Carroll Park: Closure of Community Council Leaves Residents with Fewer Options
The Carroll Park Community Council, a Philadelphia Neighborhood Advisory Committee, located at 5218 Master St., has shut its doors because of funding cuts, leaving local residents confused about the future of a variety of social programs.
“It looked like they were going have difficulty continuing. Their other funding sources had shrunk somewhat, and so there was concern that they would not be able to continue with just us. It is not unusual for small non-profits to run out of steam and particularly in an era where both foundation funding and government funding is shrinking.” said Paul Chrystie, Philadelphia’s Office of Housing and Community Development’s director of communications. “Other organizations, and not just NACs, have diverse funding, so that they are not dependent on any one organization. I believe that that became problematic for the Carroll Park Community Council.”
The Office of Housing and Community Development of Philadelphia is responsible for connecting housing, community development resources and programs for low- and moderate-income Philadelphia residents. One of the methods used to achieve this mission is through NACs, or Neighborhood Advisory Committees.
According to OHCD’s website, NACs primary goals are to promote sustainability, create employment opportunities, enhance neighborhood safety and provide decent and affordable housing. As a NAC organization the Community Council received funds to provide Carroll Park residents with services, including the neighborhood advisory committee, housing counseling and an energy center. To fulfill these obligations the Community Council offered counseling for homeowners, including foreclosure prevention. The organization also was a place where people could learn how to reduce their energy cost and make their homes more energy efficient.
“They engage the community, keep them informed by putting out news letters, make the residents aware of programs that are available to them, poll the community on development issues as development opportunities come up and help people make proposals,” Chystie said.
There are approximately 60 to 70 NAC programs, but the Carroll Park Community Council was one of the first of its kind and still one of the only NACs closing.
While most NACs have remained opened, many community nonprofit organizations have felt the reality of city budget cuts.
“There have been a few organizations that have closed unfortunately. 2010 and 2011 were very difficult years especially for those of us in the housing world. We lost a lot of community development block grant funding,” Allison Hughes, Homeowners Counseling Association of the Delaware Valley’s executive director, said.
The Community Council offered a variety of extra services to better the Carroll park community beyond the programs funded by the OHCD. Advocacy, a food bank, economic inclusion, adult education, job training and placement, a town watch and an assortment of youth development programs were all extra services the provided to the residents of Carroll Park and surrounding areas.
“People in this neighborhood are poor, they need that kind of stuff,” Robert Butler, a Carroll Park neighbor said. “It was good to get all around information and people around here looked forward to going there. There would be a line all the way around the corner, so you know their stuff was pretty good.”
The Community Council was also an active member of other associations such as the Urban Affairs Coalition and the Homeowners Counseling Association of the Delaware Valley.
“The Carroll Park Council was a part of our organization for about seven or eight years, they would participate in events that we had for housing councilors,” Hughes said.
Although there has been no official word on the council finding another source of funding there has been rumors of the organization reopening.
For some the possibility of Carroll Park Community Council to open once again is a realistic idea.
“I have seen organizations close down for several years and then gradually pull themselves together. For an organization to close and then take some time to regroup, to look at your mission, and look at your board and your infrastructure, I think that’s always a possibility,” Hughes said, “And then once they rebuild that infrastructure then look at what funding opportunities there are.”
For Chrystie the practical side of funding is still open as well.
“They would be welcome to submit a proposal when we put out a request for proposals. Then they would be judged the same way as any other proposal would be judged, which generally happened every three years.”
However, the most hopeful of the return of the council are the neighbors.
“We miss it, at least I do. They need to get some funding and open that place back up,” Butler said, “The neighborhoods need more help from the city.”
As a result of the Carroll Park Community Councils recent closure, the Office of Housing and Community Development must find new organizations to take the core responsibilities that were once the councils.
“It’s always unfortunate when you have an organization that has been in the community for 35 plus years that’s unable to continue,” said Chrystie of the OHCD. “That is just generically disappointing. The challenge from the city’s perspective is to make sure that the services that were available to the residents of the community are picked up by somebody else.”
The Community Council’s contract that had been active for over 35 years was not picked up because the organization relied too heavily on OHCD to financially support the group. The OHCD had to make the difficult decision as a result of their own extreme budget cuts.
The city still will provide the necessary services for the residents of Carroll Park despite the closure of the neighborhood’s main information center.
“While the organizations that are providing these services are not in the neighborhood, the neighborhood is continuing to receive the programs that by in large the community council provided. It’s true that there is no longer one stop shopping,” Chrystie said, “Residents will have to go to other offices.”
Residents have the option of going to the closest NAC in Haddington at 35 North 60th St., which focuses on education as a tool for its participants’ success.
Other key tasks will be taken over by other organizations. We Never Say Never of the Energy Coordinating Agency, located at 4427 Lancaster Ave.; The Partnership Community Development Corporation, located at 4020 Market St,; and Philadelphia Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc., located at 5234 Chestnut St.; have been providing specific services to close by neighborhoods for a combined 82 years.
“The organizations that have taken on the service responsibility that Carroll Park once had are good organizations, they are skilled, they are experienced,” Chystie said. “I would expect that as people get used to them providing the services that residents will have that same quality service provision.”
“Never Say Never is handling the energy center. The Partnership CDC is covering housing counseling issues, and Philadelphia Neighborhood Housing Services is covering the information referral issues around city programs.” Chrystie said.
The organizations are lined up to take on the tasks, however, there are a number of faults in the OHDC’s plans.
The Carroll Park Community Council’s contract was supposed to end on June 31. But the council’s premature closure in December has left a gap in service in the Carroll Park community. While the new service organizations are lined up take over responsibilities, contracts are not finalized and could not go into effect for another three months.
“As of July 1 we did not have a contract with them for NAC services. Now how long they continued past that, I don’t know,” Chrystie said.
The new contract with PNHS, however, is just starting to be considered. “We received a letter in the last two weeks informing us that OHCD would be willing to fund us to provide service to the Carroll Park Area,” PNHS Executive Director Bernard Hawkins said. “Although the funding may be awarded it generally takes another 30 or 60 days for the contract to be execute.”
Another factor that was not considered was the difficulty many Carroll Park residents will face in traveling to the offices. All three offices are spread around West Philadelphia, inconveniencing the Carroll Park neighbors who oftentimes need the services most but cannot easily travel.
“The Community Council was right in the neighborhood. A lot of people can’t travel, handicapped people and stuff like that,” Robert Butler, a Carroll Park resident, explained.
Residents of Carroll Park are not even aware of the service provider shift. There has been no attempt in informing residents of the organizations’ takeover. Many residents still believe the Community Council will be returning.
“The issue is how do we make sure we do the proper outreach that the folks are aware of our programs and services,” Hawkins said. “Historically we’ve held community meetings and introduce residents to what we do and let them know as to how they can apply.”
The services that are said to be provided are crucial for the community, but much-used services that were provided by the Community Council, such as the emergency food bank, will not be replaced.