Syracuse United Neighbors took 20 members to the annual National People’s Action conference in Washington, DC this weekend. SUN leaders joined over 1,000 other neighborhood residents from 38 different states to change national policies that have an impact on our neighborhoods.
As a way to warm up for the conference, SUN stopped its bus on the way out of town at Mayor Driscoll’s house. SUN had invited the Mayor to join us in Washington so he could lobby HUD to renegotiate the economic development loans that the city had taken out with HUD. Three of these loans, totaling over $20 million have gone bad. The city now has to repay these loans out of its annual Community Development Block Grant budget.
At the conference, threee neighborhood leaders spoke at workshops on issues of concern to SUN and our community. Maria Johnson spoke about Syracuse’s epidemic of vacant houses and SUN’s recent campaign to convince the city to fund a mortgage default counseling program. Ann Reynolds spoke about the four year battle to stop Onondaga County’s plan to put a raw sewage treatment plant on Midland Ave. Amanda Pascall spoke on the importance of lending in low-income neighborhoods and Syracuse’s experiences with JPMorgan Chase. This bank has backed away from its efforts to make loans in SUN’s neighborhoods.
At every NPA conference, some government officials or business people that are invited to address the conference refuse to work with NPA and its member organizations. They learn very quickly that this is no ordinary conference and that NPA does not take no for an answer. The 1,000 conference attendees get on yellow school buses and go demand a better response from our targets. This year, NPA visited the homes of the president’s top advisor Karl Rove, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Venneman and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. NPA also visited the offices of Manpower, the temporary labor company and the main Washington lobbyist for JPMorgan Chase.
On the last day of the conference, NPA hosted two briefings on all of its issues for the staffs of both House and Senate members. SUN members attended the briefing held in the Rayburn House Office Building where Amanda Pascall again discussed the importance of bank lending in low-income communities and how to strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act.
Also on Monday, Ann Reynolds joined a group of NPA activists concerned about environmental issues in a meeting with Robert Knox of the Environmental Protection Agency. He is the Associate Director of their Office of Environmental Justice. Ann convinced him to look into the EPA’s prior approval of the County’s plan for the Midland Ave. sewage treatment plant. SUN’s goal is to work with him to freeze the County’s federal grants on this plan and hold a public hearing in Syracuse.
Finally, Maria Johnson joined a group of NPA leaders that have been working to change our country’s housing policies. The group met with HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson and Assistant Secretaries John Weicher and Roy Bernardi. Maria was able to confirm that Sec. Bernardi (our former Mayor) was working with the Driscoll administration to renegotiate the HUD 108 loans that have taken such a large chunk out of the city’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) budget. Secretary Bernardi also agreed to include NPA groups in its current reform plans for the entire CDBG. A follow up meeting has been agreed to in June.
Syracuse United Neighbors had a wild weekend–with 1,000 of our friends–the other committed neighborhood leaders of National People’s Action. As Brenda LeBlanc from Iowa CCI stated in the opening remarks to the conference: “Together we demand democracy’s promise.”