9/25/12: Field Trip, Part 2: Somerville Community Corporation

Danny LeBlanc, a longtime Somerville resident, has been Executive Director of Somerville Community Corporation for twelve years.

What is the SCC’s affiliation with the city’s government?

Multi-layered and complex. 1. SCC does business with the city, and the city lends money (usually federal money) for affordable housing. 2. SCC often engages in community organizing, and this sometimes causes clashes with the city.

Is the SCC an anchor institution?

Yes—it is a 43 year old organization, widely known throughout the city. It is membership based—over time, as fraternal/church/organizational membership becomes rare, the SCC provides a lasting way for people to engage in community.

What organizations does the SCC partner with?

Tufts, and many other nonprofits, including Community Action Agency, Somerville Homeless Coalition, Cambridge Health Alliance, and the Welcome Project at Mystic High School. A city government partnership is with the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

How does the SCC view Tufts?

Resource, potential/actual partner. SCC has a natural affinity with Urban and Environmental Planning program. In past, few students came to East Somerville, and there was less engagement. Changes in the attitudes of both Tufts and the city, where relationships were formerly adversarial.

Does the SCC ever act as an “anchor coordinator,” a liason to coordinate other anchor institutions toward similar goals?

In some ways, yes. In Green Line Extension project, many players involved, and the SCC is convening a group of anchors that wouldn’t normally be involved. However, SCC doesn’t play a larger role in coordinating all or a large group of anchors.

What are the challenges of adapting to new community trends?

The organization’s arc reflects Somerville’s dramatic changes. SCC founded to work in a deteriorating urban area with the goal of attracting investment. At the time, “gentry” was a good word. Somerville had very small professional population, very large poor population. Today, huge market pressure, very high business and home prices. Today, the question is whether the poor will be able to stay. SCC’s programming is now more direct: employment assistance, money management training.

What should Tufts be doing more or less of in Somerville?

It would be beneficial for Tufts to engage in more long-term community partnerships. Potential for Tufts to establish community-based workspace where Tufts knowledge could be more accessible.

Why and how has the relationship between Tufts and Somerville changed so dramatically?

There has been a shift (at Tufts and in higher education overall) from the “ivy tower” mentality to more engaged thinking about civic involvement. Today, economic diversity in Somerville makes the city easier to engage than in past years.

What challenges do anchor institutions pose?

Historically, universities offer opportunities to young people that are not always extended to local residents. Tufts was once a very distant option for local students, but today has a strong reputation for accessibility to Somerville high schoolers.

Tufts’ Somerville Partnership Agreement stipulates that a certain amount of financial aid be set aside for residents. What should this agreement look like in 10 years?

This is a critical question to pose, and now it must be built upon. Having an agreement with city government isn’t the same as having a reciprocal agreement with other institutions, and those are crucial as well.

Storefront workshop planning idea: creating infrastructure, opening for innovation center that is about economic development and planning. Would be helpful for Tufts and community to take longer (10-15 year) view.

“Rooted” may be a more accurate term than “anchor.”

Key point?

Relationship building is very important.

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