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3/25/01: The following is a hodgepodge of articles from a variety of
sources (ShelterForce Magazine, NeighborWorks, LISC, and HUD) that highlights an
interesting question CDCs in Miami-Dade are currently facing: what is the fundamental
role of CDCs? Are they just nonprofit affordable housing providers or something
a Different Kind of CDC
The many promoters of CDCs cite their housing productivity. Without CDCs, advocates
contend, there would be no redevelopment in urban Americas most deteriorated neighborhoods.
Further, CDCs are more likely than for-profit developers to meet the needs of the
poor and even raise expectations that will lead to political pressure for social
But some activists and analysts counter that however much housing CDCs produce,
they have not reversed social decay, empowered community residents, or changed the
balance of power at any political level. Some even wonder if CDCs are a case of
social movement cooptation. They charge that CDCs have separated from their grassroots
base and become just another developer..., rather than organizing and fighting for
the social change necessary to sustain communities. While CDCs have taken on a heroic
task in trying to rebuild communities devastated by disinvestment, the lack of CDC
success at anything but housing is profound, their funding base is threatened more
each year, and the reality of their cooptation is generating more and more disillusionment.
New Roles for CDC Movement
An important and positive shift is taking place in the community development movement,
a shift that holds great promise for poor communities in America. This shift, known
as "community building," has come to stand for a more comprehensive approach
to community renewal than has been practiced in the past. It is based on an understanding
that the best way to fight poverty and increase economic opportunity in poor neighborhoods
is to invest in the kinds of social capital that comprise the "fabric"
of community: mutual assistance networks, social and economic relationships, public
safety, and education, to name a few. Today, the emergence of the community building
movement is challenging community - based organizations such as CDCs to broaden
their efforts and reconnect with residents. In the process these same organizations
are re - tooling and re - examining their relationship with, and role within, the
communities they serve. Practitioners, funders, and policy experts in our field
now have an opportunity to practice a more direct and aggressive strategy of community
While the term "community building" tends to cover a wide range of approaches,
for CDCs at least, it has come to be defined by a number of important shifts in
the practice of community development:
Emerging Models of Neighborhood Planning
A shift toward more comprehensive approaches to
community development that involve a wide range of non - bricks and mortar activities.
Also, a perspective that recognizes the multiple linkages between housing and economic
development and the wide range of social development efforts
A heavier emphasis on community organizing as
a strategy for identifying and developing community leaders and shaping the kinds
of local issues that effect the progress of the community renewal effort.
A renewed emphasis on community planning, and
the development of a community building plan, as a prerequisite to development activities.
A more intensive effort to include and involve
neighborhood residents in the organization, planning, and implementation of community
renewal efforts. This stems from a recognition that when residents have a stake
in making positive change, the change is likely to be more long lasting.
More emphasis on making sure there are clear lines
of accountability between the CBO and the community that it represents.
More interest in developing collaborative relationships
among CBOs and achieving a continuum of support at the neighborhood level
Most community building efforts challenge CBOs to do more planning, both internally
and within their target neighborhoods. In some initiatives, the first year or two
of work is dedicated to developing a community plan. This can be a difficult adjustment.
Few groups have experience in planning particularly community planning. The entrepreneurial
culture of many of our most successful CBOs can work against a serious investment
in planning, particularly in organizations where the top staff and key board members
see themselves as "product" people and the organizers as the "process"
Traditional planning processes have proven to be too limited for this work. Newer,
hybrid models that combine community organizing strategies and more creative planning
techniques are emerging. These are proving effective in identifying community strengths
and assets, and solutions that are more organic to the community's values, culture,
The Dudley St. Neighborhood Initiative has developed a style of long - term neighborhood
planning that is integrated with shorter term community organizing "signature
campaigns" short, winnable issue - based efforts that feed people energy and
substance to the longer - term, slower - paced planning work. This strategy has
proven successful in moving a comprehensive community renewal effort forward. Also,
the "asset - based planning" style being taught by John McKnight, Jody
Kretzmann, and others is much more conducive to community building work because
it focuses on building hope, linkages, and leadership, and teaching people about
the inner - workings of their communities.
The future work of community development must be focused on doing a few things
1) Developing Core Capacities in Organizing and Planning:
There remain too few opportunities for those in the field particularly young people
to access quality training and support in the basic tools of community organizing
and community planning, such as community analysis and assessment, one - on - ones,
small group facilitation, coalition building, and so on. Unfortunately, much of
the organizing training available is either steeped in dogma or directly connected
to specific models of organizing. Organizing chauvinism and the myth of pure or
"real" organizing has not served our movement well. Not every organizer
will be or needs to be another Saul Alinsky. Organizing has to be seen less as a
sacred priesthood and more as a set of skills that can be learned and practiced
by all kinds of people, in a variety of organizational settings. Specifically, we
2) Building Organizational Strength
Increase support for training and recruitment
of young community organizers, who can thoroughly be trained in the art/science
of community building styles of organizing and community planning.
Expose executive directors and key board personnel,
whose organizations are participating in community - building efforts, to new organizing
approaches such as Consensus Organizing. They should also be trained in, or at least
become acquainted with, the variety of neighborhood planning models that can be
applied in various situations.
Break down the chauvinism in the field between
product and process people. We need to elevate community organizers and planners
to senior positions in CBOs and move them toward a pay scale that is equivalent
to the technical staff.
Engage urban planning networks in new discussions
about grassroots community planning techniques being practiced by community building
Organize forums among practitioners and activists
to take more control over defining this work and developing pragmatic measures of
success and standards of practice that will elevate the common denominator in the
One wouldn't build a skyscraper on a foundation of sticks and mud. Yet, there is
some danger of this happening in the community - building movement. The foundation
of this entire movement is the CBO and its ability to play an effective role both
representing and serving its community. Yet there remains comparably little investment
in core operating support and helping to re - tool CBOs so they can develop the
new capacities needed to do this work effectively. Organizational development resources
and technical assistance need to be a sizable component of any community building
Promise of Community Building
CDCs, whether with a staff of three or 15, are
stretched thin doing development. Funders and neighborhood needs keep pressing them
to increase output.
CDCs feel that they can't be all things to all
Groups that came into existence for a single purpose,
such as to run training and employment programs, may not at their founding have
had a social mission for the neighborhood.
CDCs are Shaped by Funders: No one is funding
social cohesion. No one even gives a CBDO credit for doing it. Funders have only
recently funded social service initiatives as part of their 'holistic' community
development concept. They certainly aren't funding organizing or activities they
would say are 'soft.'
A look at the movement's history provides another
explanation. Funders' philosophies and priorities have largely shaped CDCs. Private
foundations, corporate donors, and the federal government are not institutions often
known for their courage, tenacity, and risk-taking.
Initially, CDCs were to be more than generators
of housing and economic development. Behind the Special Impact Program - later Title
VII of the Economic Opportunity Act - lay the notion that comprehensive efforts
were needed to attack the problems of poor neighborhoods and communities. CDCs would
assist in the economic, social, and physical revitalization of low-income communities.
They would develop jobs, improve services, build indigenous leadership, and involve
private enterprise in the rebuilding process. Neighborhood residents would be an
integral part of this work, both serving on CDC boards and as an active constituency...
Lured by the siren call of funders, many CDCs
dropped their organizing, advocacy, and community leadership development activities.
Not much is known about what works in social cohesion
practices, and how to measure success.
Community building projects are often ill - defined
at the point of funding. Early efforts tend to be loosely organized with little
quality control. Because the quality and outcomes of this work can be more difficult
to measure than housing production, it can be difficult to distinguish between excellence
and mediocrity, between a group that is going through the motions and a group with
real ambition. We, as a field, have not yet developed a strong enough body of best
practice or industry standards for this work from which to easily separate the high
quality performers from the rest of the field. CBOs and funders alike are grasping
for ways to define success
Community building is helping to re - focus our movement on the full range of changes
needed to renew community and rebuild poor neighborhoods. It represents a more honest
view of the complexity and richness of the struggle. The promise of community building
will not fully reveal itself in three years, seven years, or even 10 years. It may
require at least a generation of sustained support, dialogue, and major investment
in evaluation and peer learning in order to mine from this work the new paradigms
that will guide the progress of American community life in the next century.