Supporting Community Reinvestment Fund (CRF)’s Small Business Survey

Great Cities Institute is excited to support the Community Reinvestment Fund’s project (CRF) to learn more about Chicago’s small business landscape, particularly as it is experienced by women entrepreneurs and small business owners of color. CRF is working with The Chicago Community Trust, Polk Bros. Foundation, and JPMorgan Chase to lead an exciting research effort that aims to develop a deeper understanding of the advantages, challenges, and opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses in Chicago. We know this is an issue that will be relevant for many stakeholders across the city – from practitioners, to funders, to researchers, and beyond. The Community Reinvestment Fund has put together a questionnaire to help them understand the small business landscape.  We hope that you will support this effort by either filling it out yourself if you are a small business owner, or by passing it on to small business owners that you might know.

The purpose of this Survey is to better understand the important role small and medium-sized businesses play in stimulating growth, job creation, and neighborhood revitalization across the City. This survey will target businesses operating in low- and moderate- income communities and businesses owned by people of color and women, to surface specific needs, opportunities, and challenges that these business owners face operating in their own unique contexts. Ultimately, the results from this analysis will inform how new and existing resources can be more effectively deployed to meet the needs that are identified. The survey facilitators will also use the assessment findings to create a navigation tool that will help business owners more easily connect to relevant resources for financing and business support services.

The survey, below, can be completed in 5 minutes, and participating businesses are entered to win a Samsung Galaxy 8 S2 Tablet! By participating in this survey, you will help us learn more about how to support small businesses and the important role they play as engines of economic growth in the City of Chicago.

Debate over warehouse job quality rages on

Source: Adam Jomant | Shaw Media.

The Joliet Herald-News interviewed Beth Gutelius, a senior researcher specialist at GCI, in an article looking at the growth of warehouses and fulfillment and distribution centers in Will County, Illinois and the pros and cons of employment in these industries.

One expert, who has studied Will County warehouse jobs specifically in the past, said the research and outlook of the quality of these jobs is a mixed bag. Beth Gutelius, a senior researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute, partnered with the Warehouse Workers for Justice on a 2010 study of warehouse work in the county and elsewhere.

“I don’t think we have much evidence that working conditions in Will County, or anywhere, have improved,” Gutelius said.

Gutelius goes on to mention that warehouse employment is often temporary, low-paying, and high-pressure, with corporate profits rarely staying within the community. Her comments add to the debate on whether or not warehouse development is worth the incentives offered by local government and paid for by taxpayers.

Read the full story here.

Urban Affairs Association 48th Annual Conference held in Toronto

The 48th Annual Conference of the Urban Affairs Association was held April 4-7, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The conference opened with a plenary featuring local community development initiatives by the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council and The Greenbelt Foundation.

Great Cities Institute was well represented: Teresa Córdova presented some of the Great Cities work on joblessness among young people, Matt Wilson presented on “Current Poverty in Chicago: A Refined Understanding” and Timothy Imeokparia presented on “Theorizing Possibility as a Practical, Political, and Philosophic Limit on the Radical Project.” In addition, faculty from the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs on the program included Professors Jered Carr and Michael Siciliano on “Macro Explorations of Network Composition and Change in Intergovernmental Service Agreements: An Initial Analysis and Research Agenda”; Phil Ashton and Rachel Weber on “Hordes with Cash: Real Estate Funding Platforms and the Legal-Regulatory Constitution of the Crowd”; Janet Smith on “Social Reproduction and Urban Dynamics”; and Stacey Sutton on “Cooperative Cities: Municipal Support for Worker Cooperatives and Equitable Economic Development in the United States.”

Congratulation to GCI friend, Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Sweet, from Temple University, for receiving Honorable Mention for the prestigious Activist Scholar Award! Applying creative qualitative methodologies and innovative planning theory, she continues to do amazing work with women in Latino and indigenous communities in the U.S. and in Latin America.

Toronto itself is interesting and incredibly diverse. Modernist architecture dominates the downtown skyline of a very dispersed region. High rates of income inequality have been documented and widely discussed in the media. Several reports produced on Toronto’s inequality includes The Unequal City 2015: Income and Health Inequities in Toronto by Toronto Public Health. In November 2017, A United Way (Toronto and York Region) and Neighborhood Change Research Partnership published a report entitled, The Opportunity Equation in the Greater Toronto Area: An Update on Neighbourhood Income Inequality and Polarization.

Researchers from The Factor-Inwentash School of Social Work at the University of Toronto, examined income inequality and polarization in Montréal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver as points of comparison. Using Gini-Coefficients, the common measure of income and wealth distribution across geographies, the researchers examined income distribution across neighborhoods in Toronto. They conclude that the disparities they document demonstrate a growing inequality in Toronto that exceeds other regions in Canada and one that threatens what they call, the “opportunity equation,” a principle that emphasizes access to opportunity.

In a society that values fairness, the opportunity equation should mean that everyone can get ahead. However, factors like the increasing concentration of poverty, deteriorating job quality, and growing income inequality are creating an uneven playing field and compromising the promise of access to opportunity (1).

Based on their statistical calculations from census data, the researchers demonstrate the disparities among neighborhoods and assert that “as income inequality grows, the neighbourhood where you live increasingly matters in whether or not the promise of a fair chance is true for you.” In Chicago, our reports on youth joblessness have also demonstrated how the disparities are evident when comparing neighborhoods, and countless other studies, including those by Metropolitan Planning Council, The Chicago Urban League and UIC Professor Maria Krysan, demonstrate the impacts of residential segregation on an array of issues including income and wealth. The Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy (IRRPP) report on A Tale of Three Cities: The State of Racial Justice in Chicago  while not neighborhood specific, documents racial disparities in Chicago on various economic, criminal justice, health, and housing indicators. Although more documentation of neighborhood disparities in Chicago in income and wealth would be valuable, the more that policies, resources and support are directed towards current efforts to address income and wealth inequalities, the faster we can not only mitigate the impacts but also turn around the numbers.

The Toronto report has several recommendations on how to mitigate the impacts of income and wealth inequality that suggest a relevance of this report to our work here in Chicago. In the report, three areas for “collective action” include: “Providing young people with the opportunities they need to build a good future; Working toward a labour market that offers job opportunities as real pathways to stability and security; and Working together to ensure that background and circumstances are never barriers to opportunity.” In Toronto, the United Way initiated the following actions:

  1. We established a new Anchor Agency investment strategy with a targeted focus on helping people who live in poverty, and those at risk of falling into poverty. This new way of working ensures people have access to a broad range of programs and services close to home. It also allows us to collaborate more closely with our community partners, better positioning us to respond to emerging needs in our changing neighbourhoods.
  2. We launched our Youth Success Strategy, designed to connect youth facing multiple barriers to meaningful career opportunities. This strategy works with the business, labour, community, and education sectors to provide support and tools to bridge the opportunity gap and improve young people’s social and economic futures. By 2025, we will have connected 10,000 young people to education, skills, and professional networks and experiences that will put them on the path to long-term economic stability.
  3. Over 2017/18, building on the past 10-year’s work of our Building Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy, we are leading a multi-sector social innovation lab to tackle the lack of economic opportunities faced by many neighbourhoods across our region. This work will build on our neighbourhood-focused supports to individuals and communities to make the connections and foster the relationships needed to develop solutions to the issues that affect residents (37).

Often, the value of attending these research conferences is to learn about research being conducted in other cities. Next year’s Urban Affairs conference will be held in Los Angeles on the UCLA campus, hosted by the Luskin School of Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles, April 24-27, 2019. In the meantime, we’ll keep working on issues here at home.

Why are metro Chicago’s home values so weak? UIC researchers offer answers

Source: Axiom Images.

Crain’s Chicago Business cites Chicago area unemployment research conducted by Teresa Córdova, director of the Great Cities Institute, and Matthew Wilson, an economic development planner with the institute, in an article examining factors related to the area’s stagnant home prices. Córdova and Wilson, who are both quoted in the piece, note that industry departures and population declines from the south suburbs and South Side have led to less demand for housing there and the declining home values.

In any discussion of Chicago real estate, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the recovery has been running on two different tracks. Home prices have been rising fast in hot North Side neighborhoods like Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square, putting purchases beyond reach for many. But they’re stagnant or even slipping in other neighborhoods and suburbs. A marketwide figure like Case-Shiller’s index covers them all, from Avondale’s 11.7 percent increase in 2017 through unchanged values in Elmhurst to a decline of 7.8 percent in Wilmette.

The labor market has been on two tracks as well, according to two researchers at the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago: Teresa Cordova, the institute’s director, and Matt Wilson. At 10.1 percent, black unemployment was more than twice the general unemployment rate of 4.9 percent in the third quarter. On top of that, they note, nearly all job growth has been in professional and service jobs, not the manufacturing jobs that were the bedrock of the middle class in the 20th century, and they’re mostly downtown, not in neighborhoods or inner-ring suburbs.

Read the full article here. 

Should the CTA be free? Examining transit cost burden on low-income Chicagoans

Source: Richard A. Chapman | Chicago Sun-Times.

The Chicago Reader quotes Matt Wilson, economic development planner in UIC’s Great Cities Institute, about the financial burden of transit fares for low-income residents and the feasibility of a free ride program.

Matt Wilson, an economic development planner with the Great Cities Institute, told me the think tank’s research for Active Trans found that in lower-income communities on the south and west sides, the annual cost of buying CTA monthly passes ($1,260) is more than 5 percent of the per capita income for the total employed population. In Little Village the figure is 11.6 percent, and in the Altgeld Gardens area the number is 15.1 percent—a major financial burden.

Wilson added that it would be “incredibly hard” to measure whether reducing transit fares could pay for itself in terms of lower societal costs. “I would imagine that if CTA or the city was to subsidize fares, it would be more of an investment for the social benefit of Chicagoans, not something where cost is intended to be recovered.”

Read the full story here. 

“Chicago’s Awful Divide”: GCI Data on Poverty and Joblessness Cited in Piece on Segregated Prosperity


Research from UIC’s Great Cities Institute and Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy (IRRPP) is cited in an article from The Atlantic that examines poverty and segregation in Chicago, factors often overlooked in discussions of Chicago as a prospering urban hub.

In some prosperous cities, such as Chicago, where the number of wealthy census tracts has grown fourfold since 1970, people at the bottom are struggling as much as they always have, if not more—illustrating that it’s not just the white rural poor who are being left behind in today’s economy. Like many of America’s biggest cities, Chicago has thrived in the globalized world—at least on a superficial level. The evidence is everywhere, from the gleaming office towers and condos going up alongside the river to the prosperous international companies like Motorola Solutions, the whiskey giant Beam Suntory, and GE Healthcare that have relocated their headquarters to downtown. But this prosperity isn’t filtering down.

GCI data are cited to illustrate the decline in Chicago’s industrial economy, the concentration of jobs in the Loop and Near North neighborhoods, and the disproportionately high unemployment rate for young people of color in Chicago. The data reveal the divide between Chicago’s downtown prosperity and the poverty and lack of options in many of its neighborhoods, particularly communities of color.

Read the full article from The Atlantic here.