The Blackland Community Development Corporation (BCDC) in East Austin is a model of what a successful CDC should be. The organization celebrated its 25th anniversary this weekend. In recognition I want to point out some of the things this that I think have made this community organization a national model.
I don’t mean to put down other nonprofit housing groups but BCDC comes pretty close to being what the CDC movement back in the 1970’s was trying to achieve. For over twenty years now national CDC intermediaries have been telling CDCs that they need to adopt private sector, city-wide models to be successful. In rejecting this advice and holding true to it’s values as neighborhood-focused and neighborhood-controlled, BCDC has prospered by taking a different path.
Here are eight factors that make BCDC a successful CDC.
1) Multi-ethnic, truly integrated neighborhood.
Blackland is an integrated neighborhood and the BCDC has actively worked to keep it that way. This is rarity, especially in highly segregated Austin. What’s more, Blackland has been an integrated neighborhood for more than 25 years. BCDC has fostered a community consciousness that racial and economic integration is a good thing, not something to be feared. In the face of current gentrification pressures BCDC is using housing as a tool to maintain its integrated status.
2) 100 percent community controlled CDC.
BCDC’s mulit-ethnic board runs the corporation. The board is a composed of people who live in the Blackland neighborhood. The corporation has resisted the temptation to bring wealthy non-residents onto the board just for the sake a raising money. It’s community controlled board gives BCDC complete credibility in the neighborhood. Current and former residents have sold property to BCDC for less money than they could have received from investors and speculators because they knew BCDC would use and maintain the property for the enrichment and benefit of the neighborhood.
3) A long track record of victories.
Some CDCs stay pure to their purpose but accomplish little. BCDC has stayed true to its values while accumulating a long track record of success. It fought a successful battle with the University of Texas over UT’s attempt to take over the neighborhood for campus expansion. In and of itself this was a monumental accomplishment. But BCDC went on to build award winning housing for seniors, low-income people and the homeless and sustains a high level of community involvement.
4) Holistic approach community development on multiple fronts.
Some CDCs are one trick ponies — providing a single type of housing or engaging in a single community development service or strategy. BCDC has developed a wide range of housing for different community populations, it is active in neighborhood planning, securing park improvements, working on community safety issues, etc. In my organization we have long promoted the goal of CDCs as multi-purpose community problem solving institutions. That is what BCDC has become.
5) Sustained activity over the long term.
BCDC has been continuously active and developing housing and solving community problems for 25 years — enough said.
6) Flexible and Innovative.
BCDC has not simply copied the latest rage in housing and community development. It has approached its work by listening to community residents, figuring out what it can do to make community life better and richer and developing new and innovative approaches in a range of areas to make things better. Consider their current work on solar energy to reduce residents’ energy costs and their past work on a community-based transitional housing facility as examples of the range and flexibility BCDC has demonstrated.
The CDC movement started as a young persons movement. Most homeowners associations seem to be dominated by older residents. BCDC has always been led through a collaboration of residents of all generations.
8 ) Focused on community needs not on corporate needs.
One of the greatest challenges is maintaining a CDC professional capability over time in a small community. Lots of CDCs come and go because they cannot raise funds to maintain a full time staff over many years. Many others lose their orientation to the neighborhood out of a need to become a larger scale housing developer. In a small neighborhood like Blackland there are not enough projects and their is not enough administrative funding to keep a full professional development staff employed full time year after year. BCDC has assembled a core CDC competency and community vision within its board of directors. That board maintains relationships with people in the larger community with the professional and technical competencies to carry out a project for BCDC when the board has the funding, the land and the opportunity to act.
Congratulations to BCDC founders Katherine Poole, Charles Smith, Bo McCarver, June Brewer, Alice Lenoir, KC Cerny and all the other community residents who are responsible for BCDC’s 25 years of building a great community.