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Approaches to Community Organizing and Their Relationship to Consensus Organizing

1.Bridging vs. Bonding 2.Trends Impacting Low-Income Communities

Purpose: This chapter defines community, civic engagement, and social capital, and their relationship to community organizing. Various approaches to community organizing, including consensus organizing, are discussed and compared.

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Approaches to Community Organizing and Their Relationship to Consensus Organizing

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Learning Objectives:

  • To define and discuss community, civic engagement and social capital and their relationship to community organizing.
  • To define and analyze traditional and current approaches to community organizing.
    • traditional and current approaches.

    • To analyze and compare various approaches to community organizing by applying them to specific circumstances and issues.

    Keywords: community, civic engagement, social capital, community organizing, power-based organizing, community building, locality development/civic organizing, social planning, women-centered/feminist organizing, consensus organizing

    Community, Civic Engagement, and Social Capital

    The word “community” can mean different things to different people. Community can be used to refer to communities of association (e.g., religious communities), gender, race, or geography. Cohen (1985) defines community as a system of norms, values, and moral codes that provide a sense of identity for members. Fellin (2001) describes a community as a group of people who form a social unit based on common location (e.g., city or neighborhood), interest and identification (e.g., ethnicity, culture, social class, occupation, or age) or some combination of these characteristics. In many community organizing approaches, geography is the determining factor for community, including “… people who live within a geographically defined area and who have social and psychological ties with each other and with the place where they live” (Mattessich, Monsey, & Roy, 1997, p. 6). This workbook uses a definition of community that emphasizes geography, including neighborhoods, and relationships, including social and psychological connections and networks.

    Scholars as far back as Alexis de Tocqueville (Stone & Mennell, 1980) have emphasized the engagement of the community as a focal point of a healthy democracy. More recently, scholars and researchers have argued that civic engagement and participation are decreasing, jeopardizing our democratic system. Etzioni (1993) warned that declining civic engagement and responsibility were eroding the fabric of American society. Putnam’s (2000Bowling Alone provided statistical evidence of the decline in citizen participation over the past 50 years and its negative implications for democratic life. However, Smock (2004) argues that a “significant portion of our nation’s population has always been excluded from meaningful participation in the democratic arena” (p. 5). Furthermore, genuine political equality must be built on equal access to voting, as well as direct participation in public decision making.

    Putnam’s (2000) solution to the erosion of civic engagement involves rebuilding the social fabric or social capital of communities. Social capital is defined as “… the connections among individuals—social networks and norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” (p. 19). Putnam argues that social capital is important for government effectiveness, economic health, and community well-being. Social capital and networks also allow ordinary people to engage in the political process, work together to solve common problems, improve the quality of life, and take advantage of opportunities (Smock, 2004). Furthermore, the role of social capital in understanding and strengthening community organizing and development has been noted by several scholars (Gittell & Vidal, 1998Hornburg & Lang, 1998Keyes, Schwartz, Vidal, & Bratt, 1996), including understanding how community organizing facilitates social capital, developing supportive social networks for the production of affordable housing, and building connections that low-income communities may need in the face of diminishing federal responsibility. Temkin and Rohe (1998) found that social capital is a key factor determining neighborhood stability over time, including the overall sense of attachment and loyalty among residents, and the capacity of residents to leverage their relationships and networks into effective community action.

    Table 1.1 summarizes the types and functions of social capital. Putnam makes an important distinction between two types of social capital: bonding and bridging (Putnam, 2000). Bonding social capital involves dense social networks among small groups of people that bring them closer together. It is inward-looking, tends to reinforce exclusive identities and homogeneous groups, and accumulates in the daily lives of families and people living in communities through the course of informal interactions. Bridging social capital is composed of loosely connected networks of large numbers of individuals typically linked through indirect ties. It is outward-looking, connects communities and people to others, and encompasses people across diverse social groups and/or localities. Temkin and Rohe (1998) also found that both bonding and bridging social capital are needed to create positive community change.

    Table 1.1 Types and Functions of Social Capital

    Definition Example
    Types

    Putnam (2000)

    Bonding Dense social networks among small groups of people linked through direct, strong ties Members of a local church

    Members of a local block club or organization

    Bridging Loosely connected networks of large numbers of individuals linked through indirect ties Metropolitan bank investing in the work of community development corporation (CDC)
    Functions

    Smock (2004)

    Instrumental Ties Based on the expectation of tangible, material benefits Residents joining the CDC to develop and secure low-interest loans or grants for housing rehabilitation
    Affective Ties Based on personal and emotional attachments Residents joining a block club to attend regular social gatherings and get to know their neighbors
    Normative Ties Based on a shared sense of values, principles, obligations Joining a national organization committed to social justice for the poor and oppressed

    Smock (2004) further distinguishes social capital and networks by their substance and function, including instrumental, affective, and normative ties. Instrumental ties are based on the expectation of tangible, material benefits; affective ties are based on personal and emotional attachments; and normative ties are based on a shared sense of values, principles, and/or obligations. Community organizing approaches differ in how they facilitate social capital and networks, the forms they take, and the functions they serve. However, they share the same goal: to develop social capital and networks in an attempt to address the erosion of civic engagement, particularly among those typically left out of the decision-making process. Community organizing provides a mechanism for ordinary citizens to impact public decision making in order to improve their social and economic conditions.

    Community Organizing Approaches

    Table 1.2 summarizes the major approaches to community organizing, including consensus organizing, by synthesizing approaches defined by Rothman (1968, 1996, 2001) and Smock (2004). Approaches and models of community organizing have evolved over the last century; however, initial approaches can be traced back to Saul Alinsky (19461971), who is seen as the founder of community organizing. His approach to community organizing, called conflict organizing, was the dominant form of community organizing practiced over the past century and it continues to be practiced today (Eichler, 2007Smock, 2004). Saul Alinsky (1971) incorporated the idea of self-interest as a motivating factor for community involvement. The goal of conflict organizing was empowerment through the development of People’s Organizations in which regular people with similar self-interests would come together and confront and make demands on the power structure to create improvements for the community (Eichler, 2007Smock, 2004).

    Table 1.2 Comparing Community Organizing Approaches and Consensus Organizing

    Social Action/Power Based Social Action/Transformative Locality Development/Civic Organizing Social Planning Community Building Women-Centered/Feminist Consensus Organizing
    Theory of Change/Goals Build/shift power; build clout to represent interests Radically restructure power and institutions Restore social order/control; social integration Develop expert solutions to problems Strengthen the social fabric; connect to outside resources Link private women/family and public issues Power creation based on mutual self-interest
    Organizing/Change Strategy Organize residents to confront power structure Develop broad-based movement for social change Create informal forums for residents Solve substantive social/economic problems Develop legitimacy; build on the assets of the community Build women’s leadership; make public responsive Parallel organizing among residents and power structure
    Tactics and Techniques Conflict and confrontation; direct action and negotiation Popular education, critical thinking, protest, symbolic action Develop vehicles for informal and formal social control Gather data about problems and develop solutions Rebuild community with comprehensive plans/programs; discussion/dialogue Shared leadership, decisionmaking, and responsibility; mutual support Build relationships and partnerships based on mutual self-interest
    Leadership/Governance Broad people’s organization run by resident leaders Resident organizations run by a core group of leaders Open and unstructured forums run by residents Formal organizations, not necessarily with residents Collaborative partnership of neighborhood stakeholders Highly inclusive, resident-run organizations based on equality Communityrun organizations; organize power structure as partner
    View of Power Community lacks power; take power from the public sphere Power structure disempowers low-income residents; challenge power Power structure is a potential partner; share power Power structure as employers/sponsors, and coordinators Power structure is a potential partner; share power Power structure is potential partner; share power Power structure is potential partner; create and share power
    View of Public Sphere External target of action; oppressors to coerce/pressure External target of action; alter current framework; conflict Use official channels to secure services Power structure initiates change; collaborator Develop consensual partnerships with the power structure Interpersonal relationships with power structure Link selfinterest of public sphere to community
    Social Capital/Networks Bridging social capital based on instrumental ties Bonding/bridging social capital based on normative ties Bonding social capitalaffective/instrumental ties Bridging social capital based on normative ties Bridging social capital based on normative ties Mainly bonding, some bridging—affective ties Bonding and bridging—affective/instrumental ties
    Role of the Practitioner Broker, trainer, advocate, agitator Trainer, negotiator, advocate Often no staff; when there is staff, role is a coordinator Fact gatherer and analyst; program implementer Coordinator, technically skilled leader, teacher Enabler, teacher, supporter, problem solver Facilitator, analyst, strategist, broker, connector
    Ultimate Outcomes Alter balance of power; change distribution of resources Shift terms of public debate, alter framework of public sphere Connect residents with government; undermine patronage system Creation of solutions to substantive problems Vehicle for comprehensive planning; impact public priorities Create familyfocused, resident-run, communitybased programs Leadership and partnerships developed; tangible results

    Social Action

    Today’s social action models have their roots in conflict organizing. Social action approaches assume the existence of an aggrieved or disadvantaged segment of the population that needs to be organized to make demands on the larger community for increased resources or equal treatment (Rothman, 1995). The goals of social action include making fundamental changes in the community, such as redistributing resources and gaining access to decision making for marginal groups, and changing legislative mandates, policies, and practices of institutions.

    Smock (2004) distinguishes between power-based and transformative social action models (see Table 1.2). Power-based organizers believe there is a power imbalance and they must work to shift or build power. However, transformative models believe that the power structure/system is fundamentally flawed, and they work to radically restructure it. Power-based models emphasize bridging social capital based on instrumental ties and individual self-interest. Transformative models facilitate social capital based on normative ties that is bonding (e.g., among small groups of residents) and bridging (e.g., with groups of activists and organizations outside their neighborhood based on a shared ideological vision).

    Examples of national organizations using social action approaches today include the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), which was created by Saul Alinsky; ACORN (Association of Communities Organizations for Reform Now); and the Midwest Academy. Smock provides examples of organizations that utilize power-based (e.g., West Ridge Organization of Neighbors in Chicago) and transformative organizing approaches (e.g., Justice Action Group). While social action is the primary form of organizing used by these organizations, it is important to note that many have adapted their social action approaches over time. For example, the IAF uses relational organizing strategies. Chambers (2003) explains that under Alinsky, community organizing meant to “pick a target, mobilize, and hit it” (p. 46). However, under the modern IAF, the approach is “connect and relate to others” (p. 6). With relational organizing, the organizer builds relationships and connects to individuals around their interests first, and then picks targets and mobilizes (Chambers, 2003).

    Locality Development/Civic Organizing

    Another form of community organizing is the locality development/civic model (see Table 1.2). Locality or community development is a neighborhood-based strategy used to engage a broad range of key stakeholders in developing goals and taking civic action (Rothman, 2001). The goals of locality/community development are to build the capacity of community residents to solve problems and foster social integration, including the development of harmonious relationships among diverse people (Rothman, 2001). Community development corporations are examples of organizations that use locality development. Smock’s (2004) civic model of organizing is similar to locality development; however, the main goal is to restore social order and social control by creating informal forums for residents to discuss issues and concerns and partnering with the public sphere to address those concerns. Civic organizations facilitate bonding social capital based on affective (e.g., small homogeneous groups of residents) and instrumental ties (e.g., sense of collective identity and cooperative action). While self-interest is the initial motivating factor for involvement, personal relationships develop as members work together on common issues that go beyond purely personal concerns. The Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy is an example of a program that uses the civic approach to community organizing (Smock, 2004).

    Social Planning

    As seen in Table 1.2, social planning is a form of community organizing that focuses a technical process of problem solving regarding substantive social problems that utilizes the expertise of professionals (Rothman, 2001). The goals of social planning include the design of formal plans and policy frameworks for delivering goods and services to people who need them (Rothman, 2001). The power structure itself initiates change as employers and sponsors of comprehensive planning efforts aimed at addressing substantive social and economic problems. Social planning facilitates bridging social capital based on normative ties. The focus is on the interests of participating agencies and the community at large, rather than the individual self-interest of residents. Examples of organizations that facilitate social planning are local community planning departments and United Way agencies.

    Community Building

    Another model of community organizing is community building, which encompasses elements of both locality development and social planning approaches (see Table 1.2). Community building focuses on strengthening the social and economic fabric of communities by connecting them to outside resources (Smock, 2004). The goal is to build the internal capacity of communities by focusing on their assets/strengths, and engaging a broad range of community stakeholders to develop high-quality and technically sound comprehensive plans (Smock, 2004). Community building facilitates bridging social capital by creating social networks among large numbers of agencies and institutions based on normative ties (i.e., a shared vision of the common good of the community). The focus is on the identifying the common interests of agencies who have a stake in the neighborhood. An example of a community building approach is the Asset-Based Community Development Institute founded by Kretzman and McKnight (1984).

    Women-Centered/Feminist Organizing

    The women-centered/feminist model challenges the traditional separation between the private lives of women and families and the public sphere (Smock, 2004). Elements of both locality development and social action are included in this model. The locality development aspects of the model are encompassed in feminist concepts, including caring and nurturance, democratic processes, inclusiveness, respect, and skill/leadership development and utilization (Rothman, 1996Smock, 2004). The social action aspects of the model include a desire for fundamental cultural and political change in the patriarchal system by making the public sphere more responsible and creating community-run, family-friendly programs (Rothman, 1996Smock, 2004). The goal is to create balanced power relationships through democratic processes, and relationships are built through understanding and responsibility rather than individual self-interest (Eichler, 2007). Women-centered models facilitate primarily bonding social capital (e.g., small social networks of women) based on affective, intensely personal ties (Smock, 2004). Bridging social capital is also developed by fostering bonds between small networks of women and external institutions and communities. Smock describes several examples of women-centered/feminist organizations, including the Templeton Leadership Circle in Portland, Oregon.

    Defining Consensus Organizing and Comparing it with Other Approaches

    The focus of this workbook is on consensus organizing. Table 1.2 describes the major components of the model. Consensus organizers believe that power can be created, shared, and harnessed for the mutual benefit of communities and the external power structure. Consensus organizing uses a technique called parallel organizing in which community organizers mobilize and bring together the interests within the community, as well as the political, economic, and social power structure from outside the community (Chaskin, Brown, Venkatesh, & Vidal, 2001Eichler, 2007). The goal of consensus organizing is the development of deep, authentic relationships and partnerships among and between community residents and stakeholders, and members of the external power structure to facilitate positive and tangible community change. Eichler argues that consensus organizers recognize the value and power of engaging honest and dedicated people from both the community and the power structure.

    Consensus organizing encompasses elements of several of the community organizing approaches described above, but is also different from these approaches in several ways. Similar to locality development and community building, consensus organizing focuses on the community’s assets or resources, and engages a broad range of stakeholders from the community, including residents, local faith-based organizations and businesses, schools, and other organizations. However, consensus organizers simultaneously identify and engage a core group of members of the external power structure who could help and support the community. Consensus organizing functions like power-based models in its focus on developing the leadership of a core group of individuals in the community who are respected, but may not currently hold leadership positions. However, in contrast to conflict or power-based models that tend to work primarily through established organizational networks (e.g., churches) to engage large numbers of residents, consensus organizers build a core group of new leaders and organizations with broad representation by cutting across lines of existing neighborhood interests, leaders, and organizations (Gittell & Vidal, 1998). Furthermore, consensus organizers seek to establish and build the capacity of community-controlled local organizations that cross racial, ethnic, and class lines and bring together residents, as well as other community stakeholders such as local social service agencies, businesses, and institutions, including hospitals and schools (Gittell & Vidal, 1998). Similar to women-centered/feminist models, these local organizations foster shared leadership, decision making, and responsibility, and create community-based programs that improve the quality of life of the community.

    Similar to Saul Alinsky and the power-based models, consensus organizing incorporates the concept of individual self-interest as motivator for change; however, consensus organizers harness the individual self-interest of both residents and members of the power structure for the mutual gain of the community (Beck & Eichler, 2000). Furthermore, conflict-based, power-based, or transformative organizers believe power must be taken, shifted, or restructured using confrontational, aggressive, in-your-face tactics, while consensus organizers believe power can be shared and created through dialogue and the development of strategic partnerships based on mutual self-interest (Eichler, 2007Smock, 2004). Furthermore, the power structure does not have be forced to act in ways that support community change, but can be engaged and organized in support of social justice goals (Beck & Eichler, 2000).

    Consensus organizers facilitate both bonding and bridging social capital based on affective and instrumental ties. Consensus organizers build both bonds and bridges within low-income communities, and foster bridges between residents and other community stakeholders and members of the external power structure (Gittell & Vidal, 1998). Dense, personal relationships are developed among residents and other community stakeholders and between residents and members of the power structure based on mutual self-interest. Bridges between low-income communities and the external power structure are intended to go beyond providing charitable contributions and other types of investment to include technical and political support for low-income communities (Gittell & Vidal, 1998). Consensus organizers believe the desire for individual gains and benefits (e.g., self-interest) can be harnessed as a motivation for improving the community, and therefore relationships are built on instrumental ties that are both personal and communal. Thus, the goal of consensus organizing is to develop and knit together the interests of the “wealthy and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the policy maker and the consumer” (Beck & Eichler, 2000, p. 93). The deeper and wider the partnership, the greater the capacity for community change.

    Examples of organizations developed through the consensus organizing model will be discussed throughout this workbook. One example is the Consensus Organizing Demonstration Project, a multi-site community organizing effort to form community development corporations spearheaded by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation in 1991 (Chaskin et al., 2001). Current examples of consensus organizing projects include the Price Community Builders program, and the Fostering Community Connections program sponsored by the Consensus Organizing Center at San Diego State University.

    The Conceptual Model for Consensus Organizing

    Figure 1.1 illustrates the conceptual model for consensus organizing. At the heart of the model is the development of social capital and networks among and between residents and members of the external power structure, and the creation of opportunities for positive community change. The activities on the left side of the model lead to the short-term, intermediate, and long-term outcomes in the middle and right-hand side of the diagram. The major activities of the consensus organizer include analyzing and defining the self-interest and potential contributions of residents and other community stak-holders, as well as members of the power structure. They do this mainly through the community analysis, which will be described in detail in Section III of the workbook. Consensus organizers also analyze information gathered through the community analysis, engage the community in developing ideas and strategies for improving their community, and secure their commitment to act on their ideas. Finally, the consensus organizer’s key role is to build in-depth relationships among and between residents, stakeholders, and members of the external power structure through deliberate dialogue and collaboration. The consensus organizer is the initial bridge between the community and external resources, building connections based on mutual self-interest, ideas, and energy.

    Figure 1.1 The Consensus Organizing Model

    The short-term and intermediate outcomes of consensus organizing include trust, confidence, and awareness of community strengths and assets among residents and external resources, developed through mutual self-interest and awareness. A resident-driven agenda also emerges that both residents and members of the external power structure can embrace and support. The long-term outcomes of consensus organizing include the development of leadership among residents, stakeholders, and members of the external power structure, and the creation and sharing of power and partnerships based on mutual self-interest and consensus. A major outcome of consensus organizing is that real community change occurs, producing tangible economic, physical, and/or social changes in poor communities. In summary, consensus organizing builds on, extends, and goes beyond other models of organizing to build dynamic partnerships among both residents and power brokers to create tangible community change that can be owned and celebrated by everyone involved.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What are some examples of bridging and bonding social capital from your everyday experiences? How is an understanding of bridging and bonding social capital helpful in understanding social networks? How would you explain social capital to someone else?
    2. Which of the community organizing approaches explained in this chapter appeals the most to you? Which one would you be more likely to use and why?
    3. Briefly explain the main differences between consensus organizing and the community organizing models presented in this chapter. What are the main similarities?
    4. How might you utilize consensus organizing in solving problems and issues that you are aware of through your own experiences (e.g., personal, work, volunteer)?
    5. What are the main activities involved in consensus organizing? What experiences have you had in carrying out similar types of activities? What outcomes resulted from your activities? How were your outcomes similar to and/or different from the outcomes of consensus organizing?

    Case Study Exercises

    Instructions: The following case studies present actual community organizing projects developed using social action/power-based and consensus organizing models. The purpose of this exercise is to analyze the major goals, strategies, tactics, and components of each of these models. Break into small groups to read each case study and answer the questions that follow. Afterwards, have a large group discussion about your answers.

    Case Study A: Social Action/Power-Based Organizing: ACORN—Organizing Workfare Workers in Los Angeles, CA

    The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is a national social action group made up of low- and moderate-income families working to promote strong communities and social justice issues, including housing, schools, neighborhood safety, health care, job conditions, and more. It was founded in 1970 and currently works in 75 cities in the United States, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and Peru (ACORN, n.d.).

    After the passage of welfare reform in 1996 (Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act [PRWORA]), ACORN organized workfare workers in Los Angeles from 1996 to 1998, using both labor and community organizing strategies to build an organization called the Workforce Workers Organizing Committee (WWOC; Brooks, 2001). Labor strategies included going to work sites and recruiting members, and asking them to sign cards authorizing ACORN/WWOC to represent them in labor negotiations with the local Department of Public Social Services (DPSS; Brooks, 2001). The community organizing strategies involved planning meetings, large membership meetings and direct actions on targets to make demands (Brooks, 2001).

    ACORN was actually formed out of the National Welfare Rights Organization, so organizing around workfare and welfare issues brought ACORN’s organizers back to their roots in developing campaigns to address welfare issues (Brooks, 2001). ACORN organizers were concerned about how PRWORA would affect individuals receiving welfare because they felt POWRA was exploitative of low-income workers, and that the work requirements could create a pool of free labor displacing full-time workers (Brooks, 2001). The time limits and work requirements imposed by PRWORA could also become mandated for General Assistance and other workfare programs. Workfare workers interviewed during the recruitment felt that work-fare had a stigma attached to it, their wages were often two to three times lower than those of other workers doing the same work, and workfare didn’t help them get wage-based employment. Furthermore, workfare workers faced health and safety issues on the job, inadequate training and equipment, and lack of support services (Brooks, 2001).

    ACORN organizers visited 500 workfare sites to interview workers about their concerns and recruit them into WWOC (Brooks, 2001). Then these workers were invited to attend the WWOC meetings and events to discuss the issues, strategies, tactics, and targets. After this, a meeting was held to elect the officers of WWOC and develop an action plan to address the issues of concern about workfare. Within a week of this meeting, a direct action event was held, which targeted workfare supervisors at a local hospital, resulting in a series of demands being met by the supervisors (i.e., workfare workers would have the same uniforms, bathrooms, and cafeteria discount as other workers) (Brooks, 2001). Over the course of the year and a half, WWOC held weekly planning meetings, monthly membership meetings, and direct actions. A democratic structure was used where members participated “in all activities and decisions made by and for the organization” (Brooks, 2001, p. 81). In addition, members also participated in leadership training.

    ACORN and WWOC also engaged allies for the effort, including clergy, churches, civil and immigrant rights organizations, labor unions, legal and community organizations, and some Hollywood celebrities (Brooks, 2001). This was important because of the political climate surrounding PRWORA, which was primarily anti-welfare-focused, and the nature of the targeted constituency, who were mostly able-bodied males without dependents. These allies supported the campaign by endorsing it, assisting with research, speaking at actions, and getting other people to turn out for events (Brooks, 2001).

    Multiple groups were targeted as part of the campaign, given the bureaucratic and political nature of the issue (Brooks, 2001). The targets included: workfare employers/sites, DPSS offices (personal target was the director of the local office), and the LA Board of Supervisors (e.g., who controlled DPSS budgets, priorities, and appointments of directors). The tactics at the direct actions included making demands, chants and songs, street theater and props, disturbing business as usual, displaying banners, signs, and flyers, and meeting with the press (Brooks, 2001). More than 30 direct actions were held, which won ACORN/WWOC a seat at the table for negotiating sessions about workfare conditions and policy decisions.

    The campaign led to several substantive changes in the workforce/General Relief polices in Los Angeles, including a grievance procedure, a brochure listing clients’ rights and responsibilities, improved health and safety regulations, more equitable treatment at workfare sites, and priority hiring lists for workfare workers by private and public employers (Brooks, 2001). In addition, the General Relief workfare program was changed into a new program similar to other welfare programs (e.g., Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF) and offered assistance with job search, education, training, and/or workfare (Brooks, 2001). The following factors were considered key to their success: “(1) the depth and breadth of the membership,” “(2) winning the moral high ground” (e.g., getting support of clergy and other community leaders), “(3) persistence,” and “(4) the combination of labor and community organizing tactics” (Brooks, 2001, p. 78).

    Questions About the ACORN Case Study

    1. What were the goals of ACORN’s organizing campaign?

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    2. How were members of the external power structure viewed? Did these views change during the course of the campaign?

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    3. What was the problem? What were the strategies and tactics used to solve the problem?

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    4. Do you think that social capital/networks were developed as a result of this organizing campaign? If so, explain.

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    5. What were the outcomes of this organizing campaign?

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    6. What other issues would be suitable for a social action/power-based organizing approach? Please give one example and explain why.

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    Case Study B: The Evolution of Consensus Organizing: Perry Hilltop Citizens Council, Pittsburgh, PA

    Mike Eichler, the founder of consensus organizing, developed the model while working as a Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) volunteer in the Perry Hilltop neighborhood in Pittsburgh in the mid-1970s (Eichler, 2007). The neighborhood association was concerned about the activities of local real estate companies, which were trying to generate commissions in the neighborhood by engaging in “blockbusting.” This practice involved destabilizing the neighborhood and encouraging resident turnover by stirring up fears that the racial balance would change and property values would plummet. Eichler, who was trained in conflict organizing through the Industrial Areas Foundation, responded the way conflict organizers are trained to respond: He organized residents to direct their hostility and put pressure on the real estate company responsible for the blockbusting.

    Black and White neighborhood residents were trained as “testers” in order to prove that the blockbusting was occurring (Beck & Eichler, 2000). The testers went separately to the blockbusting real estate company to say they were looking for a home, giving the agent the same information about their income, savings, credit rating, family size, and housing desires (Eichler, 2007). White testers were steered to suburbs that were virtually all White, and when they asked about seeing a home in Perry Hilltop, the agent steered them away from the neighborhood. The agent steered the Black testers away from the suburbs and encouraged them to look at homes in Perry Hilltop (Eichler, 2007). With this disparaging information, residents picketed the real estate broker, sued the company, and eventually won the lawsuit (Beck & Eichler, 2000). The company was sued for $5,000; however, their sales in the neighborhood had grown significantly during this time, making the $5,000 a drop in the bucket compared to the revenue they gained from increased sales (Beck & Eichler, 2000).

    Eichler realized that if the residents wanted to make real changes in their neighborhood, they would need a new approach (Beck & Eichler, 2000Eichler, 2007). His solution, which was to get residents involved in selling real estate, energized the residents. With their special knowledge of the neighborhood and their neighbors, the residents would have a natural advantage in the marketplace, and they could use their status as realtors to dispel the cloud of suspicion and fear that made blockbusting possible. However, they discovered that real estate agents couldn’t operate without a broker who had held a license for three years (Beck & Eichler, 2000). Eichler assisted the residents in developing several lists that they used to negotiate with potential brokers, which included the neighborhood’s self-interests and strengths, and the broker’s self-interests, noting areas of overlap (Beck & Eichler, 2000). They approached the biggest brokerage in the area and presented the proposal; however, the owner felt that property values in the neighborhood had not bottomed out yet (Eichler, 2007). The owner of the brokerage said he wanted to wait at least three years until property values in the neighborhood had bottomed out. After that, he said he would help sell the properties very cheaply to yuppies, who could then gentrify the neighborhood. While the residents were clearly disappointed, the owner’s response energized them and made them realize they now had to do something to prevent this scenario from happening. Having at least been treated with the blunt honesty appropriate among businesspeople discussing a serious business proposal, the residents were ready to try again.

    The next brokerage that the residents approached accepted their proposal (Eichler, 2007). This broker was smaller and had more modest goals than the first one, and felt he could make money by working with the residents. Residents documented their efforts in the neighborhood newsletter, and everyone got involved in helping the four residents who agreed to become real estate agents. The four residents studied for and passed the real estate exam the first time even though the average failure rate was 75% (Beck & Eichler, 2000). The brokerage opened an office in a renovated building in the neighborhood, with the four resident brokers as staff. People in the neighborhood helped the agents get business by keeping their ears open for families who were planning to leave the neighborhood for normal versus racial reasons. Because the agents were residents themselves, their credibility also helped instill confidence in potential buyers. However, the lenders were reluctant to lend because they were worried about the stability of the neighborhood. In addition, the appraisers were assigning much lower values to the homes than the asking prices.

    Discovering that local banks consistently refused to lend funds to prospective buyers, the owner of the brokerage was angry and worked with the neighborhood brokers to address this issue (Beck & Eichler, 2000). They decided to approach the appraisers from a position of strength, letting them know about the value of the improvements neighborhood residents had recently made to their homes (Eichler, 2007). As a result, the appraiser concluded that the true values of the property were above the loan amounts, and the bank began making loans. The resident real estate agents also worked to end the blockbusting-induced panic by spreading the word of their own successes. As neighborhood homes sold at respectable prices, the fears of other residents about the value of their own properties diminished. In the end, the neighborhood stabilized and the blockbusting ended. The neighborhood remains racially mixed and a pleasant place to live to this day. Twenty years later, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette highlighted Perry Hilltop as one of the best racially mixed neighborhoods in the city (Eichler, 2007).

    Questions About the Consensus Organizing Case Study

    1. What were the initial goals in solving the “blockbusting” problem in Perry Hilltop? How similar and/or different were these goals after the lawsuit was successfully won?

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    2. How were power and members of the external power structure viewed initially? After the lawsuit?

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    3. What was the problem? What were the initial strategies and tactics used to solve the problem? How did the definition of the problem and the initial strategies and tactics change after the lawsuit?

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    4. What social capital/networks were developed using the initial strategies to solve the blockbusting problem? What social capital/networks were developed later using consensus organizing strategies?

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    5. What were the outcomes of the initial campaign to solve the blockbusting problem? How did these outcomes differ from the outcomes achieved using consensus organizing strategies?

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    6. What other issues would be suitable for a consensus organizing approach? Please give one example and explain why.

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    Field Exercise

    Instructions: Choose one of the following exercises to conduct in the field. You will build on and continue this exercise in the next two chapters of the workbook. Please answer the questions that follow for the field exercise you have chosen.

    • Interview a community resident to find out about their community and an issue or challenge their community is currently facing. Choose an appropriate community organizing approach that you believe would be most helpful in intervening to address this problem or issue and describe why.
    • Find an article from your local newspaper on a problem in a poor neighborhood. Choose an appropriate community organizing approach that you believe would be most helpful in intervening to address this problem or issue in this neighborhood and describe why.

    Answer the following questions to guide you in completing this exercise:

    1. What issue, challenge, or problem did you discover?

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    2. What has been done so far to address this issue? How do the efforts used to address this problem so far fit with the community organizing models you’ve learned about in this chapter? For example, are the strategies being used similar to any of the strategies that might be used by any of the models?

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    3. What community organizing approach would you use to address this problem? Is it different that what is being done now? If so, how? Why would you use this strategy?

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    Web Resources

    References

    ACORN. (n.d.). “Who Is ACORN.” Retrieved August 2, 2006, from: http://www.acorn.org/index.php?id=2703.

    Alinsky, S. (1946). Reveille for radicals. New York: Vintage Books.

    Alinksy, S. (1971). Rules for radicals. New York: Random House.

    Beck, E. L., & Eichler, M. (2000). Consensus organizing: A practice model for community building. Journal of Community Practice, 8(1), 87–102.

    Brooks, F. (2001). Innovative organizing practices: ACORN’s campaign in Los Angeles organizing workfare workers. Journal of Community Practice, (9)4, 65–85.

    Chambers, E., with Cowan, M. (2003). Roots for radicals: Organizing for power, action, and justice. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group.

    Chaskin, R. J., Brown, P., Venkatesh, S., and Vidal, A. (2001). Building community capacity. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

    Cohen, A. P. (1985). The symbolic construction of community. New York: Tavistock Publications and Ellis Horwood Limited.

    Eichler, M. (2007). Consensus organizing: Building communities of mutual self-interest. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

    Etzioni, A. (1993). The spirit of community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    Fellin, P. (2001). The community and the social worker (3rd ed.). Itasca, IL:F. E. Peacock Publishers.

    Gittell, R., & Vidal, A. (1998). Community organizing: Building social capital as a development strategy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

    Hornburg, S. P., & Lang, R. E. (1998). What is social capital and why is it important to public policy? Housing Policy Debate, 9(1), 1–16.

    Keyes, L., Schwartz, A., Vidal, A., & Bratt, R. (1996). Networks and nonprofits: Opportunities and challenges in an era of federal devolution. Housing Policy Debate, 7(2), 21–28.

    Kretzman, J., & McKnight, J. (1984). Community organizing in the 80s: Toward a post-Alinsky agenda. Social Policy (Winter), 15–17.

    Mattessich, P., Monsey, B., & Roy, C. (1997). Community building: What makes it work: A review of the factors influencing successful community building. St. Paul, MN: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.

    Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    Rothman, J. (1996). The interweaving of community intervention approaches. Journal of Community Practice, 3 (3/4), 69–99.

    Rothman, J., (2001). Approaches to community intervention. In J. Rothman, J. Erlich, & J. Tropman (Eds.), Strategies of community intervention: Macro practice pp. 27-64 (6th ed.). Itasca, IL: F. E. Peacock Publishers, Inc.

    Rothman, J. (1968). Three models of community organization practice. National conference on social Welfare, social work practice, 1968. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Smock, K. (2004). Democracy in action: Community organizing and urban change. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Stone, J., & Mennell, S. (Eds.). (1980). Alexis de Tocqueville on democracy, revolution, and society: Selected writings. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Temkin, K., & Rohe, W. (1998). Social capital and neighborhood stability: An empirical investigation. Housing Policy Debate, 9(1), 61–88.

    Chapter 1: Approaches to Community Organizing and Their Relationship to Consensus Organizing
    ISBN: 9781412939836 Authors: Mary L. Ohmer, Karen DeMasi

    Copyright © Sage Publications (2009) To define and analyze the consensus organizing approach to community organizing and compare it with

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  • Purpose: It is important for community organizers to understand the “big picture” in order to make sense of what is happening locally in communities. Understanding the big picture involves analyzing current political, economic, and social trends and their potential impact on low-income communities. This chapter discusses overall trends that we believe have influenced low-income communities in recent years, and provides participants with tools they can use to conduct research on current trends. In addition, three specific issues are discussed and analyzed in more detail through a series of case studies at the end of the chapter, including: (1) increasing income inequality; (2) changes in federal low-income housing policy; and (3) gentrification. Participants will analyze these three issues and their impact on low-income communities, and identify one or more community organizing approaches they feel are appropriate given the specific economic, political, and/or social issues described.Learning Objectives:
    • To understand the importance of the political, economic, and social context and its effect on low-income communities and community organizing strategies.
    • To describe recent overall political, economic, and social trends and their impact on low-income communities.
    • To analyze three specific issues and their impact on low-income communities, and identify appropriate organizing strategies given this analysis.

    Keywords: globalization, de-industrialization, political climate, devolution, social capital, ethnic/race relations

    Why Context is Important to Community Organizing

    Community organizing is essentially a political activity that is affected by context (Fisher, 1994). Saul Alinsky (1971) argued that the world was relative and changing; therefore, community organizers should be able to view the world as it is and be sensitive and inquisitive about the changes occurring around them. Community organizers should not have a fixed truth. They should be cognizant of the changes occurring in the world around them and learn to adapt their strategies accordingly. Eichler (1998) argues that “a community organizer who sees the world in terms of absolutes is doomed” (p. 25). Furthermore, because the world has become more complicated since the early days of community organizing, it is even more critical that organizers accurately analyze the economic, political, and social factors impacting a given situation and/or issue, and select an organizing approach that will have the greatest chance of success based on the analysis.

    Therefore, community organizers first need to understand the big picture to make sense of what is happening locally. For example, changes in federal housing policy have impacted affordable housing in low-income communities. Over the past decade, the federal government’s policies regarding public housing have shifted dramatically, focusing on demolishing old public housing communities and replacing them with mixed-income housing. In many communities, these changes resulted in substantially less affordable housing for the very poor. On the other hand, these policies helped to de-concentrate poverty that was pervasive in public housing communities. The state of the national economy can also affect local communities, leading to increased or decreased job opportunities for low- and moderate-income individuals as the economy expands and contracts. In addition, social trends are important. For example, the increasing numbers of immigrants in the U.S. has increased the demand for social services, affordable housing, and education in local communities.

    In your everyday work as a consensus organizer, you will probably find that the biggest variables in your work will be the local economic, political, and social contexts. For example, zoning changes that impact development in low-income communities and relationships with local politicians will undoubtedly influence local communities and the organizing strategies you develop. InSection III of this workbook, you’ll learn more about how to analyze the local context in communities. However, community organizers also need to look at the big picture and understand the larger systems and how they impact the local community. Have you heard the phrase “think globally, act locally”? The basic argument is that you must understand, analyze, and consider what is happening globally and nationally before you can determine how to act locally. This chapter focuses on how you can think more globally about larger issues that may influence low-income communities and your work as a community organizer.

    Overall Economic, Political, and Social Trends and Their Influence on Low-Income Communities

    Low-income communities today are faced with extraordinary challenges in dealing with recent political, economic, and social trends, including diminishing federal responsibility and the transfer of power over social programs and human services to states and localities, the globalization of the economy, and the decline of democratic participation (Weil, 1996). The continuing devolution of social programs to the state and local levels is due in part to a backlash against poor people and immigrant groups (Weil, 1996). There is also a growing assumption that private nonprofit organizations can respond better, and more cheaply, to social problems in low-income communities than public services can. Weil points out that this shift of responsibility from the federal government to state and local governments and nonprofits has resulted in decreased public funding for social and human services, the growth of managed care, and outsourcing to for-profit organizations. These changes have often translated into declining resources for low-income communities and individuals. The challenge for community organizers is finding new ways to access resources for projects developed by residents to address issues in their communities. In addition, community organizers need to accurately assess the national and local political climate and how it impacts the local community. A good example is the welfare reform movement that occurred in the early 1990s under President Bill Clinton, who vowed to “end welfare as we know it.” This federal policy fundamentally changed the way welfare benefits were distributed and, more important, put time limits on eligibility for welfare. While this move at the federal level gave local government more freedom in how to use federal dollars, it also meant that states had to respond quickly to demonstrate their commitment to welfare reform. Local jurisdictions that did not embrace the federal policy risked the loss of federal funding to their communities. Community organizers working during this time period often talked about the challenge of engaging residents around these very real time limits for benefits, while at the same time helping welfare leavers achieve economic self-sufficiency.

    Economic Forces Impacting Communities

    Economic forces can also have a tremendous impact on communities. The globalization of the economy has significantly changed economic conditions in local communities, specifically the shifting of jobs overseas to lower-cost labor markets, and corporate downsizing, job loss, and displacement (Weil, 1996). The globalization of the economy involves the expansion of the capitalistic market system as the organizational economic model for a majority of rich and poor economies (Public Broadcasting System [PBS], 2003). Proponents argue that globalization has helped to decrease absolute poverty worldwide, and contributed to improved social indicators, including decreased infant mortality and child malnourishment, and increased school enrollment. Opponents argue that globalization has contributed to growing inequality, social and economic exclusion and marginalization, and deindustrialization (PBS, 2003).

    In the U.S., deindustrialization and the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs have affected many communities. White-collar jobs, as well as traditional blue-collar manufacturing jobs, are being lost overseas due to outsourcing. American companies have moved their plants to developing countries partly because of lower expenses, including the cost of labor. Individuals living in low-income communities benefited from having manufacturing jobs close to their communities because they required less education and training and were generally well-paying jobs with benefits. Many communities thrived because of the presence of these manufacturing plants, which provided jobs to thousands and created a market for other goods and services that workers nearby would utilize, such as restaurants, markets, and small retail establishments. It has now become much more difficult for low-income individuals with low skills and education to find well-paying jobs. When jobs leave a community, many of the other services leave as well. Community organizers need to understand how globalization and de-industrialization have impacted the communities they work with, and the types of jobs currently available to low-income individuals in today’s global market economy.

    The Impact of Concentrated Poverty

    Research has also demonstrated that the changes in the economy have resulted in economic insecurity, particularly for poor and vulnerable populations and residents of low-income communities. Wilson’s (1987) research revealed that the base of stable working- and middle-class families in low-income communities eroded throughout the mid- to late-20th century, resulting in weaker local institutions (e.g., churches, businesses, schools), and social disorganization (e.g., lack of norms, shared values, and sense of community). Disinvestment has occurred in many inner-city communities, leaving behind blighted properties, a declining tax base, and diminished public services (Walker, 2002). Areas of concentrated poverty (e.g., census tracts where 40% or more of the residents are poor) have become particularly difficult places to live (Bishaw, 2005). The concentration of poverty has left many poor communities isolated, making it difficult for them to take advantage of mainstream social and economic opportunities (Walker, 2002). Furthermore, residents in areas of concentrated poverty face many challenging problems, including poor education, mental health, and increased teen pregnancy, delinquency, and crime (Levanthal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000).

    The Impact of Gentrification

    While metropolitan areas with declining populations are dealing with the effects of concentrated poverty, areas with rapidly growing populations are dealing with the challenges of gentrification, or the movement of middle- and higher-income individuals back into low- and moderate-income areas in the cities. Gentrification is a phenomenon in which low-income, often disinvested communities undergo physical renovation that results in an increase in property values. Often this increase is so extreme that current residents can no longer afford to live there because of escalating rents and property taxes (Wikipedia, n.d.). While some see gentrification as a good thing, the fact remains that gentrification is often a process of class transformation in which working-class families are displaced by middle- and upper-class families (Newman & Wyly, 2005).

    Gentrification is the reversal of the white flight movement of the 1960s. While scores of white residents fled urban communities during the turbulent 1960s, many are now returning to those areas as they are revitalized and renovated. A good example is in New York City, where neighborhoods that have been devastated for decades are rapidly gentrifying (Newman & Wyly, 2005). In central Harlem, many of the community’s brownstones have gone from low-cost rental housing to homeownership and high-cost apartments. Landlords anxious to capture the higher rents due to demand often push out tenants who may have rented there for years. Many of these tenants should have some protection under landlord–tenant laws, or in the case of New York City, rent control; however, their rights are not always guaranteed. A variety of community organizers in New York City have worked hard to see that gentrification happens more equitably (Newman & Wyly, 2005).

    The rapid gentrification of neighborhoods in New York City has even “outpriced” much of the professional middle class. These housing pressures in the city have forced more and more professionals to look for housing in nearby boroughs such as Brooklyn, which have appealing housing stock and excellent transportation access to Manhattan. Neighborhoods can be revitalized without totally displacing the current population if there is commitment and political will to do so. For example, ACORN organizers in Brooklyn have actively worked over the last few years to limit gentrification in Brooklyn by expanding the overall number of both market-rate and subsidized housing units to ensure that economic diversity exists and poor families are not forced out (Atlas, 2005). At the end of this chapter you will read a case study about the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio, that underwent an extensive renovation that included plans to help current residents, many elderly and poor, remain in the community of their birth.

    The Decline of Democratic Participation and Civic Engagement

    Democratic participation in America is also declining along with the above political, economic, and social trends (Weil, 1996). As pointed out in Chapter 1, Putnam (1995) documented the decline of social capital, which is part of our social life and includes the networks, norms, and trust that enable participants to act together to pursue shared objectives. A key component of social capital is civic engagement, which is the degree to which citizens participate in activities that affect the political decision-making process at all levels, including membership in neighborhood or political groups (Temkin & Rohe, 1998). Gardner (1994) also argues that increased mobility has chipped away social anchors, including a sense of continuity and identity, and shared values.

    How Can Community Organizers Respond to These Trends?

    Weil (1996) argues that the “nation needs strategies and interventions at all levels to build viable communities that meet the basic needs of their members,” and “result in civil societies that develop and continually reshape effective infrastructures and mediating institutions” (p. 482). Berger and Neuhaus (1991) argue that strong, viable communities can provide a stimulus for individual identity, and create a sense of belonging and security. It is increasingly important, therefore, that community organizers develop effective and appropriate organizing strategies based on an accurate assessment of both overall and community-specific political, economic, and social trends.

    Today there are multiple sources from which to gather information on current global and national trends. Table 2.1 provides some of the key methods organizers can use to conduct research on political, economic, and social trends. At the end of this chapter there is also a list of resources and Web sites for gathering information about national economic, political, and social conditions, issues, and policies. Table 2.2 provides some overall questions that organizers can use to assess economic, political, and social trends and their potential influence on low-income communities. In addition, the case studies in this chapter analyze three specific issues that we believe have greatly impacted low-income communities. Finally, Section III of this workbook provides more in-depth information on how to analyze the local context and issues affecting low-income communities.

    Table 2.1 Methods for Conducting Research on Political, Economic, and Social Trends

    Mass Media
    • Local and national newspapers (e.g., neighborhood newspapers, the local newspaper, business-oriented newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post)
    • Radio: Local and national, as well as private and public radio stations (e.g., National Public Radio, AM and FM radio talk shows)
    • Television: Private and public television (e.g., local and national news)
    Library Resources/Databases
    • Books (e.g., on the local area, as well as economic, political, and social conditions at the national level)
    • Journal articles (e.g., analyzing how economic, political, and social conditions impact low-income communities)
    Internet
    • Local, state, and federal agency Web sites
    • Web sites for local, state, and federal nonprofits, foundations, and organizations focusing on low-income communities
    • Web sites for think tanks and other research organizations (Note: See the list of Web resources for the above areas at the end of this chapter.)

    Table 2.2 Key Questions for Assessing Current Economic, Political, and Social Conditions

    Area of Focus Key Questions
    I. Economic Trends
    Overall Economic Trends
    1. What is the current state of the national and local economy? Is the economy growing? Is there a recession? What are the projections for economic growth? Is the condition of the local economy similar to that of the national economy? Is the local economy growing or shrinking?
    2. What is the overall economic state of low-income communities? How are they being affected by local and/or national economic conditions?
    Employment and Industry
    1. What is the national and local unemployment rate? What is the unemployment rate in the low-income community you are working in?
    2. What are the major industries in the U.S.? Are they owned by U.S. or foreign companies? Are the major industries located in specific parts of the country? If so, where? Which, if any, of these industries are located in the community you are working in? Are residents employed in these companies? What are the qualifications for these jobs? How well do they pay? How secure are they?
    3. Who are the major local employers? Are they headquartered locally? If not, where are their headquarters?
    4. Where do the majority of residents living in low-income communities work? In what type of industry? What is the pay scale? What type of education do these types of jobs require?
    Other
    1. What is the current rate of inflation?
    2. What is the Federal Reserve’s current monetary policy? What is the current prime rate for lending?
    3. How is the local economy being affected by national monetary policy, including inflation and lending rates? How have low-income communities been affected? Do residents in the local community have access to fair lending opportunities? Or, have they been affected by unfair lending practices (e.g., the subprime lending market)?
    4. What other lending policies and/or practices are impacting low-income communities? How?
    II. Political Trends
    Overall Political Climate
    1. What major political parties are currently in power at the national level (e.g., U.S. Congress and president)? State level? And, local level?
    2. Is the political climate conservative, liberal, and/or moderate at the national level? What about the state and local level?
    3. How has the political climate affected the local community (e.g., what is the attitude toward low-income communities, what resources are being provided to them, and how)?
    Policies Impacting Low-Income Individuals and Communities
    1. How do current federal and state policies impact the low-income communities you are working with (e.g., housing and community development, economic development, welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Community Reinvestment Act)? What, if any, changes have occurred regarding federal and/or state policies affecting low-income communities?
    2. What federal and state resources are currently available to the local community for the problems and issues they have identified?
    Political Participation
    1. How active are political parties in the community overall?
    2. How active are political parties in the low-income communities you are working with?
    3. What are the voter registration and turnout rates in the low-income communities you are working in? How politically active are residents?
    4. How active are federal, state, and local elected officials in the low-income communities you are working with? How responsive are they to local needs and issues?
    III. Social Trends
    Overall Social Trends
    1. How isolated and/or connected are the low-income communities you are working with? What is the nature of the interaction between these communities and the wider community?
    2. How connected are individuals within low-income communities? What is the nature of their social networks?
    Class and Race Issues
    1. What is the nature of class and/or ethnic/racial relations between low-income communities and the wider community?
    2. What is the nature of class and/or racial relations within low-income communities?
    3. How have immigration issues and/or policies impacted the low-income communities you are working with?
    Natural Disasters and Other Issues
    1. What effect, if any, have natural disasters (e.g., floods, hurricanes, tornadoes) had on the low-income communities you are working with?
    2. What other social issues (e.g., education, health care, and so on) have impacted the low-income communities you are working with? How?

    In summary, understanding the big picture can often help organizers better understand what is happening locally in communities, and can influence the strategies organizers develop to address local issues. The material in this chapter was not meant to provide an exhaustive analysis of all the global changes affecting low-income communities, but to examine several overall trends that have impacted the organizing work the authors have done in local communities. We strongly urge you to do your own analysis of the current big picture issues that are affecting the communities you work in and your work as a community organizer.

    Discussion Questions

    1. Why do you think it is important for community organizers to understand the big picture? How and why do you think overall trends and issues (for example, changes in the economy or federal policies) might affect your work locally as an organizer?
    2. Describe one example of a current economic, political, and/or social trend, issue, and/or policy and how you believe it influences low-income communities.
    3. Why do you think it’s important to use multiple sources to gather information on current conditions? Using Table 2.1, describe several specific data sources you might use to gather information on current trends and issues. How would you go about getting this information? How helpful do you think it would be in understanding low-income communities?
    4. Using Table 2.2, select one question in each category (e.g., economic, political, and social conditions) and describe how you might find the answer to the question, why you think it is important to understanding low-income communities, and how it might impact community organizing activities at the local level.

    Case Study Exercises

    Instructions: The following case studies describe three specific issues impacting low-income communities today. Read each case study carefully. Identify the economic, political, and/or social trends, issues, and/or policies presented in the case study and answer the questions that follow. Break into small groups to complete these exercises, and then have a large group discussion to share your answers.

    Case Study A: Increasing Inequality and Its Impact on Low-Income Communities

    The U.S. Census Bureau has been collecting data on income inequality since 1947 through the annual demographic supplement to the Current Population Survey (Jones & Weinberg, 2000). One way to measure income inequality is by examining income quintiles. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2005), the poorest one fifth of all households now receive only 3.4% of all family personal income, while the wealthiest (top one fifth) now receive 50.1%. The most commonly used measure of income inequality is the Gini coefficient or index, which measures family income inequality. If everyone were equally well-off, the Gini index would be zero, and if the richest person had everything and everyone else had nothing, the index would be 1.00. The Census Bureau (2000) reports that income inequality decreased overall from 1947 to 1968 by 7.5%; however, between 1968 and 1998 this trend reversed. In 1967 the Gini index was 0.34, while in 1998 it rose to 0.39. Since 1998, the Gini index for the United States has risen to 0.47, the worst among industrialized nations, as illustrated below (United Nations [UN], 2004):

    • Denmark: 0.25
    • Japan: 0.25
    • Sweden: 0.25
    • Germany: 0.28
    • France: 0.33
    • Australia: 0.36
    • United Kingdom: 0.36
    • United States: 0.47

    Jones and Weinberg (2000) state that increasing income inequality has resulted from changes in the U.S. labor market and household composition:

    More highly-skilled, trained, and educated workers at the top are experiencing real wage gains, while those at the bottom are experiencing real wage losses making the wage distribution considerably more unequal. Changes in the labor market in the 1980s included a shift from goods-producing industries (that had proportionately provided high-wage opportunities to low-skilled workers) to technical service industries (that disproportionately employ college graduates) and low wage industries, such as retail trade…. Other factors related to the downward trend in wages of less educated workers include intensifying global competition and immigration, the decline of the proportion of workers belonging to unions, the decline in the real value of the minimum wage, the increasing need for computer skills, and the increasing use of temporary workers. At the same time, changes in living arrangements have occurred that tend to exacerbate differences in household income. For example, increases in divorce and separation, increases in births out of wedlock, and the increasing age at first marriage have all led to a shift away from traditionally higher-income married couple households toward typically lower-income single-parent and nonfamily households. (p. 10)

    The United Nations Human Development Report (2005) states that increasing inequality within and among countries matters because it reflects unequal opportunity based on gender, identity, wealth, or location. One’s life chances are diminished greatly by being born into a poor household. For example, in the U.S., the world’s richest country, health outcomes reflect inequities based on wealth and race. The UN argues that more equitable income distribution would contribute strongly to the reduction of poverty globally and in specific countries. If people in poverty captured more of the growth in national income than they do currently, there would be less poverty.

    Income inequality, along with its economic and social causes, translates into decreased life chances and opportunities for individuals living in low-income communities in the U.S. For example, if the incomes of poor households are not growing they can’t afford to save money to build assets that contribute to wealth. These families often struggle with saving money to purchase their own homes, send their children to college, or retire. Low-income children don’t have the same opportunities to compete for higher-paying jobs requiring a college education, and often end up in lower-skilled, low-wage jobs. Moreover, it is often more difficult to establish families and keep them together with limited resources and opportunities.

    So, what does all this have to do with community organizing? While it’s difficult for community organizers to directly impact the Gini index, they can help residents understand the economic forces that are impacting income inequality in their communities and develop strategies for dealing with them. For example, organizers can help increase economic opportunities for residents to help them purchase their own homes, access resources for further education and training, and support local economic development agencies attempting to secure better-paying and more stable jobs for all residents. They can also work with residents to advocate for federal policy changes to address income inequality and its effects, including federal tax reform and programs that provide resources for poor children to go to college.

    Questions on the Case Study on Inequality

    1. Why do you think income inequality is increasing in the United States? How has income inequality (and its causes) impacted your community? Do you know anyone who has been affected by income inequality? Explain.

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    2. Why do you think it is important for community organizers to understand the growing issue of income inequality?

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    3. Assume you are a community organizer working in a low-income community that has experienced the challenges presented by the globalization of the economy and income inequality. Following a national trend, a large auto manufacturer has moved high-paying manufacturing jobs to plants in developing countries. Residents who previously worked for these companies were given resources for retraining. There are jobs in the retail trade industry; however, the pay is low and wages have not risen over the years. In addition, the economic development agency is developing a plan to find new uses for the former auto plant. What else would you want to know about the impact of these changes and what is being done to address them? Who would you talk to? What would you ask them?

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    How would you help residents in the low-income community deal with the changes described above? What community organizing approach or approaches would be appropriate? Why? (Note: See Chapter 1 for a description of community organizing approaches.)

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    Case Study B: Federal Housing Policies Impacting Low-Income Communities

    In 1990, the U.S. Congress passed a new federal housing policy called the Cranston-Gonzales National Affordable Housing Act (Karger & Stoesz, 2005). The overall goals of the new law were to

    • decentralize federal housing policy;
    • use nonprofit sponsors to help develop and implement housing services (community housing development organizations);
    • link housing assistance more closely with social services;
    • facilitate home ownership for low- and moderate-income households;
    • preserve existing federally subsidized housing; and
    • initiate cost sharing among federal, state, and local government and nonprofits.

    The law created block grants for state and local governments through two programs called Home Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) and Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere (HOPE).

    • The goal of the HOME Investment Partnerships Program was to increase the supply of affordable housing units, targeting low-income households. The law required that 15% of funds be used for projects sponsored by community housing development organizations (which are similar to community development corporations). Funds could be used for tenant-based rental assistance, property acquisition or rehabilitation, or new construction (for more information on HOME, seehttp://www.hud.gov/offices/cpd/affordablehousing/index.cfm).
    • The HOPE program. One of the programs, HOPE VI, aimed to improve neighborhood conditions by revitalizing distressed public housing communities (creating mixed income communities in their place), and assisting residents with moving to better housing in less distressed neighborhoods through the use of Section 8 housing vouchers (for more information on HOPE VI, see http://www.hud.gov/offices/pih/programs/ph/hope6/about/).

    One of the more controversial components of the new law was HOPE VI and its provision to tear down existing public housing communities and replace them with mixed-income communities. One of the main reasons for instituting this policy change was the argument that many federally subsidized rental units had been clustered in poor inner-city neighborhoods, which actually raised their rates of poverty and accompanying problems (Urban Institute, n.d.). Research by William Julius Wilson (1987) and others also demonstrated the negative impact of living in poor communities, including poor educational and mental health outcomes, and increased teen pregnancy, delinquency, and crime (Levanthal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000). For example, Brooks-Gunn and colleagues (1993) found that children growing up in low-income neighborhoods had lower IQs, more teenage births, and higher school dropout rates than children growing up in affluent neighborhoods, even when family-level differences were controlled. Furthermore, research showed that black and white adolescents living in the worst neighborhoods in large cities experienced a sharply higher risk of dropping out of school, even after controlling for individual characteristics (Crane, 1991). Several national and regional studies also found that residing in low-income neighborhoods was associated with higher rates of criminal and delinquent behavior (Sampson & Groves, 1989Simons, Johnson, Beaman, Conger, & Whitbeck, 1996).

    As of 2005, the HOPE IV program had spent $5 billion to replace public housing projects with mixed-income housing, including awarding 446 grants since 1992 to 166 cities (Urban Institute, n.d.). Approximately 63,100 severely distressed units had been demolished, and 20,300 were slated for redevelopment. The program was successful in leveraging billions of dollars in other public, private, and philanthropic investments. Many HOPE IV projects offer high-quality, mixed-income living environments and contribute to the health and vitality of surrounding neighborhoods (Urban Institute, n.d.). However, there have been mixed results regarding what happens to former residents of demolished public housing projects. A HOPE VI panel study conducted by the Urban Institute (n.d.) in five public housing developments in Atlantic City, Chicago, Durham, Richmond, and Washington, DC found that:

    • The vast majority of working-age former public housing recipients were still living far below the poverty line for a family of three.
    • Residents who were employed had slightly increased incomes.
    • Welfare use among residents had declined (most likely as a result of welfare reform).
    • Overall employment rates did not change.
    • Residents in the study reported high rates of material hardship, including late rent and utility payments and difficulty paying for food.

    The reaction from public housing residents to HOPE IV was also mixed, ranging from a desire to improve their communities and rid their neighborhoods of blight, to a sense of uncertainty and fears over losing their affordable homes, as well as connections to their communities. Some residents had lived in their homes and their communities most of their lives and didn’t want to leave. Others felt that change was needed, but they were uncertain about their future, including if they would be able to return to the new mixed-income community replacing their former homes. In some communities, residents were very engaged in developing HOPE IV proposals and projects, while in others they were disengaged and ill-informed.

    Questions About the Housing Case Study

    1. Assume you are a community organizer who has been assigned to a community that is about to develop and implement a HOPE IV project. Your job is to work with existing public housing residents to engage them in the HOPE IV process, including developing a plan to demolish existing units and rebuild mixed-income housing in their place. Thinking about your role, what do you believe are the most important economic, political, and/or social issues impacting the community and your work with residents? What do you know? What else do you need to learn? How would you go about gathering more information?

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    2. Based on your analysis, which community organizing approach or approaches would you use? Why?

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    3. Describe the sources of external power important to this issue, and how you would view and approach them.

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    4. Describe the ultimate outcomes of your organizing work, based on the approach you selected.

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    Case Study C: Revitalization Without Gentrification: One Community’s Story—Wright-Dunbar Village, Dayton, Ohio

    For four decades, residents watched the neighborhood that nurtured the genius of the Wright Brothers and poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and later a thriving African American community become devastated by highway construction, civil disturbances, insurance redlining, disinvestment, and abandonment. The operating urban renewal philosophy as late as 1988 favored demolition and clearance over historic preservation (City of Dayton, 2003). Over the years, African American neighborhood activists tried to get funding to revitalize their neighborhood. Various plans and studies were conducted, but nothing was done. Some would say that prior to 1995 the Inner West Dayton area had too much planning and not much to show for it. The turning point began in 1993, when a historical architecture study of the area began to demonstrate the potential of the neighborhood. At the same time, another plan was developed by a group of people, mostly Caucasian, who were interested in preserving Dayton’s aviation history. The group’s overall goal was to establish a national park in the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood. They were extremely vocal and organized protests against the city to prevent historic buildings from being torn down. These two groups began to see the value of working together to develop a plan that would preserve Dayton’s history while also rebuilding a neighborhood (Gaytko, personal communication, July 2007).

    The city hired McCormack Baron, a St. Louis–based firm, to look into redevelopment options for the neighborhood. McCormack Baron’s philosophy was to demolish the majority of existing housing and initially start new development with rental housing to stabilize the area, and build owner-occupied housing later. When McCormack Baron presented their proposal to clear the area and build townhouses and garden apartments, it was met with fierce community opposition. A significant proportion of long-term property owners in Wright-Dunbar Village did not want to move, and the McCormack Baron plan would have required that. In addition, city staff found the cost of their proposal economically unfeasible because it required large public subsidies. The determination of local residents to stay in the area had a major impact on the city’s decision to rethink its traditional approach to urban renewal in West Dayton.

    Residents of Inner West Dayton had been actively engaged in the planning, preservation, and redevelopment of their community. The two neighborhood associations in the area, the historic preservation groups, and the national park advocates all voiced opposition to the mayor and city commission because the proposed project did not reflect the community’s historic past and would likely displace many older African American homeowners who had lived in the neighborhood for years. Several city commissioners, including Commissioner Dean Lovelace, a longtime community activist and leader in the African American community, convinced their colleagues that a better plan could be developed that preserved the historic features of the neighborhood. The mayor saw that the alternative scenarios being presented were rational. He stepped in and directed the city manager and his staff to work with the neighborhood and the various stakeholders to develop a new plan, including developing consensus among the various stakeholder groups about the project’s goals and objectives. The city staff and community stakeholders created the Wright-Dunbar Village Urban Renewal Plan, which called for preservation and historic development in the neighborhood rather than demolition. The plan was significant because it suggested that economic development could be achieved through historic renovation, a major policy shift for the city. Their overall goal was to redevelop the Wright-Dunbar Village neighborhood to create a vibrant and diverse community with a turn-of-the-20th-century ambience, including

    1. retaining residents of existing owner-occupied housing units,
    2. focusing on home ownership,
    3. assuring significant minority contractor participation,
    4. incorporating historic ties to Dayton’s aviation history and African American heritage,
    5. developing and maintaining neighborhood resident involvement and input, and
    6. developing and maintaining partnerships to achieve a comprehensive redevelopment effort.

    City officials publicly stated that they would not gentrify the neighborhood, and created the Wright-Dunbar Owner Occupied Rehabilitation Program, which provided funds for improving existing homeowner housing, while providing tax abatement so that as property values rose, older retired residents would not be forced to move. The program offered a variety of incentives to encourage existing homeowners to stay, such as: grants to cover the cost of rehabilitation and renovation; the services of a case manager to address social service needs; and one-on-one technical assistance through the rehabilitation and tax abatement process. The city used a combination of federal HOME funds and debt finance capital from bond sale proceeds to implement the program (37 residents received this assistance). Community Development Block Grant funds paid for new infrastructure to support the development of new housing. Because of these efforts, long-term homeowners could afford to remain in the neighborhood and continue to enrich their community (R. Gaytko, personal communication, July 2007).

    The city brokered an unprecedented partnership between the Home Builders Association (HBA), minority contractors, and tradespeople to rebuild the Wright-Dunbar Village. The city contracted with ProjDel Corporation, a minority-owned firm from Cincinnati, to act as project manager in this aggressive undertaking. The Home Builders Association, most known for its suburban building experience, became an active partner in the development of the project and the staging of a CitiRama event to showcase Wright-Dunbar Village when it was done.

    The city and the HBA reached out to another nontraditional partner, the Improved Solutions for Urban Systems (ISUS) Institute of Construction Technology, a charter high school in Dayton, Ohio, and the nation’s largest Youth Build program. ISUS serves low-income youth ages 16–21 who have dropped out of other schools. Students enrolled in the ISUS School can earn a high school diploma, a certification in construction skills, and community service credit by constructing new homes for lower-income families. ISUS students built a near replica of the original Wright Brothers home as part of the CitiRama event and later went on to construct an additional 60 homes in the nearby Wolf Creek neighborhood. (ISUS, n.d.)

    The decision of the city to work with the neighborhood and the unwavering commitment of ordinary citizens became the catalysts for the most aggressive urban revitalization effort to occur in Dayton’s African American community in the previous 50 years (City of Dayton, 2004). Since 1992, more than $75 million was leveraged in public, private, and philanthropic investments in and around the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood. Today it contains three National Registered Historic Districts, two primarily residential and the other commercial. The Dunbar District extends along Paul Lawrence Dunbar Street and is the site of a National Historic Landmark, the Paul Laurence Dunbar House. The Wright-Dunbar Historic District is the site of the Wright Cycle Company and Wright Printing offices and the Hoover Block Building. All these landmarks are located in the recently created Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in the revitalized Wright-Dunbar Village. The presence of a National Park creates a permanent anchor and additional inventive for preservation and investment in the Wright-Dunbar Village. (R. Gaytko, personal communication, July 2007).

    Questions About the Case Study on Gentrification

    1. Explain how the issue of gentrification affected the residents of the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood. Why were they facing this issue? Why was it important to them?

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    2. In this case study, one could argue that the city’s plans to help Wright-Dunbar residents remain in their homes came about only because of political pressure by various advocacy groups. What other motivation could the city have had? Why was it the right thing to do?

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    3. This project had some unusual partners. Can you describe some of them? Why do you think they were willing to engage in this effort? What do you think made these partnerships work?

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    4. What is the significance of the national park being located in Wright-Dunbar Village? How does that help with preservation and investment?

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    5. If you were a community organizer working in the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood, how would you have approached your work with residents? What would you have done?

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    6. What elements of the consensus organizing approach can you see in this case study? What other organizing approaches were used?

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    7. Are you aware of any communities affected by gentrification? How has it affected the residents living there? What is being done to address the issue? What would you do?

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    Field Exercise

    Instructions: For this field exercise, identify the key economic, political, and/or social trends related to the problem or issue you researched for the field exercise you completed in Chapter 1. For that exercise, you could have interviewed a community resident to find out about their community and an issue or challenge they were facing, and/or read an article from your local paper about a problem in a poor neighborhood. If you did not complete one of the field exercises, complete it first before doing this exercise. You may also have to interview the resident you spoke to previously and/or conduct further research on the issue for this exercise.

    Answer the following questions

    1. Use the key questions in Table 2.2 to identify the relevant economic, political, and/or social trends related to the problem and/or issue you researched in Chapter 1.

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    2. Do you feel that you have an adequate understanding of these trends? If so, why? If not, why not?

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    3. Where else do you think you could get information on these trends?

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    4. In Chapter 1, you were asked to identify the community organizing approach you would use to address the issue. Would you change your approach based on your current assessment of economic, political, and social trends impacting the problem and/or issue? If so, why? If not, why not?

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    Web Resources

    Federal Government Web Sites

    National Political Parties

    Think Tanks and Research Institutes

    Public Radio and Broadcasting

    Federal Legislation

    Other

    References

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    Beck, E. L., & Eichler, M. (2000). Consensus organizing: A practice model for community building. Journal of Community Practice, 8(1), 87–102.

    Berger, P. L., & Neuhaus, J. (1991). The structure of freedom: Correlations, causes, and cautions. Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans.

    Bishaw, A. (2005). Areas of concentrated poverty: 1999. U.S. Department of Commerce:Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau.

    Brooks-Gunn, J., Duncan, G. J., Klebanov, P. K., & Sealand, N. (1993). Do neighborhoods influence child and adolescent development? American Journal of Sociology, 99, 353–395.

    City of Dayton. (2004). APA/HUD Secretary’s 2003 Opportunity & Empowerment Award Submission. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from http://www.planning.org/affordablereader/planning/hudaward04.htm

    Crane, J. (1991). The epidemic theory of ghettos and neighborhood effects on dropping out and teenage childbearing. American Journal of Sociology, 96, 1126–1159.

    Eichler, M. (1998). Organizing’s past, present and future: Look to the future, learn from the past. Shelterforce, September/October (#101), 24–26.

    Fisher, R. (1994). Let the people decide: Neighborhood organizing in America (Updated Edition). New York: Twayne Publishers.

    Gardner, J. W. (1994). Building community for leadership studies programs. Washington, DC: Independent Sector.

    Improved Solutions for Urban Systems. (n.d.). Service learning projects. Retrieved August 6, 2007, fromhttp://www.isusinc.com/default2.asp

    Jones, A. F., Jr., & Weinberg, D. H. (2000). The changing shape of the nation’s income distribution: 1947 to 1998. Current population reports. U.S. Census Bureau: Washington, DC. Retrieved July 20, 2007, fromhttp://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/incineq/p6024.html

    Karger, H. J., & Stoesz, D. (2005). American social welfare policy: A pluralist approach (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

    Leventhal, T., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2000). The neighborhoods they live in: The effects of neighborhood residence on child and adolescent outcomes. Psychological Bulletin, 126(2), 309–337.

    Newman, K., & Wyly, E. (2005). Gentrification and resistance in New York City.Shelterforce Online, July/August (142). Retrieved July 17, 2007, from http://www.nhi.org/online/issues/142/gentrification.html

    Public Broadcasting System (PBS). (2003). Rich World, Poor Women: Understanding Globalization. NOW: Politics and Economy. September 5, 2003. Retrieved July 20, 2007, from: http://www.pbs.org/now/politics/globaldebate.html

    Putnam, R. D. (1995). Tuning in, tuning out: The strange disappearance of social capital in America. PS: Political Science and Politics, 28, 664–683.

    Sampson, R. J., Morenoff, J. D., & Gannon-Rowley, T. (2002). Assessing “neighborhood effects”: Social processes and new directions. Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 443–478.

    Sampson, R., & Groves, W. (1989). Community structure and crime: Testing social disorganization theory. American Journal of Sociology, 94, 775–802.

    Simons, R. I., Johnson, C., Beaman, J. J., Conger, R. D., & Whitbeck, L. B. (1996).Parents and peer group as mediators of the effect of community structure on adolescent behavior. American Journal of Community Psychology, 24, 145–171.

    Temkin, K., & Rohe, W. (1998). Social capital and neighborhood stability: An empirical investigation. Housing Policy Debate, 9(1), 61–88.

    United Nations. (2004). United Nations Human Development Report. New York: United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved February 24, 2007, from http://www.undp.org/annualreports/2004/english/

    United Nations. (2005). United Nations Human Development Report. New York. United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved July 19, 2007, from http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/2005/

    Urban Institute. (n.d.). Housing America’s low-income families: A research focus of the Urban Institute. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. Retrieved January 29, 2007, from http://www.urban.org/toolkit/issues.housing.cfm

    U.S. Census Bureau. (2005). Current population survey, 1996, 2004, and 2005 annual social and economic supplements.Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    Vidal, A. C., & Keating, W. D. (2004). Community development: Current issues and emerging challenges. Journal of Urban Affairs, 26(1), 125–137.

    Walker, C. (2002). Community development corporations and their changing support systems. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.

    Weil, M. O. (1996). Community building: Building community practice. Social Work, 41(5), 481–499.

    Wikipedia (n.d.). Gentrification. Retrieved July 17, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gentrification

    Wilson, W. J. (1987). The truly disadvantaged. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

     

    Chapter 2: How the Political, Economic, and Social Context Influences Low-Income Communities and Community Organizing
    ISBN: 9781412939836 Authors: Mary L. Ohmer, Karen DeMasi

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