Innovation

Is the Collaboration Trend Getting Old?

April 30th, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

Collaboration has become such a popular word in our field that one wonders at times whether it has lost its meaning and importance. Has collaboration become a cliché? Is it a passing fad? Has it been oversold?

I would have to say, from what I am seeing in Massachusetts and around the country, that the answer is an emphatic no!

When the Community Development Innovation Forum was launched in 2008, we established a collaboration working group that produced a report on different models of collaboration around the Commonwealth. The Forum has promoted collaboration as a critical strategy for increasing impact and gaining efficiencies.

Recently, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco has published a terrific new report that highlights examples of new collaborations from around the country – including one from Boston (the Fairmount Collaborative in Boston.)  The paper, The New Way Forward: Using Collaborations and Partnerships for Greater Efficiency and Impact, was written by Dee Walsh and Bob Zdenek, two of our country’s leading practitioners. I highly recommend it to all community developers.

Meanwhile, on a recent trip to South Florida to speak at the Annual Summit of the Florida Association of CDCs, I learned about the Broward Alliance for Neighborhood Development (BAND.)  BAND is a coalition of more than 30 CDCs and nonprofit organizations in Broward County (Ft Lauderdale) who are committed to providing decent, affordable housing in their communities. The mission of BAND is to foster non-profits that create quality housing and strong neighborhoods. The goal of the organization is to increase the capacity of its non-profit members so that the varied housing needs of all residents of Broward County are met. BAND members have pooled resources to hire central staff and to secure NSP dollars for their communities.

Back here in Massachusetts the Catalyst Fund for Nonprofits  has announced its first set of grants to nonprofits that are pursuing innovative collaborations and two of the initial grants are going to MACDC members.  A recent article in the Boston Globe describes grants to Chelsea Neighborhood Developers to develop a Family Economic Center and to Urban Edge and Allston Brighton CDC to pursue a joint asset management strategy.

I think it is clear that collaboration is here to stay in the community development sector.

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A Smarter Way to Reduce Health Care Spending

April 25th, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

The first meeting I ever attended on behalf of MACDC – way back in 1993 – was at the Bowdoin Street Community Health Center. The purpose of the meeting was to strategize ways to reduce childhood lead poisoning by building a coalition of community development, housing, environmental and public health advocates to fight for changes in policy and practice that would better protect our children. Over the ensuing years, we successfully won major legislative change, new funding for lead abatement, and a robust effort of abatement, education, prevention and treatment that has nearly eliminated lead poisoning from the Commonwealth (although the risk is still serious in much of our older housing stock.)

The success of that collaborative effort came to mind the other day when I was attending the Health Communities Conference co-sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the Mel King Institute’s Innovation Forum and several other partners. The conference explored the benefits of linking community development to community health efforts as a way to reduce chronic disease and improve wellness. The importance of this effort was underscored by Paul Grogan, President of the Boston Foundation, in his keynote remarks where he highlighted the fact that health care spending is now completely crowding out public investment in virtually every other area – education, recreation, housing, community development, food supports, and public transit. Yet by investing in these other areas we could actually reduce the need for costly medical care and improve the quality of people’s lives. Indeed, providing a homeless family with stable, safe housing might do more to reduce hypertension, asthma, and other chronic illnesses than all the medicine that money can buy.

The Conference included a number of interesting speakers from both the community development and the community health sectors. We heard about cutting edge research that documents that close correlation between socio-economic status and neighborhood quality with health outcomes. We also learned about innovative programs at the ground level that are beginning to make an impact. Materials from the conference are expected to be available soon on the Federal Reserve Bank’s conference web site.

MACDC intends to work with our partners in the public health field to build on the excitement from the conference to explore opportunities for innovation in public policy and community practice. With health care at the top of the priority list in both the State House and Congress, there will be many opportunities to gain traction. Perhaps someday, doctors will have the ability to fight the causes of disease by prescribing rental assistance subsidies, job training and T-passes instead of being limited to simply treating the symptoms of disease with costly medical procedures and pharmaceuticals

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How can we drive performance in the Community Development Field?

March 16th, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

Performance and accountability are the subject of substantial discussion these days throughout the nonprofit sector. Government agencies, private funders and non-profit leaders themselves are increasingly focused on taking steps to ensure that we fund programs "that work" and stop funding those "that don't".   Last week, I wrote about Social Impact Bonds, a new approach for doing this about which I have serious concerns. Today that I want to share an idea that I think has great promise.

Obviousely, no one can disagree with the view that we should "fund what works." But this statement simply begs the question of what we are trying to achieve. While this may seem easy to determine, in fact it is often not. Most non-profit organizations and programs have multiple stakeholders, each of whom have their own set of goals – goals that are sometimes in conflict, and are almost always different in terms of emphasis, time frame and priority. Balancing the interests of these different stakeholders is one of the key challenges of being a leader in the nonprofit sector.

At the same time, it is precisely this balancing act that I believe drives innovation and ultimately better, and more sustainable, long-term outcomes. Simply put, this complexity mirrors the complexity of the real world so it produces solutions that will work in the real world. Communities and people are complicated. There are no silver bullets or simple solutions to deeply rooted, complex social challenges, and success looks differently to different people. Equally important, all activities and interventions have multiple impacts and externalities – positive and negative – and they all have short term and long term impacts. This is especially true in the community development field where we are trying to have an impact on individuals and families as well as the broader community. I believe that having multiple stakeholders at the table helps to ensure that all of these impacts are considered, and that negotiating these competing interests results in more balanced, creative and effective solutions.

MACDC hopes to promote this framework through our campaign to enact the Community Development Partnership Act.  This bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry and Senator Sal DiDomenico and 46 other legislators, (and modeled after similar programs in other states) would use tax credits to leverage private donations to genuine and authentic community based development organizations, i.e. CDCs. Rather than creating static, rigid, or one-dimensional outcome metrics for the program, the CDPA will use three levels of accountability to ensure the program’s success while maintaining local flexibility and driving innovation.

  • -  First, and foremost, community members would have a voice because only those organizations with meaningful community representation on their board of directors would be eligible to compete for the tax credits. This helps to ensure that programs and activities funded are relevant and appropriate to the particular local community.
  • -  Second, state government will have oversight because they will review each application and determine which groups receive an allocation of tax credits. Those applications will specify how the CDC will evaluate and measure success. The state will then collect data and reports to measure progress and outcomes.
  • -  Third, the CDCs will need to convince private sector donors – corporate and individual – to make donations with the tax credit creating an incentive, but no guarantee, that funds will be provided.

We believe that having three levels of accountability increases the likelihood that the CDPA will be successful as compared to a program that is designed to simply meet the needs of a specific funder or stakeholder.  To be successful, CDCs will need to innovate, partner, measure, learn, and adapt. CDCs that don’t will surely lose the support of at least one of their key stakeholder groups – if not all of them – and fall out of the program.

Performance and ensure accountability are core values for MACDC. Look for future blog posts about other ways that MACDC, its members and our partners are seeking to advance those values. And, please, share your own!

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Will Social Impact Bonds Really Improve Nonprofit Performance?

March 2nd, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

The Obama Administration has appropriately placed a high priority on driving better performance in both the public and nonprofit sectors as they seek to tackle serious social and economic challenges. This includes a heightened emphasis on research, evaluation and funding “programs that work.”  All of this is certainly welcome news. Unfortunately, as part of this effort, the Administration has embraced a new idea that I fear could take us in the wrong direction.

In the FY 2012 budget, President Obama has proposed  $100 million to fund co-called Social Impact Bonds. The purpose of the Social Impact Bond is to create a new capital market that will encourage private, profit-motivated investors to fund social programs that “work.”  Essentially, an investor would front the money to pay for a particular program. If and when the program achieved the designated benchmarks, the government would pay the investor for the cost of the program plus enough to cover their risk and earn a profit. The theory is to create a market where investors can make money by investing in effective social programs.

Sounds good right? The government only pays if the program works. Taxpayer money is no longer wasted on ineffective programs. Private sector discipline and oversight is brought to bear on the nonprofit sector!    But wait! Is this really going to work? Is creating a Wall Street-like investment market the best way to strengthen nonprofit performance? Judging from the performance of Wall Street in recent years (have you read The Big Short?), one has to at least ask the question!

While I understand the appeal of this idea – and would welcome new sources of funding for high performing social programs – we need to carefully examine the implications of this approach to funding non-profit social service programs.  I see many serious questions that advocates of these bonds need to answer before tax dollars are invested.

First, Social Impact Bonds are likely to encourage functional specialization and silo-thinking. Money will flow to programs that can hit a single key benchmark so programs will be designed to do just one thing – achieve that benchmark. This will take the idea of “teaching to the test” to an entirely new level. Programs with multiple positive social impacts will be undervalued (like housing which provides economic, educational, health, public safety, and quality of life benefits) while programs with high externalities will be overvalued  just as they are in the private economy (i.e. programs that improve outcomes in some areas at the expense of others.) What makes this all the more puzzling is that in other programs, the Obama Administration is promoting comprehensive, placed based approaches that seek multiple quantitative and qualitative outcomes through multiple interventions. I don’t understand why they would support a new funding scheme that drives in the opposite direction.

Second, will these bonds discourage collaboration because this funding approach places much more emphasis on which nonprofit should “get the credit” for the “success?  If a student’s test scores improve, who should get the credit and therefore the money? The school? The tutor? The afterschool program? The social worker who helped the student deal with early life traumas? The parents? The next door neighbor who helped with math homework? The Little League that gave her an opportunity to grow and mature and have fun? The library where she did her homework and used a computer? How much time and money do we want to spend sorting through all the possible reasons and their relative impact on the child so we can sort out who gets how much money?  Does that create a collaborative culture?

A third potential problem with this approach is that it may over-estimate our ability to identify the correct metrics and to measure them correctly. Long term data is very difficult to secure and causal relationships can be very hard to discern. In our quest for market clarity, we are certain to over simplify and choose metrics that are easy to collect, count and standardize, even if they don’t tell us the full story or even an accurate story.  This is particularly true when attacking complex, systemic problems such as educational and health disparities, environmental justice, or land use development.

A fourth problem is likely to be cream skimming. Organizations will have a powerful financial incentive to cherry pick the best clients that maximize their chances for hitting performance benchmarks. Supporters say that they can guard against this, but history shows that powerful financial incentives work – they will motivate performance but they will also motivate people to “screen” clients before enrolling them in programs.  And now we will have powerful investors pushing in this direction!

Fifth, advocates say these bonds will promote innovation, but I think it is much more likely that investment dollars will flow to safe, well-known, programs. New, untested ideas, will have a very hard time attracting investors – and those who are attracted may seek returns that taxpayers cannot afford.

I also wonder whether a Bond Market can really think about long term solutions. Will investors be willing to wait 5, 10 or even 20 years to see transformative impact? Or will they only be interested in programs that can achieve benchmarks within 1 or 2 years.  And if we are looking at long term impacts, do we have the ability to measure impact and causation sufficiently well to ensure that the right programs are getting paid? And how would we control for macro economic impacts that may cloud our ability to see the impact of individual programs?

Finally, a Social Impact Bond Market will undoubtedly become a massively complicated system as investors seek to bundle investments, guard against losses, shift risk to other parties, scale up, and otherwise replicate traditional investment markets. Lawyers, accountants, advisors and intermediaries will be needed and they will all need to be paid (handsomely, no doubt.) A program designed to save taxpayer money could easily end up costing far more. Remember, this program will leverage private capital, but at the end of the day, the taxpayer must pay for all the costs plus the profit or return. There is no free lunch and if investors start to lose money the bond market will dry up very quickly.

Everyone wants to fund “what works” and no one wants to pay for programs that don’t achieve real outcomes. But the world is complicated and it does not help to pretend otherwise. Positive social outcomes are usually the result of multiple interventions, programs and causes – including some that operate at the macroeconomic level that is far beyond the scope of a single nonprofit program. And performance metrics can only capture so much. When a new playground opens it may significantly improve the quality of life for children and families nearby. But will a new playground translate into measurable and statistically significant reductions in obesity? Or increases in family incomes? Or improved educational attainment?  Probably not. Does that mean we should stop "wasting" money on playgrounds because the "don't work?"

We absolutely need to fund programs that work. But my concern is that program evaluation is too important for us to dumb it down into numerical measures that Wall Street investors can understand but don’t tell us the true story of what is happening in our communities.  Instead, we need to build capacity in the nonprofit sector to conduct robust and meaningful program evaluation and to take advantage of new information technology that can improve our understanding of program impacts.  And we need to fully fund those activities. I fully support public-private partnerships and programs that leverage private investment (MACDC has filed its own legislation designed to do just that) but we have to be very careful how we design these programs less we suffer serious unintended consequences.

Commenting Closed

New Report is Required Reading for Community Developers

February 25th, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

A new report by Enterprise Community Partners provides an insightful analysis into the financial challenges facing community developers and offers thoughtful recommendations for how to address them at the organizational and system levels. It should be required reading for all community developers and their supporters.

The report, Building Sustainable Organizations for Affordable Housing and Community Development Impact, affirms many of the conclusions and recommendations developed by the Massachusetts Community Development Innovation Forum over the past three years.  Enterprise conducted an in-depth analysis of 10 nonprofit organizations that have faced financial crisis in recent years and examined systemic issues that contribute to financial weakness. The report also identifies the particular strengths and weaknesses facing neighborhood based organizations. Finally, the report offers recommendations for both community development organizations and for funders/lenders.

According to Enterprise, community development organizations should:

  • - Strengthen their financial reporting and management,
  • - Beware of one-time cash receipts and manage them effectively,
  • - Diversity revenue streams, but only by growing strategically into business lines that align with organizational mission and can be profitable in the long-term,
  • - Prioritize financial sustainability to ensure that long-term organizational health is not endangered by a single project or program, even one that has high mission impact, and
  • - Collaborate to reduce costs, improve quality, and expand impact.

Enterprise offers the following recommendations to funders and lenders:

  • - Incentivize long-term ownership and stewardship of affordable housing assets by allowing cash flow to be paid to a project’s sponsor,
  • - Set realistic property and asset management fees and structure deals with sufficient cash flow to pay them, and
  • - Embrace an early warning system to address problem properties and weak organizations quickly before they grow beyond repair.

Here in Massachusetts we are already taking action to implement many of these recommendations. We are promoting the implementation of the Strength Matters TM financial reporting system and providing other training and support to improve financial management. We are offering training for asset management and advocating for increased asset management fees. And we are engaged in an active discussion about how to improve cash flow and reduce reliance on one-time developer fees. And, of course, we are implementing a host of new collaborations. The Enterprise report will hopefully fuel these efforts and secure broader support for making the changes needed to sustain and grow the community development field.

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Can Massachusetts Replicate Policy Success Achieved in Other States?

February 23rd, 2011 by Joe Kriesberg

Throughout my years at MACDC, I have been an active participant in a network of CDC associations from around the country. The network – first convened by the National Congress for Community Economic Development and now by the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA) – provides an opportunity to learn about programs and policies in other states that might be applicable in Massachusetts. (It’s also a great place to commiserate with the very small group of people who do the same work we do at MACDC!)

The Mel King Institute for Community Building was partially inspired by CED training programs in other states and now MACDC is trying to replicate another successful approach that has been well tested in other states.  For years, state and cities around the country have operated so-called “Neighborhood Assistance Programs” that provide tax credits to encourage corporations and individuals to donate more money to selected community based nonprofit organizations that offer high quality programming.  The programs vary from place to place, with some placing more emphasis on community development and others on human services. The size of the credit can range from 30% to100% and from one year to 10 years. And some programs are more competitive than others. In each case, the programs foster stronger partnerships between the private sector and the non profit sector and they leverage public investment with private contributions.

After studying a number of these programs, in particular Philadelphia, New Jersey and South Carolina, MACDC has proposed legislation to create the Community Development Partnership program here in Massachusetts. (We also looked at Virgina, Indiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Deleware.) Earlier this year, Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Linda Dorcena Forry, along with 46 other legislators filed this bill for consideration in the State House. We think the bill takes some of the best elements of the different programs around the country and tailors them to the Massachusetts context. Specifically, the bill would provide a 50% tax credit to corporations and individuals who make a donation to community based organizations that have been carefully vetted through a competitive process administrated by DHCD. To qualify, the community organization must first be certified as a CDC under MGL Chapter 40H to ensure that the group is both genuinely community based and has a core mission of community development. Second, the organization must be selected by DHCD for a tax credit award through a highly competitive process in which each organization submits a thoughtful, long term business plan that outlines their goals, strategies and metrics for success. I encourage you to read the legislation and/or our summary of the bill to learn more.

The key idea behind the bill is that local community members can use this program to develop and implement their own local strategies for creating jobs, growing businesses, building homes and otherwise improving their communities. It will support demand driven community development in a way that we have never been able to do before and will increase the scale and impact of our community development efforts throughout the state.

You will be reading more about this exciting new legislation in future blog posts. You can also learn more about how these programs work and other community development initiatives around the country by joining MACDC at NACEDA’s Annual Summit in Washington, DC from May 23 -25.   Please join us!

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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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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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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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National Institute Will Advance Community Building

April 28th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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