Project Neighbors is initiating an effort to start building a consensus around the commitments necessary to build the best possible Valparaiso. This effort has resulted in the first draft of the “Agenda for a Better Community” (ABC). Over the coming weeks and months, discussions will be held with individuals and organizations throughout the community (including those who have been traditionally left out). Actions will be prioritized based on potential for coalitions of committed people. Project Neighbors will be building vehicles, including a dynamic website, for facilitating communication and organizing activity.
Assuring a Welcoming Community for All People
Cities the size, location, history, and demographics of Valparaiso have not always excelled at integrating new members into their community, especially when those new members are of different racial or ethnic composition. Our goal is to make Valparaiso a truly welcoming city for all and serve as a model for other communities on how to accommodate to the inevitable changing demographics that all cities will experience. To accomplish this we fully support the efforts of the City’s ValpoNext Vision Plan to ”embrace diversity.” We want Valparaiso to become a community that welcomes all people no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, color, sexual orientation, gender preference or economic situation. We seek a community that works to prevent all actions, whether by individuals or institutions, that do not promote the full acceptance of all persons. We seek a city that encourages and truly values the benefits that derive from a more diverse community. We desire a city that recognizes and accepts the changing demographics of our community and takes action to prepare for and welcome our new neighbors. Actions include:
- committing to assure that disparate voices are actively solicited to be heard in public meetings;
- collecting, regularly updating and widely disseminating employment and appointment data so that the public can monitor progress in diversifying City government;
- supporting measures like the Welcoming Cities Ordinance (not using city resources to enforce anti-immigrant efforts);
- immediately issuing clear official condemnation of any actions that embody hatred and bigotry;
- assuring that our schools teach the value of diversity as a priority;
- promoting gender equality through hiring/appointment practices, education and addressing complaints of sexual harassment/abuse;
- assuring the City website and publications contain welcoming messages to diverse populations; and
- directing Valpo’s school system, police, fire and other public departments take measurable steps to hire people of color and otherwise assure that the personnel of our public institutions reflect the diversity of our society, so that all of our children have many role models and our community gains the benefit of different perspectives and learning opportunities.
- engaging the community in discussions about race and diversity;
- recognizing the changing demographic nature of the community and preparing for this change;
- supporting the efforts of the Human Relations Council and the Community Relations Director;
- taking a leadership role and become a model of implementing diversity; and
- establishing a mechanism/procedure to enable the City to effectively and efficiently respond to bias and hate related incidents.
Assuring the Availability of Affordable Housing
Numerous reports over the years, including ValpoNext, have documented or recognized the need for more affordable housing in our community. Valparaiso must commit to meeting this demand. Actions include:
- establishing an Affordable Housing Advisory Committee to assure progress on meeting goals;
- creating an Affordable Housing Fund from filing fees, increased user fees for high end housing, or other sources to be used for fee reduction for affordable housing, a city land bank for affordable housing, down payment assistance and grants to encourage restoration of existing affordable housing or the building of new affordable housing;
- requiring developers of high-end housing to set aside a percentage of lots for affordable housing or to compensate the affordable housing fund in lieu of the set-aside;
- using redevelopment funds to reduce cost of infrastructure for affordable housing developments;
- providing zoning variances for affordable housing;
- annexing land to be used for affordable projects coupled with extended bus service to these units;
- incentivizing building smaller, high quality units; and
- creating government/not-for-profit partnerships to create affordable housing.
Assuring a Healthy Community
While much of health care policy is being debated at the federal level, there are actions that can and should be taken locally to assure that our residents have access to high quality and affordable care services and that Valparaiso is a healthy community in which to live and work. Actions include:
- widely disseminating information to government agencies, health providers, schools, churches and not-for-profits about the enrollment process for Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) and the federal health exchange to assure that all eligible are covered; and
- requesting that Porter County develop a strategy for the use of the conversion fund that resulted from the sale of the former Porter Memorial Hospital and, with public and health care expert input, assure that a significant portion is targeted to the improvement of the health of the broader community.
Assuring a Strong and Equitable Economy
The most essential element of a strong community is an economic base which offers all residents the ability to make a living to support themselves and their families. Creating this environment requires a comprehensive approach which builds opportunities for many different skills sets and experiences. Actions include:
- enacting a “Buy Valpo” ordinance mandating that City and Redevelopment Commission (RDC) contracts be awarded to qualified local businesses first, if they are within 10% of the lowest outside bidder;
- working with local industry, schools and non-profits to create job training initiatives, including a youth job corps providing opportunities and mentoring, especially those underserved and economically at-risk;
- creating a Tax Increment Finance/Tax Abatement reform which:
- prioritizes taxpayer subsidies directed first towards local businesses,
- requires recipient businesses to show genuine need,
- provides for robust reporting and accountability through annual jobs/salaries reports,
- requires a loss to local government analysis be submitted with each new TIF/Abatement request, and
- encourages redevelopment and economic development goals include serving underserved and economically disadvantaged constituencies, especially the inclusion of affordable housing and taxpayer subsidized private development via the RDC
- assuring the inclusion of under-represented constituencies in economic policy making by adding positions to local economic development entities to be filled by members of those constituencies; and
- guaranteeing a “living wage,” achieved through cooperative efforts of government and the private sector so that all can share in the prosperity of the community.
Assure that All Residents have Access to Comprehensive Educational Opportunities
The right to education is fundamental to our nation and should be to our community as well. Education is only valuable if it meets the disparate needs of and is accessible to all seeking it. Actions include:
- initiating a community-wide dialogue aimed at improving the way Valparaiso selects board members to the VCS School Board including, but not limited to, discussion on moving to an elected school board;
- recognizing the increasing diversity and the dramatic rise in the percentage of students on Free and Reduced Lunch, by developing VCS plans which will: result in a more diverse workforce, develop programs to support students from marginalized populations, and mitigates economic barriers to full participation in VCS programs, including extra-curricular activities;
- implementing a system within VCS by which community members can become better informed about legislative actions that would be harmful to VCS and assures that VCS administration and school board advocate locally and downstate on behalf of VCS students, teachers, facilities and finances; and
- creating a citizen advisory group to improve the VCS through regular dialogue and sharing of key information about the opportunities and challenges of providing education in the community.
- continue (or if they don’t) help to fund adult education like that provided by Neighbors Educational Organization.
Assure a Healthy, Safe and Sustainable Environment
Few issues are more important or of greater urgency than caring for our environment. Regardless of politics, income or age, we all depend on a healthy, clean and beautiful environment. While local actions are not sufficient to fully address the need, they are essential and can be a model for other communities. Actions include:
- instituting property tax credits for Renewable Energy Systems (geothermal, solar, wind and hydro);
- making upgrades to and establishing additional EV (electric vehicle) charging stations;
- instituting net metering, compensating owners of solar panels for energy produced by those panels;
- enacting ordinances that require solar shingles be used on all new city buildings, zoning for solar fields and community gardens; and
- creating additional bike lanes and bike parking areas and resourcing increased visibility and education on recycling.