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Abstract: In the late 1990s, the leadership of Neighborhood Conservation Services (NCS) of Barberton, Ohio--a nonprofit housing rehabilitation organization founded two decades earlier to help reverse the decline of this aging industrial city--found its once popular mission had suddenly become politically controversial. The long unassailable idea of using public funds to target low-interest loans to lower-income homeowners was being questioned by elected officials in the city of 28,000, officials concerned that limiting loans to those of low-income--in conjunction with a concentration of public housing and rent subsidies--might make Barberton a "magnet" for low-income households. A mayor intent on reviving the city's tax base and attracting and retaining the middle class challenged NCS to demonstrate how its policies could help the city. This new political climate posed a difficult and crucial strategic challenge for the organization--which relied on funds voted by the City Council for the overwhelming majority of its budget. NCS believed its leadership would have to find ways to reconcile its mission with the new political climate in town or find a new way to fund its programs--or simply close up shop.
Learning Objective: This nonprofit management case is meant to allow for discussion of how organizational strategy should adapt to political change. In particular, it raises the question of the extent and nature of the obligation of those receiving public funds to defer to elected officials. The case can also be used in discussion of housing policy per se, to explore the question of when and where housing subsidies are appropriate.