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Common Causes

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The number of families living in "worst case" housing conditions stands at an all-time high, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The report says 5.3 million households spend more than half their incomes on rent or live in "severely substandard" housing. The number of households that fit that description increased by 1.1 million between 1978 and 1991 and another 400,000 by 1993.

"The groups experiencing the greatest growth in this problem were families with children and minorities," the report says.

The report notes that falling incomes and the failure of private housing markets to fill the demand for affordable housing has forced many poor families to sacrifice food, medicine, and clothing or live in "inhuman" housing. At a news conference last month, HUD Secretary Henry G. Cisneros warned that Congress is taking steps that could exacerbate the problem.

Copies of "Rental Housing Assistance at a Crossroads: A Report to Congress on Worst Case Housing Needs" are available for $4 each by calling (800) 245-2691.

Community history, needs, and priorities should be the driving force in partnerships between schools, parents, social-service providers, businesses, and other groups. So says an article in the February 1996 issue of Education and Urban Society.

Novella Z. Keith, an associate professor of interdisciplinary urban education at Temple University in Philadelphia, concludes that many efforts to build connections between schools and agencies emphasize providing services rather than helping communities find ways to address broader needs. Instead, she suggests that organizers put the focus on community development and make sure residents play key roles in shaping neighborhood partnerships.

Educators, she says, should "take the lead in insisting that ways be found to build genuine community participation and community-development practices into community schools."

A group of policymakers and administrators who conduct most of their business in Washington recently stepped into the shoes of Oregon citizens working to set community benchmarks.

The Institute for Educational Leadership held a workshop on Capitol Hill to help demonstrate what's at stake in holding communities accountable for better outcomes. The training centered on work under way in Oregon to meet statewide benchmarks for performance on a wide range of goals for family and community well-being.

State officials led small-group sessions where participants played the roles of citizens from two Oregon counties. The groups discussed which benchmarks they saw as most important and how to meet them. They also responded to an electronic poll that instantly charted their responses.

Participants say the exercise highlighted the conflicts that can arise among individuals with different interests but also showed how common goals can foster consensus. More information is available from Margaret Dunkle, Director, IEL Policy Exchange, 1001 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 310, Washington, D.C. 20036; (202) 822-8405.

--Deborah L. Cohen

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