Boston LISC Staff blog

My LISC Internship - Steve Griffith

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 My first month as a summer intern with Boston LISC has flown by. Thus far I have learned about ESCOs, energy benchmarking, financing mechanisms, and the incredible savings that result from merely switching out incandescent light bulbs. With such knowledgeable and passionate staff members, the LISC office is an energetic place ripe with lessons to be learned. Before September arrives to mark my return to the classroom, I intend to soak up as much as I can.

 I am currently a graduate student at Tufts University working toward a master’s degree in urban and environmental policy and planning (a mouthful, I know). My interests are varied, but broadly coalesce into a desire for sustainable development. During my first year at Tufts it became glaringly clear that energy is a foremost topic toward sustainable development – one that invades planning, architecture, environmental sciences, as well as our economic future. This understanding led me to LISC’s Green Retrofit Initiative, a program that seeks to supply multifamily affordable housing developments across the state with the necessary technical and financial assistance to complete energy efficiency upgrades. These developments and associated upgrades are all benchmarked and tracked through WegoWise, a beautifully user-friendly software platform that details monthly energy consumption by utility.

 My role within the Initiative has been multifarious. I have cleaned up our electronic databases, prepared meeting agendas and minutes, researched funding opportunities and innovative lending practices, and edited audit reports. I was also able to accompany experts from New Ecology, Inc, our partner organization in the Initiative, on an energy audit in Hull, Massachusetts. Among other things, this venture taught me how to accurately test water temperature and flow rates, and that top-load washing machines consume approximately 50 percent more water per load than front-loading machines! Although my efforts have been primarily channeled toward the Green Retrofit Initiative, I have also been introduced to the many other initiatives underway at LISC, including the development of an eco-district in Dorchester’s Codman Square and the facilitation of AmeriCorps members to increase the capacity of LISC’s non-profit partners. This is certainly an exciting time at an exciting organization. I am glad to be a part of it.


Remarks at June 11th Connect Symposium

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 On June 11th, 2013 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, The Neighborhood Developers, and their Connect partners sponsored a symposium on approaches to building income and opportunity for low income families. Boston LISC supports Connect as a Financial Opportunity Center offering integrated workforce development, financial coaching, education, and advice on public benefits. I was pleased to offer concluding remarks at the event. I drew heavily on the recent book by Paul Osterman and Beth Shulman, Good Jobs America Making Work Better for Everyone

We also heard about some promising new approaches to increasing economic opportunities. These approaches and the work that the Connect partnership is doing are well worth it and we should redouble our efforts. LISC is committed to supporting the work of Connect and similar efforts around the country to integrate workforce and training with financial coaching and asset building approaches. We are working closely with the United Way here and around the country and continue to see value to approaches that integrate services and address issues like credit as well as job skills. Credit has become an increasingly important asset in the search for employment.

I want to take this opportunity to lay out a challenge beyond the scope of today’s panel to all of us and perhaps a topic for next years Connect Symposium. It is this, education and training, financial coaching, asset building approaches are all useful and will help low income families live better lives but as I think most of us intuit, they are not sufficient to address the underlying challenges that drive economic inequality and limit mobility.

Professor Paul Osterman of MIT and his coauthor Beth Shulman, have made this case succinctly in their recent book Good Jobs America: Making Work Better for Everyone. I want to share some of the argument with you. Osterman begins by citing numbers that are likely no surprise to most of us in this room, 24% of working adults have hourly wages that put them below 2/3 of the median wage- a conservative standard for a living wage. essentially about $11.50 per hour. Nearly a quarter of working Americans are stuck in these jobs. For most of them this is not a temporary stopping point in their work life, this is a permanent condition.
Osterman asks us to conduct a thought experiment using one of the current sacred cows of thinking about mobility-a college education correlates with higher income and lower unemployment- What if suddenly everyone had a college degree, would there be high wage jobs for everyone and would low wage jobs disappear- No, at least not in the short to medium term- . So while education is certainly useful and for any individual it can be a road to opportunity we need to think more about what would be required to significantly increase the number of “good jobs”. Clearly education is not the solution to all that ails the American economy and its ability to provide family sustaining work to a larger proportion of Americans than are stuck in low wage jobs.

If we are to move the needle for large numbers of workers and their families, according to Osterman, we need to do more than the great work that Connect and other panelists are doing for dozens and hundreds of families- we need to make sure that once they have completed the certificate course or associate degree at the community college there are jobs that pay better. Unless we do that, we will be helping people climb a ladder that is missing many rungs.
In his view (and I must admit that I am convinced) it will require public policy changes that encourage private firms to create better jobs. In his words we“cannot simply rely on education and training to upgrade the quality of jobs in the low wage labor market” we need to “think more deeply about what drives firms to make decisions” and then we need to act in way that impacts those firms. to organize work in a way that creates more “middle skill” jobs.

We also need to insure that we are steering people to the “middle skill” jobs that do exist. The policy agenda starts with a higher minimum wage and we need stronger labor organizations which need the encouragement by public policy that levels the playing field for labor unions. It does not end there and in the community sector also need to use our influence to support efforts at creating better jobs. We all have our work cut out for us if we are to make this country a place where we all can aspire to good jobs.


Kick starting work in the Eco-Innovation District

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 Last Saturday, June 1, Bob Van Meter and Mike Davis teamed up with Gail Latimore and staff from Codman Square NDC, The Boston Project Ministries, and Talbot Norfolk Triangle Neighbors United to participate in Renew Boston's "Boston 500: Race to Save Energy". This was part of a broad citywide effort, which involved more than 30 organizations, to engage Boston residents and sign up 500 people for a no-cost home energy assessment. Our team signed up 21 residents in the Talbot Norfolk Triangle (TNT) area of the Codman Square neighborhood and Renew Boston is very close to meeting its goal of 500 signups.

This was a great kick-off for the residential energy efficiency campaign that is one component of the TNT area's Eco-Innovation District. Alongside the Resilient Communities/Resilient Families Millennium Ten Planning process focused on the Codman Square and Four Corners communities, the Eco-Innovation District is a parallel project focused on sustainability in TNT. Local partners and LISC are using the LEED for Neighborhood development framework in TNT to help residents save money on their utility bills and implement measures that will lead to improved health and quality of life for residents. TNT is one of the only existing neighborhoods in the country striving to achieve LEED ND at the platinum level. The goal is for Codman Square/TNT to serve as a model for utilizing assets in community outreach, building grassroots support, and identifying strategies for building owners, community developers and residents to achieve retrofits as part of a comprehensive community revitalization plan.

If you are a Boston resident and live in a 1-4 family building, we encourage you to sign up for a no-cost energy assessment and see how you can save money by calling 617-635-SAVE or visiting Renew Boston's website. For people outside of Boston, you can sign up for an assessment by calling Mass Save at 1-866-527-7283 or find more information at their website.


Health and Place; Lessons from the Bay Area

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Last Thursday, May 2nd, I had the pleasure of participating in a seminar at MIT organized by Prof. Phil Clay where, UC Berkeley Professor Jason Corburn presented some of his work on the interesection of health and place.  Professor Corburn is the author a Toward the Healthy City People, Places, and the Politics of Urban Planning.  Corburn's book has a wonderful short history of the relation of urban planning and public health over the last two hundred years.  In the 19th and early 20th century there was a close relationship as much of what urban planners were concerned with were issues like public sanitation and the spread of communicable diseases in urban areas.


Toward the Healthy City also contains chapters on the use of health impact assessments in San Francisco in the early part of this century as tenant and community activists enlisted the San Francisco public health department to make health impact assessments as part of the project review for a project that was going to displace significant numbers of low income San Francisans, Trinity Plaza in the Mid-Market Street area near SoMa. Health Impact assessments were also used as a tool to advance a social justice agenda in the Rincon Hill planning effort in a rapidly gentrifying area of San Francisco. Corburn spent more of his time describing more recent work he been involved with that is seeking to revitalize Richmond, California and address persistent health disparities for African Americans and others in that community.

Corburn made four basic arguments:

1) Planning matters/ integrated and relational planning not planning by sector that is fragmented.

2) Place matters in the health of peole and populations.  It is geography more than genetics that determine health outcomes through the interactions of institutions, history, and the social and economic character of the place.

3) Policy matters- Long term polcies created the current urban health inequitties and urban design and "boutique" projects are not enough to address those inequities.

4) Science matters- the aim of his work is go from parts to whole systems to something he describes a "urban adaptive health management"


Corburn presented some stark numbers on the persistence of a gap in infant mortality between African Americans and other ethnic groups in the United States that are independent of income, education , or any any other variable.  Infant mortality rate for college educated and middle class African Americans were higher than for whites with lower incomes and with significantly less education.  Corburn's hypothesis for these gap and for other stubborn health disparities is the cumalative impact of chronic stress related to race in this society.  In other words, African Americans, face ongoing stress in their lives including but not limited to , persistence of racism in workplaces and other public places, the relative safety of the communities where they live.  Even when African Americans are well educated and live in what are to considered to be safe neighbohroods, there is more stress in their daily lives.  The cumaltive stressors include social exclusion and segregation and environmental pollution.


Corburn also attributes hypertension and obesity to these same stressors and believes that efforts to address obesity simply with exhortations to exercise more or building a better grocery store will not succeed without addressing chronic stress.  He was hopeful that the work in Richmond and other attention to the social determinants of health can lead to policy change that will start to address health disparities. 




Book Talk with Peter Dreier - The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century

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A hundred years ago, any soapbox orator who called for women’s suffrage, laws protecting the environment, an end to lynching, or a federal minimum wage was considered a utopian dreamer or a dangerous socialist. Now we take these ideas for granted — because the radical ideas of one generation are often the common sense of the next. We all stand on the shoulders of earlier generations of radicals and reformers who challenged the status quo of their day. The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century, a colorful and witty history of the most influential progressive leaders of the twentieth century and beyond.

The book profiles 100 people – artists, activists, thinkers, politicians, athletes, writers, and others – who build movements for social justice. In addition to the 100 profiles, the book includes an Introduction that puts the profiles in historical context, a timeline of the century’s most important events and progressive accomplishments, and a final chapter, “The 21st Century So Far…” describing the achievements of progressive movements during the past dozen years.

Peter Dreier is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. He has a B.A. from Syracuse University and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He’s worked as a journalist, community organizer, and government official, as housing advisor to Boston Mayor Ray Flynn.

Tuesday April 23, 2013 - 7:00 pm

First Church JP, 6 Elliot Street, Jamaica Plain, MA

Co-sponsors: JALSA, Jobs with Justice, Mel King Institute, LISC, and MA Communities Action Network


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