Creating a Community Development Corporation

The funding for downtown programs has changed as some of the new regulations continue to emerge. Every time a Governor changes the rules on the housing and development money change a little bit. Each Governor puts his or her own spin on things and tries to tailor funding toward their philosophy. 

Changes in the funding streams create new opportunities for communities to participate in the vision that the Governor and his staff have formulated. This is the fourth change I have seen. I started doing this work in the Thornburgh administration and saw the changes of the Casey Administration, to the Ridge Administration, the Rendell Administration and Now the fourth change . . . the Corbett administration.  Through the five Governors, there were and are subtle differences, as the programs always changed names. There is sometimes a difference in focus.

The projects were initially defined by the Main Street project goals and objectives. The addition of homeowner-housing programs has been a big help to communities. That initiative was through the legislature and showed up programmatically as the Elm Street program. This program is particularly popular with residents because it brings community oriented projects to the table. 

I have found that creating a Community Development Corporation is the best way to work through the difficulties of defining task and mission for an organization. Although there is “economic development” that tends to take place in many communities it is the “community development” that is the straw that stirs the drink.

I may have been a little ahead of the curve as I initiated a program that combined homeowner-housing rehabilitation with the Main Street program in 1990 in DuBois, PA.  I thought it was a good economy of scale for the housing to be handled in the same organization as the main street. In the rural areas, it is hard to find housing initiatives on the local level. There are regional programs that, at times, will offer programs for housing like the Appalachian Regional Commission that are normally directed through the Local Development District (LLD).

The new plans from the current administration seem to offer the opportunity to provide both housing and commercial development in one package. This is somewhat of a reversal of previous administrations. When the administrative funding was part of the Main Street and Elm Street programs they tended to want to keep the projects separate. Now with the advent of no administrative funding for the programs, there is less emphasis on keeping the projects separate.

So you ask “what does this mean to my community?” Well I guess it means a couple of things. Number one is that you do not have to be a designated community to deal with some of the funding opportunities as they present themselves, and number two, if you have an existing organization, it is now okay to do both through the one organization.  It does not waive the public participation portion of the program. The programs still has to be “of you,” not “at you.” The program still needs to make sense, but the caveats as to why you cannot get funding have lessened.

Planning for the future it would seem like the Community Development Corporation (CDC) model would be viable for at least the next couple of years. One could set up the organization to be able to deal with the commercial business district and the areas surrounding the district.

Very rarely do you find a bombed out central business district that has nice housing surrounding the district. In most cases, it is a fact that if the housing is bad in the area that has had an affect of the viability of the central business district. By creating one entity to deal with the programs, it can target aid to the areas that need it in a symbiotic way.

The CDC could be structured in a number of ways with sub-committee structures, which will not dilute the main board. Of course, you will need a 501 C-3 organization status and all of the paperwork and restrictions that go with the designation. I think it is worth it. To concentrate all of the efforts into one project would enable people to move faster and not worry about overlapping jurisdictions and other organizations goals that may or may not conflict.

It was the strategy I used in Phoenixville and it worked. It can work for you too!