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Monday, January 20, 2014

Reflections on the Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement

On its face, Martin Luther King Day is a holiday dedicated to the memory of one of the key figures in American history. Recently, it has become popular as a "National Day of Service" and an opportunity to give back to the community. For me, its greatest significance is as a day to reflect on the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and how America has changed (and not changed) since Martin Luther King, Jr's time.

The King Memorial in Washington, DC 
As I referenced in an earlier post on the anniversary of the March on Washington, King's "March to Freedom" began with the Emancipation Proclamation 151 years ago during the midst of the Civil War.  Some may say the movement ended at one of several key moments: the passage of the Civil Rights Act 50 years ago, The Voting Rights Act the next year, the creation of the Martin Luther King Day holiday or the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States.

Culturally, Doug Williams' accolades as the first Black quarterback to win the Super Bowl and Tony Dungy as the first head coach of color to win the Super Bowl were both heralded as key barrier-breaking moments. The end could be when Oprah Winfrey became a billionaire or the moment that hip-hop culture achieved crossover status or one of many other moments. A quick google search will find over 100 million online articles for "post-racial America," with the vast majority dating created since Obama's nomination as the Democratic candidate in 2008.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Tales from a Condominium Association: Rising fees, the Budget Squeeze and 5 Pieces of Advice

I recently had a conversation with  of the Washington Post as part of her research for "Rising community association fees are squeezing homeowners on tight budgets," the main Metro  section article in Sunday's Washington Post.  I was pleasantly surprised to have this conversation: the article notes that over 63 million are residents in community associations, and relatively little attention has been paid to how they work.
Screenshot of article on

Rising fees can be problematic for many residents - here's the excerpt that came from our conversation:
In the past four decades, the number of condominiums, co-op units and houses that are part of homeowners associations has skyrocketed across the nation, from 701,000 in 1970 to 25.9 million in 2012, according to the Foundation for Community Association Research.
The foundation does not categorize ownership by age, but an analysis by AARP’s Public Policy Institute in 2003 found that 46 percent of owners in single-family homeowners associations were older than 50, as were 56 percent of condo and co-op owners.
For homeowners who are retirees or who plan to retire soon, the fee hikes can be particularly onerous, said Rodney Harrell, a senior adviser at the institute. 
Adding to the burden, the number of homeowners 50 and older who own their homes free and clear fell between 2000 and 2009, according to an institute report. And in the lowest income group of people 65 and older without mortgages, 58 percent of them were spending at least a third of their income on housing.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Housing Strategies for Veterans (and the rest of us)

"On the 11th hour of the 11th Day of the 11th month" - 95 years ago, the Great War ended and later Veterans Day (originally Armistice Day) was born as a celebration of the outbreak of peace.  I've always enjoyed thinking about the duty of veterans in that context.

Different faces of veterans (photo from

Several generations of my family (along with a few friends and classmates) have served in the Armed Forces, and today is a day to thank them and their their fellow service-members for their service. It's also a great American custom to separate celebrations of Memorial Day (for those that have passed on) from Veterans Day to have a special day to celebrate those who are living (countries that celebrate Remembrance Day generally combine both). Since attention is focused on veterans today, this is a time of year that we hear stories about the challenges that veterans face. One can expect to hear about health care problems, the high suicide rate of veterans (22 a day), and the long backlogs of VA claims.

I don't focus on those policy areas, but I am always struck by the fact that they share similarities with problems faced by other Americans. The Veterans Administration was created in 1930 to "consolidate and coordinate Government activities affecting war veterans" in an attempt to streamline bureaucracy in regards to claims and other issues. On that same VA history webpage, we can read that the current administration is focused on 16 major initiatives, and the first one listed is "Eliminating Veteran homelessness."  The overlap of that initiative with general efforts to end homelessness is clear. There are many factors that enter into homelessness, but I agree with the National Alliance to End Homelessness that "the main reason people experience homelessness is because they cannot find housing they can afford."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Quick thoughts: September 11 - A day of remembrance, mourning and service

Today is September 11. Twelve years ago, we witnessed moments that few of us will ever forget. 

Today has been called a day of remembrance, a day of mourning, and a day of service. I think that it's a great sign of American resilience that we can use one day to spur us to do all of these things. As with many of our holidays, we can do more than one thing at a time.

Using today as a "day of service" means committing to do something to help improve the lives of others. That is a very noble task, and one kind of fitting tribute to those who lost their lives on September 11th and those who sacrificed their lives in service after that day.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Finding the right solutions for the right time - Policy reflections on Civil Rights

The March on Washington happened 50 years ago today, and its anniversary has me thinking about the policy lessons from the struggle for civil rights. There are dozens of lessons from a struggle that goes back at least 150 years, yet one theme emerges: The strategy to accomplish a goal depends on time, context, resources and opportunity - there isn't a one-size-fits all solution or a single policy solution to solve major issues or meet major goals.

Dr. King starts off his speech by referencing the Emancipation Proclamation as the beginning of the march to freedom, and discusses the defaulted-upon "promissory note" that was promised by the Declaration of Independence. While the Emancipation Proclamation has great symbolic weight, eliminating slavery took more - it required a 13th constitutional amendment. (This story was compelling enough to be the focus of the recent Lincoln movie.)

Policies to meet the major national goal of equality for African Americans began with that and the other Reconstruction Amendments (14 and 15) and continues until this day, demonstrating a clear example of the need for multiple strategies that change over time to achieve a goal. Let's look at just a few of the national-level landmarks of the civil rights movement: