City Seeks Nonprofit to Anchor a Blighted Community

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May 18, 2011; Source: The Portland Press Herald | With so many nonprofit organizations searching for affordable space, it is uncommon to find a city searching for a nonprofit to move into available space. The Portland Press Herald reports that the Biddeford Housing Authority, representing a city 15 miles south of Portland, Maine, is hoping that a nonprofit will be interested in moving into the first floor of an apartment building and become a “centerpiece” of a struggling neighborhood in the process.

The building is located near the former St. Andre Church, which the Roman Catholic Diocese closed at the end of 2010 in light of declining attendance and rising maintenance costs.

The Biddeford Housing Authority used a community development block grant to purchase the foreclosed building in December and will begin renovating it in June. "The idea is to have a group here (that serves the residents) and to keep an eye on the neighborhood," Housing Authority Executive Director Guy Gagnon told the Press Herald. Located close to a park that was built in 2005 to serve as a “gathering point” for the neighborhood, city officials believe that a nonprofit could further strengthen the communal sense created by this outdoor area.

Andy Greif, executive director of the Community Bicycle Center, which provides bicycle programs to at-risk youth, considered the space for his organization because of its central location. "The closer you are in proximity to whoever you're working with, it's easier to access programming," he told the Press Herald. "They really need and want a nonprofit in there to be an anchor in the community. It could be an incubator for a nonprofit starting out that needs low rent."

The Press Herald notes that the loss of St. Andre’s Church and the absence of any other community-based organization is felt particularly strongly in this section of Biddeford. "I'm already worried about the neighborhood with the church closing," Gagnon told the Press Herald. "The church was the community.”

Are there ways that nonprofits can assess and report on the community building benefits that they bring to local areas?—Anne Eigeman