News

Five Hidden Opportunities in the 2010 Election Results

February 12th, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

The 2010 midterm elections have certainly made many community developers anxious for our communities and our field—and with good reason. The Republican Party’s agenda of draconian spending cuts has the potential to devastate struggling communities and families across the country. We must resist their agenda as strongly as we can.

That said, there may be a few hidden opportunities in the current climate for community developers to seize. At the risk of being Pollyannaish, here are five opportunities that call out for action:

Climate Change: With national climate legislation dead, environmental advocates and funders are looking to create a “Plan B” for stopping climate change. This plan is likely to include advocating for state and local policy changes, as well as changes in local practice. They will also need to broaden their coalition and base of support. This creates a tremendous opportunity to frame community development as a key part of a serious, comprehensive climate change agenda. We know that creating livable, well-designed urban neighborhoods will reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

Community developers should not only work to explicitly “green” their agenda by weatherizing their rental properties and developing transit-oriented projects, but should also make the case that community development itself is a climate change strategy. Here in Massachusetts, the largest environmental funder in the state, the Barr Foundation, and the Ford Foundation, have adopted this thinking and are supporting sustainable neighborhood development in a regional context through the Smart Growth Alliance’s Great Neighborhoods program. We can build on this across the country.

Health Care: The debate over our national health care system is far from over, and once again community development could be a nonpartisan solution that becomes widely embraced. There is growing evidence that healthy homes and healthy communities can substantially reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes for everyone. With the health care sector embracing new ideas and innovation, there is the potential for community developers to find new funding sources and new political allies. As one colleague has pointed out to me several times, if community developers could access just a small percentage of the nation’s investment in health care, we would increase community development funding many times over!

Local Solutions: While community developers and Tea Party activists probably do not agree on much, we may be able to find some limited common ground. Community developers support strong federal investments in communities and we support a robust safety net. But we can also be critical of federal programs for their rigid and bureaucratic rules that do not work well at the local level. Perhaps we can find new allies that will support building the capacity of local, nonprofit (and importantly, nongovernmental) organizations that can develop and implement practical solutions that are tailored to the local context. Perhaps CDCs can gain bipartisan support as organizations that reflect a long-honored American tradition of local people working together to solve problems and improve their own communities.

Rental Housing: The collapse of the homeownership industry and mortgage lending has created a new appreciation of the important role that rental housing plays in our country. For too long, tenants and rental housing have been denigrated. Today, policy makers understand that we need a strong and diverse supply of rental housing to meet the needs of our communities and our economy. This long overdue shift in public opinion could pave the way for policy changes that help protect tenants and help us to build and preserve high quality and affordable apartments.

Homeownership: While it may seem contradictory, I also believe that the current political climate provides an excellent opportunity to have a long overdue and important conversation about the role of homeownership in low- and moderate-income communities. While the growing conventional wisdom that low- or moderate-income families cannot and should not own homes is a major threat, it is also an opportunity to tell the story of how these families can and have been successful homeowners.

We need to embark on a major policy and educational campaign to highlight the success of homeownership education, specialized mortgage products and shared equity homeownership models. Such a campaign is essential because we know the new Congress will be enacting major new legislation to transform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the entire mortgage lending industry and we know that the Obama administration is looking to update CRA regulations and roll out the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. All of these policy debates and shifts create an opportunity to transform the mortgage industry in a way that better serves our communities.

These opportunities do not come without risks and challenges, and I could have easily written a much longer article about the threats and challenges emerging from the election. But it is vital that community development leaders retain our tenacious optimism as we move forward. It has served us well for over three decades during good times and bad, and we need it now more than ever!

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Five trends to look for in 2011

January 3rd, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

As we look forward to a new year, here are five trends that will shape the Massachusetts community development field in 2011 and beyond.

1. CDC Certification will reshape the field. 

This year will see the start of the new CDC certification program established by the legislature and the Governor in 2009. DHCD is currently working to craft the guidelines and procedures needed so that nonprofits can start applying for certification by the spring. The certification program will bring greater clarity, transparency and resources to the CDC sector. It will also transform our collective perceptions about what types of nonprofits are really CDCs from the 1975 vision that was locked in place by MGL Chapter 40(f) to a new, more flexible, and more relevant definition under MGL Chapter 40(h).   MACDC will be advocating for state policies that can help CDCs achieve their community’s goals. This will include legislation to create a new tax credit program and other policies that target funding to CDCs. The result will be a larger, more diverse, and more adaptive network of local community development organizations that can get results.

Former industrial area is transformed into housing.

2. A tighter affordable housing pipeline will pose serious challenges.

The state has a pipeline of high quality housing projects that far exceed the resources available to DHCD. This will force CDCs and all developers to wait longer to receive funding and will begin to reduce the number of new projects that developers can initiate. That’s a shame because CDCs (and others) have many opportunities that will be delayed or terminated. DHCD will need to reassess how to prioritize its limited funding and affordable housing developers will have to take a realistic look at their business model or risk being financially weakened by projects that can’t move forward.

3. A continued increase in collaboration will drive innovation.

Collaboration has become such a buzz word that it sometimes sounds more like a cliché than a strategy. But the fact remains; collaboration is the key to success in today’s community development field. In 2011, you can expect to see many new and expanded collaborations among CDCs and between CDCs and other partners in such areas as housing development, asset management, small business, green jobs, and public transit advocacy.

4. Reenergized state support for small business development will create new opportunities.

The newly established Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation will begin to devise and implement a new framework for providing technical support and financing to small businesses across the Commonwealth. The MGCC will fund and strengthen the Small Business Technical Assistance program and support local and regional nonprofit micro business lenders. The result will be a more effective and targeted strategy for supporting immigrant and minority-owned business enterprises and reaching traditionally hard to serve markets such as inner city neighborhoods and rural areas.

5. Comprehensive, placed-based strategies will gain prominence. 

This year we will see a growing emphasis within the field on placed-based, long-term, and comprehensive approaches to community change. More and more CDCs will be engaging local residents in community planning and partnering with allies in other fields such as public health, public safety, workforce development, public transit, clean energy, and education. This trend will be supported by at least two new initiatives sponsored by LISC (Resilient Communities/Resilient Families) and the Smart Growth Alliance (Great Neighborhoods.) Federal policy will also support this trend through the Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods and Sustainable Communities programs. 

These trends create opportunities and challenges for community developers. We look forward to working with our members and partners to ensure that the trends lead to stronger and more vibrant communities across the Commonwelath.

Happy New Year!

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Is the HAMP Loan Modification Program Really a Failure?

December 8th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

As the foreclosure crisis grinds on month after month and year after year, it is hard to find any news to feel good about. Even the recent dip in foreclosure petitions in October was probably due more to the confusion and delays caused by the apparent failure of banks and servicers to process foreclosures in a legal manner rather than any real shift in the market. Foreclosure deeds in 2010 already exceed the number of deeds in 2009 and continued high unemployment and tight credit are likely to cause this crisis to continue for a long time.

And it is now an old story that banks and servicers are not agreeing to loan modifications at anywhere near the rate we need to stabilize the market, keep homeowners and tenants in their homes, and avoid further neighborhood decline.

Despite this, recent federal statistics indicate that 10,535 Massachusetts homeowners obtained a permanent loan modification under the federal HAMP program between January 1, 2010 and October 31, 2010, and a total of 12,154 Massachusetts homeowners have received one since the program began in 2009.  While 12,154 is far too few compared to the 40,686 homeowners who have been foreclosed since 2007 and the 20,603 who have been foreclosed since 2009, it is still 12,154 families who have kept their homes. (The number is probably a bit lower since about 11% of these modifications re-default.)  Significantly, 10,535 homeowners have received a modification during 2010 compared with 11,334 homeowners who have lost their home to foreclosure.

In other words, without HAMP, the problem would be nearly twice as bad this year. Clearly, HAMP is by far the largest scale program yet developed to prevent foreclosures. MACDC members and other non profits continue to use HAMP to help thousands of homeowners avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.  With all the challenges associated with loan modifications, foreclosure prevention counseling remains the fastest and most cost effective method for stopping foreclosures, preserving family wealth, avoiding displacement, and stabilizing neighborhoods.

Fortunately, these non profits will soon benefit from additional resources to support their vital work. The Division of Banks has issued an RFP  to provide additional funding to these nonprofit agencies under a program established by legislation MACDC helped enact in 2007. Also, Morgan Stanley will soon make available $2 million in new funding based on an Agreement signed with Attorney General Coakley as a result of Morgan Stanley’s involvement in subprime lending. MACDC and CHAPA are working with the AG and Morgan Stanley to ensure that this funding is released in early 2011.

I wish the banks would modify more loans and I wish the federal government would put more pressure on the banks to do so. In the meantime, however, let’s recognize that high quality foreclosure counseling by non profits have combined with the HAMP program to save 12,154 homeowners in our state. We can be proud of that.

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Am I an environmentalist or a community developer?

December 8th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

In 1993, when I was finishing law school I was considering many career options and decided that I wanted to shift from my prior work in the clean energy field and tackle issues of racism and poverty more directly by working in community development. I was making an intentional and significant shift from one field to another. Years later, when I was looking to hire a new MACDC staff person I had several candidates apply for the job who were employed by environmental organizations. I finally asked one why he wanted to make the shift. His answer was to say that he did not see community development as a new field at all – it was all the same field!

It was an “aha” moment that forced me to rethink my assumptions and definitions. It also was a moment when I realized that the leaders of the future often see connections and similarities where some in the past would have seen barriers and differences.

The reality that community development and environmental sustainability are part of the same movement was on clear display at a session hosted last week by the Mel King Institute’s Community Development Innovation Forum.

At the event, MACDC’s Don Bianchi presented the findings of our new report “Community Development Goes Green: How MACDC Members are Embracing Environmental Sustainability.” The report found that 65 MACDC member organizations are engaged in at least one activity or project that explicitly advances environmental sustainability. We also heard about some examples, including including Franklin County CDC’s   efforts to promote local agriculture, Urban Edge’s green community education work, Homeowner’s Rehab’s work to retrofit existing apartment buildings (including one where they reduced energy usage by 69%) and the Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH)’s environmental justice campaigns to clean up contaminated land and engage young people in environmental action. We also heard from Tapper Carew who is working with Mel King and the South End Technology Center to train young people on new solar and transportation technologies.

The presentations were truly inspiring.

I then moderated a panel with John Kassel from Conservation Law Foundation, Mariella Tan Puerto from the Barr Foundation and Madeline Fraser Cook from LISC’s Green Development Center. They shared their observations about the work that CDCs are doing and suggested opportunities for taking it to the next level.  Some of their key points:

  • Collect, track and report energy and environmental impacts with data;
  • With climate legislation dead in Congress, position community development as a key element of the Nation’s “Plan B” for addressing climate change;
  • Recognize that community development is inherently green because urban livability is essential to stopping sprawl; and
  • Focus on advocacy at both the local level and the state level, including issues that CDCs might not traditionally tackle.

For me the event symbolized how things can come full circle. In 1993, I thought I had to choose between being either an environmental advocate or a community developer. As we approach 2011, I am pleased that “either/or” has become “both/and.”

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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