Come to the annual CANDO meeting!

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If CANDO, the Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization, has indeed taken a troubling turn over the past year, residents can rest assured it has been dealt with. Today CANDO has a new full-time executive director and part-time community outreach specialist, a friendly spic-n-span office with a coffee maker; cool donated “green” desks (compressed, laminated corn and wheat residue); new programs and new energy.

We are looking forward to a new board in October—as we do every year—and encourage any resident or business owner in Central to apply! It can be a lot of hard work but can also be truly rewarding.

Unfortunately the article printed about CANDO in the last issue of Southside Pride [whose principal source was a former CANDO community organizer] contained errors that must be addressed. President of CANDO’s board, Mel North, came in for some particularly harsh criticism. Mel, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1993, has received a virtual trophy case of awards and honors for tireless work on behalf of community: an ABBY Award from Abbott Northwestern Hospital for “Outstanding Volunteer”; awards for his work on Weed and Seed and for Blooming Boulevards; and in 2008 and 2009 awards from former CANDO community organizer Jim Parsons for “Outstanding Service as Housing Committee Chairperson.” But Mel says he is most proud of his “Volunteer of the Year” award from Pillsbury United Communities.

It’s true, Ranisha Robinson did come up with the most popular housing program CANDO has going—the Curb Appeal Lottery. Lottery winners are reimbursed for a third of their cost of a project to improve, repair and beautify their homes (up to $1,000) paid through a CANDO grant. The word here is lottery. The rules say any homeowner living in Central can apply. This year projects have included repairing rotting front porches, painting and concrete work. Ranisha got $300 in 2010 and put in a lovely Japanese-inspired rain garden to reduce runoff. Ranisha’s hard work on the lottery and the CANDO Annual Plant Sale was recognized at the 2010 Annual Meeting with a “Certificate of Appreciation for Exemplary Service,” given by Jim Parsons.

Our housing programs? Currently our housing programs are administered by NHS. The most popular provides $5,000 in down-payment assistance. If the home is boarded, the forgivable loan goes up to $10,000. There is no program that removes caps on loans or funnels money to “rich absentee landlords.” At CANDO a proposal like this would be laughed out of committee.

Gentrification is a word that got a lot of play during the housing bubble, but Central’s real concern is foreclosures. Central is targeted for federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) dollars because it has been hit hard. But with problems come opportunities: NSP dollars are available for purchase of foreclosed properties in Central. Lower-income buyers (80% median) can get $20,000 in NSP money plus $5,000 from CANDO to purchase a foreclosed home. Middle-income buyers (120% median) can get up to $15,000.

I remain mystified about the “developer bridge loan program” mentioned in the article, and I attended every Economic Development Committee and Housing Committee meeting from March of this year. The ED committee did produce a commercial grant program that will give up to $10,000 for work on fixing commercial structures in the neighborhood. That grant addresses issues such as electric and plumbing—things that will stay in place and keep our older buildings viable into the future.

Jim Parsons was not fired in June. His community organizer position was reduced to half- time. Such erroneous statements can damage a person’s professional reputation. Jim left CANDO in mid-August.

Today the office is staffed by Hannah Crumb, a college student seeking her degree in community development—and me, Kristi Johnson. I completed a master of public affairs degree at the Humphrey Institute with an emphasis in housing policy. My focus is on lower-income and senior homeowners, affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization. I have an undergrad degree in journalism. Call 612-824-1333 if you have any questions about CANDO or its work.