Help and Hope for the Inner City the Head of a Community-Development Support Group Comments on Grass-Roots Urban Efforts

Article excerpt

MIXING his metaphors, Paul Grogan says, "The mushrooming movement of community-development corporations (CDCs) is spreading like the kudzu vine in inner cities across America."

Mr. Grogan, president of the New York-based Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), the largest community-development support organization in the United States, has helped almost 900 CDCs by providing millions of dollars in grants, loans, and technical assistance over the last 15 years.

CDCs are nonprofit grass-roots organizations formed in distressed neighborhoods by residents tackling entrenched prob- lems with entrepreneurial spirit. At least 2,500 exist today in varying stages of maturity and development.

Quietly, steadily, like kudzu, most CDCs have taken root, and are changing the dynamics of neighborhoods by providing affordable housing along with a growing list of social, business, educational, and health services.

Some experts say that if the growth of CDCs continues, they could become the main catalyst for pulling inner cities back from social violence and economic hopelessness. Already they are altering the way some mayors govern their cities. But the success stories of most CDCs can't compete with the drama of headlines about violence and drugs in cities.

LISC, with two or three other similar national organizations, has become a leader in finding ways to allow millions of dollars in corporate funds to join millions in government funds. The objective is to send the money in a new direction, to support community-based solutions. Since its inception by the Ford Foundation, LISC has raised more than $1.3 billion in donations and investments for CDC activities.

Grogan, who served as neighborhood development director under former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, says: "CDCs manufacture terrific options for public investment, for projects that revitalize democracy and create a civil society that has been lacking in some communities."

The following are excerpts from an interview with Grogan in Boston.

Many people suggest that conditions in the inner cities are hopeless.

Society is perilously close to giving up on cities, but these little groups {CDCs} are accomplishing stunning things, and I suppose we are in a race against the negative verdict {of hopelessness}. CDCs are coming into greater visibility because they work. They have overcome their central liability of a few years ago. Even sympathetic people then would say CDCs are interesting but anecdotal. One little remarkable group fixed up a bunch of houses. But there are thousands of these organizations now. {Secretary of Housing and Urban Development} Henry Cisneros has jumped on the CDC movement, and within the limits that the federal government has, he is really helping. And the Senate just passed a $382 million bill to help finance community development in inner cities. Private business and national foundations are already pouring millions into CDCs.

What has led to the growth of the CDC movement?

It springs from the well-established habit that Americans have of refreshing their institutions, and inventing new forms of cooperation where previous {forms} have been ineffectual. …