Business of Filmmaking in Chicago at Cinespace Chicago Studios

Include the West Side in the Community Catalyst Fund

We thank the Austin Weekly News for publishing the following letter to the editor.  Photo credit: Second City Cop Blog.

The Mayor has proposed the new $100 million Community Catalyst Fund designed to invest in businesses in communities that are most in need.  A governing board consisting of the City of Chicago CFO, City Treasurer, Commissioner of Planning and Development, and four mayoral appointees will establish investment criteria and policies with input from an advisory council consisting of two aldermen and three community representatives. The targeted communities and manner in which investment decisions will be made are yet to be determined.

We, the members of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC), support the overall concept of the Community Catalyst Fund, and would encourage the team responsible for the implementation to solicit further input from local communities as the program is finalized. This will only strengthen the program.

NLCCC is a group of North Lawndale stakeholders, including nearly 300 community-based organizations, business owners, elected officials and individuals that have come together to guide our community’s first comprehensive planning and implementation process since 1958.  We believe that there should be representation from Chicago’s West Side on the Community Catalyst Fund (“the Fund”) governing board as well as the advisory council. In times past, the West Side has been excluded from a number of the City’s innovative economic development programs, and we are under-represented on the governing boards for various City commissions. It is important that communities that are in most need also have a voice at the policy level to ensure that programs are responsive and deliver the maximum impact.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to small business development, and every establishment is different. The Fund should take a comprehensive approach that will tap into a variety of public and private resources to provide a broad array of financial products and services to small businesses that are at varying stages of development, from start-up to mature.  Examples include low interest micro-loans, New Markets Tax Credits, mezzanine debt and equity investments with longer investment horizons. At the same time, the Fund should provide funding for community-based CDFI’s (community development financial institutions), SBA-certified Small Business Development Centers and other intermediaries to provide technical assistance to small businesses seeking funding in order to minimize investment risk.

The Fund’s board should develop investment criteria that are more flexible than conventional financing while safeguarding investor capital, and prioritize projects that will create jobs and provide incentives for hiring residents of the communities in which the projects are located. There should also be accountability to ensure that jobs that are promised materialize. Finally, the Fund should consider clustering public works projects to enhance its investments and spur additional private investment in high need areas.

We look forward to an investment fund that will catalyze investment on the West Side, and high-need communities around the City of Chicago.

— North Lawndale Coordinating Committee Exec. Subcommittee

Valerie F. Leonard, Rodney Brown and Dr. Dennis Deer, Members

What Happens to Your 529 Funds if Your Child Skips College?

We thank Herman Davis, Regional Vice President for Liberty Bank, for sharing content from The Liberty Line, a publication of Liberty Bank.

It’s a question that bothers many parents who have opened 529 college savings funds for their kids, or are considering doing so: What happens to my money if my child doesn’t go to college? Fortunately, 529 funds aren’t a “use-it-or-lose-it” proposition. Even if your child decides not to attend college, you have more options for your 529 savings funds than you might expect.

Benefits of a 529 Savings Fund

A 529 fund is a tax-advantaged account you can establish to invest money for your child’s (or other relative’s) college education. You can open 529 accounts at many banks and investment firms, and have numerous options for investing your money.

Some states offer state tax deductions for 529 account deposits. And in most cases, you won’t owe state taxes on your account withdrawals and investment earnings, either. However, the main benefit of such plans is that withdrawals and earnings are exempt from federal taxes — so long as the money is used to pay for what the IRS considers “qualified” college expenses.

“Qualified” college expenses typically include tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, computers, and room and board up to the amount the college lists in its “cost of attendance” list.

5 Other Ways to Use 529 Savings Funds

If you’re worried that your child may follow a path that doesn’t include college, here are several options for the money in your 529 account:

1. Let another college-bound relative use it. This entails changing your plan’s beneficiary — the person who will use the money to pay education expenses — to another family member. This could be another child (such as your niece or grandson) or a close adult relative, or his or her spouse (such as your sister or brother-in-law).

2. Use the money yourself. Have you or your spouse considered returning to college or getting an advanced degree? If you name yourself or your spouse as the new 529 fund beneficiary, you can use the money for qualified higher-education expenses.

3. Be patient. Your child may still decide to go to college after first spending some time in the workforce. Unless your plan restricts how long the account may remain open, you typically can leave the funds invested for years. They’ll be ready to use if your child has a change of heart later on.

4. Think outside the box. Higher education includes more than traditional colleges and universities. Your child can also use 529 funds to pay for technical and other qualifying professional schools — as long as the institution participates in financial aid programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. You may be surprised to learn that professional golf academies and other unusual programs sometimes qualify!

5. Withdraw the money — at a price. You’re always allowed to take out the money and close your 529 account. The catch is that you’ll pay federal and state taxes on any account contributions, plus a 10% tax penalty on any earnings. (The penalty is for not using the money for higher education.)

If withdrawal is your only viable option, consider removing the money in a year when you’re in a lower tax bracket (such as during retirement). In the unfortunate event that your beneficiary dies or becomes disabled and can’t use the funds for college, you can withdraw the money without paying the extra 10% penalty. However, you’ll still owe taxes on contributions and earnings.

As you can see, 529 plan account holders never “lose” money because their child decides against college. Ask your banker or a college financial aid representative if you have more questions about 529 college savings funds.

Looking for Developers With Experience Working With Community Benefits Agreements in Low Income Minority Communities

Do you know developers in Chicago who have a demonstrated track record working with low income minority communities who have entered into legally binding community benefits agreements? If so, please share their names and contact information. NLCCC will be hosting a panel discussion on community benefits agreements, featuring an attorney, developer and community activists who have successfully worked on community benefits agreements in Chicago. I will share their information with the committee working on the program.

Thanks in advance.

Valerie F. Leonard
consulting@valeriefleonard.com

Building Community Through Voter Registration

If you are interested in having your organization participate in voter registration, please email Valerie F. Leonard at consulting@valeriefleonard.com.  NLCCC has 500 motor voter cards and 250 absentee ballots. We also have a few signs you may post in your office or place of business.

Also, Michael Halbert, who is coordinating a registration drive throughout the community, is going door to door for voter registration starting next Saturday.  We will also be distributing NLCCC brochures in the process.  Michael will be working with Sheila McNary’s son to conduct classes for deputy registrars if there is an interest. If you are interested in participating, please let us know if you are interested in participating, and at what level.
Level 1. Becoming a deputy registrar
Level 2. Distributing Motor Voter cards at your front desk
Level 3. Going door to door for a couple hours on Saturdays

Chicago Department of Planning and Development Staff Report Regarding Roosevelt and Kostner

Clarius Partners proposes to purchase the Roosevelt and Kostner site from the City of Chicago, in the event there is no responsive alternative bidder.  A public meeting was held by the Community Development Commission on Tuesday, August 9, 2016. Embedded below are a copy of the Power Point presentation and the response to our FOIA request.