Entrepreneurship Week at MACDC

November 19th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

“Entrepreneurship is the single greatest force for social and economic wealth generation in the world.”

That’s a bold and perhaps provocative statement, but that is what Babson College President Len Schlesinger said at the graduation event for the Mel King Institute’s “Raising the Standard for Small Business Technical Assistance” training seminar this week.  And after spending much of National Entrepreneurship Week talking with and about entrepreneurs, I think he might be on to something.

While I can’t say it was planned this way, I did spend much of National Entrepreneurship Week focusing on how we can better support local entrepreneurs.

On Monday, I spoke on a panel at the “Access to Credit” Seminar sponsored by Bank of America in partnership with the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council.  The seminar talked about the challenges that minority-owned businesses were having obtaining credit from banks and how alternative lenders, including CDCs, CDFIs, and public agencies, could help fill the gap.

On Tuesday, I attended the second board meeting of the new Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation where we voted to appoint Chuck Grigsby as interim President. Chuck is no stranger to MACDC. He has worked closely with us during his tenures at the Community Development Finance Corporation, the City of Boston and the Life Initiative and most recently chaired the Founding Committee for the Mel King Institute for Community Building.  The MGCC will be an important source of financing and technical advice for small businesses in Massachusetts and I'm thrilled to be working with Chuck and the other board members to build the MGCC into a great organization.

On Wednesday, I moderated a panel at the Statewide Conference on Immigrant Entrepreneurship sponsored by the Immigrant Learning  Center, Inc. and Babson College.  The panel focused on the role of Immigrant entrepreneurs in revitalizing urban neighborhoods and we had wonderful presentations from Paul Wantanabe, from UMASS Boston and the Institute for Asian American Studies, Allison Moronta from JPNDC, Long Nguyen from Viet Aid and Saul Perlera, from Perlera Real Estate in East Boston. Paul provided an overview of his report on this subject that documented the enormously vital role these entrepreneurs play in our neighborhoods, while Allison and Long discussed the challenges they face.  Saul told us his inspiring story of moving to Boston as a 16-year-old, undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, obtaining legal status thanks to legislation signed by President George H.W. Bush, becoming a citizen, starting a Real Estate firm and hiring 14 people – and now surviving the real estate crash so he can continue to provide jobs and services to his community.

The Conference included many other inspiring and informative speakers and demonstrated the vital role that immigrants are playing in our economy. It made many of us angry that these contributions are not recognized more widely, but also more determined to change the conversation nationally and locally.  I’m looking forward to working more closely with the Immigrant Learning Center in the coming year to advance policies and programs to support immigrant entrepreneurship

On Thursday, I returned to Babson College – Ranked #1 in Entrepreneurship Education for the 14th year in a row in 2010 – for the final session of the Mel King Institute’s “Raising the Standard for Small Business Technical Assistance” training seminar.   The Seminar was hosted by Babson and led by a wonderful team of instructors, including Elizabeth Thornton and Donna Stoddard from Babson College and Jason Friedman from Friedman Associates.  The seminar provided 36 hours of classroom instruction plus individualized assistance in between class sessions.  At the seminar on Thursday, participants from the Community Business Network shared with the others how they used the first session’s class on outcome measurement to inspire them to completely rethink their approach. They showed the group their new intake form, theory of change, outcome goals and indicators. Several of the other CDCs were so impressed that we are now talking about implementing the system at CDCs across the state!  This provides, I think, yet another example of the new openness to sharing and collaboration that we see throughout the field.

We were also joined on Thursday by Babson College President Len Schlesinger and the state’s economic development Secretary, Greg Bialecki who came to congratulate the participants on completing the Seminar. Secretary Bialecki highlighted the Governor’s commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation and said that the work of the CDCs fits squarely in that agenda. He also announced that the Growth Capital Corporation has allocated $600,000 to provide FY 2011 grants to small business technical assistance program and that the GCC intends to build on this to do more in the future. President Schlesinger gave an inspiring talk in which he made his comment about entrepreneurship being the single greatest force for social and economic wealth generation in the world and pledged to continue working with us to advance the field throughout the state. 

Len Schlesinger and Babson College define entrepreneurship as "a way of thinking and acting that is opportunity obsessed, holistic in approach, and leadership balanced."   That’s a good way to describe the entrepreneurs in our neighborhoods. It’s also a good description of many Community Developers.  Perhaps there is more to Len Schlesinger’s comment than we realized!

Commenting Closed

Innovation in Indianapolis

November 3rd, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

Last month I travelled to Indianapolis to attend a meeting of the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development's  National Advisory Committee and to tour some of Indianapolis’ hardest hit neighborhoods. It was inspiring to see how local CDCs and CBOs are working together and with LISC and other partners to undertake long term and comprehensive community development initiatives.  Indianapolis has had a strong CDC sector for many years, thanks in part to support from LISC, the City, the Eli Lilly Foundation and other supporters. Over the past five years, the community development sector in the city has fully embraced Comprehensive Community Development as part of their Great Indy Neighborhoods Initiative (GINI).  GINI seeks to replicate the highly successful Chicago model in which broad neighborhood coalitions come together to develop Quality of Life plans for their neighborhoods and then work jointly to implement them. It’s a model that Boston LISC is now replicating through its Resilient Communities/Resilient Families program.  

One of the neighborhoods that we toured was the Near East Side neighborhood where 40% of the homes are vacant and/or foreclosed and many of the others in disrepair.  The neighborhood used to be home to one of the nation’s largest and most successful CDCs – the Eastside Community Investments (ECI) which collapsed in the 1990s (it went from over 80 employees to zero in just two years.)  Now a new coalition has emerged led by the John H. Boner Community Center and they have a strategy to attract $100 million of investment to rebuild the neighborhood. The coalition has also helped start a new CDC to fill the void left by ECI’s collapse. I thought it was interesting that the demise of one CDC led to the emergence of new players and even a new CDC that are now taking the lead in the neighborhood. The lesson for me is that local, accountable, placed based leadership and capacity was needed to fill the void left by the old CDC – external actors and regional organizations could not fill that void.

Yet, external and regional actors do have an essential role to play. In fact, one of the most exciting things happening in the Near East Side, in addition to the emergence of strong local leadership, is that the neighborhood has been adopted by the National Football League and the Super Bowl Host Committee as part of the 2012 Super Bowl.   This has generated millions of dollars and substantial political support for the neighborhood’s agenda. The Super Bowl Host Committee picked this neighborhood because it was well organized, cohesive and had a concrete strategy for sustained change. It is a good example of how well-organized neighborhoods with local capacity can seize unexpected opportunities and bring in regional and even national resources to support a local agenda (rather than impose an external one.)

The local LISC office and our counterparts at the Indiana Association for Community Economic Development  have fully embraced comprehensive community development as their driving theory of change. Massachusetts has much to learn from their experience.

Commenting Closed

MACDC Convention Inspires Fresh Optimism

October 22nd, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

MACDC hosted its 5th Biannual Convention on Saturday, October 16, 2010 at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester and once again it was an inspiring and exciting event.  MACDC began hosting Conventions in 2002, shortly after I became the Executive Director, as a way to bring together the full spectrum of leaders in the CDC field – board members, residents, and professional staff; Nonprofit allies, funders and public officials;  long-time leaders and emerging ones; black, brown and white; young and old; urban, rural and suburban. Everyone is welcome.

The Convention is a unique event that combines learning, celebration, dance, speeches, awards, theatre and political action - and it's my favorite MACDC activity! This was the first year we held the event outside of Boston and more than 400 community development leaders and allies joined us for the day. There were many  highlights.

  • We hosted a Gubernatorial Candidate Forum with Deval Patrick, Tim Cahill and Jill Stein (Charles Baker was invited but declined to attend) in which they articulated their agenda as it relates to affordable housing, small business development and community development. All three spoke against Question 2 which would repeal the state’s primary affordable housing law. They also expressed support for the Small Business Technical Assistance program and for supporting CDCs as critical community building agents. Governor Patrick summarized his achievements over the past four years by highlighting the $1.2 billion affordable housing bond bill, the two foreclosure bills he signed, and the Affordable Housing Preservation bill that he helped bring to the finish line after 15 years of failed efforts. MACDC and our members take pride in the fact that we helped win passage of all four of these bills.  I was particularly pleased that Governor Patrick was able to join us in Worcester on the same day that he was holding a rally with President Obama in Boston.
  • As we have for each Convention, we organized the “CDC Roll Call” during which each member highlights one recent achievement. The Roll Call is always one of the most popular parts of the day as it demonstrates the tenacity, effectiveness and enduring optimism of our amazing members.
  • The Convention also featured artistic expression as the Improv Theatre group True Story Theatre  helped us to share our stories in new ways and the Movement City youth dance group from Lawrence energized the crowd with an inspiring dance performance.
  • The Convention is also a place for learning and we organized seven workshops on a wide range of topics from youth employment and public health to advocacy, immigration and board development.
  • We released a new report Community Development Goes Green: How MACDC Members Are Embracing Environmental Sustainability.
  • Informal networking is another key piece of the Convention and judging from the evaluations we received our members really enjoy the opportunity to meet with their colleagues. This is especially true for CDC board members who have many fewer options to talk with their counterparts across the state.  I think we achieved our goal of providing a morale boost for people working on the front lines of community change.

Finally, the convention is our opportunity to say congratulations and thank you to some of the outstanding leaders in our field. This year, we presented awards to Senator Susan Tucker, Worcester City Councilor Barbara Haller, Harbor One Credit Union, Mossik Hacobian, Dan Gelbtuch, Quynh Dang, Maddie Ribble, Kevin Johnson, Mickey Northcutt, Casey Starr, Courtney Koslow, and Brian Pastori.

Indeed, the awards ceremony provided perhaps the most meaningful moment of the day for me personally. Richard Thal presented the Richard Smith Award to Mossik Hacobian who has served Urban Edge  and the residents of their community for over 30 years. Richard’s inspiring and heartfelt presentation, and Mossik’s generous acceptance remarks, demonstrated how much Mossik means to the lives people in the neighborhood and to all of us in the field. The standing ovation that followed was well deserved and brought a tear to my eye.

Jeanne Pinado and David Thibault-Munoz then presented our Rising Star Awards to seven young leaders under the age of 40. Seeing this diverse group of leaders walk on stage one by one provided powerful evidence that the CDC field is blessed with both experienced  leaders who continue to build on decades of achivement and vibrant, intelligent and innovative young leaders who are ready to build on our field's legacy and make it their own. At that moment , I felt as optimistic as ever about our future and my tears were replaced by chills as the crowd applauded and cheered.

We are on the move, I thought.  And we are all marching forward together.

Commenting Closed

Future of the CDC Field Being Discussed Locally and Nationally

October 4th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

This past week, I had the opportunity to make  presentations in Washington, DC and in Boston about the future of the community development field.  On September 28 I gave a presentation to the National Coalition for Asian and Pacific Islander Community Development on 21st Century CDCs as part of a Town Hall Forum on the future of Community Development.  More than 200 practitioners that serve Asian and Pacific Islander communities across the country engaged in a lively and interesting discussion about the challenges and opportunities presented by today's economic and social context. Of particular interst was the challenge of balancing their mission to provide services to a specific underserved constituency with the need to broadly serve the community in their area. The tensions and dynamics between "people and place" strategies loom large for these practitioners. It certainly reinforced my view that there is no single model or one-size-fits-all answer as to how a CDC should organize itself and develop its programs.

The next day, I presented at a CHAPA Breakfast Forum about the new CDC-Enabling Law recently enacted into law here in Massachusetts. This was my first opportunity to discuss the new law to a broad and diverse audience and begin the process of promoting the statute and its revised CDC definition (although I did write a piece about the law on our blog a few weeks ago.)  The Forum was well timed as DHCD will begin developing regulations to implement the new law and I suspect that many more people will begin to focus on the opportunities created by the statute.

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MACDC Members Secure CDFI Funding

September 12th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund recently announced $104.8 million in awards for 179 local financial institutions serving struggling communities in 44 states and the District of Columbia. According to the CDFI Fund’s press release, these grants will help those financial institutions support local entrepreneurs and small businesses, and spur local economic growth and recovery by expanding access to capital and affordable financial services in underserved areas.

MACDC was pleased to see that four of our members had secured over $1.8 million in funding, along with five other Massachusetts based CDFIs who received another $3.2 million (three of these were national funds that are based here.)  Profiles of the winning organizations can be found on the CDFI web site.

Congratulations to our members:

The CDFI program provides both technical assistance grants and core grants to certified CDFIs that demonstrate strong capacity and a sound strategic approach toward advancing their mission. The program is an excellent example of how the government can systematically and strategically build and strengthen a key field within the nonprofit sector. The program starts with a formal certification program that allows the CDFI Fund to identify the specific organizations that they are trying to strengthen. It then invests in both building their capacity through technical assistance grants and invests in their strategy through core capital grants. The funding is at the “enterprise level” and invests in their mission, rather than providing highly restricted, categorical grants that fund specific programs or activities.  As a result, the CDFI sector has grown substantially since the start of the program in the mid- 1990s.

While the current financial crisis has certainly taken its toll on the CDFI field – Shore Bank, one of the nation’s oldest and most successful CDFIs collapsed and had to be acquired by another institution -  the CDFI program has helped create a diverse, durable and resilient sector with the overwhelming majority of CDFI’s weathering today’s storm.  And the existence of a solid support infrastructure helped the CDFI field successfully secure additional funding through ARRA because there was an efficient way to distribute funds across the country.

Community health centers, Community Action Agencies and other non profits benefit from similar systems of support. However, at the moment, there is no parallel system for CDCs either at the Federal or state level and this is a serious problem for our field.

We hope to change that reality here in Massachusetts with the recent passage of a new CDC-enabling law, Chapter 40H.   This law will provide a mechanism for certifying CDCs in Massachusetts, thereby laying the foundation for establishing publicly and/or privately funded programs similar to the CDFI model. Ultimately, a comprehensive system of core support, technical assistance, organizational capacity building, professional development, and program funding would enable CDCs to work together and with others to dramatically increase our ability to bring economic opportunity to communities, neighborhoods and families across the Commonwealth.

Commenting Closed

What's a CDC? New Legislation Provides an Answer.

August 24th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

“What is a CDC?”

I have probably been asked that question 1,000 times since I started working at MACDC in 1993.  It seems like a rather simple question and certainly one that the President of a CDC association should be able to answer.

But it is not so easy.  There are many different definitions in use around the country and many use words like “often,” “usually,” and “may,” when describing a CDC's structure and activities.  Certain themes emerge - housing development; economic development; community engagement; neighborhood revitalization, etc, but no clear definition exists that is universally used in the field. The resulting confusion creates a problem for those who want to build and strengthen the sector.    

In Massachusetts, we have had a state law define the term since 1975. However, over the past decade or so that law became a dead letter as the definition  became more outdated -- one provision of the law required that CDC board members must have 3 year board terms. So if a nonprofit had board terms of 2 years – it was not a CDC! Moreover, the benefits associated with the definition were minimal and there was not even a process by which groups could be officially certified as a CDC so there was no list of who even qualified for those benefits that did exist.

A few years ago, the Massachusetts Community Development Innovation Forum  decided to explore two questions: What is a CDC? And does it matter?

After countless meetings and discussions and research about how the term is used throughout the country, we agreed that it was indeed important to define the term because we can’t grow stronger CDCs if we don’t know who or what they are. We also settled on a new, updated, 21st Century Definition of a CDC that reflects the diversity of our field and the diversity of our communities.

And thanks to legislation signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick on August 5, 2010, our new definition (Section 86) is now officially part of state law.

Our definition boils down to three core elements – the organization’s mission, its activities, and its governance.  Specifically, Massachusetts’ new definition says that a CDC is a nonprofit organization based in Massachusetts that:

  1.  “. . .has as the corporation’s purpose to . . . develop and improve urban, rural and suburban communities in sustainable ways that create and expand economic opportunity for low and moderate income people;”
  2. “ . . . engage[s] local residents and businesses to work together to undertake community development programs, projects, and activities;” and
  3. “[can] demonstrate . . . that the corporation’s constituency, including low and moderate income people, is meaningfully represented on the board of directors . . . “

Our vision is that this definition will encompass a broad range of groups – far broader than the set of organizations traditionally considered CDCs in Massachusetts. We are trying to recognize and validate the different communities, histories, models and strategies that have evolved over time – so long as they share the three core elements above. 

The statute also requires the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development to develop guidelines and procedures for certifying groups as being a CDC. Over time, this will allow us to say specifically who and what a CDC is in our state. It will increase accountability and credibility for the field. And it will enable us to develop an intentional and comprehensive strategy for strengthening and sustaining these organizations over time – thereby creating and ensuring that we have the capacity to empower local residents and expand economic opportunity throughout the Commonwealth.  Such a strategy can learn from and improve upon our past experience in Massachusetts as well as other models like the CDFI and CHDO models developed nationally in the 1990s.

We are thankful to the Legislature and the Governor for enacting this important legislation. The stage is now set for an exciting transformation of the community development system in Massachusetts that builds on its extraordinary history of achievement while laying the foundation for even greater success and impact in the future.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Mel King, Governor Michael Dukakis and many others established the legal, financial and intellectual foundation for the Massachusetts community development field that allowed a nascent movement to grow into a powerful sector that generated $1.67 billion of economic activity over the past seven years. This is their legacy – one that provides new benefits year after year.  Now it is our turn. Today’s community development leaders must work together to bolster, expand, and strengthen the field so our communities and the people who live and work there have the opportunity to work together and with others to create neighborhoods and communities of choice throughout the Commonwealth.

Let’s get to work!

Commenting Closed

Philadelphia Conference Explores Future of Community Development

May 20th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

Last week I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at a conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia on the future of Community Development. The panel was the closing plenary session for the conference entitled Rethink. Recover. Rebuild: Reinventing Older Communities. It was broad conversation that gave me an opportunity to reflect upon and share some of the lessons and experiences we have had as part of the Community Development Innovation Forum here in Massachusetts. My fellow panelists were Kimberly Allen from the Wachovia Regional Foundation, John Bendel of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh who leads its community investment program, and their Blueprint Communities program, and Raphael Bostic who is the Assistant Secretary at HUD responsible for Research and Policy.

The discussion touched on many themes, but the one that seemed to resonate the most was the importance of working comprehensively and across silos. This was very reminiscent of the discussion a few weeks earlier at the launch of the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development. Both Kimberly and John are focusing their grantmaking on efforts to undertake comprehensive, multi-issue, multi-stakeholder placed based change efforts. At the same time, HUD is working aggressively to break down silos between federal agencies and federal programs. Asst. Secretary Bostic said that HUD is in regular meetings with officials from transportation, education, health care and other agencies looking for ways to align their strategies and work on collaborative approaches like Sustainable Communities and Choice Neighborhoods.

The panel also engaged in an interesting dialogue about how we can determine “what works” so they we focus resources on those programs. While everyone certainly agreed that we want to fund “what works” there was some disagreement about how capable we are at really knowing what works given the complex set of relationships and networks that impact outcomes. How do we make decisions given this uncertainty? How do we make sure that we use data appropriately? And how do we decide what works when different stakeholders have different goals and priorities?

Fortunately, after participating in these policy and theoretical discussions at the conference Rick Sauer, from the Philadelphia Association of CDCs took me to visit one of his member organizations, the Hispanic Association of Contractors & Enterprises. HACE Executive Director Bill Salas Jr. showed us the neighborhood and the incredible work that his CDC has done implementing precisely the type of comprehensive approach that we discussed on the panel in the morning. HACE builds and manages family and senior housing, operates an innovative Main Streets program that includes an emphasis on cultural economic development and tourism, a wonderful partnership with a health care agency that serves the residents of their senior housing (HACE custom built a facility for the health care agency on the same site) and youth programming. The agency is led by a board of directors comprised largely of local, Hispanic residents working together to improve their community.

While my site visit did not answer all the questions raised at the conference, I left Philadelphia reaffirmed in my belief that resident-led, effectively managed, community based development is certainly among the things that really does “work.” Hopefully, as the federal government and other funders renew their commitment to place-based and comprehensive work they will also renew their commitment to building and supporting the local organizations that actually get the job done.

Commenting Closed

Let's Stimulate Demand Driven Community Development

May 7th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

In recent months, there has been a great deal of buzz about the Obama Administration’s new placed based initiatives such as Sustainable Communities, Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhoods. This federal leadership is indeed very exciting and certainly long overdue.  They will create opportunities for taking a more comprehensive and integrated approach to community development, something practitioners have been seeking for years.

However, the overwhelming majority of federal funds still flow through highly categorical programs and even these new initiatives put the focus on Federal priorities. This perpetuates a supply-side approach to community change where policy makers, funders and non profits focus on what we can supply to low-income people: housing, jobs, and services. In this context, nonprofits become the “delivery system” for supplying the things that governments and foundations have decided are needed in local communities.

The risk is that we focus so much on what we can supply to neighborhoods that we will neglect the equally important work of building local capacity to exert demand on the larger private and public systems. 

Busting the silos

It will be hard to achieve comprehensive change with just a delivery system and supply-side model, because such a model inevitably pushes non-profits to specialize in specific areas while perpetuating silos within government agencies and foundations. The model is also inherently top-down because the key decisions are made by the suppliers, not the consumers, and the nonprofit agencies are seen largely as conduits through which resources pass, rather than vehicles through which local residents come together to solve problems. In a supply model, local neighborhoods are left to wait and hope that the delivery system will deliver something to them.

If we want to implement integrated programs at the local level – when the larger system is structured in silos that deliver specific services and programs – we’ll have to strengthen the demand side of the equation. In a demand-driven system, neighborhoods identify their needs and then exert demand on larger systems to bring in the needed resources. In this model, neighborhoods act like regular consumers in the marketplace, obtaining the services and programs they need to create the type of neighborhood they want. This allows for genuinely comprehensive and integrated work because at the neighborhood level the scale and complexity is manageable in a way that it is not on a statewide or national level. It also ensures a bottom-up approach since the local actors are determining what is needed and obtaining it.

Demand capacity is not a new idea. David Erickson of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco talks about it in his new book, The Housing Policy Revolution: Networks and Neighborhoods. Bill Traynor, the executive director of Lawrence Community Works and a leading thinker in our field, has promoted this model for years. Traynor calls for “a much higher level of neighbor to neighbor engagement and of service to a larger good at the local level. The essence of these initiatives should be to re-awaken, re-activate and re-engage the American People in shaping their own quality of life and to that end, the mission of place-making.”

So what does local “demand capacity” look like? I see three key elements.

  • Neighborhood residents need one or more organizations through which they can work together to improve their community. These organizations must be truly rooted in their community, accountable to and led by residents. Individuals working alone or in ad hoc groups will not be able to build the power they need to spark change, nor have the wherewithal to steward new community assets over the long term.
  • These local organizations must have diverse networks and relationships both within and outside the neighborhood: with other actors at the city, regional, state and federal level, and extending into the private, governmental, philanthropic and non-profit sectors.
  • Local organizations must have the financial capacity to initiate their own ideas and sustain them over time without being completely dependent on outside sources of funding. 

Supportive policies

Building demand capacity has policy implications. First, our desire for scale and efficiency should not result in a purely supply-side delivery system – public and private funders need to direct their resources to community-based organizations as well, because they can operate high-quality programs in the context of comprehensive neighborhood strategies. Second, funders and policy makers need to allow community-based organizations to earn sufficient profits from their activities that they can build financial capacity over time. Third, local organizations need to develop business models that allow them to work comprehensively. And finally, funding streams are needed to directly support community-based organizations in their role of linking and integrating different programs and services at the neighborhood level.

We need to build demand capacity across the country – not just in a few sites lucky enough to receive substantial foundation support for a few years, but in thousands of places. This will require embedding capacity-building into everything we are doing and developing sustainable business models for community-based groups.

If we do this right, then 10 or 20 years from now, neighborhood residents will not have to wait and hope that someone delivers change to them. They will have the power to demand change and make it happen.

Commenting Closed

National Institute Will Advance Community Building

April 28th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

Article written by Joe Kriesberg and Bob Van Meter, Executive Director, Boston LISC

On April 20th, we were able to participate in an important event for community development.  A new Institute for Comprehensive Community Development was formally launched with a day long conference in Washington D.C. where community developers, policy makers from the Obama administration and foundation and intermediary staff met to talk about the state of comprehensive community development work and the direction forward. 

 The Institute was created by LISC to be a center for training of comprehensive community development practitioners, and to be a nexus for policy makers, researchers and practitioners to share ideas, best practice, and communicate more broadly about the work of comprehensive community development.  The leadership of the institute draws heavily upon the experience developed by Chicago LISC over the last dozen years as it has worked in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation and local community based organizations to do comprehensive community development in fourteen Chicago neighborhoods.  That successful experience was critical to LISC’s decision at the national level to adopt comprehensive community development as a national strategic direction and encourage each LISC program site to move in this direction.  The Institute is already providing training to LISC staff around the country. Marcus Haymon and Bob Van Meter were able to spend two days in Chicago in March in the Institute’s first intensive training session.

The March training was about the nitty gritty of comprehensive work but Tuesday’s “Inauguration” of the Institute was the view from 25,000 feet.  The alignment of the vision of comprehensive community development with the vision of the Obama administration was a strong theme of the day’s events.  Three White House officials spoke at the event, Adolfo Carrion, Jr. Director of the new White House Office of Urban Policy, Derek Douglas, Special Assistant to the President, White House Domestic Policy Council and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President.  All of them spoke of the administration’s interest and support for comprehensive approaches to the challenges facing communities.  The work of three interagency working groups of the domestic policy council was described, including one focused on neighborhood revitalization that includes staff from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice.  The two other working groups are focused on “Sustainable Communities” and “Regional Innovation”.

Derek Douglas described the approach of the working group on neighborhood revitalization as having several characteristics that include; 1) reinforce broad goals rather than being prescriptive about programs, 2) to emphasize the partnership of federal agencies, 3) to be evidence based.    Douglas said that there is already discussion between agencies about joint funding and joint review of applications by agency staff.    Valerie Jarrett spoke about the possibility that future federal funding decisions for core programs would include some priority for communities which are pursuing comprehensive strategies. 

Xavier de Souza Briggs, Associate Director for General Government Programs at the Office of Management and Budget and Erica Poethig, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development at HUD participated in an afternoon symposium on mapping the way forward.  Briggs, who was most recently on the faculty at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT (and spoke at the 2006 MACDC Convention), emphasized what an important factor residential mobility is in thinking about communities and how one measures the impact or benefit of place-based comprehensive strategy.

The symposium included a number of community development practitioners as well as administration officials and others.  Hippolito (Paul) Roldan of the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation made an impassioned plea for the importance of addressing public safety as a precondition for all other community development work.  He emphasized the scourge that gang violence is in some of the communities he works in and the importance of addressing violence.  Xav Briggs responded to Roldan arguing that sometimes liberal policy makers have emphasized violence prevention to the detriment of violence deterrence and that we must do both as we think most community developers would agree and pursue as a practical strategy.   

 Both Amy Liu of the Brookings Institution and Ron Phillips of Coastal Enterprises reminded the audience that community development is not just about cities.  Poverty is a suburban and rural phenomenon  and poor people living in suburbs, according to Liu, underutilize the largest income support programs perhaps in part because of access to those programs is less in suburban locations.

Bob Weissbourd, a Chicago based consultant (and speaker at one of our Community Development Innovation Forum events in 2009), reminded everyone that neighborhoods are impacted by the market and that community development needs to be about influencing the market but that much of the change that occurs both for good or ill in communities is determined by forces beyond our direct control.

Both Julia Stasch of the MacArthur Foundation, speaking in the morning and Ann Kubisch of the Aspen Institute speaking in the afternoon spoke about the importance of the broker role.  Kubisch said that a number of comprehensive approaches in the past had been successful in creating neighborhood level consensus or coalitions but that there had been less success in building linkages to power.  In Kubisch’s view that is an important role, that of convener, broker, aligner, often, but not always, played by a CDC.   Stasch spoke about the importance of the “glue” that keeps comprehensive efforts together.  Stasch also suggested that the Institute should work to create new metrics that measure the strength of the “platform” (platform is the LISC term for the coalition of local players who work together to advance neighborhood change) and whether they increase the resilience of the community.

Another theme running through much of the day’s events was the relation between regional strategies for growth and sustainability and the importance of strong neighborhoods and neighborhood revitalization. Stasch remarked that those involved in both regional efforts and comprehensive neighborhood efforts often acknowledge the importance of each other’s concerns but that real engagement between those ideas and approaches is lacking.  She suggested that the Institute should be a nexus of that engagement.

Xav Briggs and others spoke about the need for evidence to support allocation of public resources to support efforts but the evidence is difficult to come by given residential mobility, the strength of market forces, and the complexity of factors affecting both the people in communities and the communities.

In our view, there should have been a bit more discussion about the importance of creating strong community based organizations that can make demands on the public sector and corporations on behalf of the low income communities.  One of the central questions that has to be answered about comprehensive development strategies is how do you pay for the community organizing work, the glue, that does not fit easily into a programmatic box. 

Moving forward, both Boston LISC and MACDC expect to be active participants in this national discussion. Joe Kriesberg will be serving on the Institute’s new National Advisory Board and Bob Van Meter will be participating in Institute activities through his role at LISC. More importantly, Boston LISC will be rolling out its version of comprehensive community development later this year with a new “Resilient Communities” program in two local neighborhoods. MACDC is working with the Smart Growth Alliance to develop a new “Great Neighborhoods” program to promote local smart growth efforts that advance similar goals. Both of these new programs are focused on local neighborhoods, but are tightly linked to broader regional efforts to implement Metro Future, the regional plan for Greater Boston that was developed by MAPC.

The convergence of these local, regional, and national initiatives provides us with a game changing opportunity to advance our long-held vision for comprehensive community development that can transform both neighborhoods and the lives of the people who live in them.

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Innovation in Action

April 9th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

The other day I read about a new report by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (with the help of the New York Council of Nonprofits) that found that 87 percent of nonprofit contracts with state government (of more than $50,000) were not approved prior to the nonprofits’ beginning their work. On average, new contracts were approved nine months after the contract start dates and renewals were five months late on average.  New York State is essentially relying on nonprofit organizations being so committed to their mission that they will risk their financial health to continue providing services without contracts. Indeed the entire system appears to depend on this commitment. 

The only thing about this report that might surprise CDC and non-profit leaders is the fact that a state agency finally documented the problem.  All mission-driven organizations confront this challenge all the time – how to balance money with mission. We must often complete substantial work on a project or program before receiving a fee or reimbursement and those payments rarely cover the full cost of delivering the service. Cash flow becomes a chronic challenge and organizations are unable to build up a health reserve fund. The resulting impact on fiscal health can be severe as the Non Profit Finance Fund recently documented in a report on CDC Fiscal Health that was completed as part of the Community Development Innovation Forum.  

Reversing these trends is a primary goal of the Community Development Innovation Forum. We have recently re-activated a group of stakeholders to develop recommendations for how the real estate development finance system can be reformed to better enable non-profit developers to achieve their missions in a financially sustainable manner. 

In the meantime, I have some very good news to report about a recent policy decision that moves us in the right direction. On April 6, at MACDC’s annual Lobby Day, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki, announced that he would forward commit $600,000 in FY 2011 funding for the small business technical assistance program so that he could double the size of recent grants to CDCs and other nonprofits and extend the term of their contracts by 6 months. By providing greater funding certainty and stability, the state will strengthen its organizational partners, promote longer term planning, enhance professional and program development and help leverage more private and federal money – without costing the state any extra money. 

 The Secretary’s announcement was in response to problems this program has had in past years when uncertainty about the state budget would cause substantial delays in the RFP and subsequent funding decisions. Groups sometimes had to wait several months into the fiscal year before learning whether they were going to be funded again and at what level.

 Secretary Bialecki’s creative solution was made possible by a generous commitment from Mass Development to provide $600,000 in funding to the program in FY 2010 and now FY 2011. Since these funds are not contingent on legislative approval of the state budget in June, the Secretary had the flexibility to think outside the box and create a solution that will benefit the state, the grantees and most importantly the small businesses that this program seeks to support. Now that is the type of Innovation that is worth celebrating!

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