Getting ready for Clinton's HUD

December 23, 1992

It is easy to understand why the participants of the National Community Development Initiative, which met in Baltimore this week to assess their first year of operation, are fairly ecstatic. On the eve of their conference President-elect Bill Clinton chose a man closely associated with the low-income housing cause to be his secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Whether former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros can meet the high expectations directed at him remains to be seen. But after more than a decade of complaining about the federal government's diminishing interest in caring for the poor, low-income housing advocates will have the ear of a man who understands their language and concerns. (Mr. Cisneros has been directly involved in efforts to renew the quality of life in inner-city neighborhoods through directorships in organizations such as James Rouse's Enterprise Foundation).

In recent years, non-profit development corporations have assumed a key role in creating affordable housing for low- and moderate-income home buyers. A year ago, that prominence was recognized by a consortium of seven private foundations and the Prudential Insurance Co., which created the National Community Development Initiative to provide development corporations a range of financial and technical support.

Starting with a $63 million nest egg, which has more than doubled, the initiative now supports 125 different non-profit development corporations in 20 cities across the nation. That is only the beginning, assures initiative leader James Pickman. Referring to the interest of banks, corporations and local governments, he says, "We are seeing that new players are coming in."

Baltimore has been a testing ground for these new strategies. West Baltimore's Nehemiah project to provide 300 new or rehabilitated housing units to limited-income homeowners is a nationally known effort to demonstrate that a declining neighborhood can be turned around. Its construction phase is now over. But much challenging long-term community work remains to be done.

Paul Brophy, vice chair of the Enterprise Foundation, says that the National Community Development Initiative hopes to greatly increase the number of non-profit development corporations building low-income housing units in the next few years. As this happens, Baltimore will continue to play a key role in this important movement.

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