Last Thursday evening I joined my friend Jennifer Bennetch for an informational picket and revocation of consent outside the offices of Project Home on Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia. This forty-minute clip includes my revocation of consent on site followed by a twenty-minute discussion providing context with slides. Jenn’s astute, on-the-ground analysis of what is happening with the Philadelphia Housing Authority and non-profit partners is the final ten minutes of this video.
Project Home, affiliated with the Philadelphia Catholic Archdiocese, has been collaborating with the Philadelphia Housing Authority for years as the latter flips city-owned row houses to developers and consolidates vouchers into multi-unit facilities focused on providing social impact wrap around services to targeted communities. In these group facilities, housing access becomes conditional. There are restrictions placed on what people can do in their living quarters, which are more restrictive than would be the case in scattered site housing. Residents are often required to participate in treatment and training programs, which as we know are the bread and butter of impact investors who seek to keep the poor busy jumping through hoops as living wage jobs are made obsolete by Fourth Industrial Revolution automation.
I have grave concerns about the participation of faith communities in social impact finance service delivery and the chilling prospect of individuals being compelled to align their behavior and outlook to the tenets of a particular religion through Internet of Bodies technology and data dashboards. That would be a theology of domination NOT liberation. It is my belief that people of faith MUST stand in opposition to any such measures. In January of 2019 I wrote about the “Welcome Home” social impact bond in Santa Clara, CA – a testbed for pay for success finance pilots catalyzed by Santa Clara University (Jesuit, Gavin Newsom is an alumnus) and Step Up Silicon Valley, a charity affiliated with the Catholic Church. This is an excerpt from the blog post Charter, Public Health and Catholic Charity Interests Help Launch Disruptive Pay For Success Program:
“Step Up Silicon Valley (SUSV) and Catholic Charities received $150,000 from the Health Trust’s disruption grant program for development of the pay for success model. SVCF (Silicon Valley Community Foundation) and Santa Clara County each contributed an additional $75,000. Step Up Silicon Valley was created by Catholic Charities as a “poverty lab” to catalyze systems change in the social service sector of Silicon Valley. Its “1,000 Out of Poverty” effort became a testbed to refine elements of the program, including the “Self-Sufficiency Measure,” a “scorecard” tracking the “progress” of low-income clients in the areas of food, housing, healthcare, education and income.
Such systems of consolidated data-tracking are a prerequisite for outcomes-based contracting to scale. SUSV worked with Community Technology Alliance (CTA), a non-profit set up to harness technology to create data-driven solutions to poverty. Together they customized the tool, which is based on one created in Arizona. CTA’s board members are embedded in the tech community and certainly have a financial stake in the transition of the nonprofit social sector to a data-driven, market-based model.
Step Up Silicon Valley drew upon the principles embedded in “National Opportunity for Community Renewal Act” or NOCRA, draft legislation that had been developed with input from Catholic Charities USA. That legislation was introduced in 2010 and again 2011 by Pennsylvania senator Robert Casey and Massachusetts congressman James McGovern, both Democrats. NOCRA’s lobbying efforts were national in scope with 700 delegates brought to the capital to advocate on behalf of the bill in September 2010. Still, the legislation did not pass. Nevertheless, supporters continued to push the program’s recommendations. Step Up Silicon Valley was later designated one of six NOCRA Laboratory Projects that would be used to pilot “results-based,” “market-driven,” “systems-changing” solutions to poverty even without the benefit of federal legislation in place. A timeline on page 28 of the report “10 Years In The Making,” specifically states “SUSV used the NOCRA principles to launch pay for success.
The role Catholic Charities played advancing Santa Clara County’s social impact initiatives is significant. “Welcome Home” was not simply a local pilot project, but a prototype whose success or failure had implications for a much larger investment program. The Vatican held global impact investing conferences in 2014, 2016 and 2018. You can be sure many are keeping a close eye on how Santa Clara County’s projects develop. Poverty “impact investments” in the United States can be testing grounds for similar global development aid programs and vice versa. Social Impact Bonds (SIBs), one mechanism for Pay for success implementation, has a counterpart in Development Investment Bonds (DIBs). What happens with digital education of the type Ferrer, Zuckerberg, Gates, Omidyar, et al promote in the Bay Area does carry over to ICT education deployment abroad, see Bridge International Academies and the Educate Girls DIB. They inform one another. The cloud has made the world an increasingly small place for those operating in fin-tech. Globalization is embedded into everything.”
Jennifer Bennetch has been a powerful spokesperson for anti-gentrification and housing rights in North Philadelphia. She has the moral courage to do what few others are willing to do – stand up to the corrupt Philadelphia Housing Authority. Her family has been targeted by PHA police. Her house has been fire-bombed. Authorities threatened to take away her children, but she continues to show up, speak out, and lead by example.
In the spring and summer of 2019 she led an occupation of the new $45 million PHA headquarters, built at a time when the agency had a ten-year wait list for housing. We were almost run over by a front-end loader during a protest outside the building.
I was later assaulted by police for trying to intervene as an out-of-uniform officer put a fellow activist in a chokehold when we contested their efforts in the pouring rain to install an un-permitted fence around a vacant lot opposite the headquarters. My experience with the judicial system and the push for diversion court pathway programs (all charges later dropped) led me to write a January 2020 post, Prison Reform To Incarcerate the World, about e-carceration and social impact finance. Later that week the city brought in counter-terrorism units to remove the tents from the sidewalk outside the headquarters building and install concrete planters. It turns out the fencing had been put up to preclude the occupation from moving to the lot facing the entrance.
This past summer Jenn and other local activists managed two large encampments of unhoused people. One was located on the Ben Franklin Parkway in shadow of the Art Museum and a second in Sharswood near the PHA headquarters. By early fall they had negotiated an arrangement that would create a community housing trust to ensure housing access that was accountable to the community, not developers or non-profit functionaries.
Below is the poem I read during my revocation of consent outside Project Home. A great fear I have is the containment of massive numbers of people that have been dispossessed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution warehoused in dormitory style faith-based gulags where they will code the open air prison planet into reality.
We have to stand today to ensure that the children of tomorrow will be able to wade, fish, or boat on the Susquehanna or other creeks or rivers. Their existence cannot be allowed to be constrained by the coding of mixed reality headsets. We do not consent.
Fishing on the Susquehanna In July
Billy Collins, 1998
I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.
Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure—if it is a pleasure—
of fishing on the Susquehanna.
I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one—
a painting of a woman on the wall,
a bowl of tangerines on the table—
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.
There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,
rowing upstream in a wooden boat,
sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.
But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia
when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend
under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandanna
sitting in a small, green
holding the thin whip of a pole.
That is something I am unlikely
ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.
Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,
even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame.