Massachusetts has a well-developed – and well-regarded – community development sector but not all areas in the State are as strongly developed as others. In the Gateway Cities, the community development corporations (CDCs) work in the context of struggling economies, greater poverty, and tighter fiscal constraints than the Boston metro area. Over the last several years, the Gateway City CDCs have had to weather the recession, reductions in federal funding, and decreasing philanthropic contributions. The Community Investment Tax Credit is an important new source of funding, but the 12 Gateway Cities with CDCs only realized a smaller portion of the statewide total, according to an analysis performed by Clark University.
In Worcester, the second largest city in New England, the city’s six CDCs have struggled to find ways to cover these shortfalls in order to continue to provide housing and services to people living in the city. While each CDC is in a different position, most struggle to identify sites, assemble project financing, and support the necessary staff to carry out these projects from pre-planning to development to operation.
Recognizing a need to change this dynamic, CEDAC along with its partners Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP) and Clark University (Clark) launched a series of workshops with the CDCs to help build confidence for continued City and State investment in affordable housing projects in Worcester. Between September 2017 and January 2018, CEDAC, MHP and Clark hosted four two-hour trainings focused on the critical topics of financial reporting, board development, asset management, and collaboration, bringing in experienced practitioners to lead each discussion. The sessions involved board and staff members from all six of the Worcester-area CDCs: Main South CDC, New Americans CDC, Worcester Common Ground CDC, Oak Hill CDC, Worcester East Side CDC, and Worcester Community Housing Resources, Inc. Another goal of these discussions has been to foster a more collaborative working group that can tackle issues together, strengthening their relationships with each other as well as with the city and the state.
Increased housing production and greater collaboration are particularly important as the real estate boom continues to reshape Worcester. Ensuring an adequate supply of affordable housing will mean that existing residents can benefit from new investment in the neighborhoods. Stronger CDCs play an important role in the city, drawing on their deep roots in the community to deliver vital programs and services and to serve populations most in need of housing.
CEDAC has long-standing relationships with each of the Worcester CDCS, which was a key factor in developing trust and encouraging participation in the workshops. Each of the Worcester CDCs have benefitted from CEDAC’s technical assistance and funding for site acquisition and early stage project development. MHP shares a similar mission regarding affordable housing, and towards this end, works with communities to build organizational capacity. Over the years, Clark University has helped transform the Main South neighborhood, and through its graduate program in Community Development and Planning, has educated many students who eventually staff these CDCs. For this much needed capacity building initiative, it was logical that these three organizations collaborated, each bringing their own unique strengths.
The workshop participants found the experience helpful and were able to immediately implement what they learned. In the post-training evaluation, one participant wrote, “In every workshop, the speakers were extremely knowledgeable, well-prepared and interesting… the information provided was always pertinent, practical and useful. In each case, I learned things in a different way or from a different perspective.” The next step in the process is to develop additional workshops to support the organizations’ capacity building.
Each region of the state has its own history and challenges when it comes to creating a strong community development system. The positive results in Worcester can be used in other regions such as the Merrimack Valley, Pioneer Valley, and Cape Cod – and can be applied to other states, many of whom have less mature community development corporations working to create affordable housing in low income communities.