By Rick Sauer and
Donald L. Haskin
While for-profit developers across the country are postponing or even canceling major projects, community development corporations are confronting their challenges and revitalizing Philadelphia neighborhoods. A few examples:
Last year, the $45 million Aramingo Crossings Shopping Center opened on the site of an abandoned Tioga Pipe plant, once seen as a major barrier to Port Richmond's progress. Anchored by a Walmart and a Lowe's Home Improvement store, the center created more than 700 jobs.
In 2012, the $5.6 million Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Culinary Enterprises opened in West Philadelphia. A state-of-the-art incubator for culinary entrepreneurs, the center is creating jobs in Philadelphia's food industry and serving as a hub of community health and nutrition resources.
Also this year, an innovative $48 million sustainable apartment, retail, and commercial complex known as Paseo Verde began going up at Ninth and Berks Streets, next to the Temple University train station, on a former Philadelphia Gas Works parking lot.
These projects all swept away blight and breathed new life into neighborhoods. They were all generated by local agencies known as community development corporations, or CDCs, which did the hard work of assembling property, guiding developers, gathering public input, and arranging financing. And they represent just a fraction of the economic impact that CDCs have on Philadelphia neighborhoods.
So what exactly are CDCs? They are nonprofit, community-controlled organizations dedicated to revitalizing neighborhoods. They get funding from foundations, corporations, individuals, and the public sector. And they generally operate under the radar in cities across the United States. In Philadelphia, nearly every neighborhood is home to a CDC.
CDCs are powerful economic engines, improving homes, business districts, and public spaces. A study being released today by the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations shows they have made about $2.2 billion in direct investments in the city's neighborhoods over the past 20 years, contributing $5.1 billion in activity to the state's economy, $3.3 billion of it within the city.
Since 1992, local CDC investments have created nearly 12,000 jobs and helped 9,000 families move into new homes. They have increased property values by an estimated $680 million, increasing annual city property tax revenues by more than $10 million.
CDCs work to rebuild lives as well as communities. They spend tens of millions of dollars a year on services such as housing counseling, job training, after-school programs, and health centers.
And they do all this regardless of the economy. CDCs stay with neighborhoods through thick and thin. Even during the recent recession, they remained steadfast.
In the last year alone, CDCs helped Kensington and Fishtown residents reduce home energy use and save money. They worked to beautify Ridge Avenue in Roxborough. And they planned a community center and housing in Chinatown.
Amid talk of austerity and belt-tightening, let's consider the value of CDCs. Let's consider how money well spent makes a positive difference for all of us.