Restructuring in the works for some CDCs

What do you do when your CDC can’t afford to buy pencils or print business cards, and certainly can’t buy land or buildings?

You consider a major change in the way your CDC functions, is what.

An idea is developing in Massachusetts to help to save several struggling CDCs: by merging several functions, such as financial management and perhaps even housing development, the programs that are at the core of these neighborhood-based organizations’ identities are preserved.

Some CDCs have looked to survive by looking for housing development opportunities outside their traditional neighborhoods, but that is not the solution proposed here. The key, several CDC leaders have concluded, is to change the emphasis from CDCs doing their own housing or economic development to strengthening their organizing, planning, and renter and homeowner assistance programs. These are the programs through which most residents in the neighborhoods have come to know the CDCs over the years. Residents who might mistrust the CDCs because of physical developments in which the agencies were involved are more likely to have faith in the CDCs’ work in the organizing and planning realm.

How will CDCs earn those developer fees that have sustained them over the years? They will have to come up with a framework through which they can share fees earned by some sort of a centralized housing development office. So this won’t just be an office handling back-office functions — it will be like a merger of CDCs. Except that the soul of these organizations will remain where it has always been — in the neighborhoods.

The state chapter of LISC and the statewide CDC network have coordinated a series of meetings over the past year to further the discussion about how to help CDCs move forward in these very challenging times. Look here for a presentation on the issues. The New Communities program started by LISC and CDCs in Chicago has been something of a model for CDCs in Boston. Financial difficulties in rapidly changing neighborhoods were the impetus there as well.

From what I hear, foundations have been desperate for CDCs here to do something like this, and they are likely to put forth some money to make it happen.

David Holtzman is a planner for Louisa County, Virginia, a freelance writer, and a former Shelterforce editor.


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