Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | References & Notes

1. Introduction

Theoretically, citizens with political agendas may use community development corporations (CDCs) to draw attention to, challenge, or counter the decisions of private and public institutions that concern their neighborhoods and/or cities. Avis Vidal (1995, 208) observes, they can be instruments to respond to and seek "to correct, failures in the market and in the social and political infrastructure." Nationally, approximately 1,872 urban CDCs exist (NCCED 1999).(1) Urbanites use them to better the socioeconomic opportunity structures of neighborhoods, especially low and moderate income and nonmajority-white neighborhoods (Stoutland 1999). They direct their energies at affecting physical and commercial infrastructures, along with fostering upward mobility among individuals and families (Vidal 1992, 1995, 1996). Typically, they depend on meager resources. Sparse staff, small annual budgets, and modest project portfolios are common (Vidal 1992). Generally, they address market failures in urban neighborhoods primarily through physical and economic activities. They build houses, create jobs, and promote private investment. As of 1997, urban CDCs have built or renovated 435,000 units of housing, both rental and owner-occupied; they have developed approximately 48 million square feet of commercial and industrial space; and they have created 113,000 jobs (NCCED 1999). Concerning failing social opportunity structures, CDCs promote human development activities. They deliver an inestimable number of social services, promote public safety, organize community residents, and develop indigenous leadership. Among other things, CDCs may operate educational instruction, job training, and mentoring programs. CDCs also sponsor events promoting positive social interactions among citizens like community picnics and rallies, and they try to strengthen the capabilities of other community-based institutions such as schools and health clinics. What of CDCs' responses to failed political infrastructures, especially in those cities where descriptive representation yields a symbolic representation that trumps substantive representation?

Ed Goetz (1993, 115) recounts that, "in the early 1960s, the CDC was seen as the means by which poor neighborhoods might achieve a greater measure of political and economic power." Concerning blacks specifically, when CDCs began to appear in urban black neighborhoods in the late 1960s, academics harbored hopes of these organizations becoming effective political institutions. In Black Political Development, political scientist Reginald Earl Gilliam, Jr. (1975), like other scholars, recognized the potential of CDCs to serve blacks as vehicles for delivering public goods and services to urban black neighborhoods. He also identified the CDC as a nongovernmental institution that could become a catalyst for urban blacks to achieve greater degrees of political power, especially over public policymaking. Gilliam anticipated urban blacks would consciously use CDCs to alter public resource allocations to their advantage. First, he reasoned that CDCs could allow them to affect the distribution of public resources, such as land, money, and authority, in their favor. Second, he believed urban black neighborhoods would benefit from CDCs that articulated the political interests of their residents, while proposing policy alternatives and influencing the delivery of collective goods and services to neighborhoods. While CDCs might not become "policy-makers or decision-makers in the purest sense," wrote Gilliam (1975, 21), he posited "there is a very clear brokerage role that they could [perform]." As brokers of black political interests, he envisioned CDCs as a "means by which [black] political articulation is delivered and maintained" (Gilliam 1975, 18). Networks of CDCs might eventually give urban blacks "an internal institutional structure with specific roles in development and as a political voice" that increased black influence over city governments, especially regarding the redevelopment of neighborhoods (Gilliam 1975, 243). The expectation was that these networks over time would deepen and strengthen the engagement of urban black citizens in local affairs.

Presently, some CDCs in black neighborhoods are influential civic actors. Many attempt to combine public and private resources to a target area to improve socioeconomic conditions for the benefit of its current residents. They attract foundation grants, government contracts, commercial loans, and equity investments. They develop affordable housing, employ local residents, and operate vital human service programs in their target areas. Physical, economic, and human development is their thrust. Perhaps some politicized blacks use CDCs as instruments for restructuring city politics and urban governance. If so, they could be an important means by which blacks achieve greater degrees of substantive representation in and responsiveness from public institutions. As Norman Krumholz and Phil Star (1996, 242) assert,

by building the capacities and power of low-income and working-class people and by developing their community leadership and institutional capacity, [CDCs may assume] a position not only to maintain and stabilize their neighborhoods but also to demand even more far-reaching economic and political changes in the future.

CDCs may provide urban blacks with supplemental or alternative means to increase their influence over public agenda setting, decision making, and implementation. Yet, the extent to which CDCs in urban black neighborhoods practice political development -- the purposive use of various forms of political action to address collective problems in a neighborhood for the benefit of its current residents -- is undetermined. Their efforts to publicize the conditions in low- and moderate-income urban black neighborhoods and seek policy-oriented reforms are unknown. Attempts by them to expand black representation in city government or bias municipal policy responsiveness to black needs and values are unconfirmed. The question of whether CDCs servicing black neighborhoods try to reconfigure the distribution of power on behalf of black communities is unanswered.

This paper examines political development by CDCs in urban black neighborhoods in New York City. Political development is the purposive use of various forms or expressions of political action to address collective problems in a neighborhood for the benefit of its current residents. New York City is ideal for the study of political action by CDCs in urban black neighborhoods. Black electoral and administrative representation in city government is relatively high, but black political incorporation is symbolic, not substantive: The black electorate wields little power over the municipal government, especially the mayoralty (Mollenkopf 1986, 1994, 1995; Thompson 1990). Additionally, New York City is home to a collection of mature (i.e., older than ten years) CDCs. The incidence of black church-associated CDCs in majority-black election districts is high (Owens forthcoming). Furthermore, there is a tradition of black political participation through nonpartisan institutions, especially ones that are affiliates of black churches (Owens 1997a).

In studying political action, however, I focus on a particular but common type of CDC in urban black neighborhoods -- the black church-associated CDC. This type of CDCs is one that people, correctly, associate in their minds with congregations belonging to an historically black denomination.(2) These CDCs are commonly affiliates or subsidiaries of black churches. Black churches start or sponsor them to seek public and private resources to develop and administer physical, economic, and social improvement programs in an urban neighborhood. They are tax-exempt, not-for-profit, charitable organizations, as defined by the United States Internal Revenue Service's section 501(c)(3).(3) Under Lester Salamon's (1992) taxonomy of nonprofits, black church-associated CDCs are "service-oriented" nonprofits, "serv[ing] primarily a public or charitable purpose, direct their efforts to a broader public than only the immediate members of the organization and provide actual services" (263). Their specific purpose, which foundation grants, corporate equity investments, and government contracts often underwrite, is to reconstruct the physical, economic, and social environment of a targeted area or neighborhood (Clementson and Coates 1992).(4)

There are four rationales for studying the black church-associated CDC. First, many black church-associated CDCs are affiliates of black churches that favor political development (Owens 1999), or at least are associated with progressive political organizations (McDougall 1993). Second, public officials and black elites, along with many residents of black neighborhoods, look to black church-associated CDCs above all others to assume a greater responsibility for reforming the conditions of inner city. Third, there is evidence that suggests politics factors explain some of the existence of this type of CDC (Owens forthcoming). Finally, the most conspicuous physical, economic, and human development in urban black neighborhoods is done by this type of CDC (Owens 1997b; Thomas and Blake 1996). The black church-associated CDCs in New York City I examine include:

· Abyssinian Development Corporation
· Allen Neighborhood Preservation and Development Corporation
· Association of Brooklyn Clergy for Community Development
· Bridge Street Development Corporation
· Bronx Shepherds Restoration Corporation
· Canaan Housing Development Corporation
· Concord Community Development Corporation
· Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement
· Southeast Queens Clergy for Community Empowerment

My central question is whether these black church-associated CDCs avoid political action (i.e., expressions of political participation mobilized individuals and institutions use to influence who public officials are and/or the decisions they make while in office). An ancillary question is this: What are the dominant modes of political action by black church-associated CDCs?

Surveys and informant interviews provided data on the nine black church-associated CDCs. One survey was a mail survey of black elected officials in New York City. The other was an in-person survey of pastors of ten politically active black churches that have or support CDCs.(5) Face-to-face interviews involved the leadership and staff of the nine CDCs. Supplemental interviews included the staff of two CDC policy advocacy coalitions, one citywide and another statewide, and high-ranking officials from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). Based on the empirical date, my research shows that most black church-associated CDCs, like their secular counterparts, will not exercise political action, but some will. The extent of their political action preceding, during, and following elections is limited to particular forms. The effectiveness of their political actions to increase the influence of the organizations and the communities they serve is an important question. I do not address it fully here, but elsewhere (Owens forthcoming).

Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | References & Notes