|COMM-ORG Papers 2003||
Blanc et al.: From the Ground Up
| Preface | Summary | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Appendices | Cited Works and Notes | Acknowledgements and About Authors |
Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), one of the grantees under the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Building Community Capacity program, is a forty-year community organization with a long history of mobilizing neighborhood residents to maintain and improve the quality of community life and to bring additional resources and services into the Logan Square neighborhood. Since May 1999, Research for Action (RFA), an independent Philadelphia-based nonprofit, and LSNA have been working together to document LSNA’s approach, activities, and the results of LSNA's organizing through qualitative, collaborative research. The focus of this study is on LSNA’s work since 1989 when its current director, Nancy Aardema, took over, with an emphasis on the years 1999-2002, when Research for Action conducted its research. This report documents LSNA’s approach and achievements in linking community organizing to the building of community capacity, tracing the similarities and differences in LSNA's methods, strategies, and successes in two different issue areas—education and housing.
Currently, LSNA has an annual budget of over one million dollars and an office-based staff of eighteen. Logan Square is a mixed income community with a large low-income Latino population. LSNA defines itself as an inclusive community-based organization with a commitment to organizing low- and moderate-income neighborhood residents. RFA's analysis shows that LSNA prioritizes the needs of these residents, many of them first or second-generation immigrants from Latin America. At the same time, the organization has an inclusive definition of "the community," and the membership includes a wide range of individuals and organizations: principals and parents; Latinos, Anglos, and African Americans; English and Spanish speakers; landlords and tenants; as well as churches, block clubs, social service agencies, and several community banks.
Like other initiatives committed to building capacity in low-income communities, LSNA has the goal of increasing the community's "ability to mobilize and use the resources of its members, along with outside resources, to foster individual growth and community development" (MacArthur, 1999). LSNA's approach is based on mobilizing and empowering community residents who have previously been excluded from positions of power. We believe that LSNA's approach has the potential to provide valuable lessons for funders and community organizers about relationships between the development and exercise of individuals’ capacities, on one hand, and achieving outcomes which benefit an entire community, on the other hand. LSNA sees a direct link between the building of civic engagement and leadership among the poorest residents of Logan Square and the community’s ability to develop programs and obtain resources which will support economic revitalization.
LSNA's work is guided by its Holistic Plan. This is essentially a detailed and continually evolving mission statement, which includes a series of objectives with which to assess its effectiveness each year. The Holistic Plan sets goals for key areas of action, such as improving local public schools, developing youth leadership, enhancing neighborhood safety, maintaining affordable housing, and revitalizing the local economy.
LSNA's executive director of thirteen years, Nancy Aardema, strongly believes that the organization is successful because it bases its work on building relationships of personal trust among individuals and organizations in order to act on community goals. During the past thirteen years, the organization has looked hard for ways to nurture diverse new social relationships within the Logan Square neighborhood. According to Aardema, LSNA draws on these relationships in developing a strong base of leaders from the neighborhood who can speak for the community and work effectively for social change.
LSNA's focus on relationship building makes it an especially appropriate site for exploring how low-income communities build their own capacity, an issue in which the John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation, other foundations, and policy makers on the federal, state, and city levels, as well as private businesses and scholars, are increasingly interested. Community capacity can undoubtedly be enhanced through external policies and resources, such as a regional transportation policy, tax policies that support urban business development, and subsidies for low-income housing. However, as necessary as these may be, they are not sufficient for creating healthy urban communities. Individuals and institutions in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty also need to be able to work together to secure and utilize resources. This priority is reflected in the goal of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation: "The Foundation is committed to building the capacity of communities and helping them gain the ability to solve their own problems" (www.macfound.org).
RFA's research suggests that the creation of trust among community residents, between residents and institutions, and among community institutions has been key to LSNA’s successes in identifying and solving problems in Logan Square. RFA has been able to observe the ways in which LSNA's approach to relationship building intersects with issues of changing power and policy in the arenas of education and housing. Because LSNA’s work in schools and in housing are in different phases of an organizing campaign, we have also had the opportunity to observe different phases of the relationship building work.
LSNA's current work in schools demonstrates its approach to relationship building in a context in which it has already developed substantial power through a sustained organizing campaign. In observing LSNA's work with schools, we saw stable, active communities of parents and teachers that grew out of ten years of leadership development and community-initiated programming in the schools. LSNA's schools show consistent gains in test scores. These gains compare favorably with citywide gains, even though public school students in Logan Square are among the poorest in the city and are among the least likely to speak English.
LSNA's school/community partnerships, which many observers describe as an important contributor to school improvement in the neighborhood, are based on relationships of mutual respect that began developing over ten years ago as the community mounted a sustained and successful campaign against overcrowding. The success of this campaign stemmed from mobilizing the community, collaborating with principals and teachers in local schools, and developing relationships with public officials in order to hold them accountable to community needs. The successful school/community partnerships that now exist in Logan Square are based on the power of LSNA as a community organization.
LSNA's successful involvement with local schools developed, in part, because LSNA was able to take advantage of statewide legislation passed in 1988, which provided substantial power to parents and community members through the creation of elected Local School Councils (LSCs). LSNA was very active in recruiting and campaigning for the election of LSNA parents and other community residents to the LSCs. The power which LSNA gained from this organizing effort underlies its current success in implementing school-based programs.
In contrast to observing a set of school-based relationships that are the outcomes of a sustained organizing campaign, our observations of LSNA's housing work shows relationship building underway as it is central to the process of developing a campaign. As part of this campaign, we saw the slow process of relationship building among organizers and community members as well as the evolution of strategies for developing the community's power and holding public officials accountable to the interests of low- and moderate-income people. As this campaign evolves, it draws together people whose concerns range from very localized, block-level issues, to neighborhood-wide, and citywide issues. In its struggles at all these levels, LSNA is working to develop both relationships and accountability among elected officials, administrators in city government, and private development and financial interests.
In earlier phases of its housing work, LSNA was able to use legislative and judicial tools such as the Community Reinvestment Act and the Chicago Housing Court as levers for developing community power to address the needs of renters and families interested in becoming homeowners. Currently, as one part of the affordable housing campaign, LSNA is working to change citywide policy to slow down private housing development and maintain affordable housing units. In this campaign, LSNA is faced with the challenges of creating strong relationships within the neighborhood at the same time that it must counter citywide political and economic forces pushing many low- and middle-income residents out of Logan Square. From the perspective of members and leaders within the LSNA, the hard work they have done creating social ties and responsive institutions locally can easily be undone by economic and political forces originating at the city or state levels.
The issue of residential displacement of low- and moderate-income community members frames a new set of issues for those who are interested in building the capacity of urban communities. Even if capacity is developed around one set of institutions, for example, the capacity of the type that we will discuss in our chapter on schools in Logan Square, low- and moderate-income communities always face the potential of destabilization and/or disinvestment by business interests, developers, and their political allies. The threat of displacement in Logan Square helps us realize that although low- and moderate-income urban residents often need to develop new forms of social trust, they may already have, in addition, existing bonds that are threatened by forces from outside their communities. Countering these threats requires not only trust and skill, but also the development of power and public accountability.
As a neighborhood priest in Logan Square told us in discussing gentrification,
When the community begins to change, it is not just the houses. Suddenly we need more green space, more play space. Each time they go and tear something down, they say drug dealers lived there. There’s a feeling that now we deserve a park more than [someone] deserves a home. When the neighborhood begins to change, then the meaning of the neighborhood begins to change. (Father Mike, Catholic priest and housing activist)
A neighborhood housing leader, Roxanne Tyler,also vividly described the social ruptures that occur during the process of gentrification. According to Roxanne,
Wherever you [once] lived, you had people and friends and support and [now] you have to move out to the suburbs, you might as well move to another country because you’re that far away.
Even when lower-income neighborhood residents may benefit from increasing property values, according to Roxanne, they are often critical of the lack of respect for the existing community among affluent newcomers.
One [condo owner] said to me in a meeting, “just think of all the money you’re going to make.” And I just looked at him and said, "You know I don’t want to make any money. I just want to live. I just want to live with my kids in my house… I think you have a right to profit, but when you come into my neighborhood, you’re supposed to respect me, and you don’t respect me when you come in here doing what you’re doing. First and foremost, it’s people like us who have stabilized this community so you felt safe enough to come in.
Until recently, discussions of urban poverty have largely focused on the need to bring additional resources into urban neighborhoods. However, as some American cities attract new investment, new jobs, and younger, more affluent residents, community capacity also becomes an issue of community identity and distribution of the power to allocate and access resources as well as the existence of material resources themselves. LSNA draws on a rich history of community organizing as it faces the challenge of maintaining a diverse, multi-income community in the face of new wealth coming into the neighborhood. While the threat of displacement makes the rupture of existing social relationships particularly vivid in Logan Square, LSNA's approach provides more general lessons about how low- and moderate-income residents can go about building and maintaining a vital urban community.
To a large extent, capacity building efforts to date in low-income communities nationwide have concentrated on Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and Comprehensive Community Initiatives (CCIs), with organizations like the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and the Enterprise Foundation acting as funding intermediaries (Keating and Krumholtz, 1999). CDCs (neighborhood-based, non-profit business ventures) and especially CCIs (long-term efforts to coordinate planning and funding among a wide range of community organizations and agencies in low-income neighborhoods) require robust community leadership, as well as technical expertise and access to funding. However, CDCs and CCIs tend to prioritize the development of technical expertise and the formal involvement of institutional leaders, rather than mobilizing low-income community residents to identify and address their own needs (Hess, 1999; Keating and Krumholtz, 1999; Stoeker, 1999).
In contrast to CDCs and CCIs, grassroots community organizers base their work on the premise that poor and working class people can, and must, mobilize and build power to address their own needs and concerns (Alinsky, 1971; Delgado, 1986). In addition, contemporary community organizing often incorporates insights derived from feminist thought, including the importance of focusing on interpersonal relationships and dynamics and the connections between personal and political issues (Gittell et al., 2001; O'Donnell and Schumer, 1996).
Styles of community organizing vary across organizations and individuals, but current community organizing groups share a commitment to building leadership among their members, mobilizing their constituencies, and developing mutually beneficial relationships with elected officials and others in more traditional positions of power (Gold, Simon and Blanc, 2002). In addition, grassroots community organizations traditionally work hard with neighborhood leaders to identify winnable issues, build strategic alliances, and maintain long-term campaigns for attaining the community's strategic goals. The examples of LSNA and other community-based groups around the country suggest that approaches to leadership and community mobilization that characterize grassroots organizing can be useful to organizations that also have characteristics of CDCs and CCIs, even though there is some debate about whether the organizational structures and philosophies of community organizing and community development are compatible (e.g., Hess 1999; Stoecker 1999).
This study of the work of LSNA provides an opportunity to observe the processes of community capacity building within a specific context. Our aim is to represent and give voice to the attempts of one experienced community-based organization to mediate larger economic and political forces and play a significant role in shaping the future of its neighborhood. In the report, we have also tried to capture the complexity of the work of LSNA to make clear that none of this work happens without considerable difficulty involving challenges from external obstacles and the need to deal with internal differences in point of view.
RFA's research about building community capacity in Logan Square, conducted between May 1999 and January 2002, documents the ways that LSNA's organizational structure brings together numerous groups and interests within the Logan Square neighborhood. In addition, case studies of LSNA's work with schools and housing demonstrate how the organization's relational approach to community organizing plays out in two different issue areas. The two areas of focused research, schools and housing, were chosen in conjunction with LSNA organizers who were interested in documenting both LSNA's extensive impact on school improvement and the nascent campaign to maintain affordable housing in the community. In this work, we have looked carefully at the structures and processes that LSNA uses to strengthen the Logan Square community. In addition, we look at the ways that the Logan Square community and LSNA interact with broader social, economic, and political forces that impact the organization's ability to build internal community capacity.
RFA's research about LSNA has been guided by the following questions, developed in conjunction with LSNA staff members:
LSNA's noteworthy accomplishments in the realm of building community capacity include:
In order to understand how LSNA accomplishes these capacity-building activities, we look at LSNA's activities through four different lenses: relationship building, leadership development, democratic participation, and building power and changing policy. LSNA’s approach to dealing with community issues is indeed multi-dimensional. The four lenses provide a framework for describing and analyzing LSNA's philosophy and practice without prioritizing one dimension of its approach. We believe that these lenses can be used to look at both aspects of LSNA’s work that relate to the internal dynamics of the Logan Square neighborhood and those which relate to broader social, economic and political forces and institutions.
This framework allows us to see that a certain aspect of LSNA's approach may be particularly important to the organization's work on a given issue at a particular moment in time. Additionally, the framework helps us to examine LSNA as a whole. Looking through the various lenses permits us to view and understand that LSNA’s strength grows out of its ability to simultaneously build relationships, develop leaders, encourage democratic participation, and build power to change policies in ways that will support a strong, diverse, urban neighborhood.
As a conceptual framework, we see these four lenses corresponding well with the thinking of the Aspen Institute. In a 1996 paper entitled “Measuring Community Capacity Building,” the Institute identified eight outcomes. These include: growing diverse, inclusive citizenship participation; expanding a leadership base; strengthening individual skills; developing a widely shared vision; forming a strategic community agenda (including a plan); evidencing consistent, tangible progress toward goals; producing more effective community organizations and institutions; and better resource utilization by the community. We see evidence of all eight of these outcomes when we look at LSNA’s work over the course of our fieldwork through the four lenses we have defined.
Looking through the Lens of Relationship Building
Using the lens of relationship building, we see that LSNA has been able to develop a campaign for affordable housing based on relationships and common interests among low- and moderate-income renters, homeowners, and public housing residents, as well as community banks in Logan Square, even though this campaign challenges the interests of powerful real estate developers and some middle class and more affluent newcomers to the neighborhood.
The creation of new relationships is fundamental to all processes of community change. Relationships create new forms of friendship and support within the neighborhood. Relationship building, sometimes referred to as the creation of "social capital," leads to networks of mutual obligation and trust, both interpersonal and inter-group, relationships which can be called on to leverage resources for addressing community concerns.
LSNA builds relationships gradually and deliberately. One key component of relationship building takes place as LSNA organizers meet individually with community members in their homes, schools, churches, and the LSNA offices. At these meetings, organizers and community members discuss their lives, their community and what is happening to and around them. These “one-on-ones” are key to developing new community leaders. In LSNA's Parent Mentor program, parents also work together in groups to identify their concerns, goals, and dreams, as well as the strengths they bring to their families, schools, and community. Whether relationship building begins with individual conversations or in group discussions, it takes time to learn about individuals’ goals for both personal growth and neighborhood improvement.
Like many other community organizing groups, LSNA brings people together who might not otherwise associate with each other, either because of cultural and language barriers (e.g., Latinos and African Americans) or because of their different roles and positions, such as teacher and parents or renters and homeowners. Given LSNA’s goals of functioning democratically and representing a diverse community, relationship building across differences in race, ethnicity, income, and status is essential.
Relationship building also extends outside of the neighborhood and involves developing connections with funding sources, elected officials, and community groups in other neighborhoods. As we show in the following chapters, in its work with schools, LSNA has developed an extensive network of relationships with school administrators, politicians, and foundations inside and outside of Chicago. In its current housing campaign, LSNA is developing a new set of relationships with public officials and policy makers. Also of great significance in the housing campaign is LSNA’s building of alliances with other grassroots community organizations interested in working collaboratively for affordable housing in many parts of the city.
Looking through the Lens of Leadership Development
LSNA’s leadership is diverse and represents the broad spectrum of community residents, including both lower-income, often Spanish-speaking individuals and higher-income professionals (bankers, lawyers, teachers, etc.). In recent years, the proportion of lower-income leaders has increased. With the guidance of LSNA’s executive director, Nancy Aardema, the organization works to maintain a culture of mutual respect and shared authority among people with different education and employment histories, priorities, and beliefs about their right and capacity to exert influence.
Different aspects of LSNA’s work may involve different degrees of interaction and collaboration among individuals of different ethnicity and income-level or social class. The groups of LSNA members and leaders working on targeted projects, such as the Parent Mentor program or Community Centers in schools, may be relatively homogeneous, whereas the governance of LSNA and its subcommittees is likely to be more multi-class. It is in these situations that Nancy exercises her interpersonal skills—encouraging the participation of those with less experience in the public forums and modeling an attitude of equal respect for all—to help maintain a truly democratic environment and process.
Much of what leadership means in LSNA reflects the literature on community organizing, including the tradition of Alinsky-style organizing, with its historical roots in Chicagoand its emphasis on the idea that poor and working class people can, and must, provide leadership to a grassroots movement to address the needs and concerns of their own communities. Leadership in LSNA also incorporates contemporary thought on collaborative leadership which stresses the value of broadly-based and distributed leadership within an organization, rather than the value of a smaller, stronger leadership group.
In our research protocols, we asked LSNA members directly what the term “leadership” meant to them and how one becomes a leader in LSNA. Community members and LSNA organizers describe a gradual process of leadership development that helps people to clarify their own beliefs and become comfortable with expressing their views in ways that link their own experiences to those of the people they represent. LSNA members said that leadership development encourages individuals, especially women, to challenge traditional power relationships in their own lives. Leadership development helps community residents to sharpen their skills for civic engagement through opportunities to speak publicly, lead meetings, interview public officials, and negotiate with those in positions of power. While leadership development has to do with enhancing the scope and nature of the work performed, it also has to do with the way an individual becomes accountable in public to others. As leaders develop a stronger sense of connection with their community, their willingness to be publicly accountable begins to unfold.
One important way that grassroots leaders develop is through becoming involved in the organization from the bottom up, in arenas like the Parent Mentor program, which pays parents small stipends to participate in leadership training and work in Logan Square classrooms. This program, which is designed to attract community members, places them in a program which trains them to become engaged in a public institution, and develops a large base of support composed primarily of women who would not otherwise be active in their community. In the area of housing, community members have been recruited to become leaders through their involvement with the Low Income Housing Trust Fund, a program which provides rental subsidies to low-income renters. LSNA's affordable rent committee actively mobilized community residents to advocate for the maintenance and expansion of this Fund.
Looking through the Lens of Democratic Participation
LSNA embodies more than one avenue for democratic participation. LSNA's power to change policy depends on its ability to mobilize the community to apply pressure on elected officials and others in power, whether through lobbying efforts or through more activist forms of organization, such as large-scale demonstrations. In addition, LSNA also encourages community members to participate in internal democratic processes which bring community members together to make shared decisions about community needs, strategies, and priorities. Democratic participation in the annual process of publicly evaluating and revising LSNA’s Holistic Plan is key to debating and articulating a shared vision for Logan Square.
Logan Square is far from a unitary community, and LSNA includes many of the neighborhood’s different social, economic, ethnic, national, and political groupings. While many people move in and out of the organization, there is a core who strongly identify with LSNA and with the Logan Square neighborhood and who provide stability to LSNA. Through the relationships developed and through the process of discussion and dialogue, LSNA provides a vehicle for identifying shared interests and creating a sense of community, thus bringing together people who might otherwise see themselves as having little in common. The process in LSNA can be characterized as highly interpersonal, relationship-oriented, trust-based, and situated within a democratic structure.
It is important to underscore that many of LSNA’s members and leaders do not have prior experience with holding positions of power or being able to control the conditions of their lives. For these individuals, democratic participation is an expression of their emerging sense of political and social entitlement. Our final lens, building power and influencing policies, grows out of this sense of entitlement, made visible in democratic participation.
Looking through the Lens of Building Power and Changing Policy
People who have been excluded from power can gain power by participating in public dialogue, developing shared visions and strategies, community mobilization, and gaining recognition and response from public and private officials. Methods of organizing for power include operating through formal political channels (e.g., petitions, meetings with elected and city officials) as well as grassroots actions that galvanize people’s outrage and sense of injustice in public protest. LSNA's sustained campaigns over time, its clear organizational identity, and its success in gaining political recognition for its agendas in education and affordable housing are all evidence of the community power that LSNA is using to make Logan Square schools into responsive, high quality institutions and to ensure the future of Logan Square as a stable, economically diverse neighborhood.
While community power is crucial to LSNA's work in the areas of both housing and schools, the role community power plays in these two arenas is somewhat different. In its work with schools, community power is critical because it allows LSNA to enter into school/community partnerships, based on relationships of trust and mutual respect. In contrast, in its work to maintain affordable housing, community power is critical to LSNA in order to challenge the interests of established power and money that currently dominate the real estate market, both in Logan Square and more broadly in Chicago.
In part this contrast is due to the different impacts of policies that shape schools and housing in Chicago. In the area of education, LSNA was able to take advantage of IL85-1418, a 1988 state law which decentralized the Chicago school system, giving substantial power to Local School Councils (LSCs), a majority of whose members are elected parent representatives. The 1988 education law, which was enacted in response to grassroots organizing by a broad citywide coalition of community organizations, parent and education policy groups, and corporations, establishes the power of LSC to hire and fire principals and make key budget decisions. The implementation of this legislation, which was supported by a simultaneous interest on the part of foundations, provided an important opening to create partnerships with neighborhood schools, develop schools as centers of community, and build new community leadership for LSNA’s work in other issue areas. As we show in our case study of LSNA’s work with schools, LSNA’s success in this work is based on its power to mobilize community members, the specific policy context affecting Chicago schools has also provided avenues for LSNA to develop and maintain its power as a community group.
In contrast, the area of affordable housing offers few
existing policy levers for community activism. An important focus of LSNA's
current housing work involves mobilizing its local constituency to develop a
citywide coalition with enough power to counterbalance market-driven
development policies. In the current environment, local aldermen hold enormous
power to support or deny zoning changes that builders need to establish new
housing developments in their wards; the aldermen are extremely responsive to
campaign contributions and political pressures applied by powerful real estate
developers. The lack of a robust public policy supporting affordable housing
in Chicago is particularly problematic for neighborhoods like Logan Square,
where many low- and moderate-income community members have already been forced
to leave by increases in housing costs. As we show in our case study of
housing, LSNA's housing work is proceeding on many fronts, but a major thrust
of the affordable housing campaign is building the power of low- and
moderate-income communities to challenge existing housing policies.
LSNA's goals are to build the strength of its community and to gain and maintain resources and policy changes that will support the diverse families of Logan Square. Some political theorists (e.g., Gaventa 1980; Lukes 1974) argue that low-income or minority communities that are shut out of traditional decision-making processes need opportunities to envision their own political agendas and often must mobilize outside of the traditional political system. In our observations of LSNA, we have seen a well- developed partnership with schools and an evolving campaign for affordable housing. In both arenas, LSNA's ability to gain attention for community issues and get a seat at the table is the result of its capacity to develop relationships and leaders, to identify community needs through broad participation in the organization, and to develop strategic plans for constructive, collective action.
Chapter II provides an historic overview of LSNA and an analysis of its current structure and overall processes. Chapters III and IV are analytic case studies which look at LSNA’s work in the areas of reforming schools and organizing for affordable housing through the lenses of relationship building, leadership development, democratic participation, and building power and changing policy. Chapter V, the concluding chapter, presents an overall analysis of how these processes are realized differently in LSNA's work with schools and housing. We also consider what foundations and other community organizations can learn from LSNA's approach to community change. In the appendices, we present detailed information about the project’s research methods and activities.