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Helping Hand Without Fanfare Group Invests in Neighborhoods

Orginially appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer

As part of LISC Philadelphia's 40th Anniversary Celebration we're digging into the archives and celebrating our contributions to Philadelphia's neighborhoods. 


Article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer
August 23, 1984
Author(s):    Huntly Collins, Inquirer Staff Writer

In North Philadelphia, neighborhood residents opened a recycling center thanks to the assistance of LISC.

In West Philadelphia, they began weatherizing apartment buildings with LISC's help.

And in Kensington, they are renovating an abandoned industrial building for occupancy by new industrial tenants - all because of aid provided by LISC.

LISC is the Local Initiatives Support Corp., a New York-based, nonprofit organization that has pumped more than $74 million into economic development projects in 29 hard-pressed areas across the country, including Philadelphia.

Launched in 1980 by the Ford Foundation and six major corporations, LISC draws on corporate and foundation donations to provide grants, loans and loan guarantees to community groups for projects ranging from new housing units in the South Bronx to a fish-processing plant in Vinalhaven, Maine.

Since 1982, LISC has invested $1.2 million in projects throughout Philadelphia's neighborhoods. And now the organization is embarking on a drive to raise $700,000 to finance additional projects in the city over the next two years. If local corporations and foundations contribute $400,000, LISC has agreed to contribute $300,000.

Deputy City Commerce Director Joseph J. James called LISC "an important ingredient" in the economy of the city's neighborhoods. "LISC is a very important actor for us in Philadelphia," he said.

In coming months, LISC is expected to become even more important as community groups gain additional expertise, thanks to the efforts of the city government and the private sector.

In a new program, the Greater Philadelphia Economic Development Coalition has set aside $250,000 in corporate money to pay for five economic-development specialists to assist community organizations.

In addition, the Ford Foundation, the Glen Mead Trust and the city Commerce Department each will contribute $250,000 to put staff on the payrolls of community groups dedicated to economic development.

"I would hope that every group would be able to put together a deal and that LISC would help," James said.

LISC's funds go strictly to so-called "community-based organizations," nonprofit organizations that are controlled by people from the communities and neighborhoods in which they are located.cFor every dollar LISC contributes, it asks for a matching dollar from the community.

Like many private foundations, LISC maintains a low profile. But, across the country, it has been the silent partner in scores of public-private ventures that have boosted economically depressed communities and empowered neighborhood residents.

"We like to think that our projects speak for themselves," said Richard Manson, LISC program officer in the Philadelphia area.

In large part, LISC was an outgrowth of what Manson calls the ''disinvestment" in the nation's inner cities that occurred over the last decade as both the federal government and private investors retreated from economic-development projects in blighted areas.

"The only thing left was the community-based organizations," Manson said. ''They knew the neighborhoods, they had a commitment to the neighborhoods and they were the only organizations that were willing to take the risks to
reinvest," Manson said.

Ironically, as the private sector has made a renewed commitment to inner- city projects funded by LISC, it has come to see the valuable role that grass-roots community groups can play as a partner in economic development, Manson said.

Conversely, community-based organizations, which once scorned the role of ''big business," have come to appreciate the leverage provided by LISC's corporate philanthrophy." LISC has broadened the horizons for corporate executives, just as the corporations have broadened the horizons of community groups," Manson said.

In Philadelphia, LISC has attracted contributions from two foundations and the region's largest corporations, including ARA Services, Arco Chemical, Cigna, Hunt Manufacturing, Pennwalt, Yarway, Rohm & Haas, SmithKline Beckman and Sun Co. Local banks and utilities also have contributed.

LISC funds have been channeled to 30 different community organizations, ranging from the Central Germantown Council to the Spring Garden Health Association. The money has helped finance housing rehabilitation, commercial development, energy conservation and industrial rejuvenation throughout the city's depressed neighborhoods.

LISC's largest city project is a $210,000 loan to the Community Development Corp. of Philadelphia. The loan, to be repaid over eight years at 8 percent interest, will help finance construction of a new worker-owned and operated O & O supermarket in Strawberry Mansion.

Other loans include $120,000 to the Southwest Germantown Community Development Corp. for acquisition of an 85,000-square-foot vacant industrial building and $100,000 to the National Temple Nonprofit Corp. to help finance a construction of a minimarket at Oxford Street and Ridge Avenue to be owned and operated by neighborhood residents.

LISC has $570,000 left in its fund-raising pot for distribution in Philadelphia. To finance projects over the next two years, it hopes to increase the pot to $1.2 million.

But one potential wrinkle in LISC's fund-raising drive is the emergence of the Greater Philadelphia First Corp. (GPFC), an organization that distributes philanthropy from the largest corporations in the area. The fear is that some GPFC members, who in the past have contributed to LISC, may be forced to choose between the organizations. But Manson said foundation support for LISC will continue and negotiations are now under way with GPFC to work out a cooperative approach to financing economic development.

To promote the cause of LISC among corporate donors, Manson points to the organization's solid track record in community development and to its success in what most bankers consider high-risk lending. To date, all of LISC's loans are current, Manson said.

"Bankers are looking to make money," he said. "And LISC is showing that you can make money by funding community organizations. Certainly, we are getting repaid."

PUBLICATION: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)



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