Affiliate Spotlight: Meet APM Philadelphia, a Global Leader in Green Building

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Paseo Verde. All photos courtesy of APM website

When our Philadelphia Affiliate, Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, Inc. (APM), set out to build a new housing development three years ago, they didn’t expect to become a globally recognized leader in green building construction. But that’s exactly what happened. A fixture in Philadelphia since 1970, APM was founded by Vietnam War veterans who saw a critical need for social services for the city’s Spanish speakers. Over time, the organization evolved, offering new services to assist with financial access, home building, home buying, mental health, and early childhood education. Today, it is the largest Latino nonprofit in Pennsylvania.

While APM has collected many accolades over the years, it’s their most recent endeavor—the completion of the Paseo Verde development—that has generated global attention. Paseo Verde is a transit-oriented housing development (meaning it encourages the use of public transportation) complete with mixed-income housing, a community center, a medical center, a pharmacy, and the home of APM headquarters. It has also been recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council as the greenest neighborhood development in the United States, receiving a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Neighborhood Development Platinum certification. This is the first certification in the country and only the second worldwide.

“It really has brought a centerpiece to the community that wasn’t there before,” said APM Director of External Affairs Rick Olmos. “It feels like home. The colors are vibrant, it doesn’t look like every other building, and it takes up an entire block.”

The development was built to appear like row houses, with green roofs, as well as grass and trees in various sections of the complex. Although the project was an ambitious undertaking, APM had experience building green units and believed the project would dramatically improve the neighborhood, situated in the Temple University area of Philadelphia.

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Indeed, it has. After securing the location and funding from 23 different sources, APM began construction with a partner, Jonathan Rose Companies, who has experience in green building. Paseo Verde finally opened to the public in January of this year with 120 housing units, 56 of which are low-income. Since opening, residents have begun to reap the benefits of living in the greenest building in the country.

“We’re already tracking the anecdotal evidence about lower rates of asthma since people have moved in,” said President and CEO of APM Nilda Ruiz. “Tenants tell us all the time how much lower their electric bills are than before.”

Building green developments is only part of the revitalization that has taken hold in this part of Philadelphia. One of the other major goals for APM is to educate residents and community members about what it means to be committed to green solutions.

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“Public education about the importance of healthy neighborhoods and green buildings is ongoing,” said Ruiz. “People associate having a car with wealth, so getting folks to take public transportation takes some time, but I think it’s starting to catch on.”

Ruiz and her staff have arranged for Zipcar (a car sharing program) to house two vehicles on-site. APM also provides education on how to maintain good air quality, and promotes the use of environmentally friendly cleaning products. To encourage walking, they have worked with the Department of Health, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to put up markers around the neighborhood so residents, especially seniors, can track how far they have walked. Together with the Horticultural Society, APM is teaching residents how to maintain community gardens, and how to plan small gardens in their own homes. For those interested in making their streets safer, there is a crime and safety group that meets regularly. No decisions about the community are made without the community’s contribution.

“With us, we have gathered the community and we asked them what their vision was,” said Ruiz. “We try to convene people to facilitate discussions around how they can better the neighborhood.”

PaseoVerde3It’s all part of what Ruiz calls APM’s theory of change: if a child is in a healthy family, he or she will thrive; if a family is in a healthy neighborhood, they will thrive; if a neighborhood has all the amenities it needs, it will thrive in a city.

Paseo Verde is undeniably an asset for the entire city of Philadelphia and should serve as a model for other community-based organizations all over the country that are interested in building healthier, more sustainable communities. As an NCLR Affiliate and member of the Board of Directors, Ruiz understands the power of the network and cites it as a contributing factor to the group’s success.

“I love our combined missions as an Affiliate. I believe this is our time and we need to take advantage of it,” said Ruiz. “The move sometimes is slow, but we’re moving in the right direction. We’re going to have a much better country at the end.”

Why American Workers Benefit from Executive Action

By Catherine Singley Harvey, Program Manager, Economic and Employment Policy Project, National Council of La Raza

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Kenneth Blackwell’s op-ed on the economic impact of President Obama’s executive action on immigration is yet another example of the fact-free zone that the immigration debate has become.

First, Blackwell’s assertion that there was an attempt to keep from the public the fact that immigrants who get good with the law will get work permits is absurd. That is precisely how our country will derive increased tax revenues from this executive action, and a principal reason the public supports it. While undocumented workers already contribute about $10.6 billion in state and local taxes, the program will increase their income tax contributions by about $2.9 billion in the first year and $21.2 billion in five years.

Second, Blackwell fails to acknowledge that these immigrant workers are not arriving in the U.S. as a result of executive action. They are already here: more than eight million undocumented immigrants are currently in the labor force. The president’s action means they will be able to work legally, which is a good thing for our workforce overall.

This executive action help prevent unscrupulous employers from gaming the system, undercutting honest employers, and exploiting undocumented workers at the expense of U.S.-born workers. By getting right with the law, immigrants will be better able to stand with their coworkers against violations of minimum wage and overtime, health and safety, and anti-discrimination laws, which will shore up working conditions for everybody. Indeed, temporary legal status will also allow some immigrants to pursue jobs outside of the low-wage sector to better match their skill sets and education, resulting in higher productivity for all. It is estimated that productivity gains from administrative relief will raise wages for U.S. workers by about $170 a year.

We agree with Mr. Blackwell on one thing–the president is no fool. This lawful executive action will generate national security, economic, and social benefits for the country. Legislation is still needed, but the country should not be denied these benefits while House Republican leadership makes up its mind. We can only hope that the incoming Congress will finally deliver a permanent legislative solution so that American workers and our nation can reap even greater economic benefits.

(This was first posted to NCLR’s Huffington Post blog)

Administrative Relief to Me Means….

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On the day following President Obama’s announcement that he would make the immigration system more rational and humane, we sent a simple question to our network: “What does administrative relief mean to you?” The emotional responses remind us that the president’s actions will impact families and communities across the country in a very real way. Here is a snapshot of some of those responses:

On family:

Gisset from Passaic, N.J.: “It means that my family will not be separated.”

Jefferson from Aurora, Colo.: “It means everything to me!!”

Maria Luisa from Salem, Ore.: “It means everything to me and my family. My husband may be able to stay with me and our children.”

Angelee from Ohio: “It means some of my prayers for the families torn apart have been answered!”

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On Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA):

Fernando from Milpitas, Calif.: “I was devastated when I didn’t qualify for DACA when it first was granted. I arrived here when I was barely 13 and been living here since. I considered the U.S. my country and now the possibility of being able to get a work permit, and most important a driver’s license, will change my life completely. My whole family are U.S. citizens and I felt so left out not being able to travel outside the U.S. with them. I hope that changes soon as well.”

On their communities:

Maria Gomez, Executive Director of NCLR Affiliate Mary’s Center, which provides health care and social services to immigrants in Washington: “Young employees who now don’t have to worry that their parents will be deported. Individuals who are being seen in our mental health unit with traumatic stress disorder because they are constantly fearful of being caught and separated from their children. Children who now don’t have to carry a plan with them describing what to do if their parents are deported. Victims of domestic violence or children that are abducted by a parent no longer have to suffer in silence because they fear being deported.”

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On education:

Maritza from Silver Spring, Md.: “It means my students will continue to have a household with their parents.”

Marta from Burley, Idaho: “It means that my students will not be separated from their family. They don’t have to make the heartbreaking decision of staying behind in the U.S. without their parents and loved ones.”

Michiko in Utah: “It will positively impact my students and their families who are in this predicament.”

On faith:

Misi from Long Beach, Calif.: “Now some of my parishioners can get out and live a little instead of being fearful.”

Patti from Sebree, Ky.: “Peace of mind for my friends and parishioners. A good first step for a needed comprehensive reform.”

Photo: Harris Walker, Creative Commons

Photo: Harris Walker, Creative Commons

On the work ahead:

Jaime from Reno, Nev.: “I cried…I jumped for joy…I started handing out checklists to the people I know so that they can start getting stuff together.”

Ofelia from Chicago: “It means many families will be able to live in peace and without fear. We need to do everything we can to ensure that predators don’t take advantage of this vulnerable population. We commend President Obama for having the courage to do what is right.”

On the commitment to keep fighting for reform:

George from Des Plaines, Ill.: “As a therapist who works extensively with the immigrant community, I envision tremendous emotional relief for so many families, albeit temporary. I only hope that some permanent reform passes soon.”

Weekly Washington Outlook — December 15, 2014

Photo: Harris Walker, Creative Commons

Photo: Harris Walker, Creative Commons

What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

House:

The House has adjourned for the 113th Congress.

Senate:

After working most of the weekend to pass the “CRomnibus“, the Senate will convene this afternoon to take three procedural votes on a number of executive nominations, including Vivek Murthy to be surgeon general.  After these are confirmed later this week, the Senate will move on to process Sarah Saldana to head the Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agency, and a number of others. Later in the week, the Senate Leadership plans to bring up a one-year retroactive extension of expired tax provisions and a reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program.

White House:

On Monday, the president will travel to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey to deliver remarks expressing his gratitude for the service and sacrifice of our troops and their families. Further details about the president’s travel to New Jersey will be made available in the coming days.

On Tuesday, President Obama will attend meetings at the White House.

On Wednesday, the president will host two Hanukkah receptions at the White House. The first lady will also attend.

On Thursday, President Obama will attend meetings at the White House.

On Friday, the first family will depart the White House en route Honolulu.

Also this Week:

Immigration – Over the weekend, Senators Cruz (R-Texas) and Lee (R-Utah) raised a point of order during consideration of the “CRomnibus” to force a vote on blocking the president’s executive actions on immigration. This vote failed overwhelmingly 22-74, in part because a vote in favor would have led to a government shutdown. With the weekend’s fiscal drama behind it, the Senate will vote this week to confirm Sarah Saldana to head ICE. She has committed to enforce the President’s executive actions on immigration and new enforcement priorities.

Tax – The Senate may vote this week on a House-backed tax extenders bill to renew a number of expired credits for one year. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden has said he does not expect the bill to be amended. House and Senate negotiators, before settling on the one-year option, had tried for several weeks to craft a package that would make certain tax provisions permanent and extend others for two-years.

This Week in Immigration Reform — Week Ending Dec. 12

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Week Ending December 12

This week in immigration reform: the president continues spreading the word on his executive action on immigration; Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on how executive action will keep families together; and mayors join together to promote implementation of administrative relief.

President Obama speaks on executive action at the home of NCLR Affiliates in Nashville: This week President Obama traveled to Casa Azafrán in Tennessee to highlight his recent announcement of administrative relief. Casa Azafrán is home to two NCLR Affiliates, Conexion Americas and the Tennessee Immigrant Rights and Refugee Coalition. In the audience for the town hall, was a parent who is part of the NCLR Padres Comprometidos program and students who are part of NCLR’s Escalera program. During the town hall, the president took questions from the audience about administrative relief and highlighted the demographic change in Tennessee. President Obama said, “…what our history and the facts show is that generation after generation, immigrants have been a net-plus to our economy, and a net-plus to our society. And that’s what cities like Nashville prove is still the case. And this city proves that we can address these concerns together and make sure that immigration works for everybody — that it strengthens our economy, that it strengthens our communities…” Watch the town hall here.

President Obama speaks at Caza Azafran in Nashville, TN

Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on family unity and administrative relief: This Wednesday the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “Keeping Families Together: The President’s Executive Action on Immigration and the Need to Pass Comprehensive Reform” to focus on how recent executive action on immigration will keep families together. In a press statement, Janet Murguía, NCLR President and CEO, responded to the hearing, saying “As the Senate Judiciary Committee holds its last hearing in the 113th Congress, we are reminded of what is possible when both sides come to the table to resolve the country’s pressing concerns. We are also reminded that when the nation’s agenda is surrendered to a few extreme voices, as it was in the House of Representatives by Republican leadership, the business of the people remains undone.”

“We support the Immigration Accountability Executive Actions taken by the president and hope that these spur the new Congress into action, as previous executive actions by presidents of both parties have done,” said Murguía. “The lasting solution we need—the thorough overhaul of our immigration system—can only be achieved through legislation. It is time to stop holding that process hostage while our economy and families pay the consequences.”

NCLR Affiliates continue educating clients about administrative relief: Across the country, NCLR Affiliates are conducting information sessions to share with our community what we know so far about administrative relief.  From CARECEN in Washington to Centro Hispano in North Carolina, to Enlace Chicago, to the Community Council of Idaho, to TODEC in California, our Affiliates are getting accurate and reliable information out to the community. Find information and resources on our administrative relief webpage.

Dozens of mayors join together to form cities united for immigration action: This week New York City hosted the Mayors Summit on Immigration Implementation, a convening of 25 mayors from across the country. The summit was called by New York City Major Bill de Blasio to coordinate implementation efforts of President Obama’s executive action and to create a platform for sharing best practices. Also this week, law enforcement officials and faith leaders

We the People: Why Congress Must Pass a Comprehensive LGBT Non-Discrimination Act

Guest blog post by Sharita Gruberg, Policy Analyst, Center for American Progress

Photo: JBrazito

Photo: JBrazito

As we celebrate our victories on marriage equality, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people continue to face discrimination in their daily lives that prevent them from being full participants in society.  LGBT people are excluded from exercising basic rights in the majority of states. In 29 states, it is still legal to fire, refuse housing, or deny service to people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  For example, in 11 states, a same-sex couple can legally marry, but they can legally be fired from their jobs for doing so.

This week, the Center for American Progress released a groundbreaking report calling on Congress to pass comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, public accommodations, housing, credit, and federal funding. Since these basic areas of life are so closely interconnected, a comprehensive approach to addressing discrimination against LGBT people is necessary. The report examines how LGBT people are excluded from explicit protections against discrimination in these core areas of life and the impact of this exclusion, such as disproportionate rates of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.  A survey found discrimination in employment resulted in 1 in 4 of all transgender respondents and 30 percent of Latino transgender respondents being fired from a job. Workplace discrimination is not limited to being fired from a job, 43 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers reporting discrimination or harassment on the job. LGBT people face discrimination in other areas of life as well, with 1 in 4 same sex couples experiencing discrimination when trying to buy a home and 1 in 5 transgender people being denied equal treatment in hotels and restaurants.

As the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, NCLR believes all people deserve equal treatment. When it comes to LGBT equality, NCLR sees it as one part of the larger fight for civil rights and has said that “[e]nsuring fairness and equality while protecting people from discrimination is at the heart of NCLR’s mission.” No one should be discriminated against because of who they are or who they love. A report by the Human Rights Campaign and League of United Latin American Citizens found that LGBT Latino youth are twice as likely as non-LGBT Latino youth to say they don’t “fit in.” As CAP’s report found, more than half of k-12 LGBT students feel unsafe at school. While acceptance starts at home, it is imperative that we ensure our young people grow up in a society that treats them equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

NCLR Hosts Conference on Community Health Worker Programs

This week, NCLR, along with Peers for Progress, a program of the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation, hosted experts from across the country for a convening titled, “National Consensus Conference: Implementation and Dissemination Issues for Peer Support/Community Health Worker/Promotora de Salud Interventions and the Affordable Care Act”.

The National Peer Support Collaborative Learning Network, a collaboration of Peers for Progress and NCLR supported by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation’s Together on Diabetes Initiative, has been the vehicle that for the work we have done over the last couple of years that we discussed during the convening.

For example, one of the objectives of the meeting was to review the Call to Action on Peer Support under the Affordable Care Act. Over the last several months, Harvard Center for Health Law Policy & Innovation, Peers for Progress, the Society of Behavioral Medicine, and NCLR drafted a Call to Action highlighting opportunities under the Affordable Care Act to integrate and implement peer support or community health worker programs into preventative services. We are currently seeking other organizations to endorse the document and help us to spread the word. If your organization is interest in endorsing this document, please contact Manuela McDonough at mmcdonough@nclr.org

Another objective of the convening was to organize visits with Representatives and Senators on Capitol Hill. We conducted visits with legislative staff from the offices of Senators Durbin, Franken, and Brown. It was great to meet with them to increase awareness and support of peer support/CHW programs and to advocate for continued funding of the Affordable Care Act.

Giving Latino Students a Feel for the STEM Field

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Photo: Opensource.com, Creative Commons

Last week, 90 students from around the country descended on Houston to get some hands-on and close-up experience with working engineers. The NCLR STEM Youth Summit, sponsored by Marathon Oil, gave students the opportunity to get a feel for what it’s like to work in a STEM field and allowed them to ask questions about what a career in STEM means. The event was highly successful, and one student even decided this weekend, after hearing two of the guests speak, that they want to pursue a career in engineering!

Below are some other highlights from the day-long event.

 

Leveling the Playing Field in Car Lending

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Photo: Daniel Oines, Creative Commons

More than five years after the U.S. government bailed out car manufacturers, the auto industry is booming once again. Last year, consumers purchased more than 15 million cars, the most since 2007, and sales this year are expected to top 17 million, based on data from the National Automobile Dealers Association. Latinos are fueling much of this growth. According to Polk research, Latinos spent $39 billion on new vehicles last year, representing 20 percent  of new vehicle sales.

It is easy to see why car sales are booming. With more than 85 percent of the U.S. workforce using an automobile to commute to work, cars have become a necessity. Car ownership is no longer a luxury but is a prerequisite to economic opportunity. The need for a car is particularly true for many low- and moderate-income families and communities of color who live or work beyond the reach of public transit systems. For these families, cars are their most significant asset, and many of them rely on loans to finance the purchase of these assets.

Through the first three quarters of 2014, U.S. households owed approximately $935 billion in outstanding auto loans, an amount that has been increasing steadily for more than three years. Today, there are more auto loans than mortgages in the United States, and new auto loan originations are at volumes not seen since 2005.

Despite the importance of cars and car lending for U.S. consumers, auto finance is marked by a noted lack of regulation and transparency. As a result, predatory practices have been allowed to thrive, leading to unnecessarily expensive and unsustainable loans, particularly for those least able to afford it. Those with subprime credit are particularly at risk of being burdened with these predatory practices due to fewer direct auto financing options available to them. For example, recently, the U.S. government entered into a consent order with a major auto lender, ordering it to pay $98 million in damages to Latino and Black borrowers who were being charged higher interest rates for their auto loans than similarly situated White borrowers. Further complicating matters, the auto lending market is a fractured one, with a wide array of lenders, each of which is targeting particular borrowers.

CFPB_LogoThis week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is collecting comments on a rule aimed at bringing more order and increased accountability to the auto lending market, by better defining the automobile financing market and the larger participants within that market. This rule will potentially benefit a significant number of consumers by extending regulatory oversight to most nonbank financial institutions and ensuring these institutions comply with consumer financial protection laws and regulations.

We support and commend the CFPB’s efforts to improve transparency and accountability in auto lending by extending its supervision to nonbank auto lenders, such as “Buy Here Pay Here“ lenders, leasing companies, and companies servicing installment auto loans. This supervision will bring much-needed attention to otherwise lightly regulated companies, and will ensure that auto financing by banks, already subject to CFPB supervision, is not at a competitive disadvantage.

We also urge the CFPB to continue its efforts to get rid of discriminatory practices in auto lending by requesting comments on a rule to prohibit mark ups by auto dealers on the interest rates charged by auto lenders. This practice has a long history of leading to racial discrimination and the CFPB should use its rulemaking authority to squeeze it out of the market once and for all.