(August 24, 2007 – Detroit, Michigan) Clifford N. Rosenthal, Executive Director of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (Federation) addressed a packed plenary session at the Department of Justice Community Capacity Development Office’s 2007 National Conference. The theme of the conference was “Asset Development Partnerships” and drew over 1,500 representatives from more than 300 “Weed and Seed” sites across the country. At that plenary session, Rosenthal shared the podium with Commissioner Richard Morgante from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), who spoke about Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs and Mayor Gary Becker from Racine, Wisconsin, who talked about the importance of involving public officials in community development initiatives.
Rosenthal began by asking who in the audience belonged to a credit union. As hundreds of hands were raised in response, he laughed and said, “It’s good to be among friends!”
The Justice Department launched Weed and Seed in the early 1990s as a strategy to prevent, control, and reduce violent crime, drug abuse, and gang activity in targeted high-crime neighborhoods. The strategy “weeds out” crime through enforcement and community policing while “seeding” sites with human services that lead to neighborhood revitalization. Today there are more than 300 sites across the country, ranging in size from several city blocks to 15 square miles, and with populations ranging from 3,000 to 50,000.
|Federation Executive Director Clifford N. Rosenthal addresses more than 800 attendees during the recent DOJ Community Capacity Development Office’s 2007 National Conference
Partnerships are the key to the Weed and Seed strategy, and Rosenthal described how credit union partnerships help low-income individuals build and protect their assets. Individual economic security, he explained, is integral to building strong communities.
As an example, he told how Durham, NC-based Latino Community Credit Union (LCCU) was organized to help protect a predominantly immigrant Latino population threatened by physical and financial predators. Rosenthal’s comments drew cheers from the audience as he showed how a strategic partnership with State Employees Credit Union and a number of other community groups helped the credit union open its doors in the year 2000 and, in only six years, grow to serve more than 50,000 members with 6 branches located across the state.
“Weed and Seed understands the link between physical security and economic security -- building assets also builds security for individuals and families,” said Rosenthal. “The Federation’s mission is to help credit unions make this possible in communities like yours.”
An example of the growing partnerships and the extension of more credit unions into underserved communities, Rosenthal cited the expansion of the Communicating Arts Credit Union of Detroit into Highland Park, a blighted neighborhood that has been plagued by extensive abandonment and lack of quality housing, but which is beginning to experience a renaissance. Communicating Arts CU will soon be opening a branch in a new mall in that community, which is also the proposed site of a new police substation. Highland Park is a Weed and Seed community that hosted a site visit for participants at the Detroit conference.
For the past two years the Federation has provided technical assistance to help develop homeownership programs in ten Weed and Seed sites using Individual Development Accounts (IDAs). IDAs are incentivized savings programs that help multiply the savings of low-income, first-time homebuyers. The ten pilot sites raised more than $1.2 million in local, state, and federal funds to match the savings of low-income account holders. Over the next five years, these savings are expected to leverage more than $22 million in home purchases within Weed and Seed neighborhoods.
Rosenthal also described how some credit unions have expanded their outreach with prison-reentry population in their communities. “Former inmates often reenter our communities having paid their debt to society, but with no assets or credit,” he said. “I’d like to see how we can expand efforts to link these individuals to credit union services, help them become credit worthy, and build a stake in our society.”
IRS Commissioner Richard Morgante told how community partnerships can expand the reach of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs and increase access to millions of dollars of Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) in low-income communities.
Three years ago the IRS formed a partnership with the Justice Department to promote VITA/EITC in Weed and Seed sites across the country. Morgante congratulated the conference attendees for their achievements in just a few short years.
“During this past tax season, 102 Weed and Seed sites partnered with VITA to prepare more than 24,000 tax returns in urban, rural, and tribal communities across the country,” Morgante said. The audience cheered as he listed the results from these VITA sites. “These partnerships mobilized more than 1,000 volunteers, and generated $28 million in tax refunds; $11 million in Earned Income Tax Credits, $5 million in Child Tax Credits, and $7 million in saved tax preparation fees,” he said.
Mayor Gary Becker from Racine, Wisconsin told the audience why it is important for public officials to support asset building programs. “Healthy neighborhoods are the key to any successful city,” he said, “and programs like VITA and homeownership IDAs clearly help to build healthy neighborhoods.”
Becker encouraged Weed and Seed sites to keep their elected officials informed. “We care about what’s happening in our cities, but don’t assume that we know about the great work that you’re doing,” he said. “You are the experts – make sure your mayor and city council and other officials know about your work,” he added. “This is important and it’s just the kind of thing we want to support.”
The plenary session closed with a series of questions from the floor. In response to a question about VITA, Rosenthal described the Federation’s own partnership with the IRS and how many credit unions are actively involved in VITA/EITC partnerships in their own communities.
“We have been tremendously impressed by the good work we’ve seen on the ground,” said Rosenthal. “Unfortunately, a challenge many of our credit unions face is the lack of financial support for the staff-time required to operate VITA sites serving low-income individuals and families. Partnerships can help alleviate some of the high-costs associated with operating these sites. The Federation looks forward to building additional partnerships between credit unions and Weed and Seed sites in the coming years.”
© 2007 National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions.
Photo courtesy of: Colleen Copple, DOJ/CCDO