This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 26, 2013 9:13 AM. The previous post in this blog was Zipcar: perfect for anarchist vandalism. The next post in this blog is Noblesse oblige. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Another trough

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.

Comments (18)

Of all the things to complain about, I don't know why you chose this one.

"Community development" generally refers to the provision of skills and services to low-income communities that allows them to improve their own communities and individual economic positions without the need for governmental assistance.

Community development has been practiced in impoverished areas worldwide for more than half a century by non-profits and governments, so it's quite reasonable to refer to "proven approaches."

What's the problem here? Here is a non-profit that takes 1.6 million in government grants and fees, leverages this into 8 million (though other fundraising, grants, etc), and based on the Form 990, turns more than 70% of that right back out to service provision.

High salaries for bureaucrats? Nope. The ED earn 75,000, the other two staff earn $35k. Two treasurers and a secretary apparently work for free.

Major grantees:

Bridges to Housing: provides $4500 grants to homeless families to allow them to reside in permanent housing. There is a four year limit on participation. The program includes linking families with childcare services and provides counseling on employment skills.

Casa of Oregon: develops housing programs and other family counseling services for farmworker families, mostly Latino immigrant families.

Neighborworks Umpqua: helps build houses and connect employees with potential workers in three rural Oregon counties (Davis, Coos, and Curry).

Other grantees: Mercy Corps, Immigrant and Refugee Services, etc.

I agree: they are doing great work. The crack about public housing is beneath you, Jack. It's nothing more than scare tactics worthy of Fox News.

It's too bad this apparently worthy non-profit cannot inform the public of it's purposes as simply & straightforward as paul g. just did. After reading their website info., I was left wondering where "the pathways to overall financial wellness" might be found so I could wade in their "funding streams".

paul g.

I realize it's a long way from ImPorTantLand, but Neighborworks Umpqua works in Douglas [not "Davis"], Coos and Curry counties.

The crack about public housing is beneath you,

Maybe there wouldn't be scrutiny/comments about public housing if there were transparency in our city about it.

From what I have heard our officials are loath to admit about public housing, it is called affordable housing.

My overall view of it is this: I have seen in the Portland "re do" agenda the housing that was affordable (not the city's term of affordable housing which is public subsidized housing) anyway, another way of putting it, the original housing we had, small bungalows, apartment complexes, hotels with living quarters have been or are being torn down.

Apartments that were once affordable have been converted into expensive condos.

All the above have created and added to expensive housing in our area, less "real" affordable housing available, therefore more homelessness and more needs for assistance.

If I were in that position, I would much rather have found myself a small apartment or bungalow somewhere than have to "deal" with or "be put on a list" etc. for public housing.

But alas, this is what "redoing" our city has come to. Just my two cents worth.

It's really hard to cut through it all and figure out what the outfit actually does...

In short, they're poverty planners.

Paul, old buddy, I'm not complaining about anything. I do think there's a lot of unsupervised money sloshing around here, and no doubt this is just the tip of the iceberg. Somebody's getting rich off housing the poor in Portland; once those parties are identified, and the public sees how they're being enriched, I'm really content to drop the whole subject.

Here is a non-profit that takes 1.6 million in government grants and fees, leverages this into 8 million (though other fundraising, grants, etc), and based on the Form 990, turns more than 70% of that right back out to service provision.

Ah, the "leverage." The millions they get come from an extraordinary 75% state income tax credit. Before that was handed to them, they were poking around at under $2 million a year. This is mostly tax money they're playing with.

Did I question anybody's salary? No.

I did ask, in more polite terms, why is Metro pimping for them all of a sudden?

As for what's beneath me, Fox News, blah blah blah, that may go over at Reed College faculty meetings, but you don't get to spew that crap on this blog. Any more of that will be taken down.

Now now Jack, just what do you have against people who do "community organizing" ?
I mean a guy with no real skills can go a long ways starting out doing that sort of scam... err, work ...


Transparency = best practices.
Obfuscation = alarm bells.

Someone said "It's nothing more than scare tactics worthy of Fox News."

Such lines are a bit easy and cliched now. Especially when every teaser on MSNBC lately is the equivalent of "Will Paul Ryan push your grandmother off a cliff and kill her? The answer (yes, he will) when we return from commercial break."

I took advantage of that tax credit 2 years ago. I got 75 cents on the dollar back from state income taxes (i.e., the rest of you made up for the lost tax revenue) AND I got to deduct it from my federal tax as a donation AND 25% from my state taxes as a donation. I netted out ahead slightly. Then they sent me glossy mailers with pictures of happy people starting businesses. Such a deal.

This (tax) year I couldn't do it. My conscious bothered me. I donated money to a few charities that help poor kids and a food bank. I do not get a generous credit, but at least the money is certainly going to a good cause.

Metro is also doing a phone poll about putting a measure on the ballot to raise taxes for stream restoration (and also park maintenance and other things). Questions dealt with "do you think this statement is very persuasive/somewhat persuasive/unbelievable?" I wanted to tell the lady that the problem is that Metro is untrustworthy, but she didn't have a category for that response.

So. Obfuscation to cloud minds and obscure raiding the public treasury.

Even if this outfit is completely on the up and up, sadly, merely operating in Portland is enough to endanger benefit-of-the-doubt.

I have long wished that there was a single nexus/information and support center that could help people in need by directing them to opportunities like this one (which I've never heard of either). Or to services that would help them budget, or help them find out where housing they can afford might be located, or what to do in an emergency when they find themselves on the street or living in their car, or unable to afford to pay their electric, gas or water bill.

Rather than the poor or "at wits' end" thrashing helplessly around trying to figure out which agency to visit or what website to try and surf to (if they can access the internet for long enough in a public library to find it), imagine someone taking their information and then making some useful recommendations or connections for them.

I'd also like to see more articles about the agencies who do this good work (like Friendly House, William Temple House, and the Albina Ministerial Alliance) and the places that are available to people with little or no income rather than splashy spreads about digs like Mirabella Stylish Senior Living or Terwilliger Plaza where only a tiny percentage of the elderly can dream of retiring to.

The low-income "business" niche is another component of big government where government gets to pick the charities it favors.

"We are proposing that the first $60,000 of the applicant’s retirement savings also be exempted from the calculation of net worth."

$60,000 in retirement funds as a cutoff? Wow, they are really needy.

"What's the problem here? Here is a non-profit that takes 1.6 million in government grants and fees, leverages this into 8 million (though other fundraising, grants, etc), and based on the Form 990, turns more than 70% of that right back out to service provision."

$8,000,000 x 70%= $5,600,000. What happened to the other $2,400,000?

Richard/s: "What happened to the other $2,400,000?". That's the service fee for processing the money. It's like the administrative costs that PDC charges.

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