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Notes from the Field

Growing Pains

I’ve had the good fortune to be part of the Vacant and Abandoned Property Action Council (VAPAC) since its inception 10 years ago.

I’ve had the good fortune to be part of the Vacant and Abandoned Property Action Council (VAPAC) since its inception 10 years ago. I was initially involved in VAPAC in my previous role as policy director of the Cleveland Neighborhood Development Coalition (CNDC), the trade association of community development corporations, or CDCs, in Cleveland (CNDC has since merged with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress); I now participate representing the Cleveland Fed. Other members of our Community Development staff have also attended monthly meetings.

VAPAC came out of the 2005 Cleveland at the Crossroads report by the National Vacant Properties Campaign (which evolved into the Center for Community Progress), an organization that provided technical assistance to communities in need of strategies to reclaim and recycle problem properties. Cleveland at the Crossroads had many recommendations for civic and nonprofit leaders dealing with issues arising from and attendant to the increasing numbers of vacant and abandoned properties in Cleveland’s neighborhoods.

One of the recommendations was to form a committee made up of decision makers representing city and county agencies that had administrative or programmatic responsibility for property and property disposition. This committee became VAPAC. Original members included (but were not limited to) the City’s Departments of Community Development, Building and Housing, and Economic Development; Cleveland City Council members; housing court officials; and the County Treasurer. The committee’s original task was to coordinate development of a parcel-based property data system, which is now housed at Case Western Reserve University (NEO CANDO). The existence of VAPAC as a vehicle for discussion and relationship building was critical in making NEO CANDO a reality, as well as other accomplishments over the years. It’s a great example of collective impact in action.

Since its early days, VAPAC’s membership has grown dramatically (now up to 40 individuals attend any one meeting) and its focus has shifted as issues surrounding the foreclosure crisis have changed over time – from loan mitigation and foreclosure counseling, to triaging neglected REO property, to making policy recommendations about tax liens. Suburban organizations and nonprofit service providers are now part of the fold. The beauty of VAPAC is its open democratic process and its inclusionary spirit; that said, membership has recently come to realize that because of its growth, VAPAC might benefit from more structure and governance. To facilitate this shift, the group will start a strategic visioning and planning process in June 2015, assisted by Joe Schilling, a National Vacant Properties Campaign founder and one of the co-authors of Cleveland at the Crossroads. I am the chair of VAPAC’s Policies and Procedures committee, the group charged with overseeing this process, and I am looking forward to observing how VAPAC—not even a 501(c)3, but a significant voice nonetheless—moves from strategic planning into the next decade. But will VAPAC still be known as VAPAC in 10 years?

If you have advice for an organization about to embark on a strategic planning process or know of other street-level collective impact models, let us know! We’d love your input.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.