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On this day in history…

On March 1, 1971, a bomb exploded in the bathroom on the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol building, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, although it left no casualties. The Weather Underground, a leftist anti-war group claimed responsibility for this event and other bomb attacks in the early 1970s. The group’s political goal was to create a revolutionary party to overthrow U.S. imperialism and the Weathermen (as they were commonly known) cited their actions and placement of the bomb “in protest of the U.S. invasion of Laos.” (Photo taken from The Washington Post)

1.       False Promises Made by Loan Forgiveness Program

Launched in 2007, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program provides young adults with the opportunity to have their student loans forgiven if they work in the government or nonprofit sector and make regular minimal loan payments throughout a ten-year period. This program is intended to encourage recent graduates to enter the government or nonprofit sectors, both of which are known for low paying jobs. However, a 2018 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that only 55 of the 19,000 people who completed the ten-year requirement had their debt forgiven.

In 2017, three borrowers who were working for 501(c)(6) legal organizations and one borrower working for a 501(c)(19) veterans association filed a lawsuit to defend their access to the PSLF program after their approval letters from FedLoan Servicing were rescinded with little or no opportunity to appeal the decision. Those who qualify for the PSLF program use an income-based repayment plan that do not cover all accruing interest. So, while they make minimum payments, their balances continue to grow and it comes as a great shock when their debt is not forgiven by the PSLF program. The three borrowers who worked for 501(c)(6) organizations won their case and now have grounds to petition the US Education Department to reinstate their eligibility for the PSLF program. There is currently a total of 890,000 people who have been approved for the PSLF program. This issue will keep growing until  the US Education Department fixes the program such that it doesn’t leave graduates in worse financial circumstances than when they first took out their loans as well as cause a shortage of applicants for the future who are wary of the program as a result.

2.       Nuances from Storytelling Model Measures Social Impact

Social enterprises are value and purpose-driven business models and when examining the concept of “social impact” among social enterprises, one method to diversify and leverage participant voices lies in the practice of storytelling. Commonly known as Social Return on Investment (SROI), this method presents the story of change affected by the activities from the perspective of the stakeholders. SROI is a given when discussing an organization’s social impact. SROI For a social enterprise to engage its stakeholders, maintain existing funders and initiate new connections for future activities, it is crucial that the organization’s social impact is understood, measured, and communicated well amongst all parties involved. Varying greatly from traditional surveys and questionnaires measuring social impact, storytelling sticks out as an effective method to qualitatively measure social impact. Storytelling fosters a sense of belonging and pride for stakeholders in the value and the purpose of the organization, in turn leading to significantly higher SROI.

The GlobalGiving Storytelling Project uses storytelling to create a databank of organizations that are making a difference in the presentation of community voices around the world. This project strives to create better feedback loops for measuring the social impact of organizations directly through the impacted communities. From 2010-2011 Kenyan and Ugandan scribes were able to collect 57,200 stories from over 5,000 community voices. Storytelling allows for human stories to shared, which gives a sense of dynamism and excitement that traditional datasets fail to provide. As seen in a case study in India, it is easier to share experiences in an informal, semi-structured way and valuable insights and first-hand opinions are leveraged through the storytelling model, which is not seen in either surveys or questionnaires. However, this method for measuring impact is also resource intensive and more time-consuming than traditional data collection. Storytelling is most effective at measuring social impact if it is used in conjunction with more traditional quantitative methods, thus providing a rich layer to impersonal data points by complementing the personal, micro-level impact with the big picture analysis of the social impact. 

3.       Nonprofit Theaters Preserve and Educate Communities

While companies like Netflix and Amazon continue to monopolize the technology and entertainment sectors, small movie theaters are counteracting this monopoly with the transformation and reopening of small theaters under nonprofit ownership. After closing in July 2015, the Osio Theater in Monterey, California was able to reopen in May 2016 with the support of $76,000 from a local crowdfunding campaign. On March 9th, this small independent movie theater will hold a grand reopening as it transitions into a nonprofit-owned theater. Membership will be available at varying levels—ranging from $10-$25 per month for individual membership and $2,000-$3,500 for businesses. Membership structures for nonprofits like the Osio Theater help to maintain historic buildings and typically provide alternatives to mainstream theaters by screening independent films, documentaries, and foreign language cinema. The new mission of Osio Theater is “to make film and digital media education programs available to all Monterey County K-12 students” while retaining cultural diversity in the local arts community. While theater and nonprofit video stores continue to pop up, these organizations can serve as models to preserve culturally rich landmarks and to provide on-the-ground opportunities for local neighborhoods to engage and strengthen their communities.

4.       Oregon Senator Passes First Ever State-Wide Rent Control, But Housing Advocates Identify Shortcomings and Loopholes

On February 27, 2019, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed SB 608, the nation’s first statewide rent control law. The bill was declared as an emergency and is in effect immediately while housing advocates expose the problematic shortfalls of the much-needed law confronting the housing crisis in Oregon. SB 608 imposes a cap on rent increases to seven percent per year plus the cost of inflation. This essentially allows landlords to increase rents up to a total of ten percent per year, which is actually a higher rate of increase than seen without the rent control bill in recent years. The cap of a seven percent increase is very high compared to some cities in California that limit rent increases at the cost of inflation, usually averaging 3% in the past five years. Exceptions to SB 608 include rental units constructed within the last fifteen years, subsidized units such as Section 8 housing, and units vacated by tenants on their own accord. The bill has provisions related to no-cause evictions, but Portland tenant advocates identify loopholes in the bill such as no-cause evictions allowed during the first year of tenancy as well as weak language surrounding qualifying reasons for which a tenant may be evicted.

Although the bill helps to mitigate sudden price increases that have forced Oregon renters almost immediately from their homes, it does very little to increase long-term neighborhood stability. In response to the passing of the bill, Portland Tenants United (PTU) continue to call for the restoration of local control over rents, citing these loopholes and overall inefficacy of SC 608. A tenant organizer claims the bill “does more to protect landlords from strong tenant protection than to protect tenants from landlords.” Until housing is deemed a basic right, housing advocates and renters will surely persist in their demand for more drastic and local initiatives to ensure renters and neighborhoods maintain stability and affordability in the face of sky-high values presented by the current housing market. 


5.       Business Succession Plans to Build and Retain Community Wealth

As the “baby boom” generation nears retirement age, many business owners from this generation encounter themselves at a crossroad regarding succession plans for their businesses. Often called the “silver tsunami”, the business ownership succession wave is on the rise as baby boomers close in on their retirement plans. Business owners in the Adirondack North Country region have been turning to a helpful community organization for tools and resources for creating appropriate succession plans.

Since 1955, the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) has been supporting economic development in the area by employing a “local first” approach to community wealth building and focusing on “self-reliance for goods and services through locally owned, import substituting (LOIS) businesses.” This year, ANCA created the North Country Center for Businesses in Transition—a virtual “center” that provides matchmaking services and planning tools to clients looking to purchase an existing business or to start a new career path towards business ownership, by providing these clients with resources on employee ownership models and opportunities. The center plans to hold monthly workshop series to share insights and offer skills and resources to help local businesses in transition. This effort is supported by more than fifty organizations and community leaders in the Adirondack North Country region. Coordinators and community liaisons at ANCA focus on selling in the open market, intergenerational family transitions, and business conversions to a worker ownership model. ANCA’s current goals are to transition 240 businesses and preserve 1,440 jobs in the next three years.

ANCA highlights the importance of employee ownership and cites benefits to the new law put forth by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, known as the Main Street Employee Ownership Act; employee ownership strengthens companies by increasing productivity and sales, prevents layoffs and rewards workers with greater job stability through locally rooted jobs. As retirement looms over baby boomer business owners, resources like the North Country Center for Businesses in Transition are likely to gain more clients who are looking to transition their businesses and further reel in the advantages of employee ownership enacted by the Main Street Employee Ownership Act.