When CDCs Do “More”

For CDCs to stay alive and relevant they must diversify funding and activities, and keep a running dialogue with their communities, among other things. Bill Rohe, Rachel Bratt and Protip Biswas made these points in an article in our May/June issue that examined four CDCs that failed.

But should every CDC survive? In a recent issue of Housing Policy Debate*, Randy Stoecker argues that other models may be more suitable – not all CDCs are worth saving. “It is possible that an overemphasis on preserving CDCs may confuse the ends with the means,” Stoecker writes. “The end is empowered, self-sustaining communities of place and identity. CDCs are but one means of trying to get there.” Too often, CDCs harden into technical organizations – expert at navigating the world of builders and funders, less adept at staying authentically connected to their communities. According to Stoecker, too few CDCs engage in organizing, and their strategies may be out of date.

Some form of this argument has been going on for decades in the world of community development. Over the last several years we’ve explored the tension between development and direct action in our own pages. Neither is mutually exclusive, of course, but development and organizing draw on different skills and resources in ways that can place one in conflict with the other. Still, there are CDCs that find ways to do both. And how they mobilize their communities sometimes has less to do with confrontation than with simply providing new models of thinking and behavior.

For example, the Women’s Transitional Housing Coalition in Duluth, MN, expanded its mission by helping to develop permanent housing and women’s skills so they could enter the construction trades. The training program attracted women who always wanted to explore construction careers and others who never gave it a thought before seizing the opportunity. But when the women talk about their experiences, it’s clear that the program has given them more than a job. The women talk about learning in a supportive environment and how they now look at their lives differently. They also praise the camaraderie of the work site and the openness that is encouraged in discussions about race, culture and sexual orientation. They build and renovate low-income housing, learn skills on the job and subvert the old way of doing things. In short, the women are participating in the creation of an empowering, self-sustaining community.

It’s usual in tough economic times to talk about doing more with less. But sometimes the “more” that can be done has nothing to do with funding or even creating a new program, and everything to do with the spirit in which an organization carries out its existing work – whether building, delivering services or organizing.

In the same issue about CDC failures, we discussed mergers and collaborations as a way for organizations to avoid closing their doors for good. In this issue, Protip Biswas continues that conversation, describing yet another option for CDCs: strategic restructuring that invites a range of partnerships, including staff sharing, to reduce expenses without stinting on services.

Also in This Issue

The vanguard for disability rights is using government funding for independent living, not consignment to “the disability gulag,” as a recent New York Times writer so memorably described it. Dede Leydorf guides us through the private and public resources that can help people with disabilities purchase their own home.

Block organizing is as basic as it gets when engaging the community, and nothing motivates a community like crime. But how to make sure the motivation is to stay and fight, not flee? Chloé Mister examines how some Chicago residents are organizing block clubs to make sure they’re not the ones chased out.

New at NHI

We bid a fond farewell to Dana Natale who helped advance our discussions about the environment, race and many other issues during her short but lively tenure as associate director. We wish her the best in her new position as project coordinator for the Community Outreach Partnership Center at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

And we extend a warm welcome to our new operations manager, CJ Griffin. CJ, who was born and raised in rural Kansas, comes to us from the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice where she was a program associate. She also was a project manager for SLAM! Records, a nonprofit organization that uses music to engage youth in progressive activities. CJ attended Virginia Tech, where she was president of the LGBT Alliance and opinions editor for the Collegiate Times. She is currently completing her B.S. at Empire State College.

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