"Director's Report - The Center for Community Change,"by Deepak Bhargava & Rich Stolz November/December 2002 issue of Poverty & Race
We periodically print reports from PRRAC Board mmebers on their work and the work of their organizations related to PRRACís mission. In our March/April issue, Deepak Bhargava described in detail the work of the Center for Community Changeís Jobs and Income Support project, built around the welfare reform reauthorization process. Since the Center Ė which Deepak has just been named to head Ė does so much more than that one important project, we wanted to print a second article on the other elements of their work - CH
Union leaders, community activists, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial and a special grant from the Ford Foundation established the Center for Community Change in 1967. The Center grew out of experiments in the 1960s to build community unions, and it emerged out of a pre-existing organization called the Citizenís Crusade Against Poverty. From the beginning, the Center has had this mission:
Every year, the Centerís staff provides an array of assistance to hundreds of organizations that work in low-income communities, helping them get started, develop effective boards, raise money, organize their communities, win issue campaigns, build housing, and develop their local economies. It can be difficult to fully explain the range of activities that Center staff conduct at any given moment, but the Center remains a powerful institutional presence for social change in Washington, DC, and remains committed to movement-building.
The core of the Centerís work is helping to build organizations. This stems from our belief that social change happens through organizations of well-informed and active community leaders. The Centerís staff Ė many of whom managed community organizations before they came to the Center Ė devote a great deal of energy to the practice of ďorganizational development (OD).Ē How the Center conducts OD depends on the organization.
For some organizations, the Center responds to specific requests, such as conducting a management assessment or helping develop a fund-raising plan. For many others, the Center provides very intensive, holistic, long-term assistance, often involving several staff. The goal is to build an organization that will thrive when the Center begins to do less.
A case in point is a congregation-based community-organizing project in Hawaii, named Faith Action for Community Empowerment (FACE). In the late 1990s, local congregations began the long process of trying to build a faith-based, community-led institution to fight for reform. They invited the Center to participate in the development of the organization and to help nurture its growth. By 1999, with the Centerís help, FACE succeeded in doing something that had not happened before in Hawaii Ė they established a broad-based, multi-ethnic, interfaith membership organization.
FACE moved quickly to impact several issues of concern to its membership, including new hiring agreements to connect low-income Honolulu residents to city jobs and an agreement from the local housing authority to renovate a deteriorating housing project rather than demolish it and uproot families.
Linking Community Organizing to Public Policy
The Centerís Public Policy Unit sets itself apart from most other policy departments in Washington, through its approach to policy change. Perhaps the best example of this work is the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support (NCJIS), a special project of the Center staffed to a large degree by the Centerís Policy Unit. NCJIS is a national coalition of grassroots organizing projects connected directly to federal policy change efforts around reauthorization of the 1996 welfare reform legislation, and driven by a commitment to grassroots organizing and leadership development. (See March/April 2002 P&R.)
The Policy Unit also houses a Transportation Equity Project, the core of which is the Transportation Equity Network, a national network of grassroots organizations concerned with the impact of transportation policy on low-income and minority communities. Much of the projectís focus is on reauthorization of the federal transportation law, scheduled for renewal in 2003. This mammoth $200 billion-plus bill will help to determine how much funding will be available to address the welfare-to-work needs of low-income families attempting to get to jobs and related services. It will also determine the planning and project development process and the extent to which the environmental justice concerns of low-income and minority communities will be considered in these processes. (See "Race, Poverty & Transportation," by Rich Stolz, in the March/April 2000 P&R.) The project also provides extensive technical assistance to a range of community groups working on transportation equity campaigns in their neighborhoods, metropolitan regions and states.
The Policy Unit also houses our Education Project, which is organized around the conviction that parents can play a vital role in boosting the success of public schools. In response to mounting requests from community groups, the Center established the project to provide issue technical assistance at the local level; to bring grassroots groups organizing on education issues together in order to discuss new and emerging education organizing strategies; and to explore opportunities for impacting federal education policy. One of the projectís signature products is Education Organizing, a newsletter that explores issues of importance to low-income communities and also shares techniques and tactics in organizing around education issues. (To subscribe to Education Organizing, email Leigh Dingerson at email@example.com.)
These two projects are in addition to the Policy Unitís ongoing presence in workforce development and jobs organizing, and policy development reflected in the issue priorities of the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support.
Addressing Affordable Housing
One of the most significant issues facing low-income communities across the country is the affordable housing crisis. As the economy boomed throughout most of the 1990s, rental costs soared. And even as families face difficulties securing jobs in an economic downturn, there is a lack of available affordable housing in most urban and metropolitan areas. Nationwide, thousands of families languish on waiting lists for publicly subsidized housing. At the same time, local housing authorities have demolished public housing units without replacing them, and in the process have displaced families and destroyed communities.
The Center houses a number of projects aimed at addressing the affordable housing crisis through a range of related, but distinct, strategies:
One major source of revenue for affordable housing are housing trust funds Ė collectively, these funds are the largest new source of local and state money for affordable housing. A housing trust fund is created when a long-term source of public revenue, such as real estate transfer taxes, is committed to providing housing for lower-income households. The Centerís Housing Trust Fund Project has been involved in creating more than half of the 275 trust funds now active across the nation. Each year these funds generate more than $750 million and leverage at least $250 billion through other public and private sources.
Taking a step back to examine the flow of private capital to low-income communities is the Neighborhood Revitalization Project (NRP), which has been a national leader in helping low-income communities to understand the changing world of financial services and learn how to operate within it. NRP, which grew out of the Centerís efforts in the 1970s and 1980s to address discrimination in home mortgages, has continued to push for policy changes to increase the flow of private capital to low-income communities. Such issues include predatory lending practices in the sub-prime lending market and the responsibility of non-financial institutions, for example insurance companies, to reinvest in low-income communities.
To complement the creation of local housing trust funds and other efforts to bring more investment in communities, the Center is also a major partner in the National Housing Trust Fund Campaign, a coalition-led effort (working with the National Low Income Housing Coalition and many grassroots networks) to advocate for new federal resources for the construction of affordable housing. This campaign, which involves more than 2,400 organizations, is organizing at both the local and national level for the creation of a dedicated source of funding -- profits from various FHA and GNMA programs -- to rehabilitate, build and preserve up to 1.5 million units of deeply targeted affordable housing.
The Center also supports Everywhere and Now Public Housing Residents Organizing Nationally Together (ENPHRONT), a national grassroots coalition of public housing residents. The Centerís Public Housing Initiative, which staffs ENPHRONT, is one of the nation's prime leaders in helping to protect and improve public housing. It also helps resident organizations to increase their power and capacity to improve overall conditions in their housing developments, and organizes efforts to educate federal and local policy makers on the need for more affordable public housing. Along with other groups (including PRRAC), ENPHONT has co-authored "False HOPE: A Critical Assessment of the HOPE VI Public Housing Redevelopment Program" (available at www.nhlp.org).
Other CCC Initiatives
The range of activities at the Center is both broad and deep, and itís impossible to describe all of it in a brief article. The following is a listing of additional Center for Community Change projects:
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