The Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation was founded nine years ago as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the economic advancement of low-income women and their families, through the integration of housing, workforce development, and social services. With our cornerstone project, the Urban Horizons Economic Development Center, WHEDCO transformed the abandoned Morrisania Hospital complex in the South Bronx into a vibrant community anchor that has provided affordable housing to 132 low-income families (including 48 that were formerly homeless), placed more than 545 people in jobs, fostered the creation of over 100 small businesses in family day care and catering, cared for over 600 children in daycare and afterschool programs, enrolled 300 people in our health club, trained 50 aspiring culinary workers in our Culinary Arts Training Program, and housed a new food company. Along the way, we have tried to listen to what people in our community really wanted, joined forces with community activists and local officials, and enlisted the support of a broad network of program partners and funders. We continue to work very hard to design, evaluate, and fine-tune programs that make a tangible difference in the lives of the people we serve.
WHEDCO's economic development strategy takes its cue from decades-old community economic development "best practice," which is neighborhood-based and focused on the symbiotic development of housing, social supports, and economic activity. While more recent community economic development efforts have attempted to stimulate business investment in low-income neighborhoods, WHEDCO has concentrated on investing in human capital. We empower our clients with the skills and supports they need to get jobs, increase their incomes, and thus build up the purchasing power that businesses evaluate when considering where to locate.
WHEDCO's focus on employment within a broad array of social supports, while a common-sense departure from more recent strategies (e.g housing only; housing with social services for residents only; "special needs" housing; housing with employment services for residents only) is also a necessary consequence of welfare reform that affects all organizations working in community development, and indeed, all people living in poverty. Pressure from statutory work mandates and time limits have impressed a special urgency upon our efforts to engage and retain clients in meaningful education and training programs that will increase their chances to find and keep jobs. In New York State and City welfare reform has been implemented in an unduly restrictive manner which runs counter to the very goals it was set out to achieve. All but the most minimal job-readiness training and job search coaching are permissible, and inadequate attention has been paid to surmounting the barriers to employment, such as lack of childcare, transportation, and treatment for substance abuse and other health and mental health disorders. As evidenced by the case studies analyzed in the Annie E. Casey Foundation's report, Stronger Links: New Ways to Connect Low-Skilled Workers to Better Jobs, as well as by a recent evaluation of Minnesota's sensible and successful Family Investment Act, state welfare policies that demonstrate a reluctance to provide work opportunity-the second pillar of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act-are failing to the achieve the results of more forward-minded state policymakers.
Despite our local policy climate, and because we are committed to serving the diverse and multiple needs of our clients, WHEDCO offers a wide array of training opportunities and services that clients can piece together to suit their individual needs. Young and risk-taking, we have stepped outside of the mold of traditional social service programs and adopted some market-based strategies that focus on employment, micro-enterprise development, and revenue-generating training businesses, or "social ventures. And like any responsible job training program operating today, we continually track our clients' outcomes in order to better understand what works in moving people out of poverty. Since 1998, we have placed 558 people in jobs paying an average hourly wage of $8.43. This hourly wage has been on an upward trend, reaching an average of $9.47 during the period of December 1999-May 2000. Approximately 75% of our placements include medical benefits. – less–ZoomInfo