When the Westown Community Development Corp. set about looking for a development partner for the planned $15 million redo of the long-vacant Variety Theatre on Lorain Avenue, it turned to the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, a neighborhood community development corporation, or CDC.
When community development groups in several struggling neighborhoods on Cleveland’s West Side needed to find a partner to keep those organizations afloat in 2010, the Detroit Shoreway nonprofit was there to unite the groups under its umbrella. In July of that year, Detroit Shoreway opened its Stockyard, Clark-Fulton & Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office, now the Metro West Community Development Office on Fulton Road, with its own managing director.
And when the city of Shaker Heights was looking for a developer to help shape a new housing development along the Blue Line Rapid Transit, it turned to the Detroit Shoreway organization. The result is Transit Village — 33 attached, single-family townhomes along Van Aken Boulevard that will sell for between $275,000 and $350,000.
Reducing the number of CDCs has been encouraged by a number of funders in recent years, and Detroit Shoreway’s approach may be the most successful.
“There are fewer resources around and our industry is evolving,” said Jeff Ramsey, the executive director of Detroit Shoreway. “The model we are creating here is using an organizational infrastructure of successful organizations to deliver grassroots community services.”
That means turning into a profit center the development expertise gained in the neighborhood by developing market-rate and affordable housing, and then the $30 million Gordon Square Arts District that includes the Capitol Theatre, the new Near West Theatre and Cleveland Public Theatre. Assisting places like Shaker Heights and the neighboring Westown, and earning development fees that support other services, like neighborhood housing inspections and workforce development programs, also is critical.
It also has meant merging four CDCs — Brooklyn Centre, Clark-Fulton and Stockyards, in addition to Detroit Shoreway.
Both Detroit Shoreway and its Metro West office, which serves the three outlying neighborhoods, have a managing director, Ramsey said. The two offices share a central staff for services such as human resources and information technology. So what had been four standalone organizations, each with small staffs serving 10,000 to 15,000 resident neighborhoods, is now one organization with a combined staff of 28 serving an area with a population of 40,000 people.
“That’s an example (of merging CDCs) where it has worked really well,” said Bobbie Reichtell, executive director of Campus District Inc., a CDC serving a neighborhood east of downtown. “It’s perfect that (Ramsey) is there because the previous organization was very good at community organizing, but not at development.”
Reichtell, a former senior vice president for programs at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, an umbrella organization for local CDCs, said Detroit Shoreway’s development expertise will help rebuild the Metro West area, which abuts the upcoming redevelopment of the MetroHealth campus across West 25th Street.
A segment of the nonprofit world that grew out of the late 1960s, community development corporations, or CDCs, were a response to the struggles of urban neighborhoods with aging housing, including the reluctance of banks to make mortgages in minority and changing neighborhoods and the flight to the suburbs.
Initially funded by churches and foundations, CDCs rescued abandoned homes, rehabilitated them and then filled them with families using lease-purchase agreements. When the young U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development created the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, Cleveland and other cities funneled CDBG money through these community development groups for low-income housing and housing code enforcement services.
At one time, each traditional Cleveland neighborhood, more than 40 of them, had a CDC. But declining populations and waning federal funding have cut that number in half and forced them to find new ways to stay financially solvent.
Now, Detroit Shoreway’s financial statement shows a $10 million operating budget with three equal funding streams: one-third from development fees, like it’s getting from the Variety Theatre and Transit Village; one-third from foundations and donations; and the rest from the CDBG dollars channeled through the city of Cleveland.
“They’ve gotten ahead of the curve,” said Colleen Gilson, vice president of CDC Advancement at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress about Detroit Shoreway. “Why not export their talents? They’ve been so successful at development.”
But like other CDCs, its services are broadening. Now, looking beyond its strength in housing and commercial development, Detroit Shoreway sees its mission, according to Ramsey, as “effective neighboring.” That includes offering programs like financial literacy to help low-income people build wealth, engaging with other neighborhood groups — like the Hispanic groups in the Clark-Fulton area — as well as workforce programs and even a tax preparation service. As Ramsey sees it, every dollar saved by making sure residents take all of their tax deduction, and the preparation fee of an outside preparer, comes back to the neighborhood.
Even if CDCs can’t find ways to merge (two East Side groups failed at it), Gilson sees CDCs combining resources in other ways, such as developing joint marketing programs or doing long-range planning together. So while the Shaker Square Area Development Corp. and the Buckeye Area Development Corp. couldn’t find their way to a merger, Ohio City Inc. and the Tremont West Development Corp., two relatively strong CDCs, are seeking to fund a shared safety coordinator position.
“I think the future is in partnerships and collaborations,” Ramsey said.