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Can We Build Our Way Out of Crime?

February 21st, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

Consider:

  • The Olneyville neighborhood of Providence, RI achieves a 53% reduction in crime.
  • The Druid Hills Neighborhood of Charlotte, NC achieves a 58% reduction in crime.
  • The Phillips Neighborhood in Minneapolis, MN achieves a 90% reduction in drug-related crime

What do these three neighborhoods have in common that enabled them to achieve and sustain such extraordinary reductions in crime? Each has had an intentional, pro-active partnership between the local CDC and the local police department. And according to a new book that highlights these and other success stories from around the country, such results could be achieved throughout the country if more CDCs and more police departments would join together.

Building Our Way Out of Crime: The Transformative Power of Police-Community Developer Partnerships, by Bill Geller and Lisa Belsky, is one of the most exciting books to come along in some time as it demonstrates with hard data and compelling stories the amazing results that have been and can be achieved.  Geller and Belsky have worked for decades to foster such partnerships largely as part of LISC’s Community Safety Initiative (which is now run by Julia Ryan, a former MACDC staff person.)

By working together, CDCs and the police can deploy their respective tools and assets in a coordinated way to attack high crime areas. According to the forward written by Paul Grogan and Bill Bratton, “these collaborations work – they reduce crime; replace problem properties with quality, affordable housing; attract viable businesses in previously blighted commercial corridors; make more strategic and efficient use of public and private sector resources; and build public confidence in and cooperation with local government and private organizations.”  

How does this happen? Police help CDCs prioritize development opportunities and design new developments in ways that make it easier to prevent crime (e.g. “put eyes on the street.”) CDCs eliminate blighted properties that consume a disproportionate share of police resources. Together, the police and the CDCs advocate for public and private investment that neither could attract on their own. The key, according to Geller and Belsky is to make the relationship intentional and long term. It is not enough for CDCs and police to function in parallel – they must work together and they must stick together for the long haul.

The report also helps to disprove the notion that locating new affordable housing in lower income communities will somehow make those neighborhoods worse. Indeed, what this book demonstrates is that carefully planned and designed affordable housing can not only improve the economic well being of its residents, but the overall quality of life for everyone in the community. Such a strategy will ultimately benefit many more people than simply trying to help a few lucky residents move to higher income and lower crime communities.  We need to fight crime in these neighborhoods – not give in to it.

Many CDCs in Massachusetts have also seen the power of such partnerships, so much so that officers from the Boston Police Department recently testified at the State House in support of the Community Development Partnership Act.  Boston LISC is supporting these efforts through its Resilient Communities/Resilient Families program.

What this book shows is that those efforts can and must be expanded because Geller and Belsky have shown us that we can indeed build our way out of crime.

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Six dates to put on your 2012 calendar

February 16th, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

We all know that our schedules fill up quickly with meetings, events, and appointments so I want to make sure that our readers put these five important dates into your calendars now - so you don't miss out!

March 5 & 6 - The Institute for Comprehensive Community Development will be hosting the second "Getting It Done II" conference in Chicago, Illinois. This conference will bring together practitioners from around the country who are pursuing comprehensiev community development efforts and will offer great workshops, speakers and networking opportunities. If you are serious about comprehensive community development, you need to be in Chicago for this event. 

May 3 - MACDC's 2012 Lobby Day promises to be one of the biggest and most important in years as we   will be making our final push to pass the Community Development Partnership Act (if it passes before May 3, we can celebrate together!)  Lobby Day is also a great opportunity for our members to show off their great work with display tables, meet with legislators, network with each other, and visit with other guests and friends who also attend. Everyone is welcome so please come to the State House.

June 21 is the day that the Mel King Institute will be celebrating its 3rd anniversary with a celebratory event in downtown Boston. The King Institute continues to grow each year and is quickly establishing itself as the "place to go" for community developers who want to gain new skills and knowledge.

July 31 is the last day of the legislative session. All major legislation, including the annual state budget, must be enacted by this date so this is the ultimate deadline for our campaign to pass the Community Development Partnership Act - otherwise we have to wait at least one more year or longer.

November 16 is the month that we plan to celebrate MACDC"s 30th Anniversary!  Founded in 1982, MACDC is the oldest and one of the biggest CDC associations in the country and this event will be a great opportunity reflect on our history, and more importantly, highlight our plans for the future.  We expect to release a new strategic plan at the event so plan to be there - once we settle on an actual date!

November 6 is election day when voters will elect a new President and a new Congress. Without a doubt this   will be the most important day of the year and given the expected avalanche of T.V. commercials for the U.S. Senate race I suspect that none of us will miss it!  Be sure to vote as if the future of your community and your country is at sake. Because it will be. 

 

 

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Could 2012 be the best year for Massachusetts CDCs since 1982?

January 3rd, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

Starting in the mid 1970s, Mel King and other visionary leaders of the community development movement worked systematically to build a support infrastructure for CDCs in Massachusetts. They understood that such a system could grow what was then a nascent movement of community based development organizations, largely in Boston, and transform it into a robust, statewide field that could achieve impact at scale. So they created CEDAC, CDFC, the CDC Enabling Act, Chapter 40F, the CEED program, LISC and ultimately, in 1982, the Massachusetts Association of CDCs. These institutions laid the foundation for what quickly became one of the strongest community development sectors in the country and left a legacy from which we continue to benefit today – 30 years later.

The past few years have seen a similar wave of system building for the community development field. Starting with, and emerging from, the Community Development Innovation Forum that MACDC launched with LISC in 2008, we have seen the creation of the Mel King Institute for Community Building, the transformation of CDFC into the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, and the modernization of the 1977 CDC enabling law into Chapter 40H, which creates, for the first time, a formal CDC certification process. We have also seen a wave of efforts to lift CDC practice in areas as diverse as community engagement (LISC’s Resilient Communities/Resilient Families program), financial management (MHP’s efforts to promote Strength Matters) and asset management, real estate development and small business development (through programs at the King Institute.)  And we have formed new cross-sector partnerships between the community development movement and sister movements in transit equity, smart growth, public health, and energy, enabling us to move toward more comprehensive and systemic change.

These efforts have the potential to culminate in 2012 with the passage of the Community Development Partnership Act. This ground breaking and game changing legislation would leverage up to $12 million in new, private philanthropy for high impact community development efforts. The program is “community centric” rather than “real estate centric,” opening the door for CDCs to pursue broad, comprehensive community development strategies. The legislation has garnered widespread support both inside and outside the State House, with House Speaker Robert DeLeo recently indicating serious interest in moving the legislation forward. If we can pass the CDPA this year, in 2012, it will allow us to build on all the great work of the past three years and the past thirty-plus years and take it to a level of scale and impact we have never seen. And by passing it this year, we can ensure the program is implemented by the Patrick Administration and its outstanding new Undersecretary for Housing and Community Development, long-time friend Aaron Gornstein.

While the economy continues to struggle and our communities fight to recover from the recession, we have a chance to do something big, bold, meaningful and lasting by passing the Community Development Partnership Act.

And when we come together this fall to officially celebrate MACDC’s 30th Anniversary we will not only be able to celebrate our field’s extraordinary history, but also its exciting and bright future.

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Five (six) websites to bookmark in 2012

December 26th, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

With so much information available to us all the time, most of us could use some help sorting through the noise to find interesting and helpful information on the internet. While there are countless websites related to community development and affordable housing, here are five (well, O.K., six) that should be on your list:

1. The Institute for Comprehensive Community Development provides information, stories, and tools for practitioners looking at comprehensive community development strategies, a movement that is gaining momentum across the country.

2. Shelterforce magazine remains the pre-eminent publication in our field and its website offers a host of interesting stories, links and blogs that thoughtful community developers should be reading on a regular basis.

3. Non profit quarterly  is not geared to community developers per se, but it is essential reading for anyone in the nonprofit sector who is trying to adapt to changes in foundation fundraising, government programming, non-profit competition, regulation, human resources or any of the other challenges facing the “third sector.”

4. Community-wealth.org seeks to provide the web's most comprehensive and up-to-date information resource on state-of-the-art strategies for democratic, community-based economic development. The resources offered here include directories, breaking news, publications, and conference information, as well as cutting-edge initiatives from cities, states, community development corporations, employee-owned firms, land trusts, non-profit organizations, co-ops, universities, and more.

5 (and 6.) Finally, I could not write a blog like this without promoting our own websites at MACDC and the Mel King Institute.  Both websites offer important information for community developers in Massachusetts, including updates on important policy issues, professional development opportunities and the dates of important events in our field.

You can find more helpful websites here.

What websites do you find helpful? Please post your ideas in our comment section so others can see your suggestions!

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Four key ideas that I heard at the New England Housing Network Conference

December 3rd, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

The New England Housing Network held its annual conference in Needham, MA yesterday and the speakers and workshops provided a tremendous amount of information and insight into the current state of affairs in Washington, DC.  

Four ideas that stood out for me:

1. It's bad - but it could get worse:  The budget situation in Washington is terrible with significut cuts on the way in FY 2012 and further cuts likely in the coming years. The Super Committee's failure to reach a deal means automatic cuts of about nine percent in FY 2013, but those cuts might actually have been worse had the Committee reached a deal.  Under the default plan, the military will aborb a much greater share of the cuts than under any other likely budget scenario.  And long term budget pressure will likely force deeper cuts in housing and community development funding, absent a broad budget deal that includes both new revenue and reductions in spending on health care.

2. Revenue, revenue, revenue :  All of the national housing advocates made it clear that housing programs, and more importantly the people those programs serve, will be hurt badly without an increase in revenue.  Housing advocates will need to speak out on the need for more tax revenue issue and not simply lobby for our own programs.

3. Housing is a platform for "care" as well as "opportunity:"  MIT Professor, Xavier Briggs, spoke at lunch about the emerging data that documents how the Moving to Opportunity program achieved dramatic outcomes for low income families in the areas of public safety, health, and mental health.  These outcomes dramatically improve the quality of life for these families and reduce the need for public expenditure in other areas, in particular health care. Briggs emphasized that these results are important, even if families did not always see a dramatic increase in their income or economic security. Briggs encouraged housing advocates to more strongly and effectively articulate the value of housing as a platform for "care" as well as "opportunity."  If we can better document how housing investments reduce the cost of health care, we may be able to win more support - and more dollars - for our agenda.  Look to hear much more about this topic in the coming months.

4. Mortgage Finance Reform is happening:  While advocates are forced to largely play defense on budget issues, and most legislation is stuck in gridlock, our national advcocates do believe that Mortgage Finance Reform will happen - probably in 2013 after the election.  This could be the biggest and best opportunity in the near future to advance progressive housing policy (and block regressive policies) so advocates should be fully engaged in this debate now as the proposals advanced in 2012 will form the basis for legislation in 2013.

To learn more about these and other issues discussed at the conference, click here.

 

 

 

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Must See T.V.

December 3rd, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

60 Minutes did a very powerful piece on family homelessness recently.  I can't say anything that would add to what the kids in this segment have to say about their lives, their parents and their dreams.  I simply ask that you watch it:

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7389750n&tag=contentBody;storyMediaBox

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What is on the other side of the CDFI coin?

November 20th, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

Increasing the supply of capital to low and moderate income communities has been a central goal of the community development movement since its inception. From the passage of the Community Reinvestment Act in 1977, to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit in 1986, to the establishment of the CDFI fund in 1995, to the New Market Tax Credit in 2000, advocates have won significant changes in public policy that have dramatically expanded the capital available to our communities. While there can be no doubt that this has been of huge benefit to our communities, I have often wondered whether we are so focused on the "supply side" that we have neglected to support the "demand side."  You see, for every community development loan or investment, there must be a qualified borrower in which to invest. CDFIs can't succeed without good borrowers.

The reality that lenders and borrowers are the two sides of the same coin became readily apparent in 2008 and 2009 when the tax credit market froze and both CDCs and CDFIs alike found themselves in a bind together, as the financial challenges of each sector negatively impacted the other. (Of course, many groups function as both a CDC and a CDFI - truly the same coin!)

So I was very pleased to read a recent article on the Living Cities Blog by  John Moon called In The Works: Understanding How Investments Get Made in Low-Income Communities... Or Don't.  According to Moon, Living Cities is finding "that communities need not merely dollars, but also an effective capital absorption ecosystem."

Moon continues: "What do we mean by capital absorption? Capital absorption describes the process by which capital flows to support the needs of low-income communities, either through direct investment or through financial intermediaries. Effective capital absorption requires a sufficient supply of capital moving from market, government or philanthropic sources to a set of capable borrowers. The borrowers then use the capital to strengthen a community’s vitality through the development, preservation or expansion of assets such as affordable housing, small businesses, health clinics and grocery stores. When looking at how to improve the level and quality of investments in low-income communities, the unit of analysis needs to be the capital absorption ecosystem. Traditionally, the field has focused on simply increasing capital sources, improving the capacity of particular financial intermediaries, or concentrating efforts at the project level."

Among the borrowers that are needed, of course, are high-functioning, resident led community development corporations.  Yet, while CDFIs have grown tremendously since the launch of the CDFI fund, the federal government does not have any comparable system of support for CDCs - nor do most states.  Many, although not all, CDCs are undercapitalized, which limits their ability to pursue a community led agenda and their ability to leverage capital investments. The result, I fear, is a  capital absorption ecosystem (a.k.a. a community development ecosystem) that is growing out of balance. This imbalance - if it continues to grow - threatens to undermine both the CDFI and the CDC sectors and more importantly the communities we all seek to serve.

I believe that the Community Development Partnership Act, now under consideration by the Massachusetts Legislature, would provide CDCs with a system of support similar to the CDFI fund, thereby creating a better supply/demand balance in our "capital absortion ecosystem."  MACDC is working hard to win passage of this legislation as soon as possible. We are also advocating for other changes in policy and practice that will help CDCs become stronger financially and thereby better able to leverage private and public investment. As policy makers, investors, foundations and practitioners look to increase the flow of capital to our communities, they need to strengthen both the lenders and the borrowers in order to create a healthy ecosystem that can significantly move the needle on economic opportunity and equity.

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What do Roxbury and Arlington have in common?

November 20th, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

In many ways, the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston and the suburban town of Arlington, Massachusetts are very different. Roxbury is a low income urban neighborhood with per capita income of about $16,000 and 86 percent of the population comprised of people of color. By contrast, Arlington has a per capita income of $44,000 and 86 percent of the population is white. And, of course, they sit on opposite sides of the Charles River.

Yet, earlier this month, I was able to attend celebrations in both communities where the similarities resonated as much, if not more, than the differences. In Arlington, more than 300 people crowded into the Town Hall to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Housing Corporation of Arlington.  HCA has helped over 400 families avoid homelessness, built 58 affordable apartments, and now has 32 more apartments under construction at Capitol Square Apartments. Most importantly, HCA has engaged local residents who are determined to make Arlington a welcoming home for everyone – long time residents and newcomers, rich and poor, white and people of color. It is a challenging task given the realities of our housing markets, but the people in Town Hall that night seemed undeterred. Governor Patrick sent a wonderful video message to the mark the occasion, calling HCA a “model CDC” and noting that “Community Development Corporations play a vital role in our communities. By being the bridge between state and local government and between public and private entities, CDCs take ownership of their community and work to lift up everyone.”

In Roxbury, I attended the 45th anniversary of Madison Park Development Corporation,  the oldest CDC in Massachusetts. A full house crowded into the newly redeveloped Hibernian Hall to recall the many achievements of the CDC since 1966 and to highlight the group’s current work to build housing, spur economic development, and promote culture and the arts. Madison Park’s history, recounted in a wonderful video,  inspired the growth of the community development movement across the Commonwealth and the Country. Over the years, Madison Park became a vehicle for enabling local residents to define the future of their own community, building over 1,000 affordable homes, renovating important commercial buildings in Dudley Square and supporting programs that celebrated the history and the vibrant cultural community in Roxbury.

Roxbury and Arlington are certainly different communities with different challenges and different assets. But they also have much in common. Both communities have long and proud histories dating back to before the American Revolution; both communities are blessed with residents and leaders who are dedicated to making their neighborhoods better for everyone; and both communities have organized, and sustained, resident-led CDCs that, in the words of Governor Patrick “understand that economic and social diversity requires the support of everybody in the community. And that in a community each of us has a stake in our neighbor’s dreams and struggles as well as our own.”

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Are we getting too smart for our own good?

November 10th, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

I greatly enjoyed Russ Douthat’s column in last week’s Sunday New York Times called “Our Reckless Meritocracy."  Reflecting on former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine’s fall from grace, Douthat notes that many super smart and super successful leaders in business and politics have “led us off a cliff — mostly by being too smart for [their] own good.” Douthat continues,
“In hereditary aristocracies, debacles tend to flow from stupidity and pigheadedness: think of the Charge of the Light Brigade or the Battle of the Somme. In one-party states, they tend to flow from ideological mania: think of China’s Great Leap Forward, or Stalin’s experiment with “Lysenkoist” agriculture. In meritocracies, though, it’s the very intelligence of our leaders that creates the worst disasters. Convinced that their own skills are equal to any task or challenge, meritocrats take risks that lower-wattage elites would never even contemplate, embark on more hubristic projects, and become infatuated with statistical models that hold out the promise of a perfectly rational and frictionless world.”
While Douthat’s article focuses on the impact of this pattern in business and politics, I wonder if the nonprofit sector might face similar risks. I'm skeptical that simply being smarter by using "evidence based models," and "data driven programs" and "business metrics" and "triple bottom line investments" will suddenly transform persistent social challenges that have plaqued human society for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  Proposals like Social Impact Bonds, which presume an ability to measure social impact with such precision that we can create meaningful investment vehicles based on that data, strike me as an example of becoming “infatuated with statistical models that hold out the promise of a perfectly rational and frictionless world.” In the community development world, financial innovation has generated more and more complicated financial tools that may add more complexity than value, and also make it harder for local residents and non-professionals to fully enage in the community development process. 

I am certainly not saying that innovation, evaluation, evidence and data are not important. I am not a climate change denier or someone who rejects science, expertise and knowledge.  The nonprofit sector absolutely needs to make better use of emerging tools. We should absolutely strive to learn more about the cause and cure of social ills and apply that knowledge diligently.  I have no doubt that we can do a better job than we have in the past at fighting social challenges and problems. But I also agree with Douthat’s conclusion:
“In place of reckless meritocrats, we don’t need feckless know-nothings. We need intelligent leaders with a sense of their own limits, experienced people whose lives have taught them caution. We still need the best and brightest, but we need them to have somehow learned humility along the way.”

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21 Members in 14 Hours - A Community Development Tour

October 14th, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

On Thursday, I had an opportunity to see 21 MACDC members in the course of 14 hours. It was a long day, but extraordinarily exciting and reinvigorating as my travels and meetings reminded me why I love this job.

I left my house at 6:40 AM in the pouring rain to attend the Greater Gardner CDC Annual Breakfast Meeting. I joined the 60+ guests a bit late, but was able to hear about the many terrific programs they offer from after-school tutoring, to small business development to affordable housing.  I learned that the CDC is able to build its housing with students from Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical High School who provide the CDC with high quality and free labor while the CDC provides the students with valuable learning opportunities.

I left Gardner at 9:00 to drive to Ware for the Western Massachusetts Community Development Collaborative meeting. Thankfully, it had stopped raining as I drove along beautiful country roads and through small towns like Barre and Hardwick. Seven of our members were at the meeting and they provided each other with updates on their many activities. I learned how our members are helping small businesses recover from Huricane Irene's floods, providing supportive housing to low income residents, struggling with scattered site property management, repairing roofs destroyed by the tornado, and supplying fresh frozen vegtables to the Holyoke Public Schools.

At 12:00, I got back in my car and drove to Boston where twelve of our members were scheduled to meet with the new director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Peter Meade. Each CDC provided Peter with a brief summary of their current priorities and again I heard about a vast array of community improvement efforts. I heard about foreclosure counseling efforts, housing developments, commercial real estate projects, small business development, housing for the homeless, public transit, partnerships with schools, and public safety efforts. Peter expressed his admiration for their work and we discussed how the BRA and the CDCs can strengthen our existing partnerships.

After a brief visit to my office, I returned to my car at 5:30 to drive to Quincy for the 30th anniversary celebration of the NHS of the South Shore.  This 10 mile drive took almost as long as the 60 mile drive to Gardner in the morning as the Southeast Expressway was jammed. So by the time I arrived the hotel ballroom was packed with over 125 guests who had come to celebrate with the NHS. Rob Corley presented a wonderful new video that highlighted how the NHS helps families with foreclosure prevention, housing, and home repairs. I also learned about their close partnership with many local organiations in Quincy, Brockton and 23 other cities and towns.

As I drove home I recounted the many things that I had heard that day. It reaffirmed my admiration for the people who work on the front lines of this movement and reminded me how lucky I am to have an opportunity to play a small role in helping them to succeed. I arrived at my house at 8:40.

Later, as I set my alarm for 5:30 AM and turned out the lights, I began thinking about all the things that I wanted to do in the office the next day. I was happy to know that I could take the Orange Line to work and skip all the traffic - and even happier that I did not have any meetings scheduled for Friday.

 

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