VOL. 115 | NO. 43 | Tuesday, March 6, 2001
The stories all have a similar ring to them
City CDCs providing many redevelopment needs
By JENNIFER MURLEY
The Daily News
The stories all have a similar ring.
"We used to have prostitutes walking up and down these streets." "That place used to be a crack house." "Two years ago, you wouldnt dare go out after dark in this neighborhood."
These are the "before" stories told by various executive directors involved in the citys Community Development Corp. scene.
Representatives from VECA or the Vollentine Evergreen Community Association, Orange Mound Corp., MANDCO or the Memphis Area Neighborhood Development Corp., The Works and Cooper-Young CDC, one by one aired the struggles theyve faced trying to revitalize their communities on the first-ever CDC tour on Feb. 17.
The tour is one of the many new activities sponsored by Memphis Community Development Partnership.
Although it was only the freshman tour, the importance of this MCDP activity was lost on no one attending. While their respective neighborhoods may have been plagued with the same criminal activity and neglect, each neighborhood tackled the problem differently based on the needs of their community.
According to MCDP, an intermediary organization designed to bring resources and technical assistance to CDCs, thats exactly what it wants to encourage in a CDC, officials said.
"We require that the CDCs take a comprehensive look at their community," said Steve Lockwood, MCDP program director. "You might only be doing housing, but we expect you to go in and look at the whole neighborhood and come from the basis of, Lets figure out where the real pressure points are here."
CDCs attempt to rebuild strong neighborhoods through residential housing, commercial development, rental management, small business lending and funding owner-occupied rehabs.
For example, a common strategy employed by CDCs is to purchase dilapidated properties plaguing troubled segments of the community. They then either build new houses or renovate the existing property if possible, offering the homes to moderate to low-income buyers. The goal is to change the fabric of the troubled area, by sowing homeowners into the community, ultimately making the population less transient and more civic-minded.
However, Lockwood quickly pointed out sometimes issues other than housing are the problem.
"We support one CDC that only does commercial development," he said. "They say their housing market is strong, but what really threatens the neighborhood is the runaway of commercial (development)."
MCDP was formed in 1998 through a partnership between the Ford Foundation, the City of Memphis and various local banks, in response to the need for a local CDC intermediary. The organization provides neighborhood developers with about $700,000 a year in grant money for training, administrative support and technical assistance.
In order to receive MCDP support, the CDC must be involved in at least one of six activities building houses for low income buyers, building rentals for low-income residents, building store fronts to rebuild disinvested neighborhoods, helping current homeowners rehabilitate existing homes, commercial development and workforce development, Lockwood said.
Neighborhoods meeting the requirements are eligible for six types of grants. The smallest awards, technical assistance grants up to $4,500 and planning grants up to $10,000, are disbursed throughout the year.
The larger grants, which include development grants up to $20,000 per CDC and core support grants up to $100,000, are awarded semi-annually in April and October. These grants are designed to cover start up costs on new projects and on-going organizational needs.
Two other grants subsidize two-thirds of a CDC grant writers fee, as well as a consulting firm fee.
Although the MCDP grant budget is gradually expanding, its not growing fast enough, Lockwood said.
"The needs of CDCs are going up three times as fast as their funding."
Rubye Smith, executive director of MANDCO, the oldest CDC in Memphis, said when she first organized her neighborhood development program in 1991 she had no guidance, either financially or philosophically.
"We didnt know what was going to happen, it was just a shot in the dark," Smith said of the South Third Street neighborhood corporation. "Weve just done this through trial and error and figured out what worked best for this area."
After beginning with a basic job-training program, her CDC has evolved into housing development. The CDC shies away from selling homes due to the chronically low-incomes earned by area residents, she said. Instead, MANDCO manages 25 rental units with rents of $360 per month.
Smith said MCDP has provided the backbone financial support her organization was lacking.
"MCDP has really been a catalyst for our growth because they have been able to offset some of the salaries," Smith said. "They also provide monies for the equipment, computers and supplies."
Lockwood, who is now working with about 15 local CDCs, sympathized with MANDCOs pre-MCDP, pioneering plight.
"It was a real lonely feeling for the CDCs, in that, you didnt learn very fast, and there wasnt enough money. People chased dollars in all different wrong directions," he said. Now, in addition to nurturing established CDCs, MCDP is cultivating new neighborhood organizations throughout the city.
Bettye Williams is working with MCDP to organize a new CDC in the Binghampton area.
Williams, community coordinator for the federally funded Binghampton Weed and Seed Program, said between the new library and new police precinct scheduled to move into the neighborhood, development opportunities are everywhere.
Weed and Seed is designed to weed out crime and seed affordable housing and economic development.
"Development is really in place for this community. A CDC would just cap off their opportunity for a better community," Williams said.
MCDP is currently conducting a 10-week training workshop in the neighborhood to educate area leaders on the ins and outs of forming a successful CDC.
"Theyre going to be our guide, to direct us and hopefully fund us when we get up and running. Theyre going to be our mentors."