The Reclaiming Vacant Properties conference provides a unique opportunity for sharing and learning among peers grappling with the challenges of vacant and problem properties. This sharing happens in many different settings — workshops, tours, receptions and, of course, conversations in the hallway. At Community Progress, we continue to look for ways to encourage both formal and informal exchange throughout the conference. One such opportunity can be found at the state caucuses, which facilitate collaboration and brainstorming among participants from a specific state with the goal of strengthening connections and gathering ideas that can help to move forward a state agenda.
A few conveners of these caucuses shared with us their experiences with this element of the conference:
- ILLINOIS: Adam Gross, Director, Regional Affordable Housing Initiatives for BPI in Chicago has worked with local and state activists for many years on policy reform related to foreclosure, vacant property and land banking and is already part of a number of local and state coalitions in Illinois. In his view, past RVP state caucuses have deepened the ties within those coalitions and broadened the vision of RVP attendees from Illinois: “Because we come as a group, we try to cover as many sessions as possible. For us, the caucus is the place where we can share what we’ve learned — a process, that in turn, strengthens what we do at home.” Gross adds that the caucuses provide an unusual opportunity for public officials and activists to meet in a less formal setting. “You know at home, meetings between advocates and officials are pretty highly structured. In our caucus, however, we get to have the kind of unstructured discussions that lead to breakthroughs both in legislation and relationships.”
- LOUISIANA: Both David Lessinger, Director of Planning and Strategy for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and James Anderman, Director of Real Estate for the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority had worked on their respective city’s revitalization challenges for years. Their participation in the Louisiana caucus at the last two RVP conferences has had a profound impact on their work. According to Anderman, the caucus forged new and strengthened relationships that led to the advancement of both local and statewide agendas. “The 2012 New Orleans caucus was particularly helpful for us because we were able to add a new focus on code enforcement to our local and parish wide work and forge a stronger state coalition to fight for reform of state laws that hinder code enforcement and efficient redemption of properties.”Lessinger agrees: “The Louisiana state caucus at the June 2012 RVP conference in New Orleans was a critical meeting for advancing a statewide legislative agenda to reform laws governing blighted and tax-adjudicated property. This gathering built upon a previous session in Cleveland the year prior.” These meetings set in motion a series of statewide working sessions between advocates and helped them succeed in getting reforms introduced in the state legislature earlier this year.
- TENNESSEE: For Steve Barlow, Co-founder of and Partner at Brewer & Barlow PLC, who works on litigation and legislative work related to vacancy for the City of Memphis, Tennessee, the caucuses are part of a continuous learning process: “We brought 18 people from our statewide coalition — a coalition formed with the help of Community Progress in 2011. We’ve been working together for some time on property tax foreclosure legislative changes, and the caucuses gave us intense time with each other that plays out during the year in continued relationships and work.”
During past conferences, local coordinators have convened groups ranging from three people to over 150. Whether you come to Philadelphia with a group of people or on your own, from a state that already has a formal coalition or a place that has yet to explore a collaborative agenda, we believe this opportunity will pay off for your community.
The starting point for creating effective and long-lasting change is building relationships. Find out more about how you can coordinate with others from your state during Reclaiming Vacant Properties.