By Madeline McHale, NLIHC Field Intern
On Thursday, June 23rd, the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development (CNHED), a NLIHC State Coalition Partner, held their monthly meeting focusing on the intersection of racial justice and community development and featuring speakers from the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC). The meeting began with remarks and an introduction from CNHED Board President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Washington, DC Susanne Slater and Executive Director of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development Steve Glaude. CNHED’s new strategic direction includes a commitment to racial justice, and this event was developed to engage DC’s community development field on this important issue. CNHED welcomed presentations from PACDC’s Director of Programs Pamela Bridgeforth and Policy Director Beth McConnell. Both presenters discussed their approaches on integrating racial justice into policy frameworks and introduced their campaign, “Beyond Gentrification: Toward Equitable Neighborhoods – An Equitable Development Policy Platform for Philadelphia”, which includes strategies towards capitalizing on the future development of the city of Philadelphia.
As is the case around the country, economic disparities between racial groups plague Philadelphia. PACDC seeks to ensure that as new development comes to the city, its impact is equitable along racial and socioeconomic lines. At the CNHED event, Beth McConnell explained how although there has been significant neighborhood construction in Philadelphia, the amount of equitable economic growth is absent. According to Ms. McConnell, it is PACDC’s job to look out for residents and for areas that aren’t receiving equal attention. In response to an increasing amount of neighborhood change in the greater Philadelphia community, PACDC sought to go beyond recognition of the need for change and began to respond to the gentrification occurring across the city.
To do so, they launched a campaign known as “Beyond Gentrification: Toward Equitable Neighborhoods – An Equitable Development Policy Platform for Philadelphia”, which discusses how Philadelphia can “capitalize on current growth in a way that includes everyone in each neighborhood” (PACDC, 2015). PACDC used the hashtag #equitablephilly to get their campaign message to the public and during the 2015 mayoral race in Philadelphia, hosted a forum which engaged the candidates with the campaign further spreading the message of the platform.
According to Ms. McConnell, the five main messages of the campaign include: strengthening people and areas to create inclusive communities by participating in neighborhood decisions, producing and maintaining affordable homes across Philadelphia through the strategic housing plan and investing in home repair programs, expanding economic opportunities to reduce the high un-employment rates and poverty within the city by filling the construction boom with local workers, addressing and understanding displacement measures while expanding on existing assistance programs, and attacking blight, vacancy and abandonment in neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.
Throughout the meeting, the presenters targeted their audience, comprised of a broad range of CNHED’s members, stressing the importance of beginning discussions on race and equity at the local level. Ms. Bridgeforth urged organizers, by saying “now is the time” to discuss the impact of race and racism on community investment because we, as advocates and community members, “have the power and knowledge to have these conversations”. The audience was receptive to the message, making connections between the struggles and opportunities experienced in Philadelphia and Washington, DC.
In a racially diverse city with widespread inequity, community development organizations like PACDC must focus on issues of race and class so that they can effectively do their jobs and bring the communities together to develop in a positive way. In order to do so, PACDC has worked hard to launch their Beyond Gentrification campaign and continues to explore creative ways of empowering a diverse group of community leaders in an effort to create new opportunities for racial justice.
Although Pamela Bridgeforth and Beth McConnell addressed the specific challenges facing Philadelphia, discussing the relationship between racial justice and community development is a complex process that must occur in cities across the country, including Washington, DC. By hosting representatives from PACDC, CNHED contributed to a stronger understanding among DC advocates of the importance of including racial justice as a principle of community development strategies and opened the door to future conversations of race, inequity, and development.