The Straight Scoop on Worcester’s Community Development Corporations (CDCs)! Connect the dots!

By Barbara Haller, Main South Community Development Corporation Board member, former District 4 City Councilor, and Main South resident

There are several things going on that impact CDCs. Connecting the
dots correctly is difficult. Lots of people have lots of different
opinions. Lots of people are wrong. I believe that I can help ICT
readers understand some of the realities CDCs and the City are facing.
How I know what I know:

Over the past almost 25 years I have been involved in our Community
Development Corporations. Before being elected District 4 city
councilor I served as a board member for Worcester Common Ground and
Main South CDC. While city councilor I no longer served as a board
member but was an active advocate for the work of CDCs across the
City. Since leaving office I rejoined the Main South CDC as a board
member.

What I know:

Dot 1: Local political climate has shifted towards more support of
business development.

Dot 2: Local political climate has shifted towards downtown
revitalization.

Dot 3: Demographics show Worcester is losing its middle class.

Dot 4: Local political climate strongly favors home ownership over
rental properties.

Dot 5: Federal money for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) is
declining.

Dot 6: CDBG has been used for lots of things including Code
Inspections, Operation Clean City, Friendly House, Henry Lee Willis,
South Worcester Neighborhood Center, Centro Las Americas, and much
more. It has also funded CDCs for some of their work in the community.

Dot 7: There are other Federal and State funds for developing
affordable housing — HOME, NSP, Lead Abatement. CDCs and private
developers have been awarded use of these funds either by the City
directly or under the Cityâ€Ts supervision.

Dot 8: There have been some scandals associated with some of these
funds. 5 May Street (private developer) was given money without
doing the work. Hadley Building (private developer) was completed
with public money but at excessive cost. Former Ionic Ave Boys &
Girls Club (private developer) was given public money but was never
developed. Lead removal program was corrupted by bribes.

Dot 9: There have been lots of questions around costs for developing
affordable housing. Many think it is too expensive.

Dot 10: CDCs take the sites with the most problems, in the worst
conditions, using money with the most strings attached, and
revitalize neighborhoods.

Dot 11: Local political climate wants more money to go to private
developers, home ownership, more middle class neighborhoods.

Dot 12: Federal audit of CDBG for past 3 years found City mismanaged
at least $2 million and maybe as much as $5+ million. A large portion
of these dollars were given to the CDCs. The audit is critical of the
City Administration contracts and monitoring of the contracts.

Dot 13: The dollars were used for operations that the Feds say were
ineligible under the program.

Dot 14: There is no indication that there was any misuse of funds by
anyone. No double-dipping, no excessive salaries, no slush funds.

Dot 15: The City has said it will go after the CDCâ€Ts for the money.

Dot 16: Those opposed to using public tax dollars to build affordable
housing are connecting the dots to say that it is time for CDCs to go
away or at least consolidate.

Dot 17: Those who want to protect the Cityâ€Ts Administration are
connecting the dots to say that it is the CDCs who messed up.

Dot 18: Those who want to protect the CDCs are connecting the dots to
say it is the City Administration who messed up; CDCs did as they
were contracted to do. If the City wrote contracts that scoped work
that was not covered by federal CDBG funds then it is the City who
erred, not the CDCs.

I firmly believe that the CDCs are vital to our City’s success. I
believe that the CDCs did nothing wrong and that CDBG funding was
used to fight neighborhood blight.

I also believe that the City Administration is not interested in
partnering with the CDCs anymore. I believe that the City Council
supports the City Administration’s plan to shift more resources to
other parts of the city and to and reduce affordable housing
development by CDCs. I believe this is a mistake for lots of reasons.

You can connect your own dots, but the way I see it inner-city
neighborhood revitalization is in for a serious slowdown.

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