For those of you who do not know what Community Development Corporations are, you need to know something about urban areas with problems.
A CDC is in a nutshell a non-profit organization. However, it isn’t like a church or the Red Cross. CDCs are geographic organizations who have a defined area and provide a mix of programs with a special purpose: to improve quality of life for residents who live within the CDC’s service area. Some CDCs are focused heavily on real-estate, with the goal of creating private market interest in redevelopment. Other CDCs are social service nets and others still are issue-specific.
But unlike a civic association, CDCs are different. A CDC is not a neighborhood association. The people who work at a CDC can come from wherever, including the suburbs. Only the “outreach area” of a CDC is limited by geography.
CDCs are considered community receptacles for public grant funding, both federal, state and local. If a CDC wants to join up with a national program to update playgrounds, for instance, it has to have people on staff charged with doing all the requirements that are mandated for receiving the money, spending the money and getting the work done, and reporting how the money was spent and in most cases, what happened after the money was spent.
Similarly, for politicians looking to start a program or special project, it is usually CDC organizations they know who will fill out the applications to pick up those grants and do the grunt work, or source the grunt work to other connected organizations.
In Southwest Philadelphia, which includes large neighborhoods like Kingsessing, something went wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. And Southwest CDC covers a very large and often-ignored section of Philadelphia.
Checks are bouncing.
People are lying about the payroll.
And neighbors are getting mad enough to show up to what would normally be sleepy meetings. The Philadelphia Public Record has been covering this extraordinary debacle.
This all has similar hallmarks of Germantown Settlement, which was a CDC that exploded in biblical proportions. A Federal bankruptcy judge ordered the liquidation of Germantown Settlement around the same time former City Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, who used to represent Germantown, decided to not run for office. [Councilwoman Cindy Bass and Councilman Jones now represent the area where Settlement used to exist]
PACDC is supposed to provide support services to participating CDCs. Southwest CDC is not a member of PACDC. Also unfortunate for Southwest CDC is that the Office of Housing and Community Development hasn’t been proactive enough at stopping this train from going off the tracks. Now the CDC is in crisis.
The Southwest section of Philadelphia is the most-ignored part of Philly, and it has some of the most acute problems. The CDC over the area has been neutered by its own stupidity and isn’t helping the community and more importantly–it’s now doing as little work as possible while it falls into a cash crisis.
Errata: Earlier in this article I mentioned that PACDC has oversight over Southwest CDC. It does not.