Massachusetts Community Development Corporations and Community Organizing 

by Lee Winkelman

Massachusetts Association of CDCs
99 Chauncy Street, Boston, MA 02111
(617) 426-0303

December 1997

Table of Contents

 I. Introduction

II. A typology of community organizing in Massachusetts CDCs

III. CDC Organizing Challenges: managing the contradictions

IV. Conclusion



In Massachusetts, community development corporations (CDCs) are going through an exciting process of reexamining and strengthening their work in the community. Most CDCs in the state--like CDCs across the country-- began out of community struggles, but as their development skills have grown, many CDCs have lost touch with the community. Other CDCs, who have continued to maintain strong ties with neighborhood residents, expressed frustration at the lack of resources and assistance available to take their community organizing work to the next level.

For these reasons, after a year long process of planning and discussion, Massachusetts CDCs launched the Ricanne Hadrian Initiative for Community Organizing (RHICO). Developed by the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC) in partnership with the Neighborhood Development Support Collaborative, RHICO is the nation's only participant-designed and driven program to provide funding, training, and technical assistance to CDCs to improve their community organizing practices and to raise the community organizing standards in the CDC field.

Some have argued that CDCs cannot and should not be community organizers. Mike Gecan argues that "The minute [CDCs] take government money. . . [they] become very seriously affected by that funding. . . .The people controlling the money will work to keep those getting the money on a leash," preventing effective community organizing (Shelterforce, July/August 1993, p. 4). Stan Holt argues that the demands of community development necessarily lead CDCs away from the confrontational tactics that are essential to community organizing. Randy Stoecker, probably the most thoughtful critic of CDCs, maintains that the demands of capital which CDCs face as developers are incompatible with the needs of the community. He argues that, despite the good intentions of CDCs who try to combine community organizing and development, they inevitably co-opt neighborhood residents and "allow elites to blame poor neighborhood CDCs rather than external conditions" for poverty, urban blight, and the accompanying social problems.

The experience of Massachusetts CDCs reveals just enough successes to argue that organizing can be effectively combined with development. At the same time as there are organizing successes, the unrealized potential demonstrates that more assistance is needed to increase CDCs organizing's effectiveness.

The first section of this paper will look at what kind of organizing Massachusetts CDCs have done and what organizational forms they have developed to carry out that organizing. The second section will discuss the tensions that are inherent in combining organizing and development and how these tensions might be managed. The final section will discuss the organizing principles and assumptions that were used to develop RHICO and how the initiative will raise the standards and improve the practices of community organizing work among Massachusetts CDCs.


It is hard to generalize about the 67 CDCs that are members of the Massachusetts Association of CDCs. They run the gamut from CDCs with no staff to Urban Edge, which has a staff of sixty. There are 24 CDCs in Boston, which work closely with the City's Department of Neighborhood Development. On the other hand, the Western Massachusetts Hilltop CDC works across ten towns, which between them have no paid municipal workers and only 12,000 residents in 250 square miles.

CDCs are all over the map when it comes to community organizing. Stoecker gives a fairly standard definition of community organizing: "developing relationships so people can press their demands collectively and gain power through the process" (Stoecker, p. 10). Note that organizing has three parts: it brings people together; it helps people collectively make real gains on issues they have identified; and it builds power for the participants.

Some CDCs do no community organizing, while Coalition for a Better Acre (CBA) in Lowell has more organizers on staff than development specialists. Some CDC staff are able to talk insightful about their successes and challenges in combining organizing and development. Clearly, they have learned lessons from their efforts to involve residents in development activity and build power and leadership for low income residents and people of color. On the other hand, one CDC director recently tried to emphasize his commitment to community organizing by saying, "it is the job of our CDC to be the voice for those people in the neighborhood who don't have a voice." This attitude is more consistent with an advocacy approach , speaking on behalf of others , than an organizing approach , helping residents to come together to speak and act for themselves. Many residents find such an approach patronizing , since who in the neighborhood is incapable of speaking for themselves?

No exact figures are available about Massachusetts CDCs and organizing. Based on my conversations with CDC staff across Massachusetts, I estimate that one third of the state's seventy CDCs do some kind of community organizing activities.

Interviews, annual reports, and MACDC meetings reveal that Massachusetts CDCs collectively do the following types of organizing work:

Helping residents to form and maintain councils in CDC-developed buildings is probably the most common kind of community organizing done by Massachusetts CDCs. Resident councils exist in projects with very different types of ownership situations, including rental housing owned by the CDC, cooperatives and condominiums owned by the residents, and mutual housing and other hybrid forms owned jointly by the CDC and the residents or a residents association. Though the degree of residents' ownership, control and therefore power differ, in all cases the goal of resident council organizing is to involve residents in some manner in the management of their development. This kind of organizing is done by the Allston-Brighton CDC, Codman Square NDC, Fenway CDC, Urban Edge, and many other Massachusetts CDCs.

Some CDCs mobilize residents to pressure public or private entities to turn over land, buildings or money necessary for development. The Fenway CDC organized residents to convince the quasi-governmental Resolution Trust Corporation to turn over units they owned in distressed condominium buildings, which the CDC redeveloped and converted into affordable rental housing. Coalition for a Better Acre turned out 100 residents in the rain to a pre-Thanksgiving rally and convinced the City of Lowell to make federal HOME funds available for a project to convert four abandoned buildings into affordable rental housing.

Many CDCs have organized residents in various kinds of community planning processes. In some cases, these have been elaborate processes , involving surveys, one-to-one meetings, small group discussions, and large community meetings , over the period of a year or more. The Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) is nearing the end of one of these planning processes, which will produce a final plan addressing the following issues identified by neighborhood residents: economic development, housing, community safety, human services, education, open/green space, health, arts/culture/heritage, and transportation. Other CDC grassroots planning processes are not so elaborate. They might focus on only one issue (housing is common) and use a more targeted, smaller scale approach.

For some CDCs, the planning process is a discrete organizing project. Once the plan is developed, the planning process is ended and little or no effort is made to keep residents involved in the process. For other CDCs, like Twin Cities CDC, the planning process continues in a different form, as the groups make efforts to keep residents involved in implementing the plan. Once residents decided on housing priorities, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) project managers created a design review process that portrays many of the key decisions as either/or decisions, giving residents an accessible and meaningful way to participate in development decisions. Clearly, fewer residents stay involved in the design review process than in the more general planning process, but those who stay involved play two important roles: they make sure the units developed by JPNDC meet the needs of neighborhood residents and their high level of buy-in makes them advocates for the finished project, helping the CDC sell or rent units and providing spokespeople who can respond to neighborhood critics of the CDC's project.

While organizing on issues related to the development and management of affordable housing is the most common type of community organizing, some CDCs have organized around other neighborhood issues not directly related to CDC development projects. These issues have including crime and police behavior, tenants rights (including both landlord/tenant issues with for-profit landlords and policy issues, like rent control and just cause eviction legislation), city or town services, youth issues, open space and environmental justice issues, community gardens, welfare reform, immigrant rights, jobs, community control of development and many more issues. The Fenway CDC organized residents to stop a neighboring university from building a new dorm in a residential neighborhood. Allston-Brighton is currently organizing residents to change the disruptive business practices of a nearby seafood processing plant for Legal Seafoods, a well known Boston restaurant chain. NOAH organized residents to convert asphalt school lots into green play space and to clean up polluted Chelsea Creek.

By and large, CDCs have tended to stay clear of the political process. Many CDC staff and board members have worked for candidates in their hours off the job in order to develop relationships that will benefit their CDC. Though many CDC people have volunteered as individuals, rarely have CDCs as institutions become involved in electoral campaigns beyond scattered voter registration work. Ballot initiatives are an exception to this general rule. In 1990 many CDCs worked to help defeat a state-wide ballot initiative that would have drastically cut state taxes and services. In 1994, some Boston CDCs organized residents against a ballot initiative to end rent control.

Over the last few years, some CDCs have begun to explore how they can build more political power. Coalition for a Better Acre sponsored the first ever televised debate between Lowell city council candidates, which was a major factor contributing to the defeat of many incumbents in 1993. Codman Square began a systematic voter registration and education campaign with the help of a state-wide group called Voter Power. Jamaica Plain NDC, in conjunction with two other local groups, sponsored a debate among state senate candidates. While CDCs are just beginning to explore the possibilities for systematic voter registration, education and mobilization, there is substantial interest in this area.

Many CDCs use community events , annual meetings, ethnic or multi-cultural festivals, neighborhood clean ups, barbecues, picnics, and street fairs , to build community ties and present a public face of the CDC to neighborhood residents. In most CDCs, staff plan the event, and it is not part of some larger campaign. However, some CDCs use these community events as part of their organizing work, bringing together a group of residents to plan and run the event and using it to build relationships and leadership skills as part of a campaign to build power.

In some CDCs, organizing ends up playing a support role to development. Organizers in these CDCs do community planning at the beginning of a development cycle. They mobilize support for CDC development projects when the projects are in danger. They organize resident councils to help with the on-going management of CDC developments. They organize community events, put out a newsletter, and plan a voter registration day. These CDCs try to do a little bit of each the kinds of organizing listed in 1 through 6 above.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this model of organizing, but it does have its drawbacks. First of all, it is driven more by the CDCs development agenda than by residents needs. It is hard to maintain a high level of resident involvement because residents find that the CDC does not respond to their self-interest. Compounding this problem is the fact that CDC organizers are stretched so thin by trying to do everything that they do not have time to do extensive leadership development. A CDC operating in this mode will have a hard time maintaining involvement.

These seven different types of organizing are often related. CDCs who organize residents into residents council will often help these residents organize around issues that are not directly related to management of the building, such as crime and City services. Political organizing is often tied with issue organizing, organizing for development resources or sometimes both. This inter-relatedness makes sense since building political power helps residents win victories around issues and development resources.

CDCs not only do different types of organizing, but they create different kinds of organizational structures as vehicles for that organizing. Some of the different organizational structures used by Massachusetts CDCs include:

Some CDCs use Board Committees as the vehicle for their organizing. Each organizing campaign is run as a committee chaired by a Board member. Residents involved in the campaign (most likely they are not board members) serve as members of the committee. The Fenway CDC is an example of a CDC that uses this organizing structure.

Some CDCs, like Twin City CDC, organize residents into a neighborhood association that is separate from the CDC. At one time, Coalition for a Better Acre used to organize residents into a separate group called the Acre Improvement Committee (AIC). In 1994, the groups found that their separate decision-making processes led to mistrust and miscommunication, and so the AIC was folded into the CBA. Now residents are organized as a committee of the CBA Board and not as a separate structure.

In the last year, Codman Square NDC has begun to set up a new structure that resembles an electoral, ward/precinct campaign. The neighborhood is divided into subregion and each subregion is broken into blocks. Each block has a captain, and all the block captains make up the subregion committee. This structure is than used for voter registration and mobilization, issue campaigns, and exchange of information between the neighborhood and the CDC.

Jamaica Plain NDC has a different model. It works in partnership with City Life/Vida Urbana, a neighborhood group that organizers around housing issues. For example, City Life organizes against an absentee landlord, and, through City Life's organizing, JPNDC takes over the building and develops it as affordable housing. JPNDC organizes the residents during and after the development process. Community planning is done jointly by the two groups. JPNDC and City Life are clearly two separate groups with their own history, organizational culture, goals, funding and staffing--neither organization is not a "front group" of the other--yet both groups do community organizing in a coordinated way.

Other CDCs do most of their organizing through coalitions. Virtual all CDCs are involved to some degree in coalitions, but not all of their participation in these coalition is organizing. Only when the CDCs involve low income residents is the coalition work organizing. Allston-Brighton CDC, along with other CDCs, organized residents to participate in a City-wide coalition to win protections for low income, mostly elderly tenants threatened by the end of rent control in Boston. The Fenway CDC has brought residents into coalition with neighboring social service providers, hospitals, and universities to win services and support for low income families.

Some CDCs, influenced by the Industrial Areas Foundation and other church-based organizing models, have begun to investigate whether a church- or institution-based model can work in a CDC setting. Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation is one group interested in exploring this model. Coalition for Better Acre and a largely Latino Catholic church have agreed to work together to form a social action committee within the church that would work with CBA on neighborhood issues. But staff turn-over within CBA and illness on the part of church priests has delayed implementation of this project. While many CDCs have relationships with local churches and other institutions, it is still unclear whether CDCs can be effective at reaching grassroots members of churches and other institutions and involving them in neighborhood organizing campaigns.

Each of these organizational structures have their advantages and drawbacks. Some argue that organizing and development should always be separate, either through partnerships with existing groups or by creating separate neighborhood associations. They argue that this separation allows for one group to pursue more confrontational tactics, while the CDC develops the more cooperative relationships necessary for development (Stoecker 1996, Holt 1975). Others argue that separating the functions will lead to reduced resident support for CDC development activity and an inevitable distancing of the CDC from the community (Clarkson 1987).

The Massachusetts CDC experience could be used to support either claim. Organizational structure does not seem to be a factor in the success or failure of CDC organizing in Massachusetts. Some CDCs have had significant successes with the organizing vehicles listed above (with the exception of institution-based structures, which have not yet really been tried), while others have run into serious difficulties with the same structures. Success in combining organizing and development is determined by the factors discussed in the next section, and not by the choice of organizational structures discussed above.


For CDCs to do community organizing successfully, they must learn to manage the following inescapable tensions.

Randy Stoecker describes the dilemma this way: CDCs are caught between capital, which seeks "to convert neighborhood space into 'exchange values' that can be speculated on for a profit" and the community, which seeks to "preserve neighborhood space as a 'use value' for the service of community members." CDCs are torn between these two forces. "CDCs manage capital, but don't invest it for a profit. They manage projects, but within the constraints set by their funders. They try to be community oriented while their purse strings are held by outsiders " (Stoecker 1996, p. 5). For Stoecker, this contradiction is one reason that CDCs should not do community organizing. Instead, he argues that CDCs should stick with development, stop pretending to be community based, and leave organizing to separate organizations that do not face this contradiction. (Stoecker 1996)

There can be no doubt that CDCs feel pressure to choose or modify their activities to appeal to funders (Rubin, 1995), but this pressure is not unique to CDCs. Groups that do only community organizing face the same tension. Organizing-only groups are forced to chase foundation money, to repackage their work to make it seem new, and to change the work to conform to foundation priorities. Organizing groups that are less dependent on foundation money face the same dilemma. The Industrial Areas Foundation, and other church-based groups, are unable to organize around gay and lesbian rights and abortion rights because of their church support.

In fact, it is precisely community organizing that allows CDCs to successfully manage this tension. Without significant resident participation, CDCs become just another developer, completely at the mercy of capital (Clarkson 1987). Involving residents in significant ways in the organization is the only way CDCs can resist the pressures of capital. Residents create a counter-pressure on the CDC to fulfill community needs that can counteract the pressure of funders to meet capital's needs.

The tension between confrontation and cooperation is closely related to the conflict between capital and community. In recent organizing literature, there has been an active debate between proponents of "consensus organizing", most notably represented by Mike Eichler, and "Alinksy-type" organizing (Eichler 1995, Epstein 1996). This debate has generated more heat than light. Every organizer, even Mike Eichler, would admit that there are times when confrontational tactics are appropriate ("There are still many situations where the consensus organizing approach falls short. In some instances, no matter how skilled the consensus organizer, not enough partners can be found. In some cases, key partners refuse to participate, no matter how well the organizer has applied the model. . . [There are] situations where other organizing techniques may be more appropriate" Eichler 1995, p. 259.). Every organizer, even Saul Alinksy, would admit that sometimes organizers must cooperate with government and other elite figures ("A free and open society is an on-going conflict, interrupted periodically by compromises--which then become the start for the continuation of conflict, compromise, and on ad infinitum. Control of power is based on compromise. . . .A society devoid of compromise is totalitarian." Alinsky 1971, p.59). It is absurd to debate cooperation vs. confrontation as a choice between two mutually exclusive principles. The decision between them is always a strategic choice: under what circumstances is it best to cooperate and under what circumstances is it best to be confrontational. Low income people have too few tools at their disposal to give up either confrontation or cooperation.

Many people have argued that CDCs' dependence on government and bank funding prevents it from using confrontational tactics when strategically advantageous (Stoecker 1996, Delgado 1997, Gecan, quoted in Shelterforce, July/August, 1993). Yet even these critics point to examples where development organizations have successfully challenged the government bodies which fund them. Mike Gecan's own organization, East Brooklyn Congregations (EBC), received four things from the city to build its first one thousand affordable homes: free city land, $10,000 in interest-free loans per unit, a below-market interest rate on mortgages, and ten years of property tax abatements (approximately $330 per year per unit). The City's contribution to EBC's housing development did not hinder the organization's ability to organize aggressively. To look at another example, Stoecker suggests that the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston (DSNI) is a positive model of how to combine organizing and development. Yet DSNI has at times taken a confrontational stance toward a city government that funds their development activities.

Deb Fox, former project manager for Coalition for a Better Acre, takes the opposite view from critics who claim that developers cannot organize. She claims that ability to organize aggressively is essential to community development:

"Development is a very political process. Basically you can either grease your way through with money or with people. Private developers have money they can contribute to politicians' campaigns to get what they want. We have a lot of people that we can mobilize instead. People power is a great equalizer". (Quoted in Hadrian, p. 60)

It should not be a surprise that some community-based developers have at times been able to combine confrontation and cooperation. Business and government elites are often at loggerheads on one issue, but then work together on another issue. At both the national and state level, legislatures are regularly in conflict with the executive branch of government, yet presidents and governors manage to reach agreement with the legislatures on budgets and other key issues. In the community organizing world, we see the same dynamic. Banks are lending more in low income neighborhoods because they have been the targets of confrontational struggles. Shel Trapp, Organizing Director for National People's Action, a combative organizing group that has led the community reinvestment movement, put it this way: "We always raise money from our enemies."

The important question is not whether groups can use confrontational strategies when they are dependent on funding from government, banks and other elite groups. Clearly, some groups have managed to do both. The essential question is under what circumstances can community development groups productively use confrontational tactics. Or as it was expressed by CDC staff and board members at a recent RHICO training: "the question is not can we bite the hand that feeds us?, but rather how deep should we bite; should we use our molars or our incisors; what is the best time and way to bite the hand that feeds us?"

There are six principles that CDCs should use to figure out how and when to use confrontational tactics.

The first principle is that combining confrontation and cooperation requires clear-headed analysis and strategic sophistication. Organizing in a community development context is not easy, and there is no room for naiveté. CDCs must be realistic about the limits of their own power and the extent of the power of their targets. CDCs must discuss possible repercussions of their actions and reach consensus about whether the gains that can be realistically expected by a confrontational tactic are worth the risks of reprisals by the target. There is too much at stake to undertake moral or symbolic actions without a pragmatic assessment of the repercussions.

The second principle is that government or other targets will fund an organization only out of self-interest. If a government, bank or other elite group supports CDC development projects out of charity, moral principle, or convenience, then that support is fragile and unlikely to continue for long. However, if a city or town government funds a development project because the CDC can turn out hundreds of residents to vote, then the support is on a much stronger footing. Sometimes confrontation can cause government officials or other targets to fund a CDC development program, but fear of embarrassment is not a good motivator unless combined with positive appeals to the targets self-interest. Generally, banks begin lending in low income neighborhoods because they fear negative publicity which might harm their public image, profit margin or ability to merge. However, banks continue lending because they get good publicity for doing so and because it is profitable. When CDCs organize to get resources from government, banks and other elite groups, they must make sure that these groups get something besides the cessation of confrontational tactics.

The third principle is to develop relationships with government and business leaders. Organizers use one-to-one meetings and other techniques to develop relationships with community residents. These same techniques should be used to develop and maintain relationships with government officials and other funders. Like in other organizing, these relationships should be based on honesty, mutual understanding of the other party's self-interest, and an acknowledgment that there will be disagreements. Where possible, CDCs should not surprise officials with demonstrations or direct actions. Instead, CDC staff or leaders should discuss with the targets the general reasons that confrontational tactics must be used, if not the exact time and specific tactic to be used.

The fourth principle is that confrontation is a card that should be used carefully and sparingly. Sometimes, the most effective tactic is the one hinted at, but never used (Alinsky).

The fifth principle is that elite figures can be allies, but should not be making the decisions about how the organization is run. CDCs must strategically identify and build on areas of common interest with business and government figures, but at the same time CDCs must recognize that members of the elite also have different interests than low income residents. If a CDC board is dominated by government and/or business figures, then the CDC will not be able to choose when interests are the same and when they are different. They will not be able to choose more confrontational tactics when necessary.

The sixth principle, related to the principle of self-interest described above, is that CDCs must be gracious winners (and losers). When a target gives into a demand, it is important to make sure the target (as well as the CDC) gets credit for their positive action. In order to maintain a relationship with elite figures, CDCs must make sure they get praise as well as condemnation, a carrot as well as a stick.

In addition to these principles, many CDCs have taken other steps to protect themselves when they have used confrontational principles. One method is to form coalitions to dilute the risk to each individual member of the coalition (presentation by David Hunt, former director of Chicago's Rehab Network, 12/97). Another method used is to separate the organizing and development activities into two different organizations. While this can be an effective way to insulate a CDC from repercussions of organizing, it runs into three problems in addition to the ones discussed in section III above: first, the target often sees through the separation and blames the CDC anyway; second, strategic planning is more difficult with two organizations, and third, the difficulty in maintaining funding of confrontational groups has only been removed one degree , it is still difficult for the organizing group to get funding.

The mechanics of organizing are significantly different from the mechanics of development. Organizing is process oriented, stressing intangibles like leadership development and power, while development is product oriented, stressing quantitative measures, like units produced and cost-per-unit. They have very different timelines and paces. Organizing requires a combination of short-term victories and patient, long-term leadership development. In development, the timeline is externally driven and often conflicts with the demands of organizing. It doesn't produce the short term victories necessary to sustain the momentum of resident involvement and, at the same time, its deadlines are absolute and often do not allow enough time for resident participation (Hadrian 1988, Vogel 1997). The complexity of development deals, which is increasing as declining government funding forces CDCs to increase the number of funders per project, makes it difficult to involve community residents (Stoecker 1996).

The professionalism of CDC staffers is in tension with the need to give control over to community residents, who, after all, are not development professionals. CDC development staff are trained in a particular set of development practices and standards, which rarely include resident involvement. Oversight by funders and intermediaries only reinforces the need to follow standard procedure. Most CDC development staff see their peer group not as neighborhood residents, but as other non-profit development staff. For CDC development staff to let residents make decisions about development flies in the face of their training, the continued oversight of funders and intermediaries, and the judgment of their peers (Hadrian 1988). Note that this dynamic is not unique to development staff. Organizers also learn certain standard organizing practices and feel the need to achieve certain accomplishments. Organizers find that, though sometimes community groups and leaders need to make mistakes in order to grow, it can be difficult to let groups make these mistakes without feeling that failures reflect badly on the organizer.

How do CDCs that combine organizing and development manage the tensions between these two different processes?

First and most important, CDCs need to acknowledge the tensions, bring them out into the open, and hold discussions at all levels of the organization on how to resolve the tensions. A balance must be found. A CDC can occasionally sacrifice leadership development or resident process to meet a development deadline, or it can occasionally miss a development opportunity because residents are not united about how to seize it. If a CDC is always resolving these conflicts in favor of organizing, it should stop doing development. If the CDC is always compromising its organizing for its development projects, the CDC should stop doing community organizing and take the community out of its name. The board and senior staff need to discuss these conflicts and decide on a proper balance between organizing and development. This discussion needs to be on-going. A balance between organizing and development can be achieved for the moment, but it needs to be continuously reevaluated and re-achieved.

Second, all staff must take responsibility for advancing both the organizing and the development agendas. Organizing cannot be only the responsibility of the organizer, but must also be the responsibility of everyone on staff. Organizers must learn to think a little like developers and development staff must learn to think a little like community organizers (Hadrian). If resident participation is to be achieved, it cannot be only the organizer who welcomes residents into the organization. The executive director, the development staff, and the receptionist must be welcoming as well. One CDC project manager goes so far as to argue that combining organizing and development works better if a CDC has

"a project manager with good organizing experience and a green organizer than if it has a project manager without organizing experience and an experienced organizer. You need to understand the critical path of development in order to decide when community input is valuable and necessary. . . .[and] to make strategic decisions" (interview with Lizbeth Heyer, project manager at Jamaica Plain NDC, 11/97).

Third, CDCs must make sure that the intended prioritization of organizing and development is in fact reflected in their organization. If a CDC claims that organizing and housing are equal priorities, then organizers should receive comparable salaries to development staff. Organizers should hold a comparable place in the organizational structure, being on senior staff or reporting to the director if that is what the developers do. The board and the executive director should spend as much of their time on organizing as they do on development. Organizing will never be an organizational priority unless it is woven into the structure and daily practice of the organization.

Fourth, CDCs must help to change the standards of the field, so that resident involvement and community organizing join other criteria for evaluating development. RHICO is a first step in that direction in two ways. RHICO is a funder, trainer, and technical assistance provider who will evaluate CDCs based on community organizing, giving an external push in the direction of more community organizing. In addition, RHICO will serve as a laboratory to develop a higher level of organizing standards and practices for CDCs. RHICO will publicize these new standards and practices and encourage other funders and intermediaries to adopt them.

Fifth, CDC development and organizing staff must work together to think about how to involve residents in development decisions. CDC staff must break down the complex development process into understandable decisions that residents participate in. Resident involvement in development decisions must be a two-way process. Residents contribute their vision, needs, and experience. CDC staff conduct training on the opportunities, constraints and the development process. In order to make decisions that will most serve their needs, residents must understand the constraints on development and the repercussions about violating those constraints. Then residents can decide whether to accept or challenge those constraints.

One of the restraints that must be discussed up front is the limits on residents' role in the decision making process. As JPNDC project manager Lizbeth Heyer said

The worst mistake in development is to promise more than you can give. I don't think it is wrong to acknowledge that the CDC has fiscal and legal responsibilities and must keep control over some decisions. But residents can still have meaningful input. As long as the CDC is up front from the beginning, people understand that (Heyer, interview 11/97).

Lastly, in order to maintain residents' interest in development as an organizing campaign, the CDC must accomplish more than providing a service to a few individuals.

Successful development has to be more than encouraging one or two or even a thousand entrepreneurs from poor communities. Helping individuals in the development model must be the means toward accomplishing a social redistribution. The success of some must symbolize the possibility of others doing the same. (Rubin and Rubin, p. 453)

Despite the tensions that make it difficult to combine organizing and development, it is in the interests of CDCs to do so. Resident involvement in development insures that development better meets community needs (Traynor). As discussed briefly above, mobilization of residents increases a CDCs ability to control land and resources and to win necessary governmental permits, licenses, and designations (Hadrian 1988, Traynor 1993). Resident involvement gives projects more legitimacy in the neighborhood. Residents who feel a sense of ownership of development projects will then act as spokespeople, defending the necessary compromises and limits of the development (Hadrian 1988). Lastly, resident involvement can also help challenge those compromises and push back those limits. Resident involvement acts as a crucial counter-pressure to offset the pressures. Participation in a community visioning or planning process can be the first step in a process that can lead disempowered residents to end their quiescence and challenge the power structure (Gaventa 1982).

In many neighborhoods there are not strong groups organizing low income residents. In too many neighborhoods, if the CDC does not organize, no one else will (Clarkson 1987"). More and more grassroots organizations are folding due to lack of resources. CDCs often have more resources, an infrastructure, and are more stable than other groups. They can support organizing over the long haul.


The Massachusetts experience suggests that CDCs can do successful community organizing , but it is not easy. For CDCs to be successful, they must make a commitment to community organizing at all levels of the organization. Staff and board must view the mission of the CDC not just as building buildings, but as building power. There must be a commitment to increasing meaningful participation of community residents in CDC activities and a willingness to share power within the CDC with community residents. The CDC must have a formal leadership development program.

Staffing is essential. CDCs must have experienced organizers on staff because

"organizing for development is complicated. It involves balancing decision-making and control. You have to have an analysis and strategic experience. You can't just hand over decisions to the community. You need to think about the project, where the decision points lie, and how you present those decisions to the community" (Interview with Lizbeth Heyer, 11/97)

Residents without experience can be hired and trained to be community organizers, but only if there is someone experienced on staff to train and supervise them.

The tensions inherent in community organizing in a community development context must be acknowledged, discussed and managed. To be effective, CDCs must be able to work in an environment filled with ambiguity and contradiction.

Lastly, CDCs must focus their organizing work. This was the biggest challenge mentioned by almost every CDC organizer interviewed for this paper. CDCs make unrealistic demands on their organizers. They expect them to form and support resident councils in all CDC buildings; to turn people out to committee meetings, city hearings, planning meetings, and CDC events; to organize issue campaigns; to put out a newsletter, and more. With so many responsibilities, organizers do not have the time to devote to leadership development. CDCs need to decide what their organizing priorities are and realize that there are limits to what an organizer can do.

Massachusetts CDCs have had their organizing successes. They have created RHICO to build on those successes, to raise the quality of organizing in the participating CDCs, and to set new standards for community organizing in the CDC field. RHICO will providing training to organizers and organizations (including executive directors, development staff, and board members) on general community organizing skills and on the particular skills necessary to combine organizing and development. RHICO will provide CDCs with outside evaluation and technical assistance for their organizing work. RHICO will provide funds for CDC organizing. RHICO is clear that improving CDCs' organizing practices will require organizational transformation. As CDCs open up their organizations to increased resident involvement and influence, it will raise new questions and issues. If the CDCs are willing and open to confronting these issues and questions, they will be challenged to change further. RHICO aims to help CDCs create a virtuous circle of organizational transformation.

RHICO aims to provide a second counter-pressure on behalf of the community. Lenders and traditional funders review CDC practices to ensure that they are in line with standard development practices. RHICO will help CDCs evaluate their practices to ensure they are in-line with effective organizing practices.


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Interviews were conducted with the following individuals from CDCs:

Coaltion for a Better Acre (CBA) - Lowell Nancy Turner, Assistant Director  

Sothea Chiemruom, Lead Organizer

Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) - Boston (East Boston)  Phil Giffee, Executive Director  

Dharmena Downey, Community Planner

Fenway CDC - Boston  Carl Koechlin, Executive Director  

Carrie Darrymple, former Organizer  

Jethro Heiko, current Organizer

Twin City CDC - Fitchberg and Leominster Terry Murray, former Executive Director  

Stephanie Page, Organizer

Oak Hill CDC - Worcester  Joanne Foster, former Executive Director  

Sara Lange-Kennedy, Organizer

Allston-Brighton CDC - Boston  Bob Van Meter, Executive Director  

Lee Farris, Organizer

Codman Square NDC - Boston (Dorchester) Jim Ferris, Executive Director  

Elvira Campbell, Organizer

Urban Edge - Boston (Jamaica Plain, Roxbury) Leroy Stoddard, Director of Community Services
Greater Holyoke CDC - Holyoke  Andrew Morehouse
Nueva Esperanza - Holyoke  Carlos Vega
Jamaica Plain NDC (JPNDC) - Boston Richard Thal, Executive Director  

Claudio Martinez, Former Organizing Director  

Lizbeth Heyer, Project Manager  

Kathy Brown, Board Member and Organizer for City Life

Franklin County CDC - Greenfield and other towns in Franklin County Kathi Jaworski, Executive Director
Hilltown CDC - Chesterfield and 9 other towns in Western Hampshire and Hamden County Kimberly Longey, Executive Director
Winthrop CDC - Winthrop  James Collins, Board President