January/February 1996

Shelter Shorts

New York Public Housing Turns 60

Sixty years after Frank LiCausi moved into the nation's first public housing project in New York City, he says of the development, "It was like an oasis in the desert, a jewel, and in many respects it still is."

Last December, the New York City Housing Authority celebrated the 60th anniversary of this development, called First Houses. First Houses is a success, an article in The New York Times noted, because this racially mixed development retains a mix of working tenants, retirees, and a small number of residents who collect welfare. Another factor that contributes to the project's success is its size. With 125 apartments, the building's residents know one another, which helps keep crime low. Two burglaries and three thefts were the only crimes reported in the development for 1993 and 1994.

LiCausi's story helps illustrate the overlooked successes in public housing. LiCausi has celebrated 60 wedding anniversaries and raised two children in First Houses, and his son even held his wedding reception there. LiCausi reminisces about Ping-Pong tournaments and card games in the building's recreation room. These are images too often missing from the portrait of public housing in the United States. More information, contact: The New York City Housing Authority, 212-306-3729.

Low-Income Community Credit Union

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Project Get Together has witnessed a broadening gap between mainstream financial institutions and the low-income community, Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News reported.This absence of cost-effective financial institutions in poor neighborhoods has turned the poor into prey for opportunistic small-loan and second-mortgage scam companies, costly check-cashing and wire transfer services, pawn shops, and other shady financial "services."

Project Get Together of Tulsa recently proposed to form a community development credit union (CDCU) for the city's low-income residents. CDCUs, like all credit unions, are nonprofit, mutually owned, and have limited membership bases. But rather than specific industries or fraternal organizations, CDCUs accept low-income neighborhoods or communities targeted for development. Once approved by the National Credit Union Administration, a CDCU can apply for federal low-income recognition. This status could allow non-members, like some of the city's larger banks, to become depositors, providing additional capital for consumer loans and satisfying community reinvestment laws. The credit union's community members would sit on the board of directors and lead the institution.

from the Housing Trust Fund Project

Seattle Voters Support Low-Income Housing

After a four-month "Yes for Homes" campaign, residents of Seattle, Washington, recently approved a $59.2 million, seven-year property tax levy to continue providing housing assistance for their low-income neighbors. The housing levy will cost an owner of a $150,000 home an average of $29 per year for seven years, two dollars less than the previous levy, which began in 1986 and expired last year. The new levy is expected to create or preserve more than 1,360 units of affordable housing and leverage $43-50 million more in funding.

A full-time staff of six and a 150-member steering committee ran the campaign. Organizers, who raised more than $207,000, credit the grassroots nature of the campaign. The campaign was endorsed by some 50 organizations; mobilized more than 800 volunteers; and received contributions from 750 individuals. More than one hundred pies, cakes, and muffins were made to support the campaign!

The campaign focused on outreach, leading to numerous newspaper, radio, and TV news stories; more than 35,000 phone calls to registered voters; at least 225,000 brochures sent to targeted households; and the display of 2,500 yard signs. On election day, 200 trained volunteers went to selected polling locations to make sure supporters turned out.

For information about the campaign contact: George Scarola, Fremont Public Association, 2326 Sixth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121; 206-727-0391. For housing trust fund information, contact: Mary Brooks, Housing Trust Fund Project, 1113 Cougar Court, Frazier Park, CA 93225; 805-245-0318.

Copyright 1996

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