Our nation is in the middle of a painful and divisive chicken and egg debate. As many troubled communities face devastatingly high unemployment rates, they are also experiencing rampant family dissolution – fatherless homes, babies having babies, children with no sense of values or of their own value.
Some say that after years of disinvestment and federal policies that encouraged family breakup, what we’re seeing should come as no surprise and can be turned around by focusing on creating jobs. Period. To say otherwise is to blame the victim and avoid the real issues.
Others feel that these wounds can only be dealt with by facing the moral and social dimensions of the problem. For real change, they assert, we need to have the courage to step forward and say what’s “wrong” and what’s “right” in behavior and values.
Both arguments are persuasive, but it is time to stop arguing and find common ground and meaningful solutions.
One solution is… jobs. This issue of Shelterforce presents a series of articles exploring ways community-based organizations can create job opportunities. David Scheie gives us an overview of strategies for CBOs to consider. Jed Emerson provides guidelines and cautions on the creation of for-profit enterprises. Bennett Hecht shows multi-family housing managers how to use their properties to create jobs. And Robert Zdenek introduces us to individual development accounts as a promising way to encourage asset development for low-income people. These assets can be used for, among other things, enterprise creation.
Leading off our series is an opinion piece on jobs and community building by economist Richard Taub. Closing the series is a chronicle, by Barbara Duffield of the National Coalition for the Homeless, of what happened to one family who lost their main source of income after an injury on the job.
More Than Jobs
Even though our issue is about job creation, we can’t leave aside the social dimension. A few weeks ago, the National Congress for Community Economic Development celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a conference and party in New York City. This organization promotes the primacy of economic development and in its conference extolled the tremendous amount of economic development for which CBOs have been responsible over the past decades.Nonetheless, in a plenary session that honored mature CDCs like Chicanos Por La Causa and CDC of Kansas City, the painful, difficult, and even dangerous work performed by these pioneers was recognized, and the importance of CDCs’ community-building role was acknowledged. That role (which Alice Shabecoff and Paul Brophy described in Shelterforce #87) may well be the matrix from which community revitalization – including economic redevelopment – can occur.
If you’ve been following HUD’s Mark-to-Market saga, you know that hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units are in danger of losing their affordability. Our parent organization, the National Housing Institute, just finished a study that examines how nonprofit organizations successfully saved affordable multi-family housing. The study – funded by the Ford Foundation – will be distributed to readers in place of our next issue of Shelterforce.
How CBOs build community, and how they work with other civil institutions – schools, police, religious organizations – will be the focus of an intensive one-day workshop to be held by NHI this November. Plan to read about the workshop here early next year.
Pat Morrissy Moves On – Down the Hall
Over the past two years, the editorship of Shelterforce has been in transition. That transition is now complete with Pat Morrissy’s recent resignation as co-editor.
Pat is one of the original Shelterforce founders (1975) and served as editor from 1989 to ’95. For the past 10 years, he has also been director of HANDS, Inc., a CDC that shares office space with Shelterforce. As HANDS expands, Pat’s CDC duties demand even more of his time. However, Pat will continue to write for us in a new column about the challenges of community development from a CDC director’s perspective.
Thanks Pat, for your insight, graciousness, inexhaustible good cheer, and most of all, friendship.