Memphis Giveaways to Developers

Upton_and_BuehlerMemphis Even though I wasn’t speaking at the University of Memphis about Citizen Wealth until Monday evening, it was worth flying in the predawn on Sunday to be able to take advantage of Professor Ken Reardon’s offer to meet with twenty community leaders who wanted to talk over dinner about how to push Memphis to do both more and better in serving all the communities and constituencies in the Bluff City.  It was a treat to meet members of the faith community, organizers, lawyers, activists, and academics that had led efforts over the years, including Shelby County Inter-faith, a significant community organization here in the 80’s and 90’s, and RISE, an important campaign in Memphis targeted at predatory practices (music to my ears!).   I couldn’t believe we had been talking for four hours with the clock struck 11 PM!  The time had flown with so many ideas, issues, and things that needed to be done.

Many themes returned again and again, but one of the themes that echoed so loudly that it was impossible not to hear was the way that developers were literally having their way with the City of Memphis and Shelby County.  A more than $100 million dollar giveaway of public dollars for one developer of the Memphis Fairgrounds was averted with no community benefits agreement asked or offered for the nearby communities.  Planners in the afternoon told me story after story of developers benefiting from 15 year tax incremental financing (TIF) districts in the by-and-by hopes of community benefits without any efforts to assure community benefits on the front end.  It was enough to make my head spin.

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Suburban Affordable Housing Breakthrough

06rej583 Dauphine Island Westchester County, the affluent suburb outside of New York City, finally had to concede the obvious and admit that they had had not only allowed, but done nothing to prevent the creation of lily white communities throughout the County, and this amounts to racial segregation. They agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the Anti-Discrimination Center in NYC by buying or building $50 Million worth of affordable housing (about 650 units) seeded around the county. The settlement was partially brokered by officials of HUD. This is a breakthrough!

Fair and affordable housing is the threshold issue for creating increased racial diversity in communities, schools, and other institutions. The historic role of federal housing finance institutions in actually enabling and allowing racially restrictive and discriminatory covenants by financing the construction of huge suburbs particularly the Levittowns in Long Island and outside Philadelphia, which became the gold standards for suburban development, is one of the shameful chapters of government assisted racism in the 20th century. This settlement could be precedent setting, particularly if HUD gets on the stick and uses some of these terms as templates for other suburbs.

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