Register of the Records of the
CONCERNED CITIZENS OF NORTH CAMDEN
In December 1978, a group of North Camden, New Jersey, residents, utilizing the leadership skills of four VISTA workers, formally incorporated the Concerned Citizens of North Camden, Ciudadanos Concientes Del Norte De Camden, as a community advocacy organization (CCNC). Pledging themselves to the motto, "What We Can't Do Alone We Can Do Together, Strength In Unity," the CCNC members were made up of local residents who had been frustrated in their attempts to get Camden city officials to assist them in redeveloping their neighborhood as a residential area.
North Camden, with a population of approximately 8,000 in 1978, 51 percent Hispanic, 42 percent African American, and 7 percent white (U.S. Census Report, 1980) was a troubled inner city. According to Carolyn H. Cain, roughly 35 percent of the residents were unemployed; 67 percent received some form of public assistance; 54 percent were living below the federal poverty line; and 20 percent of the housing in the area was abandoned. Frequent fires, poor schools, and lack of adequate municipal services and housing left residents feeling they had no control over the deterioration of their community.
As stated in CCNC's own organizational history (1986), the organization's longrange goals were to make North Camden a better place to live, with better housing, cleaner streets, and more jobs; to unify the community across lines of race and national origin; to give North Camden residents control over decisions affecting the neighborhood's future; to develop skills to provide services and make other service providers accountable; and to give area residents a greater sense of their own power.
Any North Camden resident could become a member of CCNC by participating in a meeting, demonstration, or any other CCNC activity. Any resident could raise issues for discussion and could vote at either the monthly community or board meetings. Each CCNC project was directed by an oversight committee made up of board members, staff, and interested area residents. About 85 percent of the board members lived in North Camden. The main office of CCNC was at 543 State Street in Camden.
Housing was the initial focus of CCNC. From 1978-1983, CCNC's BoardUp Campaign employed community residents to bait, spray, and board over 350 abandoned houses. The BoardUp Campaign also enabled community residents to determine which abandoned houses were possibly salvageable for occupancy and rehabilitation because the work was done by neighborhood people rather than by outside contractors. Another CCNC initiative, aimed at getting legal aid for lowincome residentsespecially regarding tenant questions and problemsbecame the North Camden Tenant Services housed at 323 Vine Street which was fully funded by the city of Camden. Other activities included getting a playground built and maintained at 4th and State streets with Camden city funding; sponsoring a Saturday farmer's market at 7th and State streets to provide residents with access to fresh fruit and vegetables; participating in a coalition responsible for encouraging Camden city council to pass one of the strongest affirmative action ordinances in the United States; and securing public funds for adequate fire hydrants and fire safety education programs. (Information from CCNC organizational histories and newspaper Moving Forward). However, the primary campaign of the CCNC continued to center on housing for lowincome residents of North Camden.
As a result of the boardup project, city residents began to explore ways to acquire a boardedup house to live in at less cost than what the city wanted if purchased through a city auction process and more in tune with their economic capabilities. In 1981, CCNC members decided that squatting would be the best way to win a sweat equity home ownership program from the city. Sweat equity essentially meant that the labor invested by the squatter would count as equity toward ownership. CCNC utilized the experiences of other organizations like the Kensington Joint Action Council, the Puerto Rican Alliance, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in Philadelphia, and the Baltimore Housing Alliance in Maryland to develop its squatting tactics. Participants were to agree to live in the house for two years, pay real estate taxes to the City of Camden after one year, make all necessary plumbing, electrical and heating repairs on the house, and risk moving into a house they didn't own. In return, they would receive deeds to the houses. In June 1981, thirteen families moved into and occupied vacant houses. A neighbor registered a complaint with the police who tried to evict one squatter. Sixty supporters of CCNC staged a demonstration to prevent the eviction and demanded a meeting with the mayor and the director of city properties. Out of these meetings, city officials agreed to the formation of a home ownership program and provided a grant to CCNC of $100,600 for this purpose. Participants were required to be a resident of Camden for one year prior to applying for the program, meet federal Section 8 guidelines, and have a steady source of income either from a job or public assistance. In 1980, of the first thirty houses occupied, twenty-two were successful at an average cost of $2,000 to rehabilitate a house.
In August 1983 as part of a broader move to curtail public welfare spending and commercialize or privatize vacant real estatethe city cut funds to the Home Ownership Program. CCNC managed to get continued support from the federal U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant program, the William Penn Foundation, a suburban church fundraising drive coordinated by the Camden Metropolitan Ministry, and grassroots fundraising. Between 1980 and 1983, one hundred and four families were matched with abandoned houses owned by either the City of Camden or the Department of Housing and Urban Development. According to program coordinator Carlos A. Collazo, the Home Ownership Program was so successful that by 1985, the CCNC ran out of houses that were in good enough structural condition to be rehabilitated.
Meanwhile, another issue prevented further expansion of the program. In November 1986, the bilingual special edition of Moving Forward, the newspaper of CCNC, identified gentrificationthe movement of midtoupper income residential and business owners into North Camdenand proposed ways for neighborhood residents to fight back to protect their own stake in the area. The idea of Community Land Trusts was introduced at this time. Essentially these were nonprofit corporations developed to assure that community land would be used in a way that promoted the best interests of the residents of a particular land area. This approach had been used as a strategy elsewhere to assure the continued availability of affordable housing. The North Camden Land Trust and the Camden Lutheran Housing Corporation, Inc. drew names of families from the waiting lists of CCNC and worked to get decent housing for these residents.
In 1990, CCNC joined forces with Camden Churches Organized for People and other North Camden community advocacy groups into a coalition, Save Our Waterfront, Inc., to ensure community input into how the riverfront land would be used and to prevent the construction of a second state prison on the Camden waterfront (after a first one was built in Camden in 1982-83 on the waterfront). Save Our Waterfront, Inc. organized a neighborhood mini-convention in May of that year and a "Peoples' Plan for the North Camden Waterfront" was developed and approved by a series of meetings and discussions. Residents asserted that once the prison construction plan was defeated, they would also resist trash-to-steam plants, sewage treatment facilities, or landfills, and lobbied for open waterfront space, affordable high and low-rise housing, a human services cluster with day care, health clinic, college, transportation center, police sub-station, and small commercial center.
In addition to these major campaigns, CCNC used demonstrations, regular public meetings, workshops, negotiations, petitions, banquets, conventions, pamphlets, a songbook, and other community advocacy organizational tools to publicize area needs and achieve positive results. Traffic lights were obtained at dangerous intersections. A violence-ridden bar located near an elementary school was shut down. CCNC was a leader in the 1981-1982 Camden Prison Coalition which could not stop the building of the first state prison, but did win $450,000 for housing in the neighborhood, a 25 percent minority quota for construction jobs, and civil service priority for Camden residents in hiring for permanent prison jobs. The CCNC won twice-a-week trash collection by the City during the five summer months. A major portion of North Camden was rezoned in 1979 from manufacturing-residential to residential. A rent-control ordinance was passed. A campaign against slum landlord Cristobal Cordero resulted in 41 of his tenants getting repairs and rent abatements. CCNC participated in the Camden Shelter Coalition which led to the opening of the city-sponsored North Camden Community Center to shelter the homeless. CCNC also helped obtain and operate a People's Laundromat, the only laundromat facility in North Camden. Additionally, the organization served as a focus for international policy issues by opposing U.S. intervention in Central America and protesting South African Apartheid.
Today, CCNC continues its community advocacy work in the North Camden community.
The records of the Concerned Citizens of North Camden were donated to the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies in 1990 and 1993.
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE
The records of the Concerned Citizens of North Camden span the years from 1978 through July 1990. The collection contains organizational histories, correspondence, meeting minutes, grant applications, administrative forms, brochures and pamphlets, leaflets, newspaper clippings, financial records, property and applicant lists for the Home Ownership Program. All the printed materials including the CCNC newspaper, Moving Forward, are in Spanish and English. Most of the correspondence is only in English. The records give excellent insight into the social and economic difficulties involved for an urban, low-income predominantly Hispanic and African-American population in winning essential services, especially housing. The collection further focuses on the organizational tools, tactics and strategies, leadership skills, and internal and external support mechanisms necessary for such a community to approach even minimal social and economic parity.
Access Policy: Portions of this collection including home ownership application information are restricted to protect the privacy of individuals and to conform to guidelines regulating access to information about participants. Please consult the Balch staff archivist for further information about materials marked "Restricted".
Series 1: Correspondence. 1980-1988, Box 1 and 2: These boxes contain organizational histories, definitions, bylaws, projections, informational brochures and pamphlets on squatting and the Home Ownership Program, the agreement between CCNC and the city of Camden of the Home Ownership Program of North Camden, progress reports of the Home Ownership Program, 1981-1984, varied correspondence with Camden city officials in relation to CCNC programs, a William Penn Foundation grant proposal, correspondence with Camden churches and individuals about fundraising, and letters expressing concern about waterfront prison expansion.
Series 2: Administrative Records, Part 1, 1980-1990, Boxes 3-5: This part of the collection gives more detailed information about the daytoday activities and workings of the Concerned Citizens of North Camden. It begins with the organizational statement of purpose, committee structures and personnel policy. Original drafts of "Guias de Squatting/Guidelines to Squatting" and "Guias del Programa de Viviendas CCNC/Guidelines for CCNC Home Ownership Program" are here. There are informational pieces on squatting workshops, housing workshops, resource lists of who to contact for assistance with electrical, plumbing, and heating repairs, Home Ownership Program financial statements and progress reports up to 1985-1986, the Final Progress report. All types of funding-related material is in this series, including blank mini-grant application forms for Home Ownership Program participants, federal Community Block Development Grant proposals, a fund appeal pamphlet, and the Mass Transit Street Theater fundraising programs of 1986 and 1988. Flyers, pamphlets, and press releases from 1980 through 1987 indicate the issues over which CCNC felt compelled to demonstrate. The first, second, fourth, and tenth organizational convention brochures, news clippings and essays written by interested students from Rutgers University on the nature and successes of the squatting and home ownership programs of CCNC and a 1986 Camden Courier Post series, "City Invincible: Camden's Long Road Back," give general overviews on the programs in relation to Camden's generalized economic problems. Also important at the end of this series is the information on North Camden Land Trust and Camden Lutheran Housing Corp. because these materials illustrate the organization's involvement in the community land trust concept once the Home Ownership Program had ended. "The People's Plan for the North Camden Waterfront" projects the hopes of CCNC for a truly community responsive environment.
Series 3: Administrative Records, Part 2 (Restricted), 1981-1988 (Boxes 69): This series consists primarily of completed Home Ownership Program applications. It also includes quit claim deeds, tax information, participant lists, heating and electrical inspection forms. See the Staff Archivist concerning access to this material.
Printed Materials: The bilingual CCNC Newsletter (1978-1981) became Moving Forward in June of 1981 and has been separated to the Balch library. The collection of this publication is nearly complete and a list of available issues on file is in each folder and box. Please note that in 1986, CCNC had insufficient funds to print Moving Forward so CCNC information was included in Community Focus, a bilingual South Jersey newspaper. These materials give valuable information about the breadth of daytoday activity of CCNC, including cultural and street festivals, leadership profiles, and local church input.
Oversize materials: This includes a large brown-paper signed petition [c. 1986?] in relation to the "Stop the Prison Campaign" of CCNC and some posters from a related CCNC demonstration that indicate the types of demands the organization raised and fought for. This material is located in the Balch Museum.
The box list of the register of the records of Concerned Citizens of North
Camden is thirteen pages long.