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3/13/02: The history of community development in Palm Beach County
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The following are excerpts from the 1998 book "Community Organizing: Building
Social Capital as a Development Strategy" by Ross Gittell and Avis Vidal that
details in part the history of the community development movement in Palm Beach
County initiated by MacArthur and LISC. .
The Community Development Movement
in Palm Beach County, Historical Perspective
Palm Beach County, best known for the very wealthy coastal community of Palm Beach,
was the largest of the 3 demonstration sites and was experiencing the most rapid
growth. Its population of approximately 863,500 had increased almost 50% since 1980,
and the U.S. Census Bureau predicted that it would be the fastest growing large
metropolitan area during the 1990s. The local economy was strong, and the county
ranked 9th among all U.S. counties in number of building permits issued.
Underlying this rosy picture, however, were profound contrasts. With an 11 percent
poverty rate, the county was characterized by considerable income disparities, and
uneven development had led to increasing segregation. Much of the housing growth
occurred in unincorporated subdivisions, and property values were steadily rising
beyond the reach of many lower-income households. Minorities, comprising 13% of
the population, became increasingly concentrated in the county's larger, older cities.
Although an Affordable Housing Task Force found that the county would need an additional
6,000 affordable housing units per year to meet the needs of low- and moderate-income
families, local government regulations to slow development made such production
difficult. Some county-wide efforts were initiated to address these problems. For
example, banks formed an affordable housing consortium, and in an effort to increase
minority voting influence, the County Commission (the county's most powerful political
force) was altered in 1998 so that the 7 members represented single districts. Several
neighborhood associations and church based organizations were active in the county's
communities, but none undertook real estate development.
Palm Beach County's intercoastal communities had the highest concentration of poverty
and minorities in the county outside the Glades. In these communities, there had
been a paucity of community development effort. Residents suffered from a history
of racism and neglect. Finally, they lacked effective community-based organization
and leadership that could initiate community development effort.
...Limestone Creek, is a small isolated low-income African American community in
the unincorporated northern part of Palm Beach County. It had limited infrastructure-no
public water or sewers, only two paved roads-even though the communities that surrounded
it (all of which are predominately white) have roads and utilities. The severity
and distinctiveness of Limestone Creek's problems raised the possibility that identifying
and implementing a project would be difficult. Moreover, long-standing neglect and
mistreatment had made residents skeptical that their situation could be changed.
These difficulties were compounded by the neighborhood's small size (well under
1,000 people), which seriously limited the size of the volunteer pool and thus raised
the additional risk that it might prove impossible to build a strong CDC board.
...the program decided to work in a number of neighborhoods that had existing neighborhood
improvement groups (but not CDCs). These neighborhoods included Pleasant City and
Lake Worth...residents of Flamingo Park felt that they were making progress in improving
their community without a CDC and did not need one. Grandview Heights had an existing
informal community group that was not interested in LISC's agenda; they were active
in combatting housing abandonment and drug-related crime and sought to attract more
middle income families to the neighborhood. (In addition to Pleasant City and Lake
Worth), Delray Beach supported an unusually high level of on-going volunteer activity.
Church members and small business owners in Boyton Beach voiced strong interest
in working with the development team to strengthen their neighborhood, while volunteers
in Northwest Riveria Beach were in the early stages of forming a group dedicated
to keeping neighborhood youth away from drugs....
The Pleasant City Community Revitalization Corporation grew out of an organization
formed by members of 5 West Palm Beach churches ad led by well-known, highly regarded
minister, Rev. Tyson. He agreed to take the risk of "giving up" his organization
in exchange for the opportunity to develop a new organization-over which he would
have less control, but which would have broader community support and access to
the resources and expertise of LISC. In Lake Worth, the existing organization was
a relatively new group consisting primarily of white homeowners seeking to stabilize
and strengthen the community that appeared to them to be at risk. Some of the most
active members of this group worked with LISC because they saw the advantage of
having access to the program's resources...