the new community

The New Community Corporation was founded in 1968 to provide affordable housing in Newark's Central Ward. Today, NCC ranks as one of the largest nonprofit providers of low-income housing in the nation. Its ten developments house 6,000 people in over 3,000 units. In addition, NCC has expanded to provide social services in a wide variety of forms. It owns nursing homes, shelters for battered women and homeless families, foster care and senior citizen housing. It was instrumental in building a Pathmark supermarket, the first in the Central Ward in 30 years. Through partnerships with several organizations, NCC operates seven child care centers, an alternative school, a credit union, and a community newspaper. NCC's business savvy is nationally recognized for successfully leveraging public money with private investment. By all accounts, it is a profitable multi-million dollar corporation. Yet, it still remains a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the needs of its community, whatever they may be.

The Central Ward has long been one of Newark's most depressed and maligned neighborhoods. The 1967 riots started in the Hayes Homes, which were among the ward's worst public housing projects. The discontent and anger over living conditions there boiled over into six days of riots. The toll was 26 people dead, $15 million in damage and a neighborhood in ruins. Soon after, white middle-class residents began to flee to the suburbs in ever greater numbers, taking their taxes with them. Coupled with numerous factory closures and the decline of its industrial base, the events of the late 60's slid Newark into a cycle of disinvestment and abandonment. By 1990, Newark's population had dropped to 268,000, 70% percent of it minority. The median income was $12,000, and a full one third of the population was receiving public assistance.

In contrast to these bleak surroundings, concerned members of Newark's Queen of Angels church joined with other Central Ward residents and created the New Community Corporation. Led by Monsignor William Linder, the group wanted to find a way to respond constructively to the riots. With much of the community trapped in decaying public housing or ramshackle wood tenements, NCC foresaw a need for clean and affordable housing. NCC built its first 120 units with $100,000 raised from $5 shares sold to residents and supporters. Since then, New Community has grown beyond building just housing to providing social services as well.

Public money was instrumental in getting NCC projects off the ground, opening up preconstruction and construction financing for most of its projects. Federal money has come to NCC in the form of HUD Urban Development Action Grants. They have helped fund a variety of projects, including a conversion of an old church sanctuary into community health club facilities, medical offices and restaurants as well as NCC offices. By 1983, HUD money enabled NCC to build 1,500 additional units of housing. Two years ago, HUD approved a $25 million NCC grant application to convert two abandoned high-rise towers at the Hayes Homes into 200 co-op units.

State support for NCC has also been on a project basis, providing $130 million in financing over the past 25 years. Low-interest loans backed by the New Jersey Housing & Mortgage Finance Agency enabled NCC to build nearly 400 units of low-income rental housing. The state actively encourages nonprofit agencies to use these loans, helping government to build the estimated 100,000 low to moderate income rental units New Jersey will need by 1999. In addition, transfers of tax money, paid by wealthy New Jersey suburbs to meet their share of state-mandated fair housing policies, have enabled NCC to construct additional housing units for very little cost.

Recent Congressional efforts to cut back on direct Federal support for public housing are threatening NCC's major source of new project funding. Fortunately, private investment has also been a large component in almost all of NCC's projects. New Jersey based Hartz Mountain Industries donated design and construction services as well as seed money to create Harmony House, NCC's transitional shelter for the homeless. Newark financial institutions such as Prudential and Mutual Benefit Life have also contributed with low cost mortgages and loans. More recently, low-income housing tax credits created lucrative opportunities for private investment. Through investment 'syndicates,' corporations donate money for NCC projects. These corporations, in return, receive credits for Federal income tax deductions. Rents for units built under this program are set at 30 percent of a family's income for fifteen years. As a result, partnerships with Chevron Inc., Colgate Palmolive and the National Equity Fund have enabled NCC to diversify its resources, enabling it to build low-income housing across the state.

NCC has been called 'empire-like' for the size of the organization and the control it wields over its community. It employs 1200 people in a variety of capacities, including a 120 person security staff who patrol its projects 24 hours a day. Rents and management fees make up the bulk of NCC's income, about $3.5 million. Its yearly budget is $95 million with assets totaling over $200 million. Other revenue streams come from its partnerships in associated businesses. NCC owns 2/3rds of the Pathmark supermarket, clearing $65,000 a month in profits. Within the Central Ward, NCC not only is the major landlord, but the major provider of social services as well.

NCC started out as a volunteer organization composed of parishioners of a small church. Since then it has developed into an organization that, as Monsignor Linder once boasted, 'could rival any corporate management group.' It has used outside professionals for development and legal expertise. Private industries lend out their executives and managers to help produce NCC projects. Training programs at local corporations are open to NCC staff members. Career development is handled by a former McDonald's Corporation executive and local politicians willingly aid NCC residents in finding jobs in the community. NCC's greatest strength, however, is its reputation, built up over 25 years of difficult work. NCC can count among its supporters Jack Kemp, Bill Bradley and the captains of many of New Jersey's major corporations. NCC's efforts to cajole, negotiate, even threaten supporters as well as opponents helps to maintain the organization's high levels of success. In particular, Monsignor Linder's valuable nonprofit work was recognized when he received the MacArthur Foundation's 'genius grant' in 1991.

NCC's mission stems from a vision that sees decent housing as just one part of a community's renewal. NCC sees its responsibility extending to those services families and the local job market can not provide. All of its investments are meant to strengthen and forge ties within the Central Ward community. In a recent interview, Ray Codey, New Community's director of development said, "We focus on the group that has been here through tough times, and who do not share in the city's economic boom." NCC sees the key to revitalizing a community is in revitalizing human lives of each of its members. Harmony House's administrator, Jeanette Page-Hawkins, does not see her shelter's residents as failures at life. "We find success in a person increasing her educational levels or improving her job seeking skills." This attitude in personalizing its mission drives NCC to provide housing, social services or any other support necessary to put its particular community back on its feet.

Some critics have said nonprofit groups like NCC do not really produce community-wide revitalization. NCC's housing projects have been very successful, while its efforts to develop a parallel and independent private sector have not. NCC has a hand in every business nearby. In fact, the city of Newark has ceded most social services in the Central Ward to this one organization. More significantly, as government funding fades and NCC's role as a service provider grows, will the costs required to maintain this 'empire' outweigh the resources NCC can obtain?.

NCC has not stopped to question its future. It is actively moving into any need Monsignor Linder and his staff deem necessary for the community's well-being. Its credit union aids local businesses and its job training program educates its residents. The school and day-care programs invest in future generations. The community newspaper and computer bulletin board help current residents become more informed. Perhaps, this is NCC's greatest accomplishment. As a steadfast advocate for the disadvantaged, the New Community Corporation's energies focus on tangible human issues and the steps needed to make a whole society function. Its closeness to the people helps it find innovative solutions to common problems - appropriate not just for Newark, but other communities as well.

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december 1999