-one calls, writes or sends money. Do you think we can do anything about this situation? After all, sooner or later, we hope that we all need senior housing.
Sandra (Sandy) Rosenblith, a lawyer, has worked for and with community-based developers across this country, delivering information, training, technical assistance and advocacy support and providing and monitoring grants, low cost loans and access to equity capital. She has also worked for every level of government as well as major foundations, including a federal stint helping draft the original Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations. Of special note, she founded and managed the national Rural and Mid-South Delta programs for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Currently, she directs Stand Up for Rural America, an advocacy initiative designed to help rural community developers gain the attention, resources and policy support their work deserves.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
The Leopold Center had produced a Local Food and Farm Plan mandated by the state legislature, with funding and policy recommendations to help build the local food economy. Counties stepped to the plate and contributed funds to build local food commerce, leadership coalesced to create a statewide non-profit food systems council, and in July 2011 the state appropriated funds to support recommendations found in the Iowa Food and Farm Plan.
In rural America, local food systems supported through farmers markets, roadside stands, and institutional and retail sales will continue to have some impact on local economies and increase food security in the region. Without a regional framework that includes interdependence with nearby micro or metropolitan areas, however, these local efforts may not have enough of an impact on the jobs, entrepreneurship, and innovation that rural America needs and that strategic investments will require.
In late May I moved to Lansing, Michigan, to become associate director at what will soon become the Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University. Our mission is to engage the people of Michigan, the United States, and the world in applied research, education, and outreach to develop regionally integrated, sustainable food systems. Look for the Center for Regional Food Systems to play a critical role leading the discussion about the challenges and benefits to developing these systems. We’ll conduct research, develop new outreach mechanisms, and build new and catalyze existing networks. Here are just a few questions that we hope to research and discuss:
Rich Pirog's research and collaborations on local and place-based foods, food networks and communities of practice, food value chains, and ecolabels has been publicized in magazines and media outlets across the globe, used by local food practitioners, and are often cited in books and college courses. In 2003, he received the Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award from Practical Farmers of Iowa, and in 2004, he received the Iowa State University College of Agriculture Award for Outstanding Achievement and Service.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Monday, October 31, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
Visit the RUPRI Rural Futures Lab here.
Images provided by the author.
Monday, October 3, 2011
- We insist on local staff with real ties to the community, reflecting the philosophy of Neil Tillotson, whose generosity created the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund. Mr. Tillotson believed we should personally know the people who are affected by our decisions.
- We engage existing and emerging leaders in the region in all levels of governance and decision making to build a pipeline of leadership for the Fund itself.
- We operate as a social capital broker, using several programs to strengthen “bridging social capital” across communities and sectors, and among those inside and outside of the region.
Decisions being made by today’s leaders will determine if Coös County heads toward a vibrant future or persistent poverty. Yet there are promising signs that our work together is paying off. New Carsey Institute research and our own network analysis suggest that the Tillotson Fund’s work to strengthen social capital has had a positive impact on efforts to advance regional economic initiatives. After years of tireless effort by nonprofit leaders, elected officials, and state and local agencies, Coös County is holding its own and moving forward:
- re-opening of a major manufacturing plant,
- ground-breaking on a key renewable energy project, and
- experiencing an uptick in tourism revenue for the first time in years.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Monday, September 12, 2011
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), recognizing these challenges, created the Core Based Statistical Area classification, designed to represent “functional regions” around urban areas. Counties are used as the basis of these areas. Counties are classified as:
Monday, August 29, 2011
From my work with entrepreneurial rural communities across the country, I'm convinced that youth are essential to real and lasting economic revitalization. Young people add much more than just numbers to a community:
- Many young people are entrepreneurial by nature with lots of energy. They start new businesses, and with the support of their community can transition existing businesses to the next generation.
- Young adults who move to your community are often well-educated, technology-oriented, and possess a variety of experiences, fresh ideas, and contacts that can be leveraged in a variety of ways to advance community and economic development.
- Young families purchase many goods and services that benefit local businesses, and they support local schools, libraries, and health care services.
- They build new or renovate properties to provide homes for their families, positively impacting the appearance of your community, property values and local tax revenues.
- Youth can be the spark of entrepreneurial energy that communities need to get on their feet and forge ahead, renewing optimism among adults as well. An example is an entrepreneurship program that encourages youth and young adults to start new businesses with the support of their community. In David City, Nebraska, an investment by the local community foundation in an entrepreneurship education curriculum several years ago resulted in a robust program for middle school to high school age students to develop their business ideas with the encouragement of the community. At the conclusion of a recent middle school entrepreneurship camp, I asked the participants how their experiences had impacted their views about staying or returning to their hometown in the future. Without hesitation, a 5th grade student responded, "You know, before this camp I didn't see many job opportunities here, but now I see a whole bunch of business opportunities!"
- Many young people have technology savvy, which can be a tremendous resource for helping existing businesses compete more effectively in our increasing networked economy. Or, they may start new businesses that use technology as a backbone for bringing new wealth and jobs to their community.
- For each alum a community attracts home, the actual impact on population is an increase of not one, but potentially three or more, as these young adults get married and have, on average, two children, as reflected in U.S. Census data. I have met many young couples in my travels where one spouse was from the local rural area and married a total newcomer. They moved back to begin their family where they felt safe with good schools for their children.
The good news is that our research also indicates that if just 5% to 15% more young people return home on a sustained basis, they can stabilize population loss due to outmigration, and help to revitalize their hometowns with their energy and entrepreneurial drive. This is due in large part to the 3:1 exponential impact young families have on population and their contributions to economic revitalization, noted previously.