Structural Justice

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With many low-income Chicagoland residents being affected by a housing crunch, a number of government officials, housing developers, bankers, clergy and community activists put forth proposals and strategies for protecting already available affordable housing and to develop new generic cialis housing at the “Valuing Affordability” conference at the Palmer House June 27-29.

The conference was sponsored by the Chicago Rehab Network. All the participants were not on the same level in terms of what they already knew and what they had yet to learn. Therefore, the first days’ workshops centered around training and focused on a variety of subjects.

At my first workshop, “Asset Management: Managing your Manager,” the facilitator explained in detail the complex financial mechanisms supporting urban housing in America and some of the associated problems. The presenter was Lynn Bergstrom, director of consulting services at Lakefront SRO. At her post for 14 years now, Bergstrom said she played a key role in the development of many different kinds of programs, working closely with property owners and helping them to meet a variety of social support and fiscal goals of their properties.

We learned about Funders and Lenders, Asset Managers and also Property Managers. We learned how to differentiate between them and how they function as three aspects of one organic whole.

Funders and lenders provide money to Asset Managers, who make a profit making sure the funders and lenders make a profit. Asset Managers also hire Property Managers, who protect their investment by collecting rents, maintaining the buildings and safeguarding the property from damage.

Although most of the people in the room had invested large sums of money in properties, I felt this workshop on Asset Management had a lot of information that could empower activists. Every great strategist will tell you of the importance of knowing your opponent.

Bergstrom described two documents she thought are of crucial importance to any Asset Manager – the management plan and the operations manual. The Management Plan is a written statement that explains to funders and lenders how their money will be utilized in the property in which the asset manager wants to invest. Funders and lenders usually will not give the necessary or even the initial funds needed to acquire a property without this plan.

The Operations Manual is written primarily for the sake of property managers. It is a statement of a property management organization’s basic policies, procedures and forms. I found the Operations Manual to be awesome in its complexity because it contains every kind of tiny detail, from knowing what every employee is doing to making sure every task is completed – from shampooing the rug and mopping the lobbies to keeping the back alleys clean to making sure the property is free of pests. Above all, the Operations Manual emphasizes to the property manager that rent must be collected on time to aid the asset manager in meeting the deadlines of their payments to the funders and lenders. The information at the conference could be used by activists to understand some of the problems in dealing with property owners and their managers and suggest direct routes for tackling these problems.

The conference presenters said that housing, like health care and education, was critical for a family’s as well for a community’s success. Speaker after speaker encouraged the participants to think that the availability of affordable housing is in all of our best interests.

No one used better metaphors to dramatize the affordable housing crisis than Francis Cardinal George, one of the many clergymen at the conference.

“People are the foundation – solid ground or sand,” said the cardinal. Housing is the roof. Covered or exposed. Family is the frame – joined together or divided. Community is the walls. Build or separate. Opportunity is the door, opened or closed.”

“It is not just about affordable housing. It is about structural justice. In short, if we truly respect human dignity, protect basic rights, support families, foster community, and promote opportunity, we should value affordability.” “Why should we value affordability in Chicago’s changing communities? For me, the basis for valuing affordability is one, valuing people. Every human being is created in the image and likeness and image of God. Therefore, everyone is endowed with dignity that should be respected.

“Two, valuing housing. If one believes in the fundamental dignity of every human being, one must acknowledge that as human beings, we all have individual needs that must be met.”

Another topic of general interest at the conference was the so-called real estate boom. Many conference presenters said the current expansion in real estate sales is singularly responsible for Chicagoans being priced out of their neighborhoods. After years of decline, Chicago’s population is growing again, fueling a booming real estate market. The conference presenters said this economic growth is not benefiting those who need it the most. Throughout the city, rental housing is being lost and/or converted to condominiums which many residents throughout the area are not equipped to take advantage of.

The presenters said most people have lived in “affordable housing.” Many vibrant and thriving communities have a range of housing opportunities for a variety of people: seniors, families, tradesmen, service professionals and young adults.

Many people at the conference want to add to that list the disabled, those in transition and those struggling to make ends meet. Yet, throughout the state, fewer and fewer renters

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