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                         Building Neighborhood Capacity in Response to Welfare Reform
       Testimony, Office of Housing and Community Development Year 25 Preliminary Plan
                                                     Ed Schwartz, President
                                         Institute for the Study of Civic Values
                                                         March 24th, 1999

That the two words, "welfare reform," are nowhere to be found in this preliminary plan is at the least a startling omission. On March 3rd, Mayor Rendell took a full page ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News alerting the entire City to the potential catastrophe that would occur if we failed to develop adequate strategies to help thousands of people now on public assistance find ways to work at least 20 hours a week. Yet the City agency charged with building  "viable urban neighborhoods" and expanding opportunity for low and moderate income individuals and families comes forth with annual plan that remains utterly oblivious to the profound changes that are now taking place in precisely the neighborhoods where OHCD invests most of its scarce resources. Are we all living in the same City?

Given its obvious impact on the thousands of people for whom this office is supposed to be working, welfare reform threatens to undermine virtually every major program described in this plan.

What good will it do to create new opportunities for home ownership and rental housing in low-income neighborhoods, if hundreds of single parents in these neighborhoods lose their basic source of income–or, alternatively, if children and young people in these neighborhoods are left unattended for hours a time while their parents have to work? At least one major bank–PNC–is reportedly trying to sell its portfolio of homes in these neighborhoods to cdc's. Isn't that a sufficiently powerful warning sign to get your attention?

What difference will a handful of new businesses in these neighborhoods make in meeting the need to find jobs for more than 30,000 residents over the course of this year? When K-Mart opened in center city three years ago, 5,000 people signed up for 300 jobs. That's the ratio of people to semi-skilled job opportunities throughout the City: 17 to 1. The Kverner shipyard deal propped up in part by a Section 108 Loan supported with Community Development funds provides direct jobs for just 300 people–and it's not clear that most them will be even residents of Philadelphia.

Yet as important as it is to rebuild the industrial and commercial corridors of the City–a cause in which I was the acknowledged *leader* in the 1970's and 80's--this plan continues to advance the myth that inner city economic development is an adequate response to the employment crisis facing the residents of these neighborhoods.  It is nothing of the sort and virtually everyone who has been working on these problems outside of local government–myself, Jeremy Nowak, Fred Dedrick, to name three–is now arguing that we need to help Philadelphia residents gain access to jobs  throughout the region, since that's where most of the jobs are now and will remain, for the forseeable future. No insight of this kind is reflected at all in the economic development and job training initiatives described in this plan.

But the critical void left by OHCD's failure to respond to the crisis of welfare reform is wrapped up in the application's phrase, "Community Organization Capacity Building." A critical mission of this agency ought to be to help strengthen the capacity of organizations within low and moderate income neighborhoods to respond to the housing, economic, and social crises facing the residents of these neighborhoods. If OHCD does not play this role, no one else will–not the County Board of Assistance, not the Private Industry Council, not the MOCS, not any other Department of City and State Government.

As someone who has spent the past 28 years working to organize and strengthen community groups in this City and throughout the country–and who has spent the past two years developing ways that neighborhood groups can and should respond to the crisis of welfare reform-- I submit that OHCD's so-called "capacity building" program–aimed exclusively at helping some groups learn basic organizational procedures, while others learn how to submit proposals for housing development to OHCD, is almost shameful in how far removed it is from the assistance that community organizations need today, in the face of welfare reform and its potential impact on our neighborhoods .  And what is most interesting is that even many of the neighborhood groups whom you're supporting say the same thing.

So what help do neighborhood groups need over the next several years to support parents entering the workforce and their children?

My answer is not merely what we propose–but what we are already doing in response to this crisis–in cooperation with Community Legal Services and Community Legal Assistance, the Center for Literacy and the Mayors' Commission on Literacy, the Delaware Valley Child Care Council and Philadelphia Child Care Resources, Womens' Association for Womens' Alternatives, more than 100 community and human service organizations from all parts of Philadelphia, including many that are now supported by OHCD. As I will indicate, your funding does help pay for this–even though we had to secure help from City Council in obtaining it. But paying for it is about all you have seem interested in doing–and if the Year 25 Plan is any indication, you're not interested in continuing this funding in the future.

So here are the priorities

First, community organizations and human service agencies need to build relationships with the District Welfare Offices serving their neighborhoods, so that they can remain abreast of what is happening to recipients whom they serve and provide them needed support both in entering the workforce and in dealing the Department itself when they are threatened with loss of support. Two years ago, I asked representatives from more than 20 NACs sitting in the OHCD conference room how many had ever called the Welfare Office in their service area. Only person raised his hand. That was excusable then, perhaps. It is inexcusable now. So last year–and now again this year–the Institute has been conducting Neighborhood Roundtables between the leaders of District Welfare Offices and groups in their districts that are gradually building relationships between the groups and the Department that we are going to need as the pressure on welfare recipients–and their neighborhoods–grows over the next several months.

The roundtables that we are now conducting involve groups like Frankford United Neighborhoods and the Frankford Group Ministry and the Queen Village NAC and the West Philadelphia Partnership and Germantown Settlement and Norris Square Civic Assocation and the Kensington South NAC–all groups receiving sizeable support from OHCD. We announce them on our email list, on our web site, and in our monthly mailings–and since our current $45,000 contract with OHCD helps support them, we include them in every monthly report. But has anyone in OHCD expressed interest in any of this? Not at all. A major new initiative is taking place in part under your auspices, and the leadership of this agency is utterly oblivious to it. This is what I mean.

Second, neighborhood organizations and human service agencies need advice on how to create community service jobs that create work for recipients that helps them meet their 20-25/week work requirements and that gives them skills needed to secure permanent, unsubsidized employment. Under the rubric of what the Commonwealth now calls, "Work Opportunities," the Private Industry Council is about to award larger non-profits contracts to oversee community service jobs for a minimum of 100 recipients per group, at a paltry supervisory rate of $400/person. Philadelphia Works is placing 750 recipients with non-profits every six months, with a much greater emphasis on mentoring and supportive services than the "Work Opportunities" program provides.

The Institute itself has been sponsoring this sort of program for the past five years, under contract with the PIC. Three people out of seven on my staff are graduates of this program. Many others have found jobs in non-profits supported by OHCD—including Northwest Counseling, Friends Rehab, SW Community Services, and Frankford United Neighbors. We are now in the midst of negotiations with the School District and the PIC to place 340 recipients in the Olney Cluster, the Frankford Cluster, the Bartram Cluster, and in neighborhood groups around the American Street Corridor–people who will work in the schools during the spring and in the  neighborhood during the summer, when schools are not open. We will be producing a booklet for neighborhood groups on how to create and administer community service jobs for welfare recipients, on a small grant from the Barra Foundation. We have been doing this since I left the government in 1993. We have reported on it at the NAC workshops we co-sponsored with you over the past two years. We have been a leading voice not only in advocating community service employment, but in making it happen. And has OHCD been interested? Not in the slightest.

Third, neighborhood groups need to work with the Mayors' Commission on Literacy, non-profit literacy providers, and the School District to build an adult literacy system accessible to welfare recipients who now have to work at least 20 hours a week. The major battle that virtually the entire leadership of the City is fighting with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania revolves around changing Act 35 so that education and training can be deemed a "work related" activity. There are now more than 1,000 vacancies in adult literacy classes in Philadelphia. Again–we all will suffer if recipients are thrown into temporary, entry level jobs–or even into community service work assignments–but fail to get the skills needed to secure long-term employment leading to self-sufficiency.

Here again, the Institute has been a leader in building relationships between neighborhood groups supported by OHCD and the City's adult literacy system. The Queen Village NAC is our primary partner in our South Philadelphia literacy program. The South Lehigh NAC remains a co-sponsor of our North Philadelphia program. We have now joined forces with the Center for Literacy, the Mayors' Commission, and the School District to build the city-wide system that I am recommending here–all in partnership with NACs, CDCs, and other community based organizations with day-to-day contact with people seeking this support.

These initiatives have been central to the Institute's work since 1992. We have invited Rose Brandt from the Mayors' Commission, Larry Aniloff from the School District, and JoAnn Weinberger from the Center for Literacy to address our NAC workshops and city-wide conferences for the past two years. We even sponsored an entire conference on "The Literacy Gap" in June of last year, to encourage neighborhood groups to become aware of these programs and to at least become advocates for their expansion throughout the City. Has OHCD been interested? Has anyone here joined with us to encourage NACs and CDCs to move in this direction? The answer, again, is "no"–even though the leading neighborhood groups and coalitions in the City are now united in the conviction that upgrading the educational level of our workforce must become Philadelphia's central priority.

Fourth, neighborhood groups need help in working with SEPTA to develop new transit routes–reinforced by buses, vehicles, and vans–to give access to inner-city residents seeking jobs anywhere in the region. I made this point fifteen years ago as City Council's liaison to SEPTA, as I learned of thousands of job vacancies in the suburbs while City residents were looking for work. The Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition has dramatized how effective this strategy has been in its own reverse commuting project, that uses vans to help recipients find and retain jobs along Route 309 and in other suburban areas. SEPTA itself has expanded reverse commuting routes like the Horsham Breeze, to the point that there were 8,000 additional riders moving from Philadelphia to jobs in the region in 1998. This has been a major new development–creating direct job opportunities for inner city residents–instead of the *hope* of a few jobs after millions of public dollars are used to lure businesses to the City in the name of "economic development."

So the Institute is now working out arrangements with SEPTA to expand the involvement of neighborhood groups in transportation planning. This is commonplace in the suburbs, where Local Management Authorities have a lot to say about public transit in where they live. We need not get so elaborate here, but much needs to be done to bring neighborhood groups into this critical process. Again–reverse commuting has been a visible priority under welfare reform for at least three years. Has anyone from either the community or economic development side of the Community Development Block Grant seen this as a priority for building capacity in the neighborhoods? The answer, again, is "no..not at all."

Fifth, community  groups need to be kept abreast of whether the day care and after-school programs serving their neighborhoods are adequate to meet the needs of the thousands of children who are now must be abandoned by their working parents for much of the day. Here, we are fortunate to have strong organizations like Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, the Delaware Valley Child Care Council, Philadelphia Child Care Resources working under the auspices of the Welfare Department, all of whom keep careful track of this situation and advise us on what our priorities ought to be. But until the Institute started bringing these organizations into our meetings with other community groups, few of them even knew of their existence, let alone how we might all work together. Now, we have been an ongoing partnership between these varied organizations that will be crucial as the demand for child care begins to outstrip the supply–as Donna Cooper and a number of others are convinced will happen over the next two years. Again–at every training session and roundtable we have run, questions about child care have been among the highest priorities for the community groups who participate in them–including those that are funded by OHCD. But OHCD itself does nothing to understand any of these problems–or to give support to community groups that are trying to solve them.

Finally, community groups need to gain the capacity to communicate quickly with one another around all of these issues and to get access to the latest information relevant to dealing with it. And now there is a powerful resource called the Internet which makes all this possible. I need not dwell on the leadership role that the Institute plays in helping community groups learn how to use the Internet, as the most powerful set of tools for communication and information that has been made available to us since the telephone and telegraph.

One would think that a City agency would welcome the assistance of its former director in taking leadership in this area as well–which I have offered to provide again and again over the past few years. Since 1994, we have helped Community Development Directors throughout the United States learn about the Internet through the National Community Development Association; we have built email lists and web sites accessed by hundreds of community leaders and groups from all over the world; I have written a book that is considered the defining work on the use of the Internet for community activism and politics, but the Office of Housing and Community Development  has had no interest whatsoever in any of this. In fact, a clause in our contract that would have enabled us to provide this sort of assistance to community groups was removed, because the Office was afraid that it would lead to requests for OHCD to pay for the equipment. How short-sighted can you possibly have been?

So these are the priorities, now shared by just about every group that is trying to come to grips with what welfare reform is doing to the City.

Neighborhood groups need to build relationships with District Welfare offices, so that they can track what is happening to recipients and begin to advocate in their behalf.

Neighborhood groups need to learn how to create and oversee community service jobs for welfare recipients, since we are going to need to generate thousands of these "work opportunities" for recipients over the next few years, to help them meet their 20 hours/week work requirements.

Neighborhood groups need to work with the adult literacy programs in their areas to build a city-wide workforce education and training system offering classes for working parents at times when they can attend them.

Neighborhood groups need to gain the capacity work with SEPTA in constructing a reverse commuting system that will permit unemployed residents of Philadelphia to gain access to jobs throughout this region.

Neighborhood groups need to work with the  child care and after-school programs to insure that every working family has access to affordable, quality care for their children while parents work.

And neighborhood groups need to learn how to use the Internet, to strengthen communications with one another and to gain fast access to information relevant to meeting these important needs.

So what do we seek from OHCD in addressing these priorities?

First, OHCD needs to add the crisis of welfare reform to its list of urban problems identifed at the outset of this application and commit the agency to an ongoing effort to address it. There is so much this particular regime can do in this area between now and the end of the year. But you at least can lay a foundation upon which the next administration can build–in cooperation with those of us in the community who are wrestling with these problems on a day-to-day basis.

Second, we want OHCD to include the Institute for the Study of Civic Values explicitly in the Year 25 Plan under "capacity building," to help neighborhood groups respond to problems and crises arising under welfare reform. We further seek an allocation of $150,000 from OHCD to provide these services–which will be less than half the total amount we will raise to support our entire program in this area.

Third, we believe that OHCD needs to undertake a full review of the status of welfare recipients in all housing developments which your funds have supported, to determine how many of them may be at risk of losing their homes. This is at least as important as the surveys of abandoned houses that this office regularly undertakes

Fourth,  we want the leadership of OHCD to let its staff start attending the meetings, roundtables, and conferences that we are sponsoring in this area in all parts of the City. We had a request from several Neighborhood Program Coordinators to attend our March 3rd Conference. We waived the fee for them, in recognition of the existing contract with OHCD. Not one showed up–indicating that it was not a priority for this agency. We want these priorities to change–and change now.

Finally, we want the relevant staff of OHCD to subscribe to our listserv on welfare reform so that you can join the community of public agencies and community organizations that are now working together to address these critical problems.

"Welfare reform" may not be mentioned in this application–but it sets the terms upon which every agency working in low income neighborhoods and with low income people must build its strategies and programs. Mayor Rendell keeps warning all of us that a serious crisis is at hand.. It's time that the Office of Housing and Community Development starts taking it seriously as well.