WBEZ | Economy http://www.wbez.org/news/economy Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en As temp work grows, African Americans push for their fair share http://www.wbez.org/news/temp-work-grows-african-americans-push-their-fair-share-110945 <p><p>Between his wife, children and grandchildren, there are a lot of mouths to feed in Kenny Flowers&rsquo; home. But he says it has been a decade since his last full-time job. And he lost one of his two part-time jobs a few months ago.<br /><br />&ldquo;So I&rsquo;ve been coming to MVP to pick up [work] and just get some honest money,&rdquo; says Flowers, 38, referring to Most Valuable Personnel, part of Personnel Staffing Group, a chain based in the Chicago area with operations in eight states.<br /><br />Flowers, a lifelong resident of the city&rsquo;s West Side, says he has gone at least four times this year to MVP&rsquo;s office in the Town of Cicero, a suburb bordering the city. He says he has spent hours and hours in the waiting room.<br /><br />But MVP has yet to give Flowers any work. Asked why, a company spokesman responds that Flowers &ldquo;calls the office frequently and is advised to come in the following day to be assigned out for work&rdquo; but &ldquo;does not arrive to be sent out.&rdquo;</p><p>Flowers calls that baloney and wonders whether MVP is trying to hide something he has noticed in the waiting room. &ldquo;I see more Latinos going out than I do African Americans,&rdquo; he says.<br /><br />Flowers suspects that many of those Latinos are in the country illegally. He says MVP assigns them work on the belief that unauthorized immigrants are less likely to raise a stink when employers short them out of pay or put them in dangerous conditions. The staffing firm denies that allegation.<br /><br />MVP&rsquo;s Cicero location is among 933 offices of temp agencies registered to operate in Illinois. Nationwide, more than 2.9 million people were employed as temps in September, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Temp jobs, once mostly clerical, are now mainly blue-collar and constitute about 2 percent of the nation&rsquo;s employment.</p><p>Those are all record numbers, but African Americans say they are not getting a fair shot at the work. They are accusing the staffing companies of discrimination. And their claims are getting attention from temp-worker advocates, federal regulators and some Illinois lawmakers.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Few blacks sent to bakery</span></p><p>Flowers takes me to that MVP office, part of a strip mall along the border between Cicero and Chicago. In the waiting room I see more than four dozen blue-collar workers hoping for an assignment. Some say they have been there for hours. While they wait, they are not getting paid. Nearly all are black.<br /><br />I pull out my audio-recording gear and take a few photos of Flowers on the sidewalk, where workers have spilled out from the waiting room. Within minutes a woman who helps run this MVP office comes out and commands everyone to go back inside. Everyone, that is, but Flowers and me. She tells us to leave, and we do.<br /><br />But we do not get far. As I interview Flowers on a residential sidewalk around the corner, a Cicero police car pulls up, then another. &ldquo;We have the subjects,&rdquo; one of officers tells his radio dispatcher.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/waiting%20room.jpg" style="height: 426px; width: 620px;" title="At the Cicero office of Most Valuable Personnel, dozens of black workers fill the waiting room. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" /></div><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m going to need to see IDs from both you gentlemen,&rdquo; the officer tells Flowers and me. The cop says it was MVP that called the police on us.<br /><br />After they run our driver&rsquo;s licenses for warrants, the officers leave us alone. But the whole experience signals that discrimination allegations in the staffing industry have touched a nerve.</p><p>MVP is a defendant in two class-action lawsuits in federal court. Both claim employment discrimination against African Americans. Temp-worker advocates, meanwhile, have come to the company&rsquo;s Cicero office to hand out flyers about wage theft. MVP claims the leafleting is an effort to &ldquo;coerce&rdquo; the company to settle the litigation.</p><p>But Christopher Williams, the attorney who filed the suits, says MVP has only itself to blame. &ldquo;Where there&rsquo;s a staffing agency within two miles of zip codes that have a population that&rsquo;s 97-98 percent African American, why were no African Americans &mdash; almost none &mdash; sent to work jobs at Gold Standard Baking?&rdquo;<br /><br />Gold Standard, an industrial bakery on Chicago&rsquo;s Southwest Side, relies on MVP for labor. The two companies are co-defendants in one of the suits. The claim is that the bakery asked for immigrant temps instead of African American temps and that the staffing agency fulfilled that request.<br /><br />&ldquo;Over a four-year period, when approximately 5,000 workers were sent to Gold Standard Baking, only 85 of those were African American,&rdquo; Williams says. &ldquo;These are low-skilled jobs that people on the West Side of Chicago need to have access to.&rdquo;<br /><br />At the same time, Williams says, MVP focused its recruiting on Spanish-speaking workers, and the company sent out vans to pick them up in heavily immigrant neighborhoods such as Little Village.<br /><br />In court, MVP has countered that the reason its workforce is mostly Latino is because of the office&rsquo;s location. Nearby Chicago neighborhoods may be black, but Cicero is mostly Latino.<br /><br />&ldquo;MVP does not discriminate against African Americans,&rdquo; Elliot Richardson, an attorney for the company, tells me. &ldquo;MVP sends out the very best employees for the positions that fit what those employees can do. There are plenty of job offerings at MVP right now. They are looking for workers. Regardless of their race, we welcome people to come in and to apply.&rdquo;</p><p>Gold Standard officials, for their part, referred WBEZ questions about the suit to a lawyer. He sent a statement that denies the allegations and calls the company &ldquo;an equal opportunity employer&rdquo; that it is &ldquo;proud of its diverse workforce.&rdquo;</p><p>Last week MVP brought a suit of its own. The claim, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, accuses the temp-worker advocates and their group, the nonprofit Chicago Workers&rsquo; Collaborative, of defamation.<br /><br />&ldquo;Their goal is to destroy the temporary employment agencies in the city,&rdquo; Richardson says. &ldquo;MVP does not steal its employees&rsquo; wages.&rdquo;<br /><br />The temp-worker advocates respond that they are not trying to destroy the agencies, just some of their practices, such as the alleged race-based hiring.<br /><br />Leone José Bicchieri, the collaborative&rsquo;s executive director, calls it &ldquo;sad that one of the major staffing agencies in the state of Illinois has decided to use so much time, energy, resources and money on lawyers&rdquo; instead of addressing worker grievances. Bicchieri says the defamation suit is an effort to silence workers.<br /><br /><span style="font-size:22px;">Allegations hard to prove</span></p><p>If some temp agencies are discriminating, it is difficult to find out how many. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not tally complaints against staffing firms.</p><p>But a few of those EEOC complaints in recent years have led to six-figure settlements from those companies. &ldquo;There have always been staffing agencies willing to steer employees based on race and other illegal factors, and that&rsquo;s certainly ongoing,&rdquo; said Jean Kamp, a top attorney of the EEOC&rsquo;s Chicago office. &ldquo;As more people are working through staffing agencies, it&rsquo;s more of a problem.&rdquo;<br /><br />Besides filing EEOC complaints, temp workers alleging race-based hiring discrimination&nbsp;are also dragging staffing firms into federal court. In the Chicago area, Williams is representing plaintiffs in three class-action suits. The defendants include MVP, four other temp agencies and three companies that contracted with the agencies for labor.<br /><br />But alleging discrimination is easier than proving it. In court, MVP has claimed that it does not keep records on people who arrive in search of a job. That claim, contradicted by a company vice president at a July forum recorded by WBEZ, has made it difficult for the plaintiffs to gather information about the job seekers&rsquo; race.<br /><br />&ldquo;This issue is about to be resolved,&rdquo; state Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) said last week as he came out with draft legislation that would tighten up record-keeping requirements. His proposal would require staffing firms to keep a contact form on each job seeker and enable those workers to indicate their race and gender on that form. The idea is to make hiring discrimination easier to find.<br /><br />&ldquo;Hopefully we&rsquo;ll get to the bottom line in resolving this open and blatant discrimination against African Americans, [whose] unemployment rate is just as high as our Latino brothers and sisters,&rdquo; Dunkin said.</p><p>The two main trade groups representing temp firms in the state &mdash; the Staffing Services Association of Illinois and the Illinois Search and Staffing Association &mdash; both declined to comment about the discrimination allegations and Dunkin&rsquo;s proposal.<br /><br />Dunkin says he will introduce that bill this fall or winter after gathering co-sponsors.</p><p>In the meantime, Flowers is still hoping to find more income. &ldquo;Holidays are coming up and it&rsquo;s real rough on me,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s going to be winter and the heat and gas bills are going to go up even more. I would like my kids to have a nice Christmas like everybody else.&rdquo;<br /><br />He might be eligible to file a claim under one of the class-action suits against MVP, but the company is not showing much interest in settling.<br /><br />So, Flowers says, he will keep showing up at the temp agency. Some day, he says, it might send him out to work.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>, and connect with him through <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a>, <a href="https://plus.google.com/111079509307132701769" rel="me">Google+</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/temp-work-grows-african-americans-push-their-fair-share-110945 How home appraisals are calculated http://www.wbez.org/news/how-home-appraisals-are-calculated-110910 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/diningroom.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>WBEZ&rsquo;s been looking at why some Chicago neighborhoods aren&rsquo;t recovering as quickly as others in this post bubble market. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/neighborhood-value-challenge-housing-recovery-110530">As we reported over the summer</a>, part of the measure of a neighborhood is the value -- or appraisal -- of the property there.</p><p>So exactly how is that value measured? I tagged along with an appraiser to find out.</p><p>&ldquo;What is the home consisting of? How many bedrooms, how many bathrooms? What&rsquo;s the floor plan? What&rsquo; the quality of the interior,&rdquo; said Michael Hobbs, president of PahRoo Appraisal and Consultancy. &ldquo;Then, how does that as a package go together and how does that compete with others in proximity.&rdquo;</p><p>He said it&rsquo;s not just about walking through a house. It&rsquo;s also hours of research and looking at comparable properties in the area.</p><p>One of the properties we looked at was a bungalow in the city&rsquo;s Albany Park neighborhood. It was originally listed at $329,900.</p><p>Before we even stepped inside the house, Hobbs sized up the neighborhood to see how this house fits in. The block had a mix of single-family homes and two flat rentals.</p><p>&ldquo;If you look around you can see there&rsquo;s a couple frame properties on the block, a few stucco, but most of them are brick,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Hobbs also took note of recent tuck pointing work, updated windows and gutters.</p><p>A placard on the front door notes home&rsquo;s historic bungalow designation.</p><p>&ldquo;The first thing we notice as we walk in is the original wood work that&rsquo;s still here, from the flooring to the doors,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Some other original features include vintage brass handles and a certain crown molding common in the early 1900s when the home was built.</p><p>Hobbs took note that the sellers made efforts to preserve these touches to maintain the bungalow&rsquo;s historic status.</p><p>He made note to research what the demand is for vintage properties in this micro market.</p><p>The kitchen also has a retro look.</p><p>&ldquo;This is quite typical for the age. You can see the metal sink, original metal cabinetry,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>It&rsquo;s flanked with yellow tile backsplash and a green and blue tile floor. Behind us is a breakfast nook right out of a 50s diner.</p><p>&ldquo;We measure the perimeter of the home. We&rsquo;ll start in one corner and literally measure our way around the property. We make a full floor plan and sketch, and what we&rsquo;re noting here as we&rsquo;re walking through is that this home has 3 bedrooms on the first floor and a bathroom,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The homeowners could&rsquo;ve paid for updates, but Hobbs said that cost wouldn&rsquo;t necessarily result in a higher market value.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s almost no home improvement project that returns 100 percent of the cost to the actual owner. And that&rsquo;s an important clarification for a lot of people. Just because you spent $50,000 doesn&rsquo;t necessarily mean you&rsquo;re going to get $50,000 back,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The home has a large unfinished basement that&rsquo;s mostly dingy, storage space. But it also includes a finished portion with wood paneling--think VFW hall. Hobbs also made note of the water heater and boiler, not to inspect them, but to make note the home has them.</p><p>In the backyard, there&rsquo;s no lawn or garage, but there&rsquo;s a concrete patio and enclosed parking pad.</p><p>&ldquo;The first thing I see is how much shorter the neighboring homes are,&rdquo; Hobbs said.</p><p>He points out the home&rsquo;s larger back end and wider lot than those nearby.</p><p>Back inside, the second level of the home opens up into a large red room with white trim and built in shelves, reminiscent of an old classroom.</p><p>&ldquo;As we can see based on the plywood on the floor and the wear on it, this has been here for an awfully long time,&rdquo; Hobbs said.</p><p>For home buyers looking to get a mortgage loan, banks often require an appraisal.</p><p>Regulation post housing crisis is set up to safeguard against collusion between appraisers and bankers, a problem in the past. So now a third party, an appraisal management company assigns the jobs.</p><p>Hobbs said that&rsquo;s sped up the closing of the home deals, which is good for buyers and sellers, but can limit an appraiser&rsquo;s time for thorough market research.</p><p>&ldquo;So we have to make some assumptions. And therefore we end up completing reports in a shorter amount of time and with maybe less of the information we more traditionally would have had because the push is faster, faster, faster,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Hobbs said people often criticize appraisers for the short time they spend looking at a property.</p><p>&ldquo;You were only in my home for 30 minutes or 45 minutes or an hour, how do you know how much it&rsquo;s worth? I&rsquo;m like, we got to go do research,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>That means looking at comparisons or comps nearby. How dissimilar are they and how much might those features change the value of the home we&rsquo;re appraising?</p><p>&ldquo;So it&rsquo;s a matter of both looking back in terms of what has closed. Looking laterally&hellip;buyer activity has chosen that home instead of this one. And then what&rsquo;s active. What&rsquo;s ahead of us in the form of what this buyer looks at as alternatives,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Appraisers get the buyer/seller contract before viewing the property. Hobbs said the appraisal and contract price often end up being the same. He said that doesn&rsquo;t necessarily mean the appraiser was influenced by the offer price.&nbsp; Rather, buyers and sellers have more access to information to make a more informed valuation for themselves.</p><p>&ldquo;Really the appraiser is coming along and documenting the activities of typical buyers and sellers to really confirm that one person isn&rsquo;t way out there,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s your chance to make an appraisal.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="3600" scrolling="no" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/WBEZ-Graphics/AppraisalQuiz/index.html" width="620"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 07 Oct 2014 21:26:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/how-home-appraisals-are-calculated-110910 Chicago moves on taxi reforms to leave more money in cabbies' pockets http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-moves-taxi-reforms-leave-more-money-cabbies-pockets-110877 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Cabs.png" alt="" /><p><p>The city of Chicago is moving on a set of reforms to help cabbies take home more money, a partial salve after a months-long fight over legalizing competing rideshare services left many taxi drivers feeling bruised. While many hail the step as a sign that city officials are finally working to redress cab drivers&rsquo; complaints, some say the changes don&rsquo;t go far enough.</p><p>&ldquo;What we wanted to do is improve overall their experience here in the city, and make it more lucrative for them as cab drivers,&rdquo; said Maria Guerra Lapacek, Commissioner of Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.</p><p>Guerra Lapacek said her department crafted the proposals after working with representatives from Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 31 and other driver advocacy groups. Some of them will be included in an ordinance to be introduced at City Council&rsquo;s meeting next week. Others will be implemented through rule changes by the BACP.</p><p>The most significant change would reduce how much taxi owners may charge to lease their fuel-efficient cabs after the vehicles&rsquo; first year on the road.</p><p>&ldquo;The garages are able to recoup their investment after a year of having these vehicles in circulation,&rdquo; explained Guerra Lapacek, &ldquo;so the idea was to reduce the lease rate cap for the second year, and that way give relief back to the cab driver.&rdquo;</p><p>Guerra Lapacek said this idea resulted from the surprising finding in a recent <a href="http://www.wbez.org/study-chicago-cabbies-earn-average-12hour-110726">city-commissioned study</a>, which found that cab drivers spend about 40 percent of their gross income on their vehicle leases. Ultimately, the reform could affect leases for an estimated 3,700 of the city&rsquo;s nearly 7,000 cabs.</p><p>Leases would also be reduced for drivers whose vehicles generate a separate revenue stream from advertising displays. The reforms would require cab companies to credit leases in these cases.</p><p>&ldquo;There are over 2000 owner-operators in the City of Chicago. They don&rsquo;t pay a lease,&rdquo; said Peter Enger, a cab driver and Secretary of the United Taxidrivers Community Council. &ldquo;This will not help them in the slightest.&rdquo;</p><p>Enger said he&rsquo;s delighted that city officials appear to be considering the difficulties cab drivers have faced since a previous set of reforms took effect in 2012. Those reforms raised the lease rates for cabs, without a commensurate increase in taxi fare rates. Many cab drivers say that has resulted in longer working hours to earn the same income.</p><p>Cab drivers who own and drive their own taxis affirm Enger&rsquo;s fear that a new round of reform will still leave them in the dust.</p><p>&ldquo;The only way is to get a fare increase that we did not get for almost ten years, to offset the cost of living and all of that stuff,&rdquo; said Ahmed Ammar, who owns and drives his own taxi. &ldquo;Everything went up.&rdquo;</p><p>While some cab drivers, particularly those aligned with UTCC&rsquo;s union, push for a taxi fare increase, others worry it could adversely affect demand. Representatives from another union, Cab Drivers United, say raising fares is lower on their priority list.</p><p>&ldquo;Our focus first and foremost has been moving forward on these changes that will both put money in drivers&rsquo; pockets, and keep the cab companies competitive with the (rideshare) companies,&rdquo; said Tracy Abman, an organizer with AFSCME Local 31.</p><p>Guerra Lapacek said her department will not consider a fare increase at this juncture because she worries it could turn customers away from the taxi industry. Rideshare companies&rsquo; prices routinely undercut taxi fares.</p><p>The proposals also include city-backed smartphone applications to allow passengers to electronically hail taxis, as they do with popular services such as Uber and Hailo.</p><p>&ldquo;We think this is an excellent reform that&rsquo;s going to bring the cab industry into more innovation and really help them access those customers,&rdquo; said Guerra Lapacek. She said the city will put out a request for proposals, and will require all taxis to be on at least one of the city-backed apps.</p><p>Additionally, the reforms would reduce the fee that taxi drivers pay on credit card transactions, from 5 percent to 3 percent; lower the maximum penalties for taxi offenses from $1,000 to $400; and <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/bacp/publicvehicleinfo/publicchauffer/chauffeurtrainingtaskforcefinalrecommendations.pdf">streamline</a>&nbsp;the required driver training process.</p><p>The city will also create a task force to review <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-often-are-cabs-pulled-over-and-what-109734">the enforcement process of taxi rules</a> at the Administrative Hearings Court, which many taxi drivers disparagingly refer to as a &ldquo;kangaroo court.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s significant that the City is listening to drivers that are organized, listen to them, hearing their concerns, addressing some of their concerns and agreeing to continue to work together with drivers to make their lives better and make sure the industry remains viable,&rdquo; said Abman.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Tue, 30 Sep 2014 18:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-moves-taxi-reforms-leave-more-money-cabbies-pockets-110877 Investors gather in Chicago seeking cannabis businesses http://www.wbez.org/news/investors-gather-chicago-seeking-cannabis-businesses-110820 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/marijuana investors.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The country&rsquo;s largest cannabis investor group held a pitch forum in Chicago.</p><p>It looked like a typical business conference in a hotel ballroom, with people in suits shaking hands and exchanging cards. But the biggest difference was that it focuses on a federally illegal substance.</p><p>&ldquo;While we&rsquo;re slaying stereotypes, I also want to open up and make room for the people who may fit the stereotype. I know some great people that I&rsquo;ve done business with that have long hair, or hippies or all the other things that we associate with it. Because once again, the hippies keep being right,&rdquo; said Troy Dayton, CEO of the ArcView Group.</p><p>Dayton was addressing a room full of marijuana industry investors. The industry is expected to be valued at $2.6 billion by the end of this year. More than 100 companies applied online to make their business pitch and only a dozen were chosen for ArcView&rsquo;s forum.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a lot of competition between investors. There&rsquo;s a lot of competition between companies. And everybody&rsquo;s trying to elbow and move,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The room vibe was part Apple product launch and part speed dating.</p><p>Joshua Hill is from Washington state. His handle bar mustache fluttered as he talked to a table of investors about his company Oil Slick. He moved from table to table talking about a non-stick product used to handle sticky cannabis concentrates. His pitch was successful.</p><p>&ldquo;We came here seeking a million dollars for our upcoming projects. Just this morning, I just left a meeting with some investors form ArcView,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;They&rsquo;ve signed a memorandum of understanding, which is the first stage of getting funded. So they&rsquo;ve committed to raising that million for us.&rdquo;</p><p>There was also companies making pitches in a shark tank like presentation.</p><p>Keith McCarty from San Francisco worked in the tech industry before he moved over to cannabis. He launched an app called Eaze just six weeks ago, and he&rsquo;s hoping to raise more capital.</p><p>The app is like Uber for medical marijuana where drivers deliver from dispensaries to patients.</p><p>McCarty&rsquo;s product won&rsquo;t be seen in Illinois anytime soon because state laws restrict anyone other than a certified patient or caregiver to make a pickup. But that doesn&rsquo;t mean Illinois investors won&rsquo;t bite.</p><p>Dayton said all the companies pitching at the Chicago forum were from out of state, but many of the investors in attendance were from Illinois. ArcView has about 330 members with about 30 from Illinois. Annual membership fees range from $2,500 to $15,000.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s just really significant for the whole industry that there&rsquo;s now a Midwestern state with a legal cannabis industry. And so it&rsquo;s great for us all to come here and visit and meet all the people who are the applicants,&rdquo; Dayton said.</p><p>He said these business pitch forums will get larger, more competitive and increasingly commonplace as states move toward legalization.</p><p><em>Susie An is WBEZ&rsquo;s business reporter. Follow her @soosieon</em></p></p> Fri, 19 Sep 2014 08:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/investors-gather-chicago-seeking-cannabis-businesses-110820 Chicago SRO owners say proposed city ordinance is 'hostile' http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-sro-owners-say-proposed-city-ordinance-hostile-110775 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/SRO ordinance.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-6a96fd4e-5c8e-a95a-a0fa-12b9a087e263">A new City Hall plan to preserve <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/slow-disappearing-act-chicago-sro-105836">fast-vanishing</a> affordable housing units in single-room occupancy (SRO) and residential hotels has some Chicago SRO owners upset.</p><p>The Single-Room Occupancy and Residential Hotel Preservation Ordinance, to be introduced at Wednesday&rsquo;s City Council meeting, includes incentives to induce building owners to maintain a certain threshold of affordable units in their buildings. There are few specifics about those incentives, but much of the measure focuses on financial penalties that owners would face if the number of affordable units in their buildings falls below a mandated percentage.</p><p>&ldquo;Essentially what has happened is the city wants to change the rules in the middle of the game,&rdquo; said Eric Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Single Room Housing Assistance Corporation, which works with building owners, operators and tenants to preserve SRO housing in Chicago. &ldquo;The properties are going to be dropping substantially in value because of the proposed ordinance, as now written,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Under the proposal, owners who wish to demolish or convert their properties to market-rate rentals would be required to maintain at least 20 percent of the building&rsquo;s units as affordable, or else pay a $200,000 &ldquo;preservation fee&rdquo; for every unit that falls short of that threshold. Additionally, if an owner wishes to sell a building, it would allow non-profits first crack at purchasing it and would require the owner to engage in good-faith negotiations with those organizations. If no sale occurs within six months of notifying non-profits, then the owner may attempt to sell the property to private developers.</p><p>&ldquo;The private market often moves too quickly for these non-profits to pull together the financing,&rdquo; explained Michael Negron, Chief of Policy to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, &ldquo;and so we wanted to make sure that there was enough period of time for these organizations to actually&hellip; know a sale is coming, and then work with potential lenders, work with the city, work with the state. There are different parties that could potentially help put together a deal like that, but they just need the time to do it.&rdquo;</p><p>The proposal would allow building owners to bypass this process altogether, and to approach the private market first, if they pay a fee of $200,000 on each unit for 30 percent of the units in the building. But many current owners fear that these fines will drastically undercut the selling price of their buildings.</p><p>&ldquo;The property values will have plunged based on the market being so restricted, that the only option essentially for a current owner when he or she is ready to sell is to turn to a non-profit,&rdquo; worried Rubenstein, &ldquo;and the non-profit could offer nickels or dimes on the dollar.&rdquo;</p><p>All fees collected through the proposed ordinance would go to a preservation fund, which the city would use to assist SRO owners with defraying the cost of maintaining, developing or improving their properties. Negron said, additionally, that the city already may have existing resources to preserve at least 700 SRO units through the end of 2018. He said owners may call the city&rsquo;s Department of Planning and Development to discuss rental subsidies from the Low Income Housing Trust Fund, and financing from TIF districts and low-interest loans, to maintain affordability.</p><p>Rubenstein said he and other building owners had hoped the city would employ more incentives than penalties to encourage affordability. He said SRHAC submitted a list of 15 suggested incentives for the city to consider in its ordinance, including exemptions from sales taxes, water fees, and the proposed minimum wage ordinance. Negron said many of the suggestions were impractical.</p><p>A broad coalition of advocates for the homeless, and low-income tenants around Chicago, praised the proposal.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a great ordinance,&rdquo; said Adelaide Meyers, a former tenant of the Norman Hotel and affordable housing advocate. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s exactly what Chicago needs to maintain SROs throughout the city, because if we lose all our SROs we&rsquo;re going to have a lot of homeless people.&rdquo;</p><p>Meyers was herself displaced from the Norman Hotel when Cedar Street Co. bought the North Side property and converted it to upscale rentals within its <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/flats-chicago-developer-weighs-housing-affordability-debate-110475">FLATS portfolio</a>. Meyers now shares an apartment in the Rogers Park neighborhood with a friend, and with some rental assistance from her father.</p><p>&ldquo;I never thought that I would end up living in an SRO to start off with, but I lived in a few different ones for several years,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;So I could definitely end up back in an SRO.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 09 Sep 2014 17:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-sro-owners-say-proposed-city-ordinance-hostile-110775 Illinois begins accepting applications for marijuana businesses http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-begins-accepting-applications-marijuana-businesses-110764 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/medical-marijuana-2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois officials are now accepting applications for people who want to open a medical marijuana dispensary or cultivation center. The number of licenses are quite limited &ndash; only 22 available for cultivation centers and 60 for dispensaries.</p><p>Michelle West is hoping to be awarded a license to open a cultivation center. She&rsquo;s a nurse who originally set out to research how legalization would affect her job, but instead she found a business opportunity.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s not only a business opportunity for a person, but for economic development for a community, for a neighborhood,&rdquo; West said.</p><p>The Illinois Department of Agriculture will sift through the many applications that are expected to be submitted. Officials are looking at six specific areas: the proposed facility, staffing and operations, security, cultivation, product safety and labeling and business and financial disclosure.</p><p>West said she&rsquo;s been researching the industry for the past year. Her 300 plus page plan includes economic growth all the way down to different types of cannabis plants. Most applicants have brought on consultants from other states that have already legalized medical marijuana. West is no different.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of the other people I met, they spent a ton of money on consultants. Consultants are important, yet I was hesitant. I found one because I have to know my plan, inside out,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>In addition to attending conferences, West hired a consultant from Colorado who&#39;s gotten underperforming cultivation centers back up to top production.</p><p>The competition to run dispensaries and cultivation centers in the Chicago market will be very tough. West lives in the city, but decided to look elsewhere to set up her cultivation center. She eventually found a rural town in Police District 6.</p><p>She presented her plans to the town&rsquo;s council members and that night they decided to support her. The town preferred she not disclose the name until a license is actually awarded.</p><p>&ldquo;It was amazing the support because people want jobs. Everyone in the town, all the jobs had left. So people have to drive 40 miles away, 50 miles away. Some are driving into Chicago and then they&rsquo;re driving back home,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>West visited other towns that had mixed views on the legalization of medical marijuana. For this particular community, the cultivation center looks like a path to economic recovery. That&rsquo;s part of the deal they have with West. Their decision to back her means their community members would get first dibs at the job openings.</p><p>&ldquo;The plan that I have, it includes not only hiring younger people, but there&rsquo;s been a lot of people over 50 that have been downsized or they couldn&rsquo;t find a job and they keep trying to find a job. If they&rsquo;re willing to be retrained or work within the facility, they&rsquo;re going to have a job, too,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>West has written an employee handbook that includes wages starting at around $12 an hour with benefits.</p><p>She found a potential property in the area. She&rsquo;s already crafted plans for year-round growing and plans to scale in the years following.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><strong>Security Plan</strong></span></p><p>State officials are making security a high priority for all applications. They see the future cannabis facilities as major targets for crime, since they will deal with large amounts of cash and drugs.</p><p>Joel Brumlik works in law enforcement and he&rsquo;s been running his suburban security company, Tactical Security since 2007. He started researching how he could profit after the state legalized medical marijuana.</p><p>&ldquo;Right now, we have a significant investment in this. A lot of time, a lot of studying, a lot of resources expended. We&rsquo;ve been involved in two or three conferences. We&rsquo;re going to be in one in Las Vegas. These aren&rsquo;t cheap,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Tactical Security has been training officers specifically for medical marijuana, everything from use of force to patient hospitality, even how to inspect a facility according to the state&rsquo;s rules and regulations.</p><p>Brumlik prides himself on the hefty 70 plus page security plan he&rsquo;s written up. He says he&rsquo;s fielded at least a dozen calls from potential medical marijuana businesses and already has a few signed contracts.</p><p>He says his competition seems to be based mostly on price.</p><p>&ldquo;Yes, our company may be charging you a higher price per hour, but what is your cost? And when I say &lsquo;what is your cost&rsquo;, what I&rsquo;m saying is, is that if you don&rsquo;t have the right people, the highly trained people, then your cost might be a lot higher than you believe if you&rsquo;re just going by the price,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>But some security experts say it isn&rsquo;t necessary to have such specific tailoring for the marijuana industry. Eugene Ferraro is a security consultant based in Colorado. He calls it a marketing ploy.</p><p>&ldquo;The tailoring that&rsquo;s necessary to provide services to a marijuana retailer have very small differences from other types of retailers or operations whether it&rsquo;s manufacturing or distribution operations,&rdquo; Ferraro said.</p><p>He says bigger security companies have been staying away from cannabis to avoid any potential legal issues. But he&rsquo;s definitely seen specialized companies gaining a lot of business.</p><p>&ldquo;The small operators, the mom and pop alarm companies, the mom and pop guard companies have some opportunity here,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Ferraro says Illinois&rsquo; emphasis on security is overkill and that the cost will be passed down to the consumers, which might create another problem of pushing people to the black market.</p><p>Brumlik doesn&rsquo;t see it that way and says every dispensary he visited in Colorado had been broken into.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re not interested in trying to compete on a level where we&rsquo;re just trying to put warm bodies in there,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;"><strong>Financing</strong></span></p><p>It&rsquo;s going to take anyone who&rsquo;s awarded a license a lot of money to open and operate the marijuana facility. For West, she needs to pay a $25,000 non-refundable application fee, and she also needs to show she has $500,000 in liquid assets. If she&rsquo;s awarded the license, she&rsquo;ll have to pay a $200,000 permit fee, not to mention the cost it takes to run any type of business.</p><p>Financing and banking has been tricky for business owners in states that are already well into their legalized marijuana programs. Illinois will be no different.</p><p>Even ancillary businesses are finding it difficult to find a bank just to make a simple deposit.</p><p>&ldquo;Difficult is such an understatement. It was the bane of my existence for 90 days,&rdquo; said venture capitalist David Friedman.</p><p>Recently, the Chicago businessman added another title to his resume; publisher. He started a news website called Marijuana Investor News.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t understand why Bloomberg can run stories about medical marijuana, but we can&rsquo;t. And I&rsquo;m sure, I understand now about the banking regulations and everyone&rsquo;s just very cautious about anything that has to do with it. We did ultimately find a bank because it&rsquo;s ridiculous that we shouldn&rsquo;t,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Friedman is being approached by entrepreneurs for investments into their proposed dispensaries and cultivation centers. He says since the final rules were approved he hasn&rsquo;t slept much.</p><p>Troy Dayton is CEO of the Arcview Group, a California-based national investment and research firm focused on cannabis. A lot of accredited investors in the marijuana industry are members of the group, including David Friedman. It has some of the first angel investors in the sector.</p><p>Dayton said Illinois&rsquo; program might be more difficult to finance with all the restrictions and a possibility of the pilot program sunsetting in a few years.</p><p>&ldquo;[Business owners] had better have a lot of money in the bank because it may be a long ramp up before they can make their businesses profitable,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>According to Arcview&rsquo;s annual report, the industry is expected to grow to $2.6 billion in 2014.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s a 68 percent growth in one year. Making it the fastest growing industry in America. &nbsp;And growing to 10.2 billion dollar industry by 2018,&rdquo; Dayton said.</p><p>Another challenge businesses are likely to face is a high tax rate. Marijuana is categorized as a Schedule 1 illegal substance, next to heroin and LSD. The Internal Revenue Service has a code to tax illegal drug income, up to 50 percent.</p><p>Dooma Wendschuh, CEO of Ebbu, a Colorado cannabis company said it takes a lot of work to keep your business completely above board in this federally illegal industry.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re really limited in who you can raise that money from. You can&rsquo;t go to Sand Hill Road with a couple of baggies of your product and expect to raise your money. It just doesn&rsquo;t work like that,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Sand Hill Road is an area in California with a lot venture capital companies.</p><p>But Wendschuh thinks the opportunity in marijuana is bigger than the Internet and tech boom if you&rsquo;re willing to take the risk.</p><p>He looks at it like alcohol after prohibition. Laws were left for states to determine individually. Some counties remain dry even today. It took companies some years after prohibition to feel comfortable enough to even promote their product.</p><p>Wendschuh says for the first several years after prohibition, bootlegging was big and the black market thrived.</p><p>&ldquo;Of course it was cheaper than buying alcohol at a licensed facility. But hey look right now. If you wanted to go buy bootleg alcohol could you even find it? I don&rsquo;t know where you would find it,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>He says eventually the alcohol industry became less taboo. People wanted to buy from a reputable source rather than a cheaper, criminal operation. Product pricing evened out and financing was easier.</p><p>Wendschuh believes the cannabis industry isn&rsquo;t far from seeing relaxation of federal regulations, and marijuana could follow the path of alcohol.</p><p><em>Susie An is WBEZ&rsquo;s business reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/soosieon">@soosieon</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 08 Sep 2014 07:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-begins-accepting-applications-marijuana-businesses-110764 Englewood girls learn how to restore furniture, and their community http://www.wbez.org/news/englewood-girls-learn-how-restore-furniture-and-their-community-110759 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/furniture%20thumb.jpg" title="Jamika Smith is the founder of Teena’s Legacy, a furniture reupholstery apprenticeship program named for her grandmother. (Courtesy of Jamika Smith)" /></div><p>Four young women are in an airy living room in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood. They are learning how to reupholster second-hand furniture. As the sound of a stapler echoes throughout the home, one is pulling them out from a worn chair.</p><p>Across the room Laquisha Clinton refurbishes a foot stool. She picked out some fabric the color of regal purple.</p><p>&ldquo;It shows my gratitude and attitude toward fashion,&rdquo; Clinton said.</p><p>Jamika Smith is trying to teach a trade that she hopes will lead to self discovery for a group of Englewood girls. There&rsquo;s a lot of talk about the high youth unemployment rate in Chicago. For black youth, the figure is close to 90 percent. But girls are sometimes left out of the conversation.</p><p>Smith first learned how to restore furniture from her grandmother Miss Teena. As a teen, she didn&rsquo;t always appreciate her grandmother&rsquo;s skills. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I did not,&rdquo; Smith said laughing. &ldquo;But she used to have my brother and I garbage dump. Go down alleys and pick up dressers and chairs and things to that nature so it was kind of embarrassing.&rdquo;</p><p>But the garbage dump isn&rsquo;t so bad now. That&rsquo;s where she finds pieces for the girls in her apprentice group. She calls it <a href="https://www.facebook.com/teenalegacy">Teena&rsquo;s Legacy</a> in honor of her late grandmother.</p><p>Smith said learning a trade is important but she has bigger aspirations for these girls.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s more of how these young women find out who they are as individuals, finding out what is their style. Finding out what do they like and what kind of woman to they aspire to be.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/furniture%20inset.jpg" style="height: 444px; width: 250px; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: left;" title="Laquisha Clinton refurbishes a foot stool as part of Teena’s Legacy. (Natalie Moore/WBEZ)" />For Smith, repairing furniture is a metaphor.</p><p>&ldquo;The whole concept is you have this chair that needs restoring and reviving and there may be something in your life that needs restoring and reviving, too.&rdquo;</p><p>All the girls are from Englewood, a neighborhood rocked by high unemployment and poverty with few activities for youth.</p><p>&ldquo;I probably would be outside with my friends all summer on the streets even though I know the streets can be dangerous,&rdquo; said 17-year old Jannie Ross. She&rsquo;s wearing a Cleveland Browns football jersey as she puts the final touches on a cotton candy colored chair. She painted it pink and added fake fur.</p><p>&ldquo;Fluffy is just like my personality. Bubbly. The pink feels sympathy for me. Because I have a lot of sympathy for some people I know going through a lot of stuff like I am,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Now Jannie&rsquo;s adding rhinestones. The blinged-out chair looks like it belongs in a Las Vegas hotel.</p><p>Teena&rsquo;s Legacy is a pilot summer program. Smith wants to raise more money to work with more girls throughout the year.</p><p>Smith said her young charges may not go into the furniture business full time. She hasn&rsquo;t. But knowing a trade gives them a chance to earn a little money on the side.</p><p>&ldquo;At the end of the day it&rsquo;s important that we invest in our women because they are powerful and they do have influence,&rdquo; Smith said.</p><p>Take Shawtiana Clinton, for example. She took an &ldquo;ugly brown chair,&rdquo; as she describes it, and put a new pattern on it.</p><p>&ldquo;I picked cheetah because it&rsquo;s powerful.&rdquo;</p><p>Shawtiana said that print now makes her feel powerful.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side Bureau reporter. <a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a>&nbsp;Follow Natalie on <a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em></p></p> Fri, 05 Sep 2014 12:10:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/englewood-girls-learn-how-restore-furniture-and-their-community-110759 Two neighboring states, one big financial gap http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/two-neighboring-states-one-big-financial-gap-110718 <p><p>George Brown of Valparaiso, Indiana, works for a steel mill these days, but at one time, his main gig was construction &mdash; across the state border in Chicago. The commute and that &ldquo;living in both worlds&rdquo; familiarity didn&rsquo;t prevent him from noting differences between the two states. Among them: The differing fortunes of state government.</p><p>He had picked up details here and there about how Illinois owed money (the state comptroller recently said Illinois has more than $5 billion in unpaid bills), how the Prairie State was hounded by bills coming down the pike (it has approximately $100 billion in unfunded pension liabilities), and how it has the worst credit rating among U.S. states.</p><p>On the other hand, just a few years ago, Indiana&rsquo;s coffers were so flush that it returned money to state taxpayers.</p><p>The night-and-day financial picture between the neighboring states got him wondering enough that he sent us this question:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Why does the state of Illinois have a huge deficit, while next door Indiana has a surplus?</em></p><p>George&rsquo;s question couldn&rsquo;t come at a better time. Voters on the Illinois side of the border are deciding between candidates for governor, either of which is certain to confront some hard fiscal realities. The contest between the incumbent Democrat, Gov. Pat Quinn, and Republican Bruce Rauner is odd, though, in that there&rsquo;s a phantom player in the mix, too: Mitch Daniels, Indiana&rsquo;s former governor of Indiana.</p><p>Rightly or wrongly, Daniels is credited with cutting Indiana&rsquo;s budget and making the state&rsquo;s finances the envy of Illinois as well as the rest of the nation. Quinn pushes back on some of Daniels&rsquo; key tenets, while Rauner says he wants to emulate what Daniels did.</p><p>Regardless of where you fall on whether any state at all should follow &ldquo;the Daniels playbook,&rdquo; it is worth looking at what happened during his watch.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Daniels&rsquo; account of how the Hoosier State did it</span></p><p>After an eight-year term, Daniels left the governor&rsquo;s office in 2013. He&rsquo;s now president of Purdue University in West Lafayette. He rarely talks politics now, but after hearing George&rsquo;s question, he was happy to revisit his tenure as governor, especially as it relates to Illinois&rsquo; financial mess.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s hard not to notice, I mean it&rsquo;s national news the trouble you folks have had,&rdquo; Daniels said. &ldquo;They asked me what it was like and I said it&rsquo;s sort of like living right next door to&nbsp;<em>The Simpsons</em>, you know. Dysfunctional family on the block and we&rsquo;re looking in the window.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Daniels purdue shot..jpg" title="Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels delivers the State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature at the Statehouse Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)" /></div><p>As Daniels tells it, things were bad for Indiana as he entered office nearly a decade ago.</p><p>&ldquo;The state was absolutely, by a literal definition, bankrupt,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;So, it had bills much bigger than whatever cash it had on hand. We said this has to end and I want to do it as fast as possible.&rdquo;</p><p>On his first day as governor in 2005, Daniels did something that is unimaginable in Illinois: He stripped bargaining rights for all state union employees.</p><p>&ldquo;These union agreements wouldn&rsquo;t let you change anything,&rdquo; Daniels said. &ldquo;You couldn&rsquo;t consolidate departments; you couldn&rsquo;t divide departments or reorganize them. You certainly couldn&rsquo;t outsource anything if you thought you could get it better and cheaper by hiring Hoosiers in the private sector. So, I finally decided that we simply had to cut clean.&rdquo;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/indiana icon.png" style="float: right;" title="Indiana." /></p><p>But Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics in Fort Wayne, says it&rsquo;s uncertain how effective Daniel&rsquo;s move was in shoring up the state&rsquo;s bottom line.</p><p>&ldquo;Some would argue that when the unions had less ability to bargain, it made it easier for the governor to get some things done,&rdquo; Downs said. &ldquo;But given (Daniels&rsquo;) personality, I don&rsquo;t know if that would have been the sort of thing that held him back a whole lot. I think it had more to do with his approach to economics: The freer the trade, the better.&rdquo;</p><p>Daniels didn&rsquo;t stop with state union employees.</p><p>A few years later, he signed a bill to make Indiana the Midwest&rsquo;s first right-to-work state. The policy changed workers&rsquo; relationship to private employers; new employees were no longer required to pay union dues at workplaces governed by union contracts. It effectively weakened unions&rsquo; standing in the state. Indiana&rsquo;s GOP argues the move attracted business to the state and that, in turn, boosted state revenue.</p><p>Daniels also pushed through a cap on local property taxes across the state. The cap limits the amount of taxes local communities can collect from a homeowner at one percent of a home&rsquo;s assessed value. Proponents say that&rsquo;s lead to robust home sales and &mdash; again, the argument goes &mdash; puts money back into the state&rsquo;s coffers.</p><p>If you hear Daniels and other supporters tell it, these policies created enough fiscal momentum that a few years ago the state sent $100 checks to each Indiana taxpayer. The state currently has a $2 billion stockpile, which it&rsquo;s likely to hold onto this time around.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/stillinoyed billboard image2.jpg" title="An example of a Stillinoyed campaign billboard designed to highlight Indiana's business opportunities. (Source: Economic Development Corporation, Indiana)" /></div></div><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The fallout</span></p><p>If you&rsquo;ve driven through the Chicago area, perhaps you&rsquo;ve seen billboards along expressways that read <a href="http://www.in.gov/activecalendar/EventList.aspx?fromdate=3/1/2014&amp;todate=3/31/2014&amp;display=Month&amp;type=public&amp;eventidn=165015&amp;view=EventDetails&amp;information_id=198305&amp;print=print" target="_blank">&ldquo;Illinnoyed by high taxes?&rdquo;</a> That advertising campaign (<a href="http://www.in.gov/activecalendar/EventList.aspx?fromdate=3/1/2014&amp;todate=3/31/2014&amp;display=Month&amp;type=public&amp;eventidn=165015&amp;view=EventDetails&amp;information_id=198305&amp;print=print" target="_blank">conducted by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation</a>) lures city residents and businesses to cross from Illinois to Indiana.</p><p>Michael Lucci says those ads &mdash; or at least the argument driving them &mdash; works on plenty of Illinois residents. Lucci is the Director of Jobs and Growth at the conservative Illinois Policy Institute. He estimates that Illinois has lost more than 100,000 residents to Indiana over the last decade.</p><p>&ldquo;It does hurt Illinois that we have such a business-friendly neighbor right next door because the people in Chicago can look east 30 miles and say &lsquo;Look, there are jobs there, there are opportunities there and I can move there and still be close to my family,&rsquo;&rdquo; Lucci said.</p><p>But not everyone sees Daniels&rsquo; bumper crop budget as an achievement. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn isn&rsquo;t willing to stomach Daniels&rsquo; sacrifice of collective bargaining rights.</p><p>Earlier this year, the incumbent governor told a union-heavy crowd that he believes in collective bargaining.</p><p>&ldquo;I think that&rsquo;s the best way to go and I look forward to working with you on it,&rdquo; Quinn said during an April debate in Chicago. The governor has argued that strong unions improve state residents&rsquo; income and quality of life.</p><p>Some in Indiana see a darker side to the budget surplus too. Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. is among them.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/illinois icon.png" style="float: right;" title="Illinois." /></p><p>&ldquo;We do have $2 billion in the bank and we are in a much better position in Indiana than they are fiscally in Illinois, but at the same time, I think Illinois streets might be in better shape than our streets right now,&rdquo; McDermott said. &ldquo;I think Illinois is providing better services during crisis than we are because they have more tools available. It cuts both ways.&rdquo;</p><p>McDermott, a Democrat, said that last winter the state did a poor job dealing with the snow and ice that shut down several Indiana highways. (Notably, according to the most recent report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, both Indiana and Illinois received a &ldquo;D+&rdquo; in infrastructure spending.)</p><p>McDermott&rsquo;s point is this: What&rsquo;s the use of a surplus if some basic services aren&rsquo;t being met?</p><p>&ldquo;We could expand the affordable healthcare act [ACA] in Indiana right now and insure hundreds of thousands of additional Hoosiers but they just refuse to do so even though there is 2 billion dollars in the bank, those hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers don&rsquo;t deserve health care like people in Illinois do,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Does Illinois have a chance of turning things around?</span></p><p>Of all people, Daniels is among those who say &ldquo;yes.&rdquo; Of course, it&rsquo;s no surprise that he recommends Illinois gubernatorial candidates Quinn or Rauner wrangle with public sector unions, pay more bills on time and slash spending. But the architect of Indiana&rsquo;s brand of fiscal conservatism also says Illinois can draw from its own good ideas. And he ought to know: He stole a few of them.</p><p>After <a href="http://tollroadsnews.com/news/chicago-skyway-handed-over-to-cintra-macquarie-after-wiring-1830m" target="_blank">Chicago leased its public Skyway to a private operation</a>, Daniels did the same thing for the Indiana Toll Road.</p><p>And then there was the program to let delinquent taxpayers pay with no penalty.</p><p>&ldquo;I got the legislature to conduct a tax amnesty,&rdquo; Daniels said. &ldquo;Indiana never had one. Many other states have, including Illinois. I can remember citing Illinois. It&rsquo;s kind of ironic now thinking back. I was saying then, &lsquo;Hey look, they had a successful program.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p><em>Michael Puente is WBEZ&#39;s Northwest Indiana Bureau Reporter. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/MikePuenteNews" target="_blank">@MikePuenteNews</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 27 Aug 2014 22:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/two-neighboring-states-one-big-financial-gap-110718 Chicago's urban farms have yet to harvest sustainable jobs, better health http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicagos-urban-farms-have-yet-harvest-sustainable-jobs-better-health-110709 <p><p>On a recent hot summer day on the city&rsquo;s South Side a group of farmers and reporters gathered to tour a new two-acre farm enjoying its first harvest in the shadow of the old Robert Taylor Homes.</p><p>Safia Rashid is growing a diverse crop of kale, chard, tomatoes, onion, zucchini and several peppers in hopes of selling the produce to the local Women Infant and Children feeding program.</p><p>She&#39;s one of the new agriculture entrepreneurs benefiting from a $750 thousand, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It&rsquo;s aimed at putting graduates of The Botanic Garden&#39;s Windy City Harvest training program on track to start their own small farming businesses. &nbsp;</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s urban farming movement has always held out the promise of sustainable employment. But more than a decade after it first took root, why aren&rsquo;t there more well-paying jobs? &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Thats not realistic,&rdquo; says Angela Mason the director of Botanic&rsquo;s Windy City Harvest, which trains ex-offenders in agricultural skills as a path toward employment. &ldquo;Our intention in launching the incubator program, and what most family farms do now, is [provide] supplemental income. It&rsquo;s not their only income. A lot of people romanticize farming but that&rsquo;s very challenging in this day and age. We don&rsquo;t support local food in a way that makes it economically viable for a person to go out and only farm for a living.&rdquo;</p><p>The fact is, most of these programs can&rsquo;t survive without outside funding.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s so much more you need to do than put fresh produce in a grocery store,&rdquo; Mason says. &ldquo;To get people interested in even buying the produce, you need to get people excited about it and learning how to prepare food with it. There are &nbsp;a lot of people who&rsquo;ve never seen kale grow or seen Swiss chard grow and don&rsquo;t know what to do with it.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, lack of demand and knowledge about what to do with the produce still hampers sales in these communities. In the produce business margins are slim and product that doesn&rsquo;t move can go bad very quickly. Even one of the nation&rsquo;s biggest retailers has run into snags.</p><p>At a White House meeting in 2011, Walgreens promised to build 50 &ldquo;food oasis&rdquo; stores in Chicago by summer 2013. &nbsp;By July 2014, the retailer had only installed fresh produce in 26 local food desert stores, according to Crain&#39;s Chicago. In the last month, however, the store finally met its original goal, according to a Walgreens spokesman.</p><p>Smaller projects have also run into problems. The much praised Farmers Best Market in Bronzeville opened in 2008 but was closed within a year. The Englewood Farmers Market on 63rd called it quits after a few tough seasons. And, last summer, the Fresh Moves buses that brought fresh produce markets to the people <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/advocates-say-whole-foods-may-struggle-find-customers-englewood-108608">turned off their engines indefinitely</a>.</p><p>So why has it been so hard to successfully sell produce in Chicago&rsquo;s food deserts? Mari Gallagher is a researcher who specializes in food access.</p><p>&ldquo;You can have a great idea and you can put your whole heart into it, but you still have to figure out how to make it viable,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;So there are lots of different reasons why some of these programs fail. But unfortunately, because people feel so closely tied to these outcomes, it&rsquo;s hard to get at the truth [to analyze what lessons can be learned].&rdquo;</p><p>Although they rarely speak about it on the record, several urban ag experts across the city confided that the demand for full-priced, high quality produce isn&rsquo;t strong enough to support the businesses that sell it. As Whole Foods prepares to open its Englewood store in 2016, it&rsquo;s counting on building that demand. But today, observers say, it&rsquo;s just not there.</p><p>So does that mean inner city farmers markets, mobile produce programs and viable urban farming jobs are doomed for now?</p><p>&ldquo;When we talk about [greening] the food desert we&rsquo;re really trying to keep costs down and quality high and that&rsquo;s tricky,&rdquo; Gallagher says. &ldquo;But I wouldn&rsquo;t write off any of these options. I would say that the market conditions need to be right and the operators need to be very, very good on a number of fronts to pull it off successfully.&rdquo;</p><p>One of the only urban farmers who seems to have figured it out, is the the tall, lanky and perpetually muddy Ken Dunn. The founder of the Resource Center and City Farm has practiced urban ag in Chicago for more than 40 years. The philosophy PhD also operates what he says are four profitable farms in Englewood.</p><p>&ldquo;You have to start with what has always been the food cycle,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;We have a process where food scraps go back to the production of the next crop. We&rsquo;ve tapped into selling two-thirds of our crop to high-end restaurants, picking up the food scraps from all of their product and turning them into compost to bring back to the field.&rdquo;</p><p>Got that? First Dunn sells his vegetables to fancy restaurants. Then the restaurants give him back food scraps which are used to make compost. This ultra-rich growing medium, he says, produces 10 easy crops a year, and food so tasty that restaurants are happy to pay his high prices. And these premium prices, Dunn says, make it possible to pay a living wage, and sell cheaper veggies from kiosks on the farm.</p><p>Dunn believes this model could expand up to three times and still not saturate the high end restaurant market. But he hopes that by the time we reach that saturation, there will be other funding models in place.</p><p>His dream is for municipalities to recognizes the larger public benefits of urban ag on crime, health and education and to fund them as part of local budgets. These less tangible benefits are part of the reason Safia Rashid is out working on her quarter-acre plot nearly every day. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;When the children are eating properly, guess what happens?&rdquo; she asks. &ldquo;The violence goes down. So if we continue to feed them whole foods without the pesticides and GMOs, we will continue to see real change in our community. So it&rsquo;s just really that simple.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/DJ%20Cavem.jpeg" style="float: left; width: 161px; height: 206px; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="DJ Cavem travels the country preaching the gospel of organic urban farming to inner city youth. (Photo Courtesy of DJ Cavem)" />While Dunn sells mostly to restaurants and Rashid hopes to sell to WIC, DJ Cavem has a different plan. &nbsp;He wants to grow food<em> in</em> the community<em> for</em> the community. He&rsquo;s a rapper, educator, midwife and urban farm advocate based in Denver. He stopped in Chicago earlier this year to spread his gospel of home grown organic produce for all.</p><p>&ldquo;The same way gangsta rap promotes drug dealing, I am an environmental hip hop artist, eco hip hop artist who promotes gardening,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I have been teaching for 11 years now. I teach young people how to grow food, how to prepare the food, how to create a green job. I&rsquo;m setting up gardens in inner city communities and showing people how to keep the nutrition in their food.&rdquo;</p><p>He says that urban youth have largely lost touch with their grandparents&#39; food and growing skills. Still, he knows that history can cut both ways.</p><p>&ldquo;Because of slavery and Jim Crow, a lot of inner city African Americans do not want to talk to young people about growing food,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;They really think that &nbsp;going to the grocery store is the best for them. And they felt that they were forced to have to do this work. So there is that neglect of young people having access to the inter-generational dialogue that needs to happen around food preparation.&rdquo;</p><p>DJ Cavem&rsquo;s goals may be lofty, but he claims his message can reach these young people. Last year he got a whole summer camp of urban youths to remix the popular ode to <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YLy4j8EZIk">&ldquo;Hot Cheetos and Takis.&quot;</a> They dubbed their version <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MO3zE2XqEUo">&ldquo;Brown Rice and Broccoli.&rdquo;</a></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/MO3zE2XqEUo?rel=0" width="620"></iframe></p><p>&ldquo;You can watch the video on YouTube and Tweet it and let your friends know that that&rsquo;s what young people really want: Healthy food, foods that are fresher than the shoes on their feet.&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Between Dunn&rsquo;s decades of urban ag experience and DJ Cavem&rsquo;s youth-friendly message, there may come a time when produce from urban farms will not only nourish local residents but also grow their bank accounts.</p><p>Beginner farmer Rashid certainly hopes so. Despite her optimism for her newfound occupation, she knows she&rsquo;s got a tough row to hoe.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a lot to cover,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Especially in my case since I don&rsquo;t have a business partner. It&rsquo;s a lot to do alone. But I know that things are gonna change.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at</em><a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng"> <em>@monicaeng</em></a> <em>or write to her at meng@wbez.org</em></p><p><em>WBEZ reporter Natalie Moore contributed to this story. </em></p><iframe width="100%" height="450" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/48706770&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true"></iframe></p> Wed, 27 Aug 2014 07:49:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicagos-urban-farms-have-yet-harvest-sustainable-jobs-better-health-110709 Why does South Shore still not have a grocery store? http://www.wbez.org/news/why-does-south-shore-still-not-have-grocery-store-110699 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/South Shore grocery thumb.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The hallmarks of urban retail saturate East 71st Street: beauty supply, dollar, cell phone and gym shoe stores.</p><p>But most noticeable is the 65,000 sq. ft. vacant space in a strip mall at 71st and Jeffrey Boulevard. On the outside, it looks like someone rubbed the beige building with an eraser &ndash; the faded Dominick&rsquo;s lettering the only hint this used to be a bustling grocery store.</p><p>Last December, the grocery chain Dominick&rsquo;s closed all of its doors, including 13 in Chicago. All of the vacant stores found a new grocer to fill the space &ndash; except the one at 71st and Jeffrey Boulevard in the predominantly black South Shore neighborhood. Now residents there wonder why they&rsquo;re being left out.</p><p>More than eight months after it closed, South Shore residents say all they want is a proper supermarket to take its place. Not another discount or liquor store that sells food on the side.</p><p>&ldquo;Food is the common denominator. How we break bread, how we sustain ourselves so it&rsquo;s a great metaphor. Everyone has to eat,&rdquo; said resident Anton Seals.</p><p>Seals said residents should be able to do that in their own neighborhood.</p><p>&ldquo;Part of the angst that people feel is that we are tired of leaving our community; thus leaking the dollars, not helping where we are.&rdquo;</p><p>Val Free, president of The Planning Coalition, a local community group, agrees.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Dominick&rsquo;s closing brought the community together. And that&rsquo;s a win-win. And we&rsquo;re going to get the grocery we want. The kind of grocery store we want,&rdquo; Free said.</p><p>South Shore organizers are taking steps to make sure that happens. They&rsquo;ve hosted several community meetings, circulated a survey and met with city officials.&nbsp; In some ways their fight for a grocery store is part of a larger struggle playing out across the city. The intersection of race and retail often leaves African-American consumers short on access to goods and services. Even basic ones like where to shop for dinner.</p><p>This is especially true on the South Side where many neighborhoods, regardless of income, are food deserts. Juxtapose this with some areas on the North Side awash in grocery stores. Recently, residents of Wicker Park <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20140710/wicker-park/wicker-park-trader-joes-plan-dead-after-grocer-pulls-out" target="_blank">rejected a new Trader Joe&rsquo;s due to traffic concerns</a>.</p><p>Over the past decade, more grocery stores have opened in Chicago overall. But many on the South and West Sides feel left out when their only nearby food options are discount chains.</p><p>&ldquo;On the South Side of Chicago in general, we experience retail redlining. There&rsquo;s a certain kind of marketing. When we talk about institutional racism, it&rsquo;s the dismissal of communities that have income and that expendable income,&rdquo; Seals said.</p><p>South Shore is a dense, truly mixed-income neighborhood. Mansions and multi-unit apartment complexes share alleys. The community has a median income of $28,000 but there are thousands of households earning more than $75,000.</p><p>Seals said the kind of grocery store matters too.</p><p>&ldquo;We definitely didn&rsquo;t want what&rsquo;s considered low-end grocer like a Save A Lot or Food for Less in South Shore because we also wanted the new store to be a kind of catalyst for the economic resurgence we need.&rdquo;</p><p>Mari Gallagher is a researcher and expert on food access issues and said South Shore has really been a misunderstood market for a long time.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a lot of buying power in South Shore. And I know from the research and I know&nbsp; anecdotally people who live in South Shore who go all the way down to Roosevelt Road or Hyde Park to do their shopping. There&rsquo;s a lot of leakage, money leaving these neighborhoods,&rdquo; Gallagher said.</p><p>She said black Chicago has long struggled to nab quality retail. Billions of dollars leave the community each year and are spent in other neighborhoods.</p><p>&ldquo;And it&rsquo;s not necessarily because they can&rsquo;t support it as a consumer base and certainly people do eat as part of the human condition,&rdquo; Gallagher said.</p><p><a href="http://www.targetmarketnews.com/" target="_blank">Target Market News</a> is a consumer research group that tracks black spending and found that black households traditionally outspend whites and Latinos on fruits and vegetables and items that have to be cooked to be eaten. In the Chicago area they spend approximately $240 million on fresh produce annually.</p><p>&ldquo;So why do certain neighborhoods have quality grocery stores and other neighborhoods have none or just very very few, perhaps one?&rdquo; Gallagher said, adding that changes in the grocery industry perpetuate this gap.</p><p>&ldquo;That was the case when Jewel and Save A Lot were corporate siblings and the parent company decided well, we really can&rsquo;t have a Jewel in every neighborhood. So instead we&rsquo;ve put Save A Lots in those neighborhoods. There were those kind of changes and people misunderstand the African-American market.&rdquo;</p><p>Some retailers are beginning to get the message.</p><p>Mariano&rsquo;s is set to open in Bronzeville, a neighborhood long starved for better grocery options. The fast-growing chain also announced plans to open at 87th and South Shore Drive. The site is across from a lucrative development in the works on the former steel mills site. Meanwhile, Whole Foods is experimenting nationally by building in low-income areas. This summer they broke ground for a store in Englewood.</p><p>Meanwhile, back in South Shore they&rsquo;re still waiting.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think you can take race out of the equation. Not just for the grocery business but just for commercial real estate in general,&rdquo; said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th.)</p><p>Hairston said she&rsquo;s in conversation with other stores and is open to a grocer bypassing 71st Street for another South Shore location.</p><p>But she&rsquo;s also not giving up on the former Dominick&rsquo;s space. Although it&rsquo;s empty, the lease runs until 2015. The owner of the property is Shirven Mateen. He lives in Los Angeles and declined to be interviewed.</p><p>Hairston is in communication with him. She said she even flew to L.A. to meet with him &ndash; but it didn&rsquo;t happen.</p><p>&ldquo;From what I&rsquo;m understanding what they are looking for in the price per square foot exceeds, is about 40 percent higher than what the market will bear so that in fact is an impediment,&rdquo; Hairston.</p><p>So the alderman is trying to reach the absentee landlord through moral appeals.</p><p>&ldquo;We can&rsquo;t control the economy. What has happened has happened, but you are located in a community that needs to have a grocery store. You&rsquo;re the vessel for that and we basically need you to do the right thing. We understand the business component of it but I need you to understand the human component of it,&rdquo; Hairston said.</p><p>Just last week, Hairston finally got what she&rsquo;d been asking for. She gave Bob Mariano, CEO of the grocery chain, a tour of her ward to view potential sites. No word yet if anything will be built, but one thing&rsquo;s for sure, the CEO didn&rsquo;t like the 71st Street location.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side Bureau reporter. <a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a> Follow Natalie on <a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em>.</p><iframe width="100%" height="450" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/48706770&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true"></iframe></p> Tue, 26 Aug 2014 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/why-does-south-shore-still-not-have-grocery-store-110699