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My New Year's Resolutions

January 2nd, 2013 by Joe Kriesberg

Our former board chair, Charles Rucks, has a wonderful expression that the “biggest room in the house is the room for improvement.”  In that spirit, I have been thinking about some of things that I want to improve on in 2013. While I’m sure my family could think of many things I could do better at home (cook more, nag less), I’m focusing this post on some areas for professional improvement. So here are some key challenges that I will be working on this year:

  1. Travel more: With my office located in downtown Boston and most of my regular meetings also in downtown Boston, I need to make more of an effort to visit our members across the Commonwealth. I also hope to travel a bit around the country this year to see how the field is evolving nationally as we can learn a great deal from our colleagues in other states.
  2. Collaborate better: Virtually everything MACDC hopes to achieve in 2013 will be accomplished through various collaborations and partnerships. This includes implementing the Community Development Partnership Act (working with DHCD, DOR, United Way, and others), passing a new Affordable Housing Bond Bill (working with Building Blocks Coalition), enacting Transportation Finance Reform (working with Transportation for Massachusetts), advancing smart and equitable development policies (working with MA Smart Growth Alliance), and successfully staffing the Mel King Institute (working with LISC and our many other partners.)  Therefore, I resolve to be a better partner this year. This means listening first, searching for common ground, sharing credit and following through on the commitments that I make.
  3. Read more: I’m going to make an effort in 2013 to read more about what is happening in our field and related sectors so that I can be a more thoughtful and informed leader for MACDC. When I read something that I think others might find interesting, I will be tweeting about it, so I hope you will read alongside with me by following me on twitter.  (And send me your suggestions for what I should be reading.)
  4. Speak more clearly: One of the key challenges for our field is clearly articulating what we do and why it is so vital for our communities. Community development is a broad term and I have struggled at times to find a way to express what it is, and what it is not.  I will be working with my colleagues at MACDC this year, including our new Director of Communications, John Fitterer, to tell the story of our field more effectively. This will include building a new website, designing a new MACDC logo, and a revamping the social media strategy for our organization, so be on the lookout for those changes!

In addition to these new resolutions, I need to follow through on a very important commitment that I made last year when lobbying the Legislature and the Governor to support the Community Development Partnership Act.  Throughout the year, I repeatedly told them that we would implement the law in a way that would make them proud. With the Community Investment Grant Program starting in 2013 and the Community Investment Tax Credit scheduled to start on January 1, 2014, now is the time to fulfill that promise and I am resolved to make sure we do. Of course, I made this promise on behalf of the entire community development field so we all have to work on this one together!

Feel free to suggest more opportunities for me to improve – and to hold me accountable on these resolutions!

Happy New Year!

Commenting Closed

Was 2012 Really the Best Year for Massachusetts CDCs since 1982?

December 17th, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

Last January I received a good bit of teasing for a blog post that I wrote entitled Could 2012 be the Best Year For Massachusetts CDCs Since 1982? Many of my colleagues thought that I was, at best, hopelessly optimistic or, at worst, strangely naive.  The truth is that I was shamelessly promoting both MACDC's 30th anniversary (we were created in 1982) and our campaign to pass the Community Development Partnership Act, which I suggested would be the most important piece of community development legislation in at least 30 years.

I will leave it to others to rank 2012 in the history of Massachusetts CDCs, but with all the challenges we faced due to the economy and declining public funding it was still quite a year:

  • * We did in fact pass the Community Development Partnership Act in August, creating a $66 million revenue stream for CDCs between 2013 and 2019. We see the program as a way to dramatically increase the scale and impact of community development efforts around the state.
  • * The Legislature enacted a two year, $20 million increase in the state low income housing tax credit.
  • * Governor Patrick increased the capital budget for affordable housing by $10 million.
  • * The Attorney General secured $318 million in foreclosure relief funds as part of the National Foreclosure Settlement, including $21 million that went to CDCs and other nonprofit organizations to support their programs.
  • * The Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation increased its suport for small business technical assistance programs from $600,000 to $725,000.
  • * The Mel King Institute offered more trainings to more participants than ever before.
  • * Election day brought more good news for those of us who support a balanced approach to federal budget issues and for the seven cities and towns that passed the Community Preservation Act locally.
  • * MACDC celebrated its 30th anniversary with over 200 friends and colleagues, providing an opportunity to celebrate both our founders and our future.
  • * CDCs themselves showed remarkable resilience as they continued to build housing, create jobs, support local businesses and engage local residents at near record levels despite the difficult economic times.  The MACDC Goals Initiative issued a report showing that CDCs had generated $336 million in economic activity in 2011 - the second highest total ever recorded.

For me, 2012 was a reminder that collective advocacy still matters as we were able to secure millions of dollars in new resources for our communities by working together and with others to make our case.  Hundreds of people and dozens of organizations helped pass the CDPA in what was undoubtedly the biggest and most exciting policy campaign in MACDC's history. And it was a reminder that the work we do in the community development field has meaning for those who live and work in our communities as well as for policy makers who are looking for concrete solutions to challenging problems.

Of course, many of the resources generated in 2012, includng the CDPA, won't hit the street until 2013 and beyond. This means that we have a great deal of work to do next year to ensure the timely and effective implementation of these programs. This is a big part of our new Strategic Plan.  If we are successful, the achievements of 2012 will soon be eclipsed by the results we generate in the years to come.  In the end, I don't think I'm being overly optimistic or naive to say that the community development field's best year won't be 2012. Our best year is yet to come.

Happy New Year!

Commenting Closed

What works . . . and what doesn’t - a new book on the future of community development

October 2nd, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

“Let’s invest in what works,” is a common and recurring slogan that has gained currency in recent years and why shouldn’t it? Who is going to advocate that we invest in what’s broken? So I was not surprised to see a new book built around this idea called “Investing in What Works for America’s Communities,” co-edited by Nancy Andrews, President of the Low Income Investment Fund and David Erickson from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.  The book urges us to “break through silos in our programs, our financing streams and our thinking” and to use “data-based rigorous analysis to direct scarce resources to what works.”  This is an important book with contributions from leading thinkers in our field so serious community development practitioners and students would be well advised to read it.

That is not to say that I liked or agreed with all that I read. Many of the articles were interesting, insightful, thought provoking and even inspiring. I found myself reacting with enthusiasm to many of the ideas in the book. And Ellen Seidman writes a wonderful summary of the many ideas presented that is worth reading even if you don’t have time for the entire book. As a whole, I think the book offers an important contribution to the on-going discussion about the future of community development in America, but I also think it exemplifies some of the trends in our field that make me very nervous.  So let me share with you some of what I think works about “What Works,” and what I think does not work.

What works about “Investing in What Works for America’s Communities:”

  • • I agree with the general theme throughout the book that we need to take a comprehensive approach to community development. Virtually every article hit on this theme and it is consistent with the direction we are pursuing here in Massachusetts.
  • • I was also pleased to read articles by a few of authors that emphasize the importance of engaging local residents and working at the neighborhood level.
  • • It was gratifying to see a strong recognition of the importance of neighborhoods and neighborhood level work, in addition to the now common calls for regional solutions. We need to work at both levels and I think the book makes that point effectively. Thankfully, the pendulum is slowly swinging back to the center on the perpetual debate between regional and neighborhood level work.
  • • The book includes interesting and thoughtful articles about a range of issues from health care, to housing, to education, to transit oriented development, to crime, to economic development and how these issues intersect with each other– there are good lessons and good ideas throughout.
  • • Thankfully, the book avoids the tired old debate about place-based strategies and people-based strategies and endorses both approaches.
  • • And the book includes one of the best histories of community development that I have read in a long time in a chapter by Alexander von Hoffman that traces the field’s history without focusing entirely on federal policy as many do.

What does not work about “Investing in What Works for America’s Communities:”

  • • Amazingly, this 419 page book about the future of community development, a book with 30 authors, does not include a single page written by someone from Community Development Corporation. There are articles by academics, government officials, foundation executives, national non-profits, CDFIs and more, but not one by a CDC practitioner.  Now I would certainly not argue that CDCs should be the only voice in such a book, but how can that perspective be entirely excluded?  The national conversation about the future of our field must include a more diverse set of voices – we can’t allow it to become a small echo chamber.
  • • Much of the book is focused on community development finance, an important topic to be sure. But it reinforced my growing concern about the sector is becoming too “finance-centric” just as we begin to move away from a “real-estate centric” vision of community development. Many of us have bemoaned the fact that our economy is increasingly dominated by the finance industry, but now we see the community development field is increasingly organized around finance.
  • • While I am a strong proponent of comprehensive community development, I think this book might be taking the concept too far. Community development can’t be everything for everybody. The term loses meaning if we use it to describe every activity and program that benefits low income people or neighborhoods. Moreover, as the Aspen Institute has pointed out, too much comprehensiveness can be a problem too, as initiatives collapse under the weight and complexity of trying to connect every dot and solve every problem.
  • • Similarly, the core premise of the book seems to be that the goal of community development is to dramatically reduce poverty in America. I don’t think that was or is the goal of community development, and certainly not the defining goal.  I certainly agree that community development needs to be part of the solution, but it can’t do it alone. If we expect community development to solve poverty than we are setting ourselves up to fail – even if we are successful at the more limited (yet still important) goals we can actually achieve like improving the quality of life for local residents, providing some economic stability  for low income families, and increasing community control over community assets and local development.
  • • I also worry about the hyper-focus on outcomes and data. Now how can anyone speak out against achieving outcomes and measuring them with data? It’s impossible, right? And certainly, I think we should measure outcomes with data. But there are risks with data that were not sufficiently addressed in this book. Sometimes data can mislead. Sometimes, data can be flawed. Sometimes, data miss important elements. For example, poverty data does not account for housing subsidies, food subsidies, child care subsidies or health care subsidies, so providing those forms of assistance do not reduce poverty, at least as measured by our government. But do they help people make ends meet? Do they help people gain economic stability? Of course they do.  And a focus on population level outcomes can quickly create incentives to displace low income people and exclude them from the population being studied. Data is a tool that can be used wisely or poorly. Let’s use some wisdom along with our data.
  • • Finally, the book fails to sufficiently talk about the vital role that advocacy and organizing play in shaping public policy at the local, state and national level. Any serious attempt to reduce income inequality and poverty in America has to include changes in policy. I believe that the community development movement has to be part of shaping that new policy framework.

 

“Investing in What Works for America’s Communities” makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate and discussion about the future of the community development field.  But we need more voices and more skeptical voices to join the fray.  At a minimum, I hope the next edition includes a few articles from those working on the front lines in America’s neighborhoods. I suspect they will have something interesting to contribute.

 

 

Commenting Closed

What do we do now? Five things CDCs can do to get ready for CDPA Implementation

August 16th, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

In the nine days since Governor Patrick signed the Community Development Partnership Act into law, a number of my members have asked me "what should I do now?" It's a good question. With $67.5 million available for community development over the next seven years, every community developer in the state should be asking that question.  While the regulations and guidelines have not yet been written and the tax credits don't even take effect until January 2014, there is still much to do to get ready. Here are five things that I would suggest:

1. Re-read the statute: While I'm sure everyone read the bill before it passed, I would recommend that community developers re-read the actual CDPA statute now to make sure they really understand what it said. Those words are now law and they will matter as the program gets implemented.

2. Get certified by the state as a CDC: To participate in the CDPA program, a local non-profit organization must first be certified as a CDC under MGL Chapter 40H. So far, 17 organizations have been certified under this program which was first launched at the beginning of 2012. Ten more organizations have applications that are pending. However, we know that there are at least 30 more organizations that will likely qualify and potentially many more, including groups that have not traditionally considered themselves to be a CDC. This requirement is not simply designed to create a bureaucratic hurdle like those new voter suppression laws being adopted around the country. This requirement, which is modeled after the highly successful CDFI model, was created to achieve two goals. First, it ensure s that the recipients of CDPA resources are organizations with meaningful community representation on their board of directors - a core value of the CDPA program model. Second, it ensures that these resources flow to organizations for whom community development is a core purpose and one to which they are committed for the long term. CDPA funds organizations, not programs, so it is essential to fund community development organizations.

3. Start planning to plan: At the core of the CDPA is the requirement that applicants submit a multi-year business plan to DHCD. The statutes spells out in some detail the elements that must be in those plans, including the requirement that local residents and businesses play a signficant role in its development. Many CDCs already operate with well thought out business and/or strategic plans so this requirement may not be difficult for them. Others will need to develop new plans or revise existing ones to meet the requirements of the program. This requirement was included because CDPA is structured to fund organizations, not just individual programs, so it requires an organizational plan. This element was modeled after what we have learned from the Boston Foundation, Neighborworks America and other funders who provide "enterprise level" funding or venture philanthropy.

4. Reach out to private donors: The newly created Community Investment Tax Credits are not worth anything unless you can find donors to use them. For many CDCs, this will require a new approach to fundraising in which they move beyond government and foundation sources to find corporate, small business and individual donors. MACDC, the United Way and others will be helping to promote the program to donors, but every CDC should be thinking about how it will develop its own fundraising campaign.

5. Get ready to lift your game to a new level: The CDPA is designed to be highly competitive and to drive the field to new levels of impact. It is not meant to simply sustain business as usual. The Legislature, the Governor, the private donors, the United Way and our community residents are all going to expect these new resources to result in new and expanded results. What's exciting about CDPA is that these stakeholders are not simply lecturing CDCs to "do more with less," but rather they are saying and we are saying to ourselves that we should use this new, flexible, multi-year resource to reach toward our aspirations.

MACDC will be working closely with DHCD, DOR and other stakeholders to develop the regulations, guidelines and RFPs needed to implement this exciting new program. We would expect DHCD to issue the RFP for the one-year grant program in the fall of 2012, with the tax credit program to be rolled out during the second half of 2013.

My next blog post will offer ideas for what other stakeholders should be doing now that CDPA has been signed into law.

Commenting Closed

10 Reasons CDPA is Now Law

August 10th, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

After an exciting two-year campaign, the Legislature has passed and the Governor has signed the Community Development Partnership Act into law. I believe this is the most significant community development legislation in Massachusetts since the late 1970's when Mel King led an effort to pass the original CDC enabling law, created CEDAC and CDFC (now merged into MGCC) and the CEED program. Over the past few days, many people have asked me how we did it. Well, it's a long story, but here are my top ten reasons that we were able to pass the CDPA.

1. We laid a strong foundation: For years MACDC has cultivated a strong presence in the State House and strong relationships with many legislators and legislative aides (never under-estimate the importance of the aides.)  At the same time, our members have been cultivating strong relationships with their elected officials so those legislators know the important role that CDCs play in their communities. MACDC has also worked hard to build strong relationships with many other advocacy organizations: we have helped them so when the time came they were happy to help us.  We also laid a strong policy foundation by working on and winning passage of numerous bills and budget items in recent years, most significantly, the new and updated CDC enabling law in Chapter 40h.

2. We took the time to develop a strong policy proposal based on best practices in other states and in federal programs: MACDC spent years developing this proposal. We looked at similar tax credit programs in other states as well as federal models like the CDFI program and the CHDO program. Politics and advocacy matter, as you see on this list, but you need to have a sound policy proposal that can be supported by facts and evidence. We did that.

3. We had great champions in the Legislature: Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Linda Dorcena Forry were absolutely fantastic champions for this legislation. Not only did they chair the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business, but they embraced this as their number one priority for the year. When a legislator makes your bill their number one priority, you have a chance.  Sen. DiDomenico and Rep. Forry recruited 46 c0sponsors, held 7 field hearings around the state (the "listening tour") and continually kept the Legislative Leadership informed about the progress of the bill.  They also demonstrated real strategic insight by getting the bill incorporated into the larger economic development bill ensuring that CDPA was part of a vehicle that would make it to the Governor's desk. And I can't say enough about the outstanding work done by Rep. Forry's staff (John High and Stephanie Heller) and Sen. DiDomenico's staff (Chritie Ghetto Young, Wally DeGuglielmo and Ingrid Freire)

4. We built a strong partnership with the United Way:  The first meeting I had about this legislation was with Michael Durkin at the United Way. I knew that we needed their active support to win this campaign and Michael was enthusiastic from the beginning. It turns out that Mike had run a very similar tax credit program in Denver so he was familiar with how powerful this model is. The United Way was a powerful and important partner throughout the campaign and we expect to continue that partnership during implementation (the fact that Mike and I both grew up in Syracuse, NY also helped solidify the partnership!)

5. The MACDC GOALs report provided the data to demonstrate the impact CDCs have at the local level: MACDC launched the MACDC GOALs Initiative in 2002 so we have excellent data going back several years that can document the impact of this work. Having that data - and demonstrating a willingness to be held accountable - were key elements to making the case.

6. We devised a strong inside/outside legislative campaign: MACDC has always been committed to an advocacy model that involves both grassroots efforts and inside lobbying. Allison Staton (Ms. Inside) and Pam Bender (Ms. Outside) worked incredibly well as a team to bring both tactics to bear on this campaign. Over the past two years we held two major Lobby Days at the State House with over 200 people in attendance each time; we held over 40 in-district meetings with dozens of legislators where local residents could make the case directly; we generated dozens and even hundreds of calls at various points in the campaign; and we had a physical presence in the building every week to ensure that our bill was moving forward.

7. We took seriously the growing concerns about tax credits and addressed them in our legislation: CDCs are deeply familiar with tax credit programs so we know the benefits and challenges associated with them. We were also well aware of the growing concerns within the State House about tax credits in light of controversial tax credit programs that cost the state significant money without necessarily generating sufficient public benefits. We drafted the original bill to ensure high levels of accountability and transparency. When the Tax Expenditure Commission issued its recommendations in April we re-examined our bill to make sure we complied. We then worked with the Senate to amend the bill on the floor to strengthen these provisions. Both the substance of these changes and our explicit willingness to be responsive went a long way in winning over legislators and the Governor.

8. Legislators intuitively "get it" when we talk about place-based work: As I wrote in an earlier blog post, legislators understand our work because they represent the same places we serve. As a result, our message resonated with them as we talked about local solutions to local problems and devising strategies that responded the unique qualities of our communities.

9. Governor Patrick gets it when it comes to community building and community development: Since the beginning of his first campaign, Governor Patrick has talked about the importance of building strong communities and promoting civic engagement. He has been a steadfast supporter of CDCs for years so when this bill arrived on his desk he was strongly inclined to support it. Of course, as Governor, he has to consider other issues too, so he was determined to make sure our program complied with the Tax Expenditure Commission recommendations. Once he was assured that it did, he signed our tax credit program even as he vetoed three other tax credit programs that did not meet those requirements. 

10. At the moment of truth, our members, friends and allies rose to the occasion: Two times in the past month, the CDPA was in danger of defeat. First, the Senate Ways & Means Committee replaced our multi-year tax credit program with a one-year, $1 million grant program. In less than 48 hours, our members flooded the State House with calls and we had 24 out of 40 Senators sponsoring an amendment to restore CDPA to the economic development bill.  The Amendment was adopted 36-0, as Sen. DiDomenico worked the floor to ensure its passage. A few days later, the bill landed on the Governor's desk and there was concern that he might veto it because it created a new tax credit. Again, within 48 hours, we had generated over 300 calls to the Governor, sent a "sign-on" letter to him with 23 prominent individuals and organizations, sparked numerous calls from legislators, mayors and even a congressman to encourage the Governor to sign the bill. As I said above, the Governor is a big believer in community development, but he had concerns about the use of tax credit. These calls helped distinguish our program substantively and politically.

No campaign like this can succeed without careful planning, hard work, and a little bit of luck. We had all three working for us, as well as the efforts of hundreds of individuals each of whom did their part to pass this legislation. To be honest, I was surprised and humbled by the outpouring and I am forever grateful to everyone who helped.

My next few blog posts on CDPA will be about implementation. I'm looking forward to writing those!

Commenting Closed

Is there a better way to think about scale?

July 5th, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

In recent years, scale has become one of the hottest topics in the non-profit sector. Not a day goes by when I don’t see a report or an email, or a blog post, or at least a tweet talking about the importance of scale. Much of the discussion is about how the nonprofit sector is not very good at growing organizations to scale. Many people are looking for ways to replicate private sector models of equity investing to help bring nonprofit organizations to scale. I have been frustrated by much of this discussion which I think often oversimplifies complex issues, exaggerates our ability to understand how societal change happens, draws false analogies between the private and non-profit sectors, discourages collaboration and encourages cherry-picking of the most profitable activities within the nonprofit sector while leaving the less profitable ones to smaller community based organizations.

So I was very pleased to recently come across two items that I think make important contributions to the discussion.

The first is an interesting article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review entitled Collective Impact by John Kania and Mark Kramer.  The article makes a rather simple and seemingly obvious observation – “Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations.” Think, for example, about how our country was able to achieve such a dramatic reduction in smoking over the past 30 years. We used research, litigation, legislation, taxes, education, regulation, chewing gum, faith programs, advertising and many other tactics. No single organization or program made it happen.

Collective impact takes this idea to the next level of intentionality and focus. Collective impact efforts are designed to organize multiple players to unite around a common objective.  The authors outline five conditions of collective impact: (1) a common agenda; (2) shared measurement; (3) mutually reinforcing activities; (4) continuous communication; and (5) backbone support.

In Massachusetts, we have helped to promote this model through the Smart Growth Alliance’s Great Neighborhoods program and through LISC’s Resilient Communities/Resilient Families program. And I’m pleased to see the Collective Impact framework gaining attention nationally.    

The second interesting article I recently read on the issue of scale was an op-ed in the New York Times by David Bornstein called For Ambitious Nonprofits, Capital to Grow.  While this article does focus on how individual organizations can grow, it makes a very critical and important contribution to that discussion by talking about recent efforts by the Non Profit Finance Fund. Obviously, nonprofits need money to grow, but Mr. Bornstein’s article discusses the difference between what he calls “build” capital versus what he calls “buy” capital. Build capital is money used to build the capacity of a nonprofit organization and is analogous to private equity for a company. Buy capital is money used to operate programs and deliver services and is analogous to sales revenue for a company. Those who supply build capital have different goals and needs than those who provide buy capital, just as investors and customers have different needs.  Non profits – and their funders – must understand this distinction. And the nonprofit system must have adequate supplies of both types of capital if we are to become more effective.

Both of these issues – collective impact and the build vs. buy distinction are of critical importance to the Community Development sector. Should we be successful in passing the Community Development Partnership Act by the end of the legislative session on July 31, we will have an opportunity to put these ideas into action across the community development sector in ways that will allow us to achieve unprecedented levels of scale and impact across the Commonwealth.

Commenting Closed

Reflections on a decade as MACDC’s President

July 3rd, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

This week marks the beginning of my second decade as MACDC’s President & CEO and it has prompted me to reflect on what has changed since 2002, what remains the same, and what we have accomplished during the intervening 10 years.

In 2002, the legislature killed the CEED program after 25 consecutive years of providing flexible funding to CDCs. It was not a great start to my tenure to be sure!  While we were not able to to restore the funding, we were able to secure many new funding streams for housing production capacity (thank you MHP), small business development (thank you MGCC) and foreclosure prevention.   Through it all, including the Great Recession, CDCs have proven more durable and resilient than I think many expected.   

I’d like to think that our efforts have helped CDCs sustain themselves. I’m proud of many of the things we have accomplished over the past ten years – ten Lobby Days , nine GOALs reports, five Conventions, multiple pieces of legislation adopted (bond bills, foreclosure bills, small business funding, CDC certification and more), the mentoring program, the Innovation Forum,  the group insurance program, the peer groups,  and of course, the launch of the Mel King Institute for Community Building.    And I am pleased at the renewed and growing interest in comprehensive, grass roots community development that I think we helped to foster.  Equally important, we balanced our budget every year!

At the same time, I would have hoped that the numbers in our GOALs reports would have grown more over the years. While the numbers are impressive in light of the obstacles, I am not satisfied.  I also wish we had done a better job articulating and documenting the value of community development as a field of practice. Notwithstanding our many victories, it feels to me like the general trend among funders and policy makers has been to move away from the community development field. I see a few signs that this may be starting to turn around, but we have much work yet to do.

Throughout these ten years, I have been very fortunate to have had a talented and dedicated staff, a highly engaged and effective board, and reliable and flexible funders. This is largely the legacy of the foundation built by predecessors Marc Draisen and Pat Libby, but I’m pleased to have sustained it during these past years.

On a personal level much has changed and much remains the same as it was 10 years ago. In 2002, my two sons were 8 (Josh) and 6 (Mike) and spending the summer at the JCC’s Camp Grossman in Westwood. Today, Josh is getting ready to go t College, Mike will be entering 11th grade, and they are still spending their summer at Camp Grossman, albeit they are both working as counselors now. My wife Dina still works at GBLS, as she did 10 years ago, and we still live in Boston (West Roxbury now, having moved from Roslindale in 2003.) For much of the past 10 years, I was fortunate to have both my parents around to offer love, support and advice. I’m grateful that my dad remains in great health, but I miss my mother every day, having lost her on July 14, 2010.

As I begin my second decade in this position, and as MACDC begins its 4th decade as an organization, I am bullish on the future. Our Campaign to enact the Community Development Partnership Act has been incredibly exciting and rewarding – seeing our members unify around a common effort; seeing friends and partners rally to support the field; and seeing legislators respond positively to our message. We have 30 days to bring this campaign to a successful conclusion before the legislative session ends on July 31. It won’t be easy, but I am optimistic that we can get the bill through the Senate and signed by the Governor. If we do, I believe it will propel the field to the next level of scale and impact that we seek. The next decade could be incredibly exciting.

 Perhaps the best way to sum up these past 10 years is to quote former NBA announcer Mark Jackson:

 “Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life.”  

Amen!

 

Commenting Closed

Call me naive, but I still believe in Representative Democracy

May 28th, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

In March 2012, I had a wonderful opportunity to travel to Israel with a group of affordable housing professionals to meet with our counterparts in that country who are working to address many of the same housing challenges we face in this country. It was a facinating week of tours, lectures, meetings, debates, and bus rides. We learned a great deal and I believe we were also able to help our colleagues.

While I expected to learn about housing policy, I did not expect to learn - or should I say re-learn - a lesson about the importance of representative democracy.

Throughout the week, when I would talk with Israeli activists about trying to change government policies we would have trouble connecting. I would describe how we run our advocacy campaigns and the power of meeting with members of Congress or the Legislature.  I would implore them to organize meetings with their elected officials. It took me several days to realize that in Israel's Parlimentary system (like those in other countries) members of the National Legislature (called the Knesset) are appointed by their political party. Local communities do not have their own member of Parliment who is accountable to them.

Now the American political system has its problems - money dominates the process, an entrenched two party system limits the range of debate, incumbants are virtually immune from defeat, gerry mandering has polarized the system, and partisan gridlock has brought our system to a near standstill.

Yet despite all of those problems, I still have a member of Congress who represents my neighborhood and two members of the Senate who represent my state.  While your Representative or Senator does not have to agree with you on any particular issue, he or she still has to represent you and listen to you. We can send emails and make phone calls. We can talk to them at community meetings and events. This was brought home to me last week when a delegation of MACDC staff and members met with Senator Scott Brown in his Washington DC office. Our group was there for the annual NACEDA summit and met with six Congressional offices during the day.  Not only did Senator Brown meet with our group, but he expressed his continued support for CDBG and HOME, thereby prioritizing the views of his constituents over those of his Republican colleagues who seek to slash these vital programs.

Can you imagine what Congress would be like if members had no accountability to their local communities - if they were only accountable to the political party that appointed them? 

The same dynamic is true at the state level. One reason that the Community Development Partnership Act was able to pass the House of Representatives last week is because of representative government. We recently organized 23 local district meetings with over 60 legislators and  brought over 200 constiuents to the State House on May 3.  In total, MACDC and its members have talked with 111 legislators so far during our campaign.  And our representatives heard us and they understood us. As state legisaltors, they represent a place - a community. They know the people who live there and the community's unique assets and challenges. They see their job as fighting to make their community a better place, just like we do (even if we might sometimes disagree about how to best do that.) So when it comes time to talk to them about community development - about our efforts to improve our communities - it resonates for them. When we talk about the need for bottom up solutions that respond to local needs - they get it. When we talk about place-making, they understand it (even if they would not use our jargon!)

Obviously, not every elected official is equally thoughtful and open minded. And American democracy is deeply flawed. We need serious change - starting with campaign finance reform and an end to gerry mandering that reduces political competition. 

That said, I'm thankful for what our system does offer - a chance to be heard by an elected official who knows the place where I live - and the precinct where I vote.

 

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Why May 23, 2012 was a good day - not a great one.

May 28th, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

May 23 was an exciting day for MACDC as the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted 150-0 to pass a new "Jobs Bill" that included the Community Development Partnership Act.  This was a major milestone in our campaign to pass this ground breaking and game changing bill that will bring the community development field to new levels of scale and impact. And it was a strong testament to the power of a well organized, grass roots advocacy campaign.

At the same time, while I sat in the Gallery watching the House of Representatives debate the "jobs bill" legislation, I recalled sitting in the same place with Judy Kelliher in 2001 as we watched the House approve a budget amendment appropriating $2.9 million for the CEED program - a program that provided flexible funding for CDCs. We sat there giggling like school children as the House voted 153-0 on an amendment sponsored by Rep. Kevin Fitzgerald. It was the culmination of a terrific grassroots campaign by our members to win legislative support for their work. Two months later, the Senate approved the same level of funding. 

Sadly, the House-Senate Budget conference committee was unable to resolve their disputes for months and when the state budget imploded following the terrorist attacks of September 11, the final state budget was approved with just $1 million for CEED. And then Governor Swift vetoed it down to $500,000. A year later, CEED was completely eliminated from the state budget. 

Sadly, Kevin and Judy are no longer with us, but I can hear their voices now telling me not to get too happy with the House vote. Reminding me that passing the House achieves nothing if we don't also get the bill through the Senate and signed by the Governor.

I'm confident that this year will be different. For one thing, we were able to win in the House this year because we had strong support from Speaker DeLeo whereas in 2001 we won the vote despite Speaker Thomas Finneran, who was then able to remove the funding in the Conference Committee. Moreover, we now have support from Governor Patrick so we don't have to worry about a veto like the one issued by Governor Swift. Still, we need to work even harder to win passage in the Senate and to see this bill reach the Governor's desk before the legislature adjourns on July 31.

May 23 was indeed a good day.

It will be a great day when Governor Patrick signs the Community Development Partnership Act into law.

 

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Benefit Corporations: A new ally?

April 7th, 2012 by Joe Kriesberg

MACDC is pleased to share this blog from Standford Fraser who is interning at NACEDA for the Spring 2012 Semester. He is currently a Junior History major and Community Development minor at Howard University.

Benefit Corporations are defined as a new class of corporation that 1) creates a material positive impact on society and the environment; 2) expands corporate fiduciary duty to require consideration of non-financial interests when making decisions; and 3) reports on its overall social and environmental performance using recognized third party standards. 

In April 2010, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation that legally recognizes benefit corporations (B corps). Today seven states recognize benefit corporations: California, New York, Vermont, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and Hawaii with legislation pending in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Michigan. B corps are still unknown to a large number of community developers. The simplest way to describe them is that they exist somewhere between non-profits and traditional corporations, leaning closer to traditional corporations in their operations. An example of a B corp would be Atayne which transforms trash into athletic wear or App-X that specializes in web based Alternative Asset Fund Managing for non-profit organizations. As part of their mission of being a B corporation, App-X even distributes some of their online products for free. To become a Certified B corp an organization is evaluated through the 'B Impact Assessment' that provides a 'B Impact Report' taking into consideration a company's governance, workers rights, as well as environmental and community impact.  

 In a January 2012 article of The Economist, B corp proponents cite their financial flexibility as a critical asset, , "Non-profit firms and charities are needlessly restricted in their ability to raise capital when they need to grow." Benefit corporations do create profits. This allows them to act economically independent from government programs and grants.  

However, b-corps have skeptics. They claim the line between b-corps and traditional for-profit corporations is too thin. Other opponents believe the standards for evaluating benefit corporations are not clearly defined. Despite these criticisms, it seems that benefit corporations are growing in popularity and purpose. As their popularity and numbers increase, we must ask ourselves, 'What potential relationship can these businesses have with community development work?'  

One issue that is a constant worry for non-profits and community development corporations are finances. It appears as though traditional public sources of funding for CDCs are becoming increasingly scarce. CDCs must begin to look for new and innovative funding mechanisms. Formal partnerships between benefit corporations and community development corporations may have mutual benefit. One question that came into my mind, 'Can the mission of a benefit corporation help fund non profits? If so, how? If not, why not?  

In certain states, it may even be possible for a benefit corporation to actively involve themselves in community development work. There is potential for local businesses, B corps, and CDCs to create strong bonds actively shaping their local community. As a for profit entity, Benefit Corporations may have the ability to accomplish more than traditional non profits. They are not strapped to traditional nonprofit funding streams. Benefit corporations are a relatively new phenomenon in America. A lot remains to be discovered. What is clear, is that benefit corporations and their formation demonstrate a conscious effort to positively contribute to the world community. As community developers, we must stay abreast of B corps and other movements to positively change communities. Hopefully, this blog post is first of several conversations about benefit corporations and their role in community development.  

To learn more about benefit corporations, please review these links below: 

http://www.bcorporation.net/publicpolicy 

http://www.thenation.com/article/161261/rise-benefit-corporations 

http://www.economist.com/node/21542432 

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