Durham News

April 14, 2014

Finance added to anti-poverty issues

Mayor Bill Bell has added a new front to his war on Durham poverty: finance. “It would be helpful for people to know how to manage their money,” he said.

Mayor Bill Bell has added a new front to his war on Durham poverty: finance.

“It would be helpful for people to know how to manage their money,” he said. “How to make decisions ... whether they have savings programs, those kinds of things.”

Bell has also pared down the campaign’s initial target: from all of Census Tract 10.01, an area of Northeast Central Durham that about 3,400 people call home, to two “block groups” of extreme poverty within the tract.

The switch came after Bell and city analysts found that the other census block in 10.01 was too well-off to qualify as a “distressed urban area” under the criteria Durham has adopted from a UNC study of urban poverty in the state ( bit.ly/1kLEQiS).

For the “neighborhood by neighborhood” anti-poverty campaign, Bell had previously named five points of attack: education, health, housing, jobs and public safety. He invited volunteers at a March orientation to enlist in one or more task forces on them.

About 45 signed up on the spot, more joined later and some, Bell said, suggested adding finance and volunteered to work on it. Among those are Glyndola Massenburg-Beasley, president of the Durham Regional Financial Center counseling service, and Carl Rist, director of a financial literacy fund at the Corporation for Enterprise Development.

The campaign doesn’t yet have data on residents’ financial habits in Tract 10.01, said John Killeen of the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Services department, and doesn’t yet have specific goals or benchmarks to tell whether city efforts improve them.

Exactly what the finance committee is going to do, Bell is leaving up to the co-chairmen he drafted: City Councilman Steve Schewel and Durham County Commissioner Fred Foster.

“I’ve got a couple of ideas,” Foster said last week. One is “legislation or at least something” to close the gap between women’s and men’s wages.

Women, Foster said, citing figures from state Rep. Larry Hall (also see bit.ly/P0o304), make up 47 percent of the statewide work force, but earn just 82 cents for every dollar a man is paid for comparable work.

“You can close that gap and put more money into the family which ... takes your taxes down, takes my taxes down and they’re not dependent on food stamps, Medicaid, AFDC and on and on and on,” Foster said.

He’s also interested in raising minimum wages.

“Going from $7.50 to $10.10 an hour will reduce the amount of people on food stamps,” he said.

In May, the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Services is starting a series of “community listening sessions,” where city employees stay in the background, residents are encouraged to speak their minds and task-force members are invited but not allowed to say anything.

“We want to reach out to people who don't come to meetings,” said County Commissioner Wendy Jacobs, who is leading the task force on jobs with City Councilwoman Diane Catotti.

“Our approach has to be as grassroots as possible,” Jacobs said. “We're going to really need to know people in the community.”

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