Community Dividend

A conversation with ... Elise Hoben and Bob Poznanski of Rural LISC

Community Dividend discusses rural community development corporations with Elise Hoben and Bob Poznanski, two noted experts from Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation.

Published August 1, 2000  |  August 2000 issue

Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a nonprofit organization funded by local and national foundations and corporations, assists community development corporations (CDCs) in their efforts to transform distressed neighborhoods into healthy communities.

The mission of Rural LISC, a program within LISC, is to build the capacity of resident-led rural CDCs, increase their production and impact, demonstrate the value of investing in and through rural CDCs and make the resource and policy environment more supportive of rural CDCs and their work. Rural LISC provides 68 competitively selected CDCs (seven located in the Ninth Federal Reserve District) with technical and/or financial support and training.

Community Dividend discussed rural CDCs with two noted experts from Rural LISC: Elise Hoben, program vice president; and Bob Poznanski, Midwest and North Region program director.

Community Dividend: While Rural LISC works with CDCs that serve rural areas, your parent organization, LISC, works in both urban and rural areas. What are some of the differences you see between urban and rural CDCs?

Elise Hoben: In many ways, rural CDCs are more visible within their particular communities, and on a local level are more comprehensive in nature than urban CDCs. Nationally, the picture is very different. Community development is seen as an urban issue and the work done by rural CDCs is not yet as visible as the activities of urban CDCs.

CD: How has that affected the efforts of rural CDCs?

Hoben: The most serious effect has been a lack of funding. Rural CDCs receive fewer federal resources and fewer foundation and corporate resources than their urban counterparts.

CD: Do you see signs that the national visibility of rural CDCs is increasing?

Hoben: At LISC, we are trying to make sure rural issues are discussed at the national level. Michael Rubinger, president of LISC, and new LISC Chair Robert Rubin are including rural development in speeches and discussions to give rural areas more visibility. Since one of the goals of Rural LISC is to add value to rural community development, we helped organize the Stand Up for Rural America Campaign to educate Congress and the American people about rural issues.

We also see other groups giving rural issues more attention. For example, the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, within its NeighborWorks® network has begun the Rural Alliance. (Editor's note: Two Ninth District organizations, Neighborhood Housing Services of Great Falls, Mont., and Neighborhood Housing Services of the Black Hills, are members of this alliance.)

CD: Has the Stand Up for Rural America Campaign been successful in raising awareness?

Hoben: We are off to a good start. Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota has been instrumental in increasing the visibility of rural issues outside of local communities at the state and national levels. House leaders from both sides of the aisle revived the Congressional Rural Caucus and recruited more than 110 members. Also, several states, including Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, have recently made progress in bringing attention to rural issues affecting them.

The campaign recruited more than 780 sponsor organizations from 49 states. The first Rural Funders Working Group was established in the Neighborhood Funders Group of the Council on Foundations and a 1,339-member Rural Community Developers Network was organized to serve and represent all rural community-based developers.

CD: Has funding for rural CDCs increased as a result?

Hoben: We are pleased that in the Fiscal Year 2000 agricultural appropriations bill, $6 million was allocated to the Rural Community Development Initiative to fund nonprofit capacity building. HUD has included $20 million in new federal funding for rural CDCs as part of the National Community Development Initiative. Also, the campaign stimulated rural community development investment initiatives by Bank of America, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that totaled $10.3 billion.

We have much more work to do to increase both awareness and funding. We would like to see Congress approve a rural community development initiative similar to the existing urban community development initiative administered through HUD. Also, we are targeting superregional banks to provide money for rural CDCs.

CD: Let's talk about the individual CDCs in the Rural LISC program. In our cover story, we discuss the types of capacity necessary for a rural CDC's success. Aside from those elements, what makes a rural CDC successful?

Bob Poznanski: The formula for success for a rural CDC is to have a strong vision for the community while being realistic about finding particular opportunities that will move that vision forward and make it a reality.

First, a CDC must capitalize on its available assets. For example, the Community Action Program Agency in South Dakota had access to a stable source of funding, CAP funds. This was a tremendous asset to the organization as it built and expanded its programs. Another asset for some CDCs is expertise in one particular area of community development that can provide a foundation for organizational development and success.

Hoben: This goes to a LISC hallmark: a CDC should start with something it knows can succeed, get it done and get it done quickly and successfully to attract resources and support for future efforts under the CDC's mission. For example, the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership (SMHP) started by using Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnerships Program funds to repair single-family homes. Through its success in this program, SWMHP developed its resource and organizational capacity. Later on, it was able to move into developing affordable multifamily housing projects.

The first project should fit within the strategic framework and mission statement of the CDC but should also illustrate success. The first effort does not necessarily need to start small, but should be something that the CDC knows well and can achieve success at to establish a track record. Then the CDC will be able to move into other program areas.

CD: So building on assets and strengths is key. But often a town has many needs. What advice do you have for a CDC wanting to tackle several community needs?

Poznanski: There should be a vision that depicts the community "getting it all," but the CDC should not assume it can, or should, do it all by itself. In fact, successful CDCs combine strong leadership and vision, community support, and knowledge of how to seize particular opportunities.

Hoben: It is not appropriate for one group to do everything itself—partnerships with other successful organizations are key to success.

CD: One of the issues faced by organizations in rural areas is isolation. What help does Rural LISC offer to rural CDCs to address this problem?

Poznanski: Rural LISC is working to establish a broader network of CDCs across the country. Our Web site, www.ruralisc.org, offers a news service that sends updates on rural community development funding opportunities and policy issues by e-mail, fax or mail to a network of 1,200 rural developers. Also, our publication Rural Developments, with a circulation of 12,000, is the first newsletter dedicated to rural CDCs.

The Stand Up for Rural America Campaign Web site, www.ruralamerica.org, offers a directory of CDCs that responded to a survey conducted by the National Congress for Community Economic Development as part of the campaign. The Web site also provides regular updates on funding opportunities and policy issues to the 1,339-member Rural Community Developers Network.

Hoben: We hope rural CDCs will use these resources to learn from other CDCs that have taken a similar path. Use of tools such as peer-to-peer development, networking and best practices can help reduce the isolation of rural CDCs and increase their capacity to successfully develop their communities.

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