When the way they see the world kills you

I’m in conversation with two groups whose beliefs could kill me this Spring.

One is an old friend from a church youth group in the 70’s. He’s a militant Trumper, afraid of the phantom threat of socialism, thinks the election was stolen through voting machine software subterfuge. He also thinks the vaccine is part of the same individual freedom-robbing conspiracy of the mask police and plans to have none of it.

The second group whose sense making could be deadly to the rest of us are the West Asheville DIY hippy anti vaxers who write long, thoughtful conspiracy laden posts in private Facebook groups like Game B who don’t trust big pharma, can’t believe profit maximizing capitalist corporations have our health in mind with their imminent vaccine releases and won’t take the vaccine until the rigorous, traditional double blind tests are done; many months from now. I am trying to tell the anti vaxers that the vaccine should be seen in the context of wreck on the highway emergency medicine but their long disbelief in the possibility of big corporates doing good prevents them from taking the vaccine when it ready.

Both have elaborate epistemologies, ways of knowing, that in this case, will coincide to make us all more at risk. Vaccines work when everybody takes them. That’s when the positive, trustworthy kind of herd immunity kicks in. My older brother has a withered leg from polio because he was born before the vaccine. Vaccines require the body politic, the general public, to take the same action, believing enough that the institutions of government and big pharma are in the business of keeping them healthy to get a stand, socially distanced, in line and get a shot. That’s how we wiped out polio in this country.

The militant Trumpers won’t take the vaccine it because they don’t trust government, thanks to Trump working to destroy their trust in public sector institutions broadly, along with government epidemiologists and other public health sector professional. The DIY hippy anti vaxers distrust of corporates will prevent them from joining with the rest of us to spread the immunity that can keep us safe from the virus.

Two different ways of seeing the world, both flawed at their roots, to my mind, and in this case united to put the lives of people in my age group, as well as the immuno compromised who can’t take vaccine, at deadly risk.

The divide and multiple fractional sub divides in this country sometimes show up in longer term issues, like climate change deniers. This vaccine issue is a divide where those two groups view of the world could kill thousands or tens of thousands of people this coming spring.

The divide and multiple fractional sub divides in this country sometimes show up in longer term issues, like climate change deniers. This vaccine issue is a divide where those two groups view of the world could kill thousands or tens of thousands of people this coming spring.

Project forming focused on Chicago and resilient home ownership

I’m starting work with a member of our Neighborhood Economics cohort with his Christian liberal arts college in Chicago looking at preventing gentrification-caused displacement; poor people being forced to move as affluent white folks move in.

Preserving resilient home ownership through intergenerational wealth creation and business ownership in a community is the north star, and all the things that effect it.

There will be both a first year class and a senior project class. We are looking at micro certification of neighborhood economics practitioners as a possible outcome. They are designing the curriculum. I am helping point them at some places to examine and make sense of. These are some first thoughts on where to focus first.

So to start out, I am suggesting we look first at redlining as foundational as a long term neighborhood scale net value detractor; destroying community resilience and making it more subject to displacement.

Redlining creates places where home appraisals and valuations get on a vicious downward cycle and houses, rather than being an appreciating intergenerational asset, they lose value over time. So the houses are more at risk, and it’s harder to get a second mortgage to pay for college or fund a startup, etc. That reduces the value of businesses, families and communities.

Black banks are directly correlated to black wealth and ability to get loans at good rates, borrow for business growth, etc. But Chicago lost its last black bank a few years ago. Black banks have faced extraordinary barriers from regulators that caused many to go under. The book The Color of Money by Mehrsa Beradaran is an eye opening read.

White lenders see more risk in black borrowers than exists due to premature cognitive commitment; they see what they already believe, not what is in front of them. Black financial institutions understand how to assess risk rationally in black borrowers. In Jackson MS, Tougaloo a 100 year old plus HBCU was turned down for a ppp loan by white banks but was given one by Hope Credit Union,

Because there are no black financial institutions in Chicago, more African Americans are forced to go to Payday lenders when they need an emergency loan for a hospital bill or emergency home or car repair. Payday lending is predatory and puts homeownership at risk, making gentrification more possible.

That’s why we are creating Rebirth Credit Union, a network anchored in black churches with Hope, a high performing black credit union with a sterling national reputation as the anchor for the church credit union network. With Hope the network can bring top quality black banking to places where black banks don’t exist. Pre covid, Hope’s default rate on character-based emergency loans was a remarkably low 2.5 %.

The first node of the Rebirth network has started with a black church and Community Development Corporation (CDC) in Allentown, PA that had $1.2m annual revenues, and never been late on any payment which couldn’t get a PPP federal relief loan. The pastor realized other black churches, non profits and businesses in town had the same problem. Nationally it’s been documented that black businesses were discriminated against in PPP loans.

Self Help national credit union is one of the best groups fighting payday lending. They advocate nationally and take action in California. They bought struggling credit unions in Chicago during the recession but don’t seem to have advocacy action on that in Chicago. Rebirth’s credit union loans in the church network backstopped by Hope will combat payday lending by providing $500 to $2,500 emergency loans for hospital bills, car repair, emergency home repair, death bed plane flights etc. those are actually less risky, within the social capital of a church than business or consumer loans.

Black neighborhood businesses are also at risk from real estate hedge funds buying up and flipping the strip malls and store fronts where they operated. The Community Investment Trust, first launched in Portland and now being replicated in Atlanta and Seattle lets people buy into and support their local businesses preservation. It’s getting attention from the likes of Brookings and the media. Lyneir Richardson is doing something similar in Chicago.

But business creation is the single clearest way to address the racial wealth gap. The wealth gap between white and black families shrinks from12x to 3x if a black family owns a business. Education does not provide the same class mobility; if they are qualified they don’t get hired or they get paid less. Entrepreneurship is over indicated at the path to wealth because of institutionalized racism makes education relatively less valuable as a path upward financially.

Those assets are most often not stored only in single family wealth; the business owner becomes a source of emergency loans and gifts/grants in the community. When we looked in Cincinnati more than 85 % of black owned businesses had less than two employees. They don’t have the two years clean financials to access the new wave of minority entrepreneurship focused loan funds.

That’s why we created the Community Equity Fund to provide friends and family funding for entrepreneurs who don’t have a business owning aunt or uncle. It could pay for, for example trade certification to enable them to respond to RFP’s from a city or hospital, if that’s how they wanted to use the money. We are talking in two weeks with three new (two new, one reelected) progressive county commissioners here in Buncombe County that I supported. The city and the county have made a commitment to reparations focused on intergenerational wealth creation and black businesses in the city get 0.5% of the city’s business.

There is a “silver tsunami” happening of boomers retiring whose children don’t want to take over the business. Groups like Project Equity are working with business owners to make it easy for them to sell their businesses to their employees, which creates wealth throughout the workforce, rather than just in the business owners.

The Democracy Collaborative’s 50 by 50 campaign is attempting to build a movement to grow the employee ownership and is raising a fund to enable employee buyouts of business owners.

Anchor institutions, mostly hospitals, but now universities, are making a difference at scale because they can think long term about community health. Reducing the load on the ER is a prime financial cost saving motivator; if people are not as sick and also have a physician they don’t come into the er which costs them $12-20k a time because has to be ready for gunshot trauma. Helping people with chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes or PTSD go to a clinic instead of the ER is a big win for the hospital. Making communities healthier helps their bottom line.

There is a strong peer network of anchor institution hospitals, started by Kaiser. They’ve been investing in their procurement supply in local businesses in a lot of places. In many places black businesses don’t qualify as vendors because they lack plumbing, lighting, etc certification. But the hospitals are concerned broadly with social determinants of health and the link between good housing and health is recognized as a prime factor.

There is a node of the anchor hospital network in Chicago. The Chicago Fed is looking at how anchor hospitals can link up with banks community reinvestment act requirement to invest in places they avoid lending. There has been a lot of research and emerging best practices on creating healthy places linking real estate development and anchor hospitals.

On housing, for immigrant communities and others who have a cultural norm, such as savings circles of investing in their neighbors, an innovation like starfinancialsolutions.co can be an answer. 100 pay $2,500 and join a hybrid coop, buy a house and a neighbor pays them back, with a profit but without interest (no usury, which is a sin for Muslims (who remember Moses said it was a sin) over 15 years.

Neighbors investing in their neighbors’ mortgages also works in other immigrant communities but is more quickly profitable in Muslim communities because people who can afford a house don’t, in order to be true to their faith, so they can pay a larger down payment.

In Minneapolis, they changed the zoning rules so that single family homes are not the default standard; making it easier to tiny houses on your home’s lot, called Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). The Ven foundation there is offering below market program related investments (PRIs) to enable them. Ven thinks this is a growth market and has registered to offer them in all 50 states. ADUs bring in extra income to enable people to remain in their home as property values increase. affordable-housing-pri-adu

We haven’t begun to look at child care, transportation, schools, or civic infrastructure, etc. in under invested neighborhoods, nor at overall health stats by neighborhood in Chicago, but it’s been shown than your zip code is a greater determiner of your health and your life span than your genetic code.

Our north star is stopping internalized displacement/gentrification, by focusing on enabling resilient home ownership in communities built on intergenerational wealth through home and business ownership and the jobs those businesses create.

Trump voters did not vote for corruption and hate

He makes them feel stronger in a world that didn’t turn out the way they expected, and helps them imagine a world where white men get what people of my generation were taught, implicitly to expect, that white men would lead and take charge by a kind of natural right no one ever thought to question.

The world has changed and those assumptions white kids raised in the 50’s expected are no longer operable. Lots of men my age who look like me are having trouble with that world. Personally, I think we need to learn how to cede power to people of color along with younger people. But I am in the minority in my age group.

That’s why a call to the past, make it great again, like we imagined it would be, is what a lot of non college white men voted for, men whose lives haven’t been what they dreamed of, or imagined in their bones, I think. I don’t know if that’s an accurate analysis, but I know demonizing Trump voters only makes things worse.

Race gap in black & white home appraisals doubles

I have been obsessed with this story for two days. The race gap in home appraisals has doubled since 1980, and the way the system is built it will only continue to get worse. I woke up thinking about it at 5 am this morning. The story at the link is worth reading; it’s not simple but it may stick with you after you ponder it.

This seemingly defines the essence of structural racism. The way housing property is valued carries forward the racist history of redlining in the 1970’s with the result that the disparity between houses in predominantly black neighborhoods and predominantly white neighborhoods has doubled, from $86,00 to $164,000 in the last 35 years. That is, the difference in value between black and white home valuations in 2015 was twice as large as it was in 1980 because of the way neighborhood comparable prices are valued by appraisers. The racism is hidden, and built into the system. It increases racial wealth disparity

This is a complex rule that tilts toward racial injustice that is hard to get a handle on, and that the national appraisal authorities do not track, yet it results in the systematic destruction of intergenerational wealth in black neighborhoods. If you are creating a your neighborhood economic wealth creation toolbox, as Dave Kresta is, alongside it we, or someone, needs to address some of the ways they scales are tilted against black and brown people in hidden ways that get worse over time in each neighborhood, in each house.

If African Americans want to create wealth through home ownership the system, just in the way it’s structured, makes their wealth not only less than white folks, but progressively lowers its valuation over time. That seems to be a lever to focus on. Valuations are a local phenomenon; it seems this could be addressed within each city, starting with some city that’s ready to look at it. This seems like a real potential leverage point, but I don’t know if that’s the case. It’s something to explore, for sure.

This issue of deliberate devaluation of black communities is what Andre Perry makes clear in his book Know Your Price. Is this the potential leverage point that it seems. I am going to reach out to both the author of the Bloomberg piece and Perry and see if I can interview them, on zoom of course, hopefully before Faith+Finance’s Neighborhood Economics virtual conference November 17.

A neighborhood economics cohort

I think it’s time to take action to build an interconnected economy, because the economy of rugged individualism is killing us. Personally, I am interested in gathering a cohort of people working local, replicable financial instruments that democratize power and wealth, that definancialize assets and embed them locally,  but which can be leveraged, from local equity funds to mutual insurance, to credit unions to no interest housing. 

It will be a peer group, and it will experiment and report to each other. It will have as a goal intergenerational wealth in African American households, linked to reciprocal relationships with affluent neighborhoods beyond philanthropy. Local climate action and food systems will be nodes, but my work seems to center on creating these replicable financial instruments that are open to the average person but have roles for philanthropy and institutional and accredited investors.

It would start with zoom calls, maybe about everything until it needed to fragment to being about local economies with one group and food system/climate or however it organically grew, if it works at all.

If you are interested, comment on this post and I will reach out to you, or connect with me on twitter @kevindoylejones

White businesses discover banking black costs nothing

Jim is moving $250,000 that his business keeps on hand in cash to Hope Community Development Union, a black owned financial insitution. Selling him on #BankingBlack was easy; it cost nothing, carries no risk yet makes a big difference.

This earlier blog post talks about why there is a need; black led non profits, businesses and churches were denied the government backed PPP loans by white led banks in Allentown PA, site of our first pilot, despite healthy balance sheets and track records. In Jackson, MS, where Hope operates, a reputable 100 year old HBCU college like Tougaloo College was denied a PPP loan by white led banks, but got the loan through Hope.

Jim wants to do the guarantees to provide collateral for the emergency $500 to $2,500 consumer loans that will run through Resurrected Life UCC Church in Allentown, our pilot node in the network of congregational based credit union nodes. Besides increasing liquidity, the money to make loans to black led financial institutions like Hope, we are focused on wiping out payday lending.

But Jim can’t get his business partners approval to lose 5% of the cash they keep on hand, so he will keep his cash safely as a deposit in Hope for the moment. We need to find the $12,00 in philanthropy needed to cover the historic 2.54 % of the loan repayments that won’t come through; the default rate during Covid is now 5%. That’s the loss rate experience says to expect on this kind of emergency personal loan at Hope, for things like surprise hospital bills, emergency home or car repair, or travel.

Since that default is less than $5,000 per $100,000 that we would lend out, we think that amount can perhaps be covered by a donor advised fund donation (we are talking to two large DAF platforms in the next couple of weeks). Rebirth, a project which arose out of Faithfinance.net reimagining God’s economy, is creating the church based network, partnering with Hope over the long term. The Rebirth team is talking to the board of one DAF and the CEO of another in the next few weeks. They liked the story that they can perhaps sell their donors on the potential super power their philanthropic dollars would have, where $5,000 can unlock $100,000 and thus help eradicate predatory payday loans.

Payday loans can cost 400% or more in compounding interest; we are replacing them with eight percent loans from Hope, through a church in Allentown that we hope to replicate with other churches in what could become a national network. For people who believe that black lives matter, this is a chance to put their money where their mouth is and get the cocktail party/zoom call casual mention bragging rights that go with it.

Or the needed gift of $5,000 to unlock each $100,000 to wipe out payday lending with loans through another church as a partner, or from an individual, a Sunday School class or even from Jim’s business itself or Jim, the business owner.

In looking at Jim, (not his real name) customer number one, and modeling him into an iconic customer profile, I think he represents a likely set of characteristics we want to look for; 1. The decision maker in a private business that has relatively large cash reserves as a normal part of doing business (he is a small developer of gas stations and such). 2. A faith based person who wants to act on his beliefs to do justice. 3. Is actively involved in his local community, ideally through investment. Jim is a member of a local community development collaborative that in his part of Florida has an opportunity zone fund

Finding all three might not be that hard; but some people still think giving is the only way to do good and don’t yet see investing as a way to do good.
This does not address an “in the pew,” narrative-changing approach to both bankingblack and working to eliminate payday lending through white folks following the lead of black folks who are already putting their money down, as institutions and individuals. That’s the put your money where your mouth is story to individuals who may have protested, even got hit with tear gas for the first time and seen another side of cops than they have seen before.

We have folks on the Faith+Finance team who have done political and non profit and faith based campaigns who can work with white Christians on that. We will be working up a letter of intent to talk to foundations to raise support for that campaign.

This is the body of an email I sent to some justice oriented white clergy friends: “We are giving affluent Christians who believe Black Lives Matter an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. A tax deductible gift of $50 unlocks a $1,000 loan. A gift of $5,000 unlocks $100,000 in low interest loans via a black owned community development credit union through our predominantly African American pilot church in Allentown, PA. These are loans to unbanked people who now are forced to go to payday lenders who charge 400% and more a year for emergency $500 to $2,500 loans for medical bills, emergency car or home repairs, etc.”

I am encouraged. Selling businesses that need to keep liquidity on hand on putting in their deposits into Hope is an easy sale. The other part needs some financial/philanthropic engineering.
Anyway, we made a sale. And I think our first customer looks like a lot of others we can find.

Church Economics-Remembering our mission

October 8th

Church Economics: Remembering Our Mission

The church is in economic crisis. The reasons are well known: declining membership, Covid, buildings constructed for a previous generation, underutilized resources. It is clear our business models no longer work. But there is more to the story. Our economic crisis is in fact a crisis of mission. When we are struggling to keep our heads above water it’s easy to lose sight of our “why.”

But in the midst of this crisis, some bright lights are emerging.

– Churches using their assets to transform their communities and provide security across generations.

– Shuttered houses of worship giving birth to new enterprises to meet the needs of their neighbors.

– Pastors partnering with local governments to alleviate homelessness and provide a path to permanent housing.

– Denominations choosing to creatively and courageously make change on a wholesale basis.

Join this community of innovators on Oct 8th to hear their stories. Learn what’s working, what practitioners are discovering, and catch a new imagination for what’s possible.

Rebirth Credit Union launches

1. The nation is in crisis. Pandemic, deep recession, and a growing social understanding of institutional racism have left many with wealth and means wondering what they can do about it.

2. Faith + Finance (F+F) is working with churches, organizations, and investors motivated by faith to try to address that desire to act. Drawing on a long American history of church leaders and congregations acting as agents of social change, F+F seeks constructively to meet this moment with the Rebirth Project, which is designed to increase access to capital in the African American community.

something you can do as an investor

4. Imagine neighbors investing in neighbors. Imagine, as the prophet said, repairing the breach. Consider an opportunity to share in a transition out of this time of death, unemployment, and protest to forge a new kind of place for community.

5. Rebirth is piloting its work with an African-American community through a predominantly Black church in Allentown, PA, to be followed, if successful, with work in San Francisco and Portland, and then hopefully in other cities. We ultimately envision a national network of credit union nodes that will provide essential personal banking – checking and savings accounts — as well as small consumer loans, credit repair products, and credit management classes. Small business banking, especially small dollar business loans, will also be available.

3. The Rebirth Project imagines churches reclaiming their historic role as a key hub for the social and economic wellbeing of their neighborhoods. Rebirth is a 21st century re-invention of credit unions acting locally as micro-branch “nodes”, and collectively, as a national network of faith and finance focused on access to capital.

Your investment can provide that extra collateral – in one of two ways, with variations.

Initially, all business and consumer loans will be share secured, unless a prospective borrower’s collateral capacity does not require it — although we anticipate that will comprise a small piece of our lending. The purpose of Rebirth is to improve access to capital in the African-American community, capital for those who are unable prudently to obtain it otherwise. Neighbor to neighbor.

Small business loans originated by Rebirth will be guarantied by a third party. A $5-10,000 small business loan, for instance, say for a neighborhood barber’s purchase of equipment allowing accommodation of their services to pandemic conditions, will be secured by the assets of the borrower, with full recourse. It will also be backed, dollar for dollar, by the assets of an investor.

• An investor can make a direct deposit with Hope Community Development Credit Union, Rebirth’s administrative partner. As part of its underwriting assessment of an individual credit, Hope will allocate a commensurate portion of the investor’s deposit held on account as security for the loan. A $100,000 deposit, for instance, could facilitate as many as 20 small business or consumer loans. Returns on investment capital in this scenario are anticipated to be at or slightly above conventional savings rates.

• Alternately, an investor could buy a certificate of deposit expressly defined for this share secure purpose. It would not offer the flexibility of a savings account, but would offer a higher return, anticipated to be at or above market CD rates.

In both cases, the loans for which an investor’s capital is providing additional security will be thoroughly underwritten by Hope CDCU, a premier national Black owned financial institution deeply experienced with community investment, particularly in African-American neighborhoods – an expertise recently recognized by Netflix with a multimillion dollar investment.

Note that the investor’s funds serve as a guaranty for loans Rebirth originates. The funds would be called upon only as a last resort; all recourse available to Rebirth and Hope as the debt provider would be pursued prior to calling the guaranty. The funds’ availability as a credit enhancement, however, enables the transaction to happen in the first place, addressing shortfalls in collateral and/or credit capacity.

Shared security, in this context, makes a critical difference. In many cases, these are loans that Hope’s standard underwriting would not allow due to credit shortfalls, despite a business model and theory of change focused on building intergenerational wealth and facilitating transformational community development.

Consider an investment in Rebirth, an investment that will contribute to building community wealth. Earn rates of return slightly better than market for capital normally sitting idle. Join with us in addressing centuries of obstacles to building intergenerational wealth in Black communities.


20. Repairing the breach, restoring the streets to live in, neighbor to neighbor

This is not an offering for sale. This is an explanatory document.

A theory of change is emerging

After interviewing Walter Brueggemann I have realized I have an emerging theory of change, of what a Post Covid-19 version of God’s economy could look like. To start with, it is based on interdependence for our mutual survival, rather than focused on the creation of wealth for an individual family. One thing the pandemic and the death of George Floyd I think has taught at least some of is that we depend on each other for our mutual survival. You wearing a mask keeps me safe. Acting as if black lives matter changes who I am as an older white man.

From that stance of interdependence as foundational, this reimagined economy has to work on behalf of the poor rather than urban elites. From Edgar Villanueva and Jed Emerson’s webinar on FaithFinance, I am adopting the framework that white Christians need to both understand their racist history before they try to change the economy, and that our actions and new, faith influenced investment vehicles need to work to repair the structural wealth gap our racism has created. Reparations has to be foundational along with interdependence.

From Eve Poole’s F+F webinar, I take the tenet that conversion of the economy has start with personal action by church members, which in investment terms means the investment vehicles have to be open to ordinary people, not just wealthy “accredited investors” who have a couple of million dollars in assets.

From the webinar with David Robinson Sr and Junior and Ross Baird, I draw on the observed reality that investing in deep, local transformative change is the place where people of faith can have the deepest long term impact

From those foundational stepping stones, I am looking for ways that people are creating initiatives that are in line with being things average individuals can get involved in, that understand that the post pandemic economy needs to be interdependent rather than selfish and individual and that it needs to repair our racist heritage.

I am finding several projects, some of which I am personally involved with, others I am just staying in touch with and writing about. With Nikishka Iyengar, a young woman of color we are looking a community investment trust to preserve African American houses and businesses from the coming land grab by private equity in Atlanta, where individual people could invest $10 in a building modeled after a CIT in Portland.

In my hometown of Asheville, NC, a credit union, a community development finance institution (CDFI) a black run Community Development Corporation (CDC) the local living wage coalition and the local retail alliance are looking at a holding company to invest to preserve downtowns with local ownership, with a bias toward employee ownership and businesses run by women and people of color. we are working on in Asheville.

In Minneapolis we are making progress on Star Financial Solutions, a housing coop that creates interest-free faith compliant home ownership for observant Muslims through neighbors investing in neighbors, which is a natural way of life for immigrants and refugees, that makes less sense to people who were born here.

In Portland and San Francisco work is being done on a faith based credit union network with micro chapters in each parish, as part of the economy of Francesco. We are thinking of modeling it on the community development credit union microbranch model of Hope Credit Union in the Mississippi Delta.

There is a common thread in this approach that you could call an emerging theory of change, and an economic theology that’s heavily influenced by the journalism I’ve been doing through Faith+Finance.

My friend and mentor Chris Kopka read the first draft of this post and tells me my theory of change is not new, but is yet example of someone discovering on his own something that’s been around for around 100 years, Peter Kropotkin wrote about mutual aid in 1902. “Kropotkin’s ideas anticipate the now recognized importance of mutualism (a beneficial relationship between two different species) and altruism (when one member of a species aids another) in biology, Kopka says, quoting Wikipedia.

I am looking for and interested in investment vehicles that are for unaccredited investors, ordinary people, that accredited investors could invest in while preserving community control rather than ceding it to wealthy investors or foundations. They create community wealth and give capital to people who don’t typically get it. By their nature they create new stories and relationships of trust across neighborhoods and communities that often don’t know each other and often carry toxic stories of each other.

These vehicles definancialize the economy, keep assets local rather than becoming something that’s traded on Wall Street. They enhance connections and change stories across races, ethnicities and neighborhoods beyond philanthropy, but provided reciprocal relations, where investors from affluent neighborhoods get paid back an appropriate return over time.

And the exchange of value is mutual beyond that. It can be seen in improved school performance because Somali teenage girls have a bedroom to do their homework rather than sharing a kitchen table with four or five siblings. The new value created has city- wide benefits that people in affluent neighborhoods will benefit from beyond being paid back for doing good, including lowering social service costs and increased sales and property taxes from the preservation of ownership by people of color and higher economic development scores.

At the same time, they create financial assets in neighborhoods that often don’t have household assets, as the Runway Project which I co founded, has done, which can be transformative on every level.

These investing vehicles, by creating relationships of reciprocal return rather than charity, that tap into the bootstrap story to get support from white neighborhood-scale investors, as we did with Habitat for Humanity in Jackson, Mississippi, do more. They sometimes can change the toxic stories white people have in their heads about people of color as being frightening, dependent and needy. The stories white people have in their heads eventually create situations where unarmed black men can be shot because their lives are not seen as being as valuable as those of white people.

Investing from an economic theology of interdependence, realizing that white Christians need to repair the damage we have done, and where individuals can take action, can change the stories and the economic outcome for everyone. It’s reimagining God’s economy, post pandemic. Connected, interdependent, realizing racism as baked into our habits of thinking and acting and as something that needs to be consciously overcome but designing the economy so it works for all.

Affluent church repents, atones for gentrification

To many in Cincinnati, the Over the Rhine neighborhood revival seemed like a major success; one of the poorest parts of the city was seeing restaurants serving locally grown food, coffee shops,bars move in along with vibrant botique locally owned retail shops. 

But to the people who had lived there before the development, it was nothing but the same kind of bad news they’d seen before; rising rents were forcing them to move from where they’d lived for decades. African American owned bodegas and pawn shops and barber shops were being gentrified out. 

The local interdenominational biblical study and justice action group called Economics of Compassion saw it another way; through a lens of Biblical justice linked to economic analysis. Renowned Old testament scholar Walter Bruggeman, then a Cincinnati resident, taught them to see development using texts like Isaiah 5:5 “The prophet says woe to those who join house to house and field to field,”Bruggeman said. “That is eminent domain and gentrification. The prophet was what was going on in Jerusalem and had a social awareness and acute economic analysis.”

Like most Christians, most people in EOC “never thought about the gospel in economic terms,” Bruggeman said. That new understanding had a practical impact, said Peter Block, a noted community development author and community organizer who was another EOC founding leader. “It gave form to their missional work and it helped them see the empire they were working against, and even how it existed inside their own congregations.”

EOC taught its faith community to stop blaming the poor for their circumstances or see the homeless as broken people. “We learned to help people find their gifts and led them to invest in them,”Block said.” We dropped the concept of charity, giving from those who have to the people we label needy. That sustains poverty and bad power relationships. Charity is not an economics of compassion. We looked for the assets of our neighbors.”

Based on the new understanding of their neighbors, coupled with an Biblically based understanding of the injustice that comes with gentrification and the responsibility of people of faith, the city came together at a conference we held in the city called Neighborhood Economics and  took new action.  

A $30,000 grant from the local Episcopal Cathedral had let the leader of a local African American led accelerator called Mortar, operating in Over the Rhine, play the connect the dots role for six months as a system entrepreneur between the white churches, the city, local investors, the community foundation and CDFI’s and economic development agencies. Those new relationships enabled by that visionary grant from a church resulted within three years in more than $3.5 million in philanthropic, private sector and public investment in Mortar to help black led businesses create assets operating out of their pop up store front in Over the Rhine. Mortar has since been recognized as an award and grant winning national model and its leader has testified in Congress on the role of entrepreneurship in asset creation among marginalized communities.

 Many church members were trained by Mortar in culturally appropriate technical assistance, and white professionals learned to both talk to listen to first time non college African American entrepreneurs and become long term, valued mentors, spawning scores of new relationships with value for both. 

Bruggeman’s teachings and the EOC conversations “caused the Cathedral community to repent of certain past ways of behaving and thinking; they realized that gentrification is not all good, that not all investment benefits everyone equally, said the dean of Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral Gail Greenwell. “There was a significant shift in our outreach projects. We went from ameliorating the symptoms of poverty to addressing system change.” 

A core group of Cathedral community activists formed and they, with the Cathedral’s backing, raised a minority loan fund, with partners. Now, the Cathedral, which has a large endowment, plans to invest $10 million in low income housing, along with public sector partners toward a $50 million low income housing fund to “counter balance the gentrification.” The wealthy church even learned to see its endowment in a new way. “We had always thought about preserving the (Proctor Fund) endowment. Now we’ve come to see with great treasure comes great responsibility, not in a nobless oblige way, but identifying with our neighbors,” Greenwell said. 

A key to their new understanding was shifting from thinking about Cathedral members to thinking about the Cathedral community, and identifying as and with their neighbors. “That led us to learn to listen to people with the least wealth as part of the conversation, and to see them as people we could learn from.”

What’s needed to replicate the Cincinnati story is education to teach pastors to “articulate their faith and the Jesus message of the kingdom of God as it relates to human society and politics and economics, not just their private time with Jesus or the private spirituality, cut off from the world,“Bruggeman said. “They need to break out of their bubble of comfort. They need an understanding of the Gospel as a call to discipleship through some kind of worldly engagement.”

“Most pastors have no sense of how to do social analysis (as the prophets did) and connect it to their Biblical faith.”Bruggeman said. “They stay in their private morality, but they need to follow the money and see who benefits from it in their community and see who is suffering from it. They have no sense that the prophets were speaking against the urban elite and on behalf of the oppressed peasants. It’s the same today. The economic strategy in many cities is to move the poor out of downtown and make them invisible.” Preachers need this kind of theological and biblical education, along with economic analysis of what’s going on in their cities and towns, Bruggeman said, citing half a dozen other relevant and timely Old Testament prophetic texts. “They need to see what decisions are being made in their towns, and see who is suffering from them.”