We are seeing the tremendous value to this trip. Yesterday we met with leaders from Push Buffalo and Open Buffalo and toured the Riverfront, Fruit Belt, and West Side neighborhoods. We could spend a week here the story is so rich and inspiring.
Even with Just 33% Loan Rates, Predatory Lenders Can Fleece You. Imagine 175%
Stephen Huggins received an unsolicited check for $1200 in the mail, but saw that it was a loan with a hefty 33% interest rate attached to it. No way, he thought. But a week later, his Chevy pickup was in the shop, and he didn’t have enough to pay for the repairs. Needing the truck to get to work, to get the kids to school, Huggins, retrieved the check cashed it and found out quickly why they call these folks predatory lenders.
Not even a year later, despite having made his payments, Mariner Finance, sued Huggins for $3,221.27. That included the original $1,200, plus an additional $800 a company representative later persuaded Huggins to take, plus hundreds of dollars in processing fees, insurance and other items, plus interest. To add insult to injury, he was also charged over $500 in the Mariner’s legal fees.
And when you explore who runs and profits from Mariner, you begin to understand why it is so important for the Democratic Party to sever ties completely from the banking and finance industries and begin to adopt a more progressive stance. According to Washington Post story: “Mariner Finance is owned and managed by a $11.2 billion private equity fund controlled by Warburg Pincus, a storied New York firm. The president of Warburg Pincus is Timothy F. Geithner, who, as treasury secretary in the Obama administration, condemned predatory lenders. The firm’s co-chief executives, Charles R. Kaye and Joseph P. Landy, are established figures in New York’s financial world. The minimum investment in the fund is $20 million.”
With a $20 million minimum investment required to become part of the fund, we are not talking about people who really need to exploit working class Americans, but they see an unregulated opportunity and exploit it and us. In a recent post, I wrote about how the US has vacillated from a largely unregulated free trade form of capitalism to a more controlled form of capitalism in which government trade policies protect large industries and the profits of the 1% at the expense working class and poor Americans. To read that post, click here. Over the past 50 years, whatever form of capitalism in current favor, one theme has been consistent: business and the 1% are protected and 90% of us are being savaged economically.
From the Post: “ ‘It would have been cheaper for me to go out and borrow money from the mob,’ Huggins said before his first court hearing in April..
This is what happens when government is organized around the interests of the elite. What can a community do about this? We found out yesterday in Buffalo. It will take us several posts to convey the multiple elements in place that represent people coming together to advance their priorities. But it will be well worth the time.
Open Buffalo and a Vision of Community Justice
Yesterday, Roxanne and I met first with Harper Bishop, Director of Equitable Development and then in the afternoon we toured the Riverfront and Fruit Belt neighborhoods of Buffalo before meeting with Christian, a community organizer from PUSH Buffalo who took us on a tour of West Buffalo. There is no way we can convey all we discovered yesterday in just one blog, but so much of what we absorbed is so relevant to our state and the local jurisdictions of NM, that we will do our best to unfold what we’ve learned today and in future posts. Suffice to say, we were tremendously impressed and inspired by a number of community organizations that has cohered into a strong coalition and built a base of power that is successfully forcing the local power structure to address the needs of historically under-served communities. They have a seat at the table and they know how to use it.
Bishop told us how Open Buffalo was launched when Open Society Foundations initially reached out to four community groups and offered it a planning grant. With that grant Coalition for Economic Justice, Partnership for the Public Good, PUSH Buffalo, and VOICE-Buffalo crafted the Open Buffalo plan through a broad-reaching, highly participatory community process with door-knocking, community events, focus groups, three working groups, a planning council, and an advisory committee. Local foundations, government officials, academics, labor and business leaders, activists, and residents all played key roles in shaping the plan.
A key take-away from this process: organizations and stakeholders aligned together under a single umbrella, to form a coalition that maximized its power and they galvanized and educated the community with door-to-door canvasing and issue-related teach-ins. In short, they organized, built and focused power on key socio-economic challenges and clarified the challenges facing their communities by listening to residents and then they crafted a People’s Platform built around strategies and policies to address those challenges. The image at left is Open Buffalo’s Plan’s logo, the fingerprints representing how everyone has had an impact and impression on that plan. Wonderful.
As explained by Bishop, one of their strategies, a largely defensive one, was launched with the Coalition for Economic Justice. High Road Economic Development Community First Alliance uses Community Benefit Agreements to clarify the role of major institutions within the community, starting with the Buffalo Niagra Medical Campus.
BNMC is both a huge medical campus and a driver of economic development in Buffalo and with this position comes considerable political clout. It also has a habit of spawning gentrification in the Fruit Belt and Allentown neighborhoods that surround the campus and as the huge number of employees working at the campus freely take virtually all the parking in the neighborhood, some form of regulation is necessary.
From a 2017 Op-Ed: “The medical campus is located on 120 acres in Buffalo, sandwiched between the Fruit Belt neighborhood to the east and Allentown to the west. When the new Children’s Hospital and SUNY at Buffalo medical school open later this year, there will be — as the The News editorial board notes — “an astounding number of people in a relatively small space.”
But the region’s largest newspaper is deluding itself and the public when it praises the BNMC’s various institutions for taking “a proactive approach” in getting the anticipated 15,000 employees to work each day. And it offers little comfort when it disingenuously proclaims, “The good news is that this matter (the potential for parking paralysis) is already on the radar screen of planners.”
The fact is that the BNMC board of directors acknowledged seven years ago in its 2010 Master Plan Update that “Increasingly, parking availability and traffic congestion are problematic for patients, visitors, staff and adjacent neighborhoods.” The 2010 document predicted that “[W]ithin the next few years, there will be a net deficit of nearly 3,000 spaces with demand from new development and the displacement of surface parking.”
Parking may not seem to be a major social justice issue, but when you are a senior with limited mobility and four bags of groceries who must get those groceries home walking 4-5 blocks on icy cement in sub freezing weather and piles of snow drifts, you are not speaking of a minor inconvenience. Given that BNMC went through with its Children’s Hospital development without addressing the need for 3000 more spaces, clearly, the powers that be were not considering the needs of Allentown and Fruit Belt neighbors. And so they slog through the snow or this summer the sweltering heat, for blocks laden with groceries and with children in tow.
A resident-focused solution to the problem, a residential parking permit system, is not an easy policy to enact as the state legislature must approve any such policy. In NY as in NM, local jurisdictions are severely limited in their ability to generate local regulations or tax and revenue policies, hence the need for a powerful coalition to build and use its power to advocate at state and local levels.
As we will describe in future posts, Open Buffalo and its partners are using Community Benefit Agreement framework to force BNMC and the City to respond to the under-served communities’ needs (defense). But they are not only playing defense in opposing gentrification and other encroachment on the harmony and health of under-served neighborhoods, they are playing offense by:
- Developing and building leadership with over 100 young and old residents graduating from a rigorous leadership development program;
- Organizing a Fruit Belt Community Land Trust that has already been endowed with 20 vacant properties; achieving a new homesteading policy that allows residents to purchase the properties on either side of their current residence for a dollar; and
- Building scores zero energy affordable housing throughout the West Side. And these are truly affordable units, at 30% Average Median Income.
Open Buffalo’s role in this is to provide leadership development, media and policy strategy and coordination, direct support, and assistance to social and economic justice organizations and campaigns, facilitates action-oriented community research, and raises the profile of and mobilizes funding for this important work.
I only wish I had more space and time to unfold the multiple layers of social justice work advanced by Open Buffalo and its partners. But that will have to come another day, as we are packed up and heading for Rochester NY to find out how they have replicated Cleveland’s Evergreen Collective and spawned a network of worker owned collectives in their city.
Paul & Roxanne