The Innovation Forum

Over the past forty years, Community Development Corporations and their partners in the Community Development field have achieved remarkable success – building homes, creating jobs, developing leaders and transforming lives and communities. This track record and the significant infrastructure that we have established position us to tackle some of the most vexing problems facing our neighborhoods and communities, especially during this current economic crisis. At the same time, our success can also be a weakness as we confront new challenges and opportunities and seek to expand and deepen our impact. There is a risk that we will rest on our laurels and assume that what has worked in the past will work in the future.  Models and strategies that worked in the 1980s, 1990s or even the past few years may not be the best models for the coming decade. CDCs and their partners must adapt and respond to the rapid changes facing our field – changes in real estate markets, demographics, public policy, philanthropy, nonprofit management and finances, financial markets, communications technology and a coming generational shift in the leadership of our field.

MACDC and the Boston office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) established the Community Development Innovation Forum in partnership with others in order to engage a robust and thoughtful process to identify specific opportunities to advance innovative practices that will enable the field to most effectively respond to these changing dynamics.  The Forum intentionally includes all stakeholders in the field – CDCs, funders, lenders, policy makers, consultants, academics, and other partners – to ensure that our thinking is reflective of the entire field and our solutions have broad support. Specifically, the goals of this effort are two-fold: (1) to be a forum for innovative thinking about the future of the community development field in the state, and (2) to generate and advance practical ideas and strategies that the field can implement to increase its effectiveness and be more responsive to changing community conditions.

Phase 1 of this process began in June 2008 and ended in June 2009 with the publication of our Phase 1 report. During Phase One, several working groups were established to focus on key issues and each group produced a report summarizing its work and recommendations. Phase 1 also included the publication of reports and several public forums where speakers and participants shared innovative ideas.  These reports are available on this web page.

Since July 2009, the Innovation Forum has continued to advance the ideas and goals identified during Phase One. We are now focused both on implementing and replicating the good ideas developed during Phase One and creating opportunities to explore new ideas and innovations.

Over the past two years, we have successfully advanced several of the ideas developed in the Innovation Forum. 

  • Based on work in the Field Definition Working Group, we drafted and enacted a new CDC-enabling law  that updates the definition of what constitutes a CDC and establishes a formal certification program. DHCD is now developing guidelines to implement this law.
  • A consensus emerged in the Real Estate Finance Group that the affordable housing development system needs to put more emphasis and more financial rewards into the asset management side of the business. This will reduce reliance on large, but uneven, developer fee income and provide more stable revenue for CDCs and other owners. As a result, we have rolled out a comprehensive program to strengthen asset management throughout the field, including training, technical assistance, policy advocacy, shared capacity, and collaboration.
  • Based on work in the Community Building Working Group, LISC has rolled out the Resilient Communities/Resilient Families program which is investing in comprehensive community development strategies in three Boston Neighborhoods.
  • Based on work in the Regional Equity Working Group, MACDC is partnering with the Smart Growth Alliance to implement the Great Neighborhoods Program which seeks to advance a regional smart growth vision for Greater Boston.
  • Following up on our report on CDC Fiscal Health, we have partnered with Mass. Housing Partnership to help CDCs across the state implement Strength Matters,  a national financial management system for CDCs and nonprofit housing developers.
  • MACDC is now advocating for the Community Development Partnership Act, which would create a donation tax credit for CDCs to encourage more private investment in community building initiatives. The legislation is designed to promote, reward and drive the implementation of best practices and innovation across the sector. It will also enhance CDC fiscal stability, a key issue that emerged during the Forum.

The Innovation Forum continues to sponsor discussions and public events that explore new opportunities for the field. In December 2010, we held a forum on the growing linkages between the Community Development field and the Environmental Movement. In April, we cosponsored with the Federal Reserve an event that looked at similar linkages between community development and community health. Later in 2010, we plan to co-sponsor a forum on the Enterprise Communities’ Design Institute that looks at innovative practices in housing design. 

Funding to support the Forum’s work has been provided by The Boston Foundation, the Hyams Foundation, and the Massachusetts Housing Partnership.