The effort to aid Bedford-Stuyvesant, born of a walking trip through the large, desperately poor section of Brooklyn by then-Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, is now the grandfather of community development programs.
That it is called a grandfather at age 11 reflects on the transitory nature of programs in the business of fighting poverty.
The pressure to kill off a program mounts with each failure - and the landscape is littered with failures - while public officials and philanthropic foundations have always been on the lookout for new approaches.
"There has been an insistence and a persistent need to try something new without giving a fair chance to fragile experiments that have been launched out of great expectations and great hopes," Ron Gault of the Ford Foundation remarked of the phenomenon.
Community development like the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corp. means minority development and its first decade has been a process of trial and error.
"Black people," Gault said, "have not had the privilege of trying something and not succeeding."
Even for those community development corporations like Bedford-Stuyvesant that have shown achievement it is a time of uncertainly.
The Carter administration's urban policy has not been announced; the Community Services Administration has been raked over the coals for management weaknesses by the House Government Operations Committee, and the projected federal budget figured for fiscal 1979 community development corporations are sharply lower [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the past.
The House committee wants several of the community development corporations canceled. "These are the ones that better pull off some spectacular plays or get off the team," a congressional staffer said. "There's money going out every damn day."
Of 36 existing community development corporations, the CSA lists six as "probationary" - in danger of losing federal funding.
If the projected fiscal 1979 budget for the community agencies remains at the present $21 million, down from a present $35 million, there won't be any new ones begun, a CSA official said.
Bedford-Stuyveasant is not in danger of losing its federal funding, but the prodigal reputations of some of its brother community development corporations don't help. "It's the best of the bunch," Gault said. Federal officials agree that Bed-Stuy's performance has been impressive.
Any reduction would be a blow to an organization that in its 11 years has established a presence and accomplished some impressive construction and rehabilitation projects in the nation's second largest concentration of blacks. Only Chicago's South Side is larger.
If Bed-Stuy were a city it would be the 29th largest in the country. More than 270,000 people live in an area of about 5 1/2 square miles, or 653 city blocks.
It is a long ride on the train from manhattan and when Robert kennedy saw it in 1966, Bed-Stuy was a place to get out of, if you had anyplace to go.
What had been a white, middle-class community at the turn of the century had been deserted by white citizens and white businessmen, and federal urban renewal funds of the 1950s and early '60s had been spent elsewhere.
The federal program that became the community development corporation plan was an initiative of Kennedy and Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R-N.Y.) and in 1967, the Bedford-Stuyvesant effort began.
Bed-Stuy has received more than $56 million in federal funds and about $75 million from other sources, including $20 million that has been committed from a $65 million mortgage pool formed by 80 banks and nine insurance companies.
The foreclosure rate is less than 1 percent on these mortgages, and they have been given Veterans Administration and Federal Housing Administration-insured status.
"Fifty million, considering the needs of the community, is really a pittance," a CSA official who oversees community development corporations said.
Bernard McDonald, a vice president of Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration, says "this project has been underfunded for some time."
The Nixon administration housing freeze in 1972-73 paralyzed plans in Bed-Stuy for a time. "We viewed that as a period of harassment," McDonald said.
The highest national one-year level of appropriations for community development was $48 million. "How many airplane wings can you buy for that?" McDonald asked.
The legislation governing community development corporations requires that they have "an appreciable impact" in their community. Impact in a community as large as Bed-Stuy is difficult to measure.
If a walking tour of Bed-Stuy began today at the $6 million Commercial Center designed by Washington architect Arthur Cotton Moore and visited the rehabilitated shop fronts and new apartment buildings in the area, the walkers could only call the impact impressive.
The Commercial Center contains Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corp. offices and a number of paying tenants. It resembles Georgetown's Canal Square, which Moore designed.
One tenant is Plaza Exchange, a small discount department store which the corporation started after six department store chains refused to come into the area. It marks up goods about 22 percent, roughly half the usual increase.
A joint venture with Supermarkets General Corp. is under construction at one end of the center. It will be a 30,000 square-foot supermarket, the first to be built in Bedford-Stuyvesant in years.
The Commercial Center itself is built around one of the largest building in Bed-Stuy, one that was a milk bottling plant until its owner, Sheffield, moved to Long Island in the 1950s. Sheffield's cows are still on the facade.
In all, homes on 106 blocks of Bedford-Stuyvesant have had their facades renovated under the corporation's improvement program.
Owners are charged $50 for painting, patching masonry, fixing glass and ironwork that actually costs from $800 to $1,200 a house. Block associations apply for the program and the winners are chosen by lot.
The work is done in large part by teenagers who earn summer money and pick up a skill under the supervision of experienced workers. They do about 10 blocks each summer.
After years during which banks refused mortgage loans in Bed-Stuy, conventional mortgage money is now available for the kind of renovation of houses that goes on in many Washington neighborhoods.
Redlining (the refusal by lending institutions to lend in an area) is easing, McDonald said, but he calls it "a glacial process."
As a result of Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration projects, the area is dotted with new apartment projects with rents held within reach of local residents.
"Nothing they've done has fallen apart," said one outside admirer. "It's quality work."
There are still about 2,000 vacant lots and 2,000 abandoned buildings in Bed-Stuy. About 40 percent of all workingage peope are not employed, according to McDonald's estimate, and median family income is still about $6,300 for a family of four.
About 6,000 jobs in some 1,235 businesses left Bed-Stuy between 1969 and 1974. The most notable success in attracting outside business was IBM's 1968 move to a Bed-Stuy site that brought 420 jobs. IBM is now moving to another location, but still in Bed-Stuy.
The impact on Bed-Stuy's spirit is hardest of all to measure, but there are some clues. When the corporation held its 10th birthday party last summer, 15,000 people came. While poverty officials in other parts of Brooklyn have been indicted with appalling frequency for mishandling funds, the restoration corporation has never been accused of any corruption.
"You will find truly in that community a respect for restoration," a federal official said. "They've had a lot of problems, but they wouldn't wither away tomorrow if we pulled out our support."
During New York's blackout last July, there was no damage to the Commercial Center or other restoration corporation properties. The fires that destroyed city blocks were elsewhere.