Barbara Esuoso

Barbara Esuoso is a former editorial intern at The American Prospect.

Recent Articles

Battling Blight in Memphis

Tennessee’s second-largest city has become a national model for eliminating the scourge of abandoned buildings and vacant lots.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Tennessee’s second-largest city has become a national model for eliminating the scourge of abandoned buildings and vacant lots. I n 2012, New Horizon Apartments, located midway between Elvis Presley’s Graceland and Memphis International Airport, had a major problem. The recently renovated complex was wedged between two burned-out buildings that were often targeted by vandals. But these kinds of contradictions are built into the cityscape. “Memphis is like a checkerboard: One street over, it’s horrible blight and the next street it’s just the nicest neighborhood you’ve ever been in,” says Ryan Poe, a life-long Memphis resident who writes for The Commercial Appeal, the city’s daily newspaper. “Growing up in Memphis, blight is a daily sight, and you know, you’re used to it.” Yet the checkerboard quality of blight erodes the quality of life in a neighborhood, depresses property values, and frustrates residents. Private developers were interested in acquiring the...

New Registry Will Track Flint Residents Exposed to Lead

Nearly two years after the first reports of Flint’s contaminated water, Michigan has finally received funding to create a registry for affected residents.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will award $14.4 million over four years to Michigan State University to create a registry for Flint residents exposed to lead-contaminated water. The water crisis, which began in 2014, put nearly 100,000 Flint residents at risk, and it took more than a year of resident complaints for the city government to come up with an action plan. Flint residents are still recommended to steer clear from drinking unfiltered water.

The Flint Lead Exposure Registry, directly funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the budget of which Trump proposes to cut by more than $1 billion), will enable officials to identify and monitor residents exposed to lead-contaminated water and connect them to health services, according to Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who is leading the registry effort.

“The registry will be a powerful tool to understand, measure, and improve the lives of those exposed to the contaminated water,” said Hanna-Attisha in a written statement. “The more people who participate in the registry, the more powerful this tool will be for Flint and for communities everywhere that continue to suffer from preventable lead exposure.”

President Barack Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act in December of 2016, almost a year after Michigan’s senators proposed an aid package for Flint. The act granted Flint $170 million in recovery funds, including $100 million in March from the Environmental Protection Agency for updating drinking-water infrastructure, and the August 1 announcement of funding for the registry.

“Though the State of Michigan has the primary responsibility to support long-term recovery efforts in Flint, the federal government should have stepped in long ago to provide emergency assistance for an American city in crisis,” said Michigan Senator Gary Peters after the act’s passage.

The crisis in Flint began in April 2014, when the city, under state emergency management, switched its water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River, which had not been treated for corrosion. In September 2015, Hanna-Attisha reported that, after Flint switched to the Flint River source, the number of children with elevated blood-lead levels had almost doubled—from 2.1 percent to 4 percent.

Research conducted by Virginia Tech found water in one Flint resident’s home to have lead levels between 200 and 13,200 parts per billion, far exceeding the EPA’s action threshold of 15 parts per billion. According to the EPA, “In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.”

In January 2016, President Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover up to $5 million in costs for water, filters, and other supplies needed by residents. Flint switched back to its original Detroit source in October, and while lead levels improved, officials still advise residents to drink filtered or bottled water.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and the head of Flint’s pipe-replacement program have said that Flint is still years away from having safe unfiltered water.

Trump’s Budget Would Eliminate Agency Tasked with Ending Homelessness

Included in President Donald Trump’s proposed $6 billion cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development is the elimination of a small but vital program that has been a crucial force in driving down the U.S. homeless population.

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) has a scheduled sunset date of October 2017 and, for the first time since the Clinton administration, it may not be reauthorized.

First created in 1987, USICH’s 19 government member agencies coordinate 23 federal programs to combat homelessness. With an operating budget of $3.5 million a year, the program collaborates with both federal and local government and the private sector to help provide the nation’s homeless with food, shelter, health care, and jobs.

In 2010, the program launched “Opening Doors,” a comprehensive plan that focuses on leadership, collaboration, and civic engagement; access to stable and affordable housing; economic security; health and stability; and the homelessness crisis response system.

Five years after the plan was launched, nationwide homelessness had decreased by 14 percent, or 87,000 individuals (some 550,000 people in the United States do not have a home as of 2016). Homelessness among veterans decreased by 47 percent, chronic homelessness by 27 percent, and family homelessness by 23 percent.

The Urban Institute interviewed more than 50 national and local homelessness advocates, most of whom attributed the progress to USICH. Urban Institute research associate Sarah Gillespie told the Prospect that advocates referred to USICH’s Opening Doors plan as a “leader” in the fight to end homelessness.

“It can be hard coordinating with 19 federal agencies,” Gillespie says. “USICH helps the federal government speak as one voice, navigate as a bureaucracy, ... marshall resources together, and make sure that everyone is on the same page.”

Before Opening Doors, there was little understanding of how many veterans were homeless because the Department of Veteran Affairs only counted veterans who used VA services. Opening Doors worked with the VA and HUD to create a more accurate count, and worked with federal partners to develop a set of benchmark criteria for ending veteran homelessness. Today, 47 cities and counties and three states have announced they have met those criteria. 

Advocates also credit USICH with changing federal homelessness policy to a focus on housing first, Gillespie says. Previously, the federal government provided sobering services, and required similar preconditions before providing housing.

“Even though people will try to keep working to end homelessness,” Gillespie says,” no one could fill the role that USICH plays.”

New Initiative Takes on Fight for Women’s Leadership in the Labor Movement

Women are set to overtake men in union membership in less than a decade, but their representation in the labor movement’s leadership lags far behind. Georgetown and Rutgers are joining forces in a new project to help bridge the leadership gap.

Women already make up nearly half of union membership, and the Center for Economic Policy Research estimates they will comprise the majority by 2023. But only about 20 percent of the AFL-CIO’s executive council are women, as is just a quarter of the International Vice Presidents of AFSCME.

The Women Innovating Labor Leadership (WILL) Empower project launched in June, when the Berger-Marks Foundation (dedicated to Edna Berger, the Newspaper Guild-CWA’s first female lead organizer) closed its doors and announced it was passing $1.5 million in assets to the program, a legacy project to continue and expand the foundation’s work in supporting female leadership in both union and non-union organizations. The project brings together Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative (KI) and Rutgers’s Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO). Windham of KI and Sheri Davis-Faulkner of CIWO lead the project with decades of experience in worker’s rights and women’s rights as organizers, leaders and scholars.

“The project is coming at a very crucial moment for the labor movement, especially for women who are more likely to be affected by recent economic transformations,” says Joseph McCartin, the director of KI.

The 1970s represented a “moment of working-class promise,” says Lane Windham, co-director of WILL Empower, as new laws brought more women and people of color into the work force. The union participation rate for all African American women rose to about 25 percent, and 30 percent for all women. Organizing jobs opened up in unions and women took on jobs as organizers and elected leaders. But when the 1980s saw greater employer resistance lead to a downturn in union activity, women were disproportionately affected.

“On one hand, I knew I had to work twice as hard to show that a woman could lead the biggest department in the AFL-CIO,” says CIWO Director Marilyn Sneiderman, who was the union’s first female national field director from 1995 to 2003. “But on the other hand, I needed to create space for more women to be involved in those roles. WILL Empower is a continuation of my passion in life to support emerging women leaders and help create space for them to lead.”

WILL Empower, scheduled to open its doors in September, will use a multilevel approach to support women in the workforce and the rise of women in leadership positions. According to Windham, the project will offer fellowships to people who want to step away from day-to-day work to build the workers’ movement, and an interactive educational project to students. Georgetown and Rutgers will also run cross-organizational leadership cohorts for women in executive leadership positions.

“There is nothing in the labor movement that helps women who are going to be taking over as regional directors and presidents,” Sneiderman says. “But people can learn so much from each other on how to build the most effective organization they can.”

According to McCartin, WILL Empower’s grassroots collaboration is the key to changing the labor movement.

“We can’t wait for action from Washington or the passage of legislation,” McCartin says. “Change has to happen from the bottom up.”