Engaging Traditionally Disenfranchised Residents in Community Development: Changing the Terms of the Struggle
South Brooklyn's Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC) annually engages 5,000 low and moderate-income residents in the economic development of their gentrifying neighborhoods. FAC is a community development corporation that goes beyond traditional housing development. Its programs are national models for partnering with community residents to create affordable housing and living-wage employment, form community benefit agreements with developers, and enable individuals returning from prison to rejoin society. It organizes diverse grassroots leaders to impact their elected officials and to have more control over their lives. FAC's approach includes the following:
- Enable Community Residents To Develop Projects: FAC gives community members the chance to take on even potentially risky projects. An individual who returned from prison who originally worked as a FAC building manager now guides its criminal justice program. In one low-income neighborhood, FAC created a local advisory council to direct a $13 million housing development project. Says Ibon Muhammad, "When we leave, people will know what happened and will be able to do it again on their own."
- Magnify The Influence Of Local Leaders: Staff, board and community leaders all contribute to the organization's cause. FAC links them through strategies that include housing associations and a resident council. In addition, more than 500 people drawn from FAC projects and the local community are "FAC Activists" who sign-on to the organization's larger mission and participate in committees, campaigns, and neighborhood events.
- Turn Constituents into Political Activists: Many residents first learn about FAC through development projects. FAC then provides training, campaigns and forums with legislators to enable people to share their experiences and put forward solutions.
- Have an Extensive Impact: FAC forms mergers and partnerships with other organizations. It replicates and spins-off its programs. Locally and nationally, it is creating a legacy of changes in zoning, tax, and mandated programs that secure affordable housing, produce education and job benefits, and promote criminal justice reforms.
This leadership story explores FAC's programs and strategies.
"It is a place of action and a place of conscience."
Brad Lander, Former Executive Director, Fifth Avenue Committee