Season of Change

At the apex of the civil rights and social justice movements, a new type of organization, the community development corporation (CDC), was created. CDCs were charged with addressing the massive poverty that resulted, in great measure, from fear and racism in American cities. In 1970, a group of CDCs, funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity under Title VII of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, banded together to form the National Congress for Community Economic Development (see SF #100). By 1977, scores of new CDCs had formed and NCCED opened its doors to them, becoming the voice of the CDC movement. On August 31, NCCED closed its doors.

NCCED contributed much to the CDC world. While the national intermediaries — LISC, Enterprise and Neighborworks America — each provided key pieces to the success of CDCs, and many other organizations, such as the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition advocated for decent housing and fair and equal access to capital for all, NCCED provided technical assistance, policy direction and industry analysis for the burgeoning CDC field. One of their last accomplishments was Reaching New Heights, the fifth census of the CDC industry (still available at ncced.org). Among their many other successes was the recognition and nurturing of a new kind of CDC organization, the statewide CDC association (see SF #144).

Perhaps more than any other of its accomplishments, the growth of the state associations attests both to the insightfulness of NCCED’s leadership and to the ongoing changes in the CDC world and community development in general. Concrete evidence of NCCED’s foresight occurred in Portland, Oregon, a few weeks ago. Over two intense days, 11 CDC network directors met and put into place a new organization, provisionally called the National Association of State Community Economic Development Associations (NASCEDA).

Acutely aware of the changes going on in the CD world, these groups are wrestling with issues of capacity building, institutional roles, federal, state and local policies, and fluidity of project and organizational financing that each of their members face. NASCEDA’s formation acknowledges that while the federal role in CD remains vital, we’ve come a long way from the day Title VII was written. Today’s CDCs have to redefine their roles locally and regionally, develop new skills to remain sustainable and become true community catalysts to assure long-lasting and meaningful change in the places they work. All of which must occur without forgetting the values and history that led to their creation and remain a primary reason for their existence.

The clearheaded, honest discussion held in Portland by NASCEDA, and the thoughtful way they’re approaching the creation of their new organization, will make them a worthy successor to the storied NCCED and assure that NCCED’s legacy will never be forgotten.

Housing for Justice

Even before NCCED was born, the Institute for Community Economics was formed in 1967 to support a new type of housing that was both affordable and promoted economic and racial justice: community land trusts (see SF #121). With both technical assistance and financial support, ICE helped grow the field to its current 200 CLTs, with new ones — and new versions of the CLT model — forming rapidly.

Last spring, Irvine, California, formed a municipal CLT that will create nearly 10,000 units of permanently affordable housing. The city of Chicago created a municipal land trust last January so that all the housing it subsidizes will remain affordable forever and the trust can monitor and enforce the various housing programs the city runs. And in Florida, over 20 cities will be creating CLTs for thousands of Floridians at incomes from 30 to 120 percent of the local median.

But for the CLT world times are changing also. ICE is now seeking to merge with other organizations that will assume its programs and assets. And in July, in Boulder, Colorado, over 300 practitioners and supporters of CLTs met and formed the National CLT Network.

Clearly, ICE did a good job promoting this model. CLTs have reached a tipping point in their evolution as more and more communities embrace them. The new network is well poised to support that growth.

Shared Equity Homeownership

Community land trusts form one part of a new housing sector that includes limited equity co-ops and homes created through inclusionary zoning. In California alone, there are now over 200 cities that have inclusionary ordinances, and in NYC and Washington, DC, there are thousands of units of limited equity co-ops. The sector is the subject of an NHI report, Shared Equity Homeownership, that we released at the CLT conference, and is now available at nhi.org. Third sector housing — between rental and fee-simple homeownership — holds out the promise of an innovative solution to today’s housing crisis. But first, policymakers and affordable housing practitioners must embrace the change.

Change and Opportunity

Change can be good or bad. For some, such as the Katrina survivors in Texas facing uncertainty about their future or the thousands of households hoping to avoid foreclosure with the aid of local nonprofits, their new realities are harsh and painful. But some change holds promise. In a few weeks we go into an election that may give progressives supportive of affordable housing and economic justice the opportunity to change the federal power equation. Let’s make sure our voice is heard.

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Corrections

  • The job title of Chip Halbach, who was quoted in the Summer 2006 issue in “Managing the Message,” is executive director of the Minnesota Housing Partnership, the lead sponsor of HousingMinnesota.
  • Nicole Marwell, whose letter to the editor was published in that same issue, is with Columbia University, not New York University.

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