A reader alerted us yesterday that Portland's "unique" Metro government was doing another one of its suspect "surveys," this time in conjunction with an outfit called Neighborhood Partnerships. We couldn't get a look at the actual poll, because once the reader took it, even he can't go back and reread what it said. So instead we decided to try to see what the heck Neighborhood Partnerships is.
Apparently it's a nonprofit that takes private donations (fueled by a special state tax credit for contributors) and hands them out to poor people if they manage to learn how to save money. The low-income beneficiaries can use the money to buy a home, go to college, start a business, or do some other worthy things. The savings accounts that the money goes into are called "individual development accounts." Neighborhood Partnerships processed about $10 million this way last year. It doesn't hand out the money directly -- it gives grants to other nonprofits who do the actual doling.
We checked out the Neighborhood Partnerships website, and found there a veritable case study in bureaucratic jargon. It's really hard to cut through it all and figure out what the outfit actually does:
We build ongoing relationships with decision leaders, we inspire them with a passion for community development, and we give them policies and plans to take action. Research, creativity, and proven approaches are used to develop our proposals.
Neighborhood Partnerships acts as the convener for the statewide Housing Alliance, which educates policy makers and advocates on behalf of affordable housing needs within state government. Our work to bring diverse parties together has resulted in a remarkable shift in attention to housing needs and a new commitment to providing critical funding streams for our communities.
Our policy and coalition building work is expanding into two additional arenas: work to prevent and end homelessness and to nurture a broad approach to individual asset building. Our work with Bridges to Housing and the Oregon IDA Initiative is the foundation for these efforts as it helps us develop, test and promote strategies that work across systems and traditional funding streams.
The whole thing is about "community development." What is that code for -- public housing projects? And they keep harping on their "proven" programs, although it's never stated what they've proved.
In any event, apparently the purpose of the current public relations push via Metro is to collect ammunition to be used in Salem:
In the 2013 Legislature, were also working together to make a small change in the statutes governing the Initiative that will allow us to better serve Oregon households with low incomes. Right now, State law exempts $20,000 plus a potential IDA participant’s first home and one vehicle from the net worth calculation when determining eligibility, but includes all retirement savings, even at very modest levels. These current limits on assets mean that many of our Initiative Partners have had to turn away otherwise eligible participants because of their modest retirement savings.
We are proposing that the first $60,000 of the applicant’s retirement savings also be exempted from the calculation of net worth. We’ll be working together to pass HB 2316. This proposed technical adjustment to the original legislation removes a barrier to building the very habits the Initiative is designed to foster. We need to empower Oregonians to build pathways to overall financial wellness throughout their lives – including successful, planned retirements. We need to reinforce the value of saving for the future. Please join with us in supporting this change.
There are so many unsupervised pots of public and quasi-public money sloshing around this state. Neighborhood Partnerships may be doing great work, but the facts that it's relatively unknown, that it speaks in tongues, and that it's somehow tied in with Metro have our antennas up. Way up.