With the housing and social service empire of Germantown Settlement facing court-imposed dissolution, politically channelled public funds have nowhere to go in Germantown.
Germantown Community Connection, the organization that lead the way in court against Settlement this fall, may position itself to take up the slack.
On a proposal submitted by real estate developer Ken Weinstein, GCC is considering breaking into the housing business as a community development corporation to claim some of that cash and direct it to the neighborhood.
But the move would mean a big change for the agency, including transforming the all-volunteer organization into one with a paid staff.
In a meeting held earlier this month, not everyone was sure yet the changes would work well for GCC, which was founded on the premiss of collaborating with existing resources.
“We already have entities in Germantown, such as the Central Germantown Council, that are funded to provide economic development,” said GCC President Betty Turner.
Turner went on to stress a need for increased accountability from Central Germantown Council and other existing neighborhood groups to stay true to their mission now that Settlement is not in the picture.
Some GCC members were even more against the idea, saying that rushing to become a CDC before others in Germantown got to it could lead to the same kinds of mistakes of management that brought Settlement down.
Others felt that GCC already has the capacity to do CDC work and can start tomorrow. An ad hoc committee lead by Irv Ackelsberg has been exploring the required legal moves for breaking into housing and direct services.
“Germantown Settlement played all these roles, and certain kinds of development can only happen through a CDC,” Ackelsberg said. “I’d like to see GCC start a CDC because a vacuum has been created and will be filled by us or someone else.”
As one of the largest property owners in the Northwest, Germantown Settlement did much of its work while blurring the lines between for-profit and non-profit organizations, forming as many as thirty subsidiary organizations primarily for real estate development.
Weinstein, Ackelsberg and many others have criticized Settlement for its circuitous business relationships tied to real estate, and conflicts of interest involving its Executive Director, Emanuel Freeman. Yet Weinstein did not think it was inappropriate for a private developer like him to encourage GCC to break into the same business.
“I don’t think there is a conflict of interest because developers already have the expertise to help a CDC renovate properties, and many of us care about seeing Germantown succeed,” he said. “There is no need to reinvent the wheel.”
Germantown Community Connection General meetings are held every 2nd Thursday of each month. The next meeting is scheduled for January 13th.