Jewish Community Action
What has been most instrumental to your progress?
The completion of the report by Dr. Sam Myers of the Humphrey Institute on banking and lending from 2008 to 2013 and the subsequent presentation to the Minneapolis and St. Paul City Councils was critical to moving this work forward. This report, from a very respectable research institution, provided critically important information to the city council about the levels of disparities in lending between communities of color and the white community and the need for reform of some practices in the city. This report also provides a baseline for the disparities that exist today and how to measure progress in the future. This report also elevated the importance of issues related to banking and lending for the city to consider. Once these presentations were completed, JCA began a thorough and comprehensive process of interviewing practitioners and experts in the areas of homeownership, rental housing, small business development and financial accessibility. It was this process of conversations with so many allies, city staff, and community members in developing a collective understanding of key issues and potential solutions that has been so important to this work.
It was from these listening sessions that JCA learned from residents of many neighborhoods their views on banking services and obstacles to what is needed to improve trust and accessibility to financial services. The more than 150 interviews served at least two important purposes: it was an opportunity for JCA to learn a long list of recommendations and findings for actions that could be taken by local government, state and federal government and financial institutions to improve access to lending and reduce racial disparities; it was also an important opportunity to strengthen alliances with groups that JCA has worked with for many years and who work with people directly impacted by racial inequality as well as with new groups in the community. It was through the 5 roundtable sessions, professionally facilitated, that JCA added to its knowledge and alliances with groups who specialize in housing, small business development and financial accessibility. Part of these meetings were with government officials who will play key roles in implementing changes to increase equity. It is from these recommendations that we are working with the U of M to send out a survey to prioritize action.
Another critically important part of this work has been leadership development and alliance building. JCA has engaged with our members in St. Paul and Minneapolis to form a banking reform leadership team to assist with building the campaign and moving it forward. Members have been involved in recruiting others to become engaged, attending meetings with elected officials and other allies, convening an educational event for JCA members and attending roundtable sessions. These members have also played important roles in reviewing the findings and deciding to move forward with a survey. Essential to determining the findings and recommendations and building the support for moving forward with a policy agenda has been the one to one meetings, roundtables and listening sessions with allies. We have now built relationships with a diverse set of partners engaged in different aspects of the lending work and gained tentative support to participate in the work with elected officials, government officials and banking professionals who are in position to make recommended changes. Without the alliances and support of many partners, it would not be possible to move policy changes forward.
Key lessons learned
It was through the roundtable meetings, listening sessions and one-to-one meetings with practitioners in the field and community residents that we learned the vast number of ideas for improving access to banking services and lending. It was fascinating to learn the significant commonalities shared by people who work in housing, small businesses and financial accessibility in terms of what types of reform are needed. There was significant agreement that city government can do more than it is doing to address disparities as well as agreement that banks can make creative changes in order to be more accessible to those who are unbanked and to provide more lending to those seeking to buy homes or start businesses. All agreed that there is a lack of urgency to solve problems of racial inequality in Minnesota and in both cities. All agreed that there was not enough action to improve lending so that more people of color could buy homes, start small businesses and seek loans from banks. While there is this strong agreement, the key lesson is that elected officials and business leaders must step out further, be more creative and truly invest in racial justice policies in local communities.
Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving
For JCA, we have really concentrated on two of the three elements of the community innovation process. Inclusivity has been critical through our process of gaining a collective understanding and generating ideas by meeting with more than 200 people in the fields of housing, small business and financial accessibility. We have done this by meeting with experts in the field, government officials, business leaders and community residents. It is our belief that all of these individuals and their organizations have something very important to add to the process of developing a collective understanding and generating ideas for solutions. In addition, this process of inclusivity would not have worked without a commitment to collaboration. We have stressed the idea that all ideas are welcome, not only from those in the community who lack trust of banks, and others who are distrustful of the government, that real solutions will only come when government officials and bank officials are collaborating with the community to generate solutions and test them in the community. The collaborative process is critical to making sure all parties in this work feel some ownership in the problem-solving.
Other key elements of Community Innovation
There are three additional elements that will be critical to the community process: leadership, creativity and risk taking. An important part of JCA's work is to develop a collective understanding of our work and build leadership among members of the Jewish community and among communities of color who are most directly impacted by racial disparities. This leadership development is essential to make sure that members of the community can play important roles in the policy making initiatives that are needed and hold elected officials accountable. Leadership is also essential in city government and banks to demonstrate that creative solutions can be found and implemented. Leadership requires elected officials and bank officials to try new and even some untested, creative solutions to the historical problem of racial injustice in our communities. A critical way to know whether creative solutions and leadership are being demonstrated is through the willingness of these leaders to take real risks. These risks involve pursuing policies that can reduce disparities even when some of the solutions might be less popular with voters and might require banks to test ideas that are new.
Understanding the problem
Through our work to convene a study by the University of MN, Dr. Myers, JCA was able to provide a very credible report and sophisticated data from recent statistics that quantifies how widespread racial disparities are in lending for homeownership and small business lending. This report based on 2008 to 2013 data, provides great clarity about the level of disparities and the role that discrimination might have played. The report provides a baseline of data moving forward for cities and communities to monitor progress on reducing disparities. It has been the roundtables, listening sessions and individual meetings that have provided even more clarity regarding a collective understanding of what the problems are, who is most affected and what possible solutions might be tried. Experts on the ground who do work to expand homeownership, start and maintain small businesses and attempt to make banking more accessible have more than clarified how extensive the barriers are but also how accessible and possible potential solutions are to implement. With leaders willing to be creative and take risks, working with the community, it is truly possible to reduce and eliminate disparities.
If you could do it all over again...
Two very important things we would have done was to reach out even earlier to communities of color, both individuals and organizations, to better understand their ownership of this work. From the beginning, we have wanted communities of color and those most directly impacted by this work to be in the lead. Despite our many years of working on the foreclosure crisis, we were not as intentional as we could have been to involve these groups and communities to lead this work so that as we develop a collective understanding of the issue and potential solutions, communities of color are more clearly leading this effort. While we have built strong alliances and many organizations working on the ground are engaged in the work, we could have started earlier to engage these groups. Secondly, we could have started the work with more clear leadership and champions from city councils and possibly county boards in leading this effort. Champions in government can play critical roles in owning the potential solutions earlier and then convincing their colleagues to get on board and support possible solutions. This process of working with elected officials as champions could have started earlier.
One last thought
A few important points to add are the discovery that this work can be linked to the upcoming process of Comprehensive plans being developed by city and county government. These plans must be submitted to the Met Council by 2018 and provide the vision for work on economic justice, housing and other issues for the next ten years. We believe many of the potential solutions being identified can be included in the comprehensive plans to create measurable objectives for the next 10 years of action by city and county government to reduce racial disparities. We have also developed working partnerships with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota who are helping JCA and partners to convene a CRA training and strategy session for how to resolve many of the same problems in Minnesota. Have partnerships with federal regulators can be very important in building consensus for action. Lastly, an important lesson is understanding that these issues require urgent action to respond to those who are unable to buy homes or start businesses now but that we must also have our eyes on a long term vision for eliminating racial disparities through collective action.