Back to Neighborhood Transformation mainpage
3/7/02: The following is from the recent edition of ShelterForce that
members m ight find of use and enjoy.
Before You Begin
things a community organization should consider before getting into the development
By Bob Brehm
1. Check the fit: Values. Have a frank discussion about the values and practices
that are most important to your group. Which of those are likely to be challenged
by your involvement in this project? How will you address those challenges when
they arise? Can you imagine moving from being an advocate for a resident whose landlord
is demanding overdue rent to having to evict that same family for non-payment in
order to meet your mortgage obligations? The objective here is not to predict every
eventuality in advance, but to prepare the group for those conflicts.
2. Check the fit: Vision. Undertake a two-part visioning exercise. First,
focus on a common vision for the community. Second, develop a vision for the housing
project and its potential effects on the community and the organization. The vision
should be a practical one, tempered by the group's capacity, the community's current
situation, and the availability of resources.
3. Check the fit: Strategy. Development work - on the scale at which most
small groups are able to pursue it - is of real value only in the context of empowering
people. How will you make sure the two are connected? Is the development project
necessary to your other objectives? If the organizing context is threatened by the
development, or there is little chance the project can complement the organizing
objectives, then maybe you shouldn't do it.
4. Check capacity, and start addressing problems early - before a lender
turns you down because of them.
5. Carefully assess risk. Even if you survive a failed project, local supporters
and funding sources will be less enthusiastic about your organizing and community
6. Consider other options. Look for ways that don't involve becoming a land
owner, or that limit that aspect of your role - you might find you get more done
for the community through an alternative approach. Partnerships with good-guy developers
or the private sector can help a group secure community control over a project without
being the primary landowner and developer. Pushing public agencies and private developers
to do right by the community is another way to influence development.
7. Get help early, both in understanding development and increasing capacity.
Try to get it for free, or at least to get someone else to pay for it.
8. Use outside consultants, but clearly define their roles and manage them
closely - they don't know what's best for your organization.
9. Plan ahead, and thoroughly. You can't possibly have any time, energy
or emotion left over for organizing and community building if you haven't planned
well for managing your development projects and they are instead managing you. Involve
the community in all stages of making these plans.
10. Above all, don't lose sight of who you are and where your true strengths