Whither Community Development: An Introduction

Donna Fabiani and Terry F. Buss

In 2004, federal agencies spent about $45 billion on community development, as broadly defined. Federal transfers of funds made up about 70 percent of funding spent by states and localities on community development (Gerenrot, Cashin, and Paulson 2006). No one knows how much nongovernmental organizations, including nonprofits, foundations, and for-profit private-sector organizations, spent, but the amount is substantial. With this level of effort and with the changeover in leadership both in the House and Senate in 2007, the impending transition in the office of president in 2008, the unprecedented number of presidential candidates (most running since 2006), the expected turnovers among state and local officeholders, and the continuing evolution of the community development field, it seems a propitious time to take stock in this important issue.

In 2006-2007, the editors sent out a call for papers to policymakers, practitioners, researchers, and advocates, looking for chapter contributions about where community development stands as an issue, where it is headed, and how it might be reengineered to better meet the needs of various constituents and stakeholders. We left the definition of community development vague with the intention of including the broadest range of activities, including community economic development and community development finance. We were not disappointed. Leaders from a wide array of sectors responded (see other work on leadership in Morse, Buss, and Kinghorn [2007]).

Looking across the twenty-three chapters in the book, we are struck by three recurrent themes. First, policymakers, practitioners, researchers, and advocates interpret "community development" as encompassing many more domains than we would have anticipated. For example, David W. Sears and Colin D. Sears, in chapter 19, "Positive Cycling: Riding Our Bicycles Down the Path to Community Development Success," make a compelling case for promoting community and economic development through enhancement of bicycling as a way to reduce reliance on automobiles. James Bates, in chapter 20, “Aging-Out and Foster Care: Housing Policy,” observes that only 50 percent of youth “aging out” of foster care are employed – but in low- wage jobs – and they lack affordable housing options. Community development, then, can easily mean just about anything policymakers and practitioners want it to mean. As such, as these chapters aptly demonstrate, the field is highly diverse, providing as yet unrecognized opportunities for synergistic collaborations.

Second, decreasing or redirected funding subsidies and evolving market forces have compelled community development organizations and programs – public and private – to rethink their missions and goals, reorganize their operations, offer new or improved products and services, and engage in partnerships for mutual benefit. In the field of finance, as illustrated especially in part 1, “Community Development Financial Institutions,” community development financial institutions (CDFIs) are continually seeking to meet the evolving needs for financial products while maintaining their long-term sustainability, while banks seeking new revenues are taking a closer look at the markets CDFIs serve. This trend has challenged the field – often in positive ways – as organizations compete and partner in the market for community development finance.

Third, performance attainment – establishing that organizations and programs are having intended impacts and are efficient – has infused itself across the community development field. Federal community development programs – under the Government Performance and Accountability Act of 1993 and the Bush administration's Program Assessment Rating Tool begun in 2002 – have made performance management, coupled with accountability and transparency, a requirement (see Redburn, Shea, and Buss 2008). But state and local governments, along with private organizations and nonprofits, have followed suit, motivated by their own desires to demonstrate their value and to hold responsible people accountable.

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