In 1986, 30 women who lived, worshipped or worked in the Kensington area sat together in the dingy basement of Lutheran Settlement House to learn how to start a business.
LSH had brought in a consultant to instruct the group on economic development. The women soon realized that their community’s biggest need was affordable housing, and advocacy nonprofit Women’s Community Revitalization Project was born.
“We realized that just from living our lives, doing our jobs, being moms, we had a lot of skills,” said founding member Nora Lichtash — skills that they believed could change their community for the better.
Lichtash is now WCRP’s executive director, and in its three-decade history, the organization has grown from a handful of volunteers to 17 staffers who have built 282 affordable housing units throughout the city, with a special focus on North Philadelphia and the River Wards, according to Lichtash.
To counter the gentrification that’s been pushing its way north for the past 15 years, WCRP supports the leadership of those doing similar work. There’s strength in numbers, Lichtash said.
“Our organization really shifted over time from responding to barriers to really working with other organizations in coalition to identify what are the key barriers that are keeping us from what we need to do” to get this work done, she said. “It’s clear that one organization can’t [do that kind of work] on its own.”
This Friday, WCRP will celebrate its 30th anniversary and many wins — including recent ones such as its part in the establishment of Pennsylvania’s Community Justice Land Trust and September ribbon-cutting of its affordable Grace Townhomes development in Port Richmond.
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In her reflection of the past three decades, Lichtash has two pieces of advice for women looking to organize for social change in their communities:
- Understand the numbers — “As women, we need to understand finance, whether it’s real estate finance or pushing for fair financial policy,” she said. That knowledge helps WCRP’s staff make good decisions as business owners, decode what the city is spending and who it affects, and recognize what fair policies look like.
- Strengthen your ranks — “Respecting the strength of women who have endured hard times and making space for them is so important,” Lichtash said. “Women have so much to add to this work. We want a seat around the table that controls the resources. We have a right to be there, too.”
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