Civil Rights Heritage Center, 6:00 pm, January 17, 2018
Moderator: Dr. Darryl Heller, Director of the Center
Ms. Linda Wolfson, Community Forum for Economic Justice
Dr. James Mueller, Executive Director, Department of Community Investment, City of South Bend
Ms. Christina Brooks, Diversity Inclusion Officer, City of South Bend
This is part of a series of meetings being held about the economic disparity for those in the African American Community which by the City's own study shows South Bend's African American Community which totals 27% of the population, makes 50% less than whites and has two times the unemployment.
Ms. Linda Wolfson:
She maintains not much has changed in how the City of South Bend distributes its economic monies.
(TIF - Tax Incremental Financing which are tax dollars that go to private businesses and projects in the hopes they will boost business and improve life for the community and
TAX ABATEMENTS - which allows the City to help their cash flow by not paying any increased property taxes for a specific period of years)
She cited an article in the South Bend Tribune from August 15, 2006 where instead of the City boosting and developing the Portage area, the TIF monies went towards Blackthorn. The City expanded the TIF boundaries South so the City could spend the monies someplace other than where economic development was needed most.
Holladay Corporation was given $2.1M in TIFs and granted $4,530,027 in tax forgiveness. She says, these Tax Abatements are not necessary and the average citizen property owner has to make-up the shortfall in taxes while not getting much benefit and does not benefit those who need the economic boost the most.
She maintains the City continues to ignore the areas that most need attention while concentrating the funds in the downtown area.
NOTE: There is a new project in the works for the Portage area that is a "Spec Building" which means there is not a firm commitment from a business to occupy it. This warehouse would require TIF and be given major property tax abatements. According to the developer, it would be a highly automated warehouse and only need 6-10 workers.
It would not address the need to bring in many jobs for the community for the amount of money they are being given as incentives. The City often argues these Abatements bring in needed jobs.
Dr. James Mueller:
He says their policies of restrciting traffic in the downtown is a wise economic choice so traffic doesn't flow through it like a highway is beneficial and that developing the downtown area first will eventually expand out to the neighborhoods.
He maintains working on the neighborhoods first just doesn't give the local economic boost needed. Revitalizing areas with aging housing stock doesn't give a good return on investment the way concentrated downtown homes will.
Ms. Christina Brooks:
She gave a personal account of her life in South Bend, definitions of racial inequities and a history of racial disparities.
She highlighted parts of the "Racial Wealth Dividein South Bend" September 2017 report the commissioned from "Prospertiy Now" which is available to the public as a download.
"More data analysis is needed" before the City can take action.
Ms. Lisa DeBerry says in the meantime, the "1,000 Houses in 1,000 Days" project took out many houses and the area has not received the needed funds to rebuild it and fix the remaining homes which are often valued at below $50,000. Those funds have gone to build expensive homes/condos in the downtown area.
Dr. Mueller replied that 60% of the homes were saved.
Ms. DeBerry asked what if anything had been done to help those homeowners repair those homes, further noting that instead of helping, the City is handing out Code Violations instead, which puts the homeowners further in debt and does not address the problem.
Mr. Jas Alexander, VP of Local 84809, asked about requiring those receiving TIF/Abatments to be required to have hiring requirements around minorities and local residents to boost the income of those already living here.
Dr. Mueller replied there needs to be further study and data on the issue. He also stated there might be lawsuits if the City made these types of requirements so at this time the City will not make any labor requirements on these developers.
Mr. Alexander continued to say that on many local development projects, workers from outside South Bend are brought in instead of utilizing locals who need the jobs and income.
He also asked what is being done to train local workers to boost their ability to fill jobs and raise their income.
Ms. Brooks says there are programs through St. Mary's (SPARK), SCORE for startups and WorkOne where the City allocated $100K Trainings Connection Program which pays for training for people to upgrade their skills.
NOTE: That $100K rapidly runs out which means it is being utilized. It goes directly towards those residents wanting to advance their careers. Funding this program more agressively may boost the economy more than giving Abatements since it raises people's skills and income directly.It also gives employers a more skilled workforce.
Other Audience Comments: Gentrification continues to be a concern and people are not convinced the "trickle down" of downtown money spent and property tax dollars given away will reach neighborhoods will work since the neglect has made things worse in the meantime. They are tired of more "conversations" and less "action".
Redevelopment Commission meetings are held on the 13th floor of the County-City Building two Thursday mornings a month. They are open to the public to attend, but no comments or input from the public is allowed.
According to the Brookings Institution, "States and localities spend $50 to $80 billion on tax breaks and incentives each year in the name of economic development despite a mountain of evidence showing that tax incentives produce mostly marginal returns. These traditional approaches to economic development by local governments have not benefited all populations — and, in many cases, the policies and programs have particularly neglected or even shortchanged people of color, immigrants and low-income communities"
-- Matt Zone, President of the National League of Cities
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