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Byline: Valerie Hubbard
Jul. 8--In a decade, a small, nonprofit group has helped put new homes and other property worth $135 million on Richmond's tax rolls.
While this real estate development has given a boost to the city as a whole, its effect has been seen especially in blighted areas of Highland Park, Church Hill and the East End. Long abandoned by the economic forces that sustain suburban growth, these neighborhoods have found new life with the assistance of Local Initiatives Support Corp.
Last year alone, the organization, known by its acronym LISC, invested more than $13 million in troubled Richmond communities through grants, loans and lines of credit, in addition to technical assistance and training.
But much like the old BASF ad slogan that proclaimed, "We don't make the things you use -- we make the things you use better," LISC doesn't build the houses or day-care centers, or even decide where they will be built. The organization just tries to make sure that the best people for the job have the money and expertise to make it happen.
"Investing in the community is investing in our economic stability," said James E. Ukrop, chairman of Ukrop's Super Markets Inc. and a member and past chairman of the Richmond LISC Local Advisory Committee. "We are venture capitalists for the American Dream."
That is a short definition for LISC. Its goal is to provide financial and technical support for the impassioned leaders of community development corporations -- the grass-roots activist groups that drive urban revival in Richmond and cities across the country.
For that reason, LISC exists in relative obscurity, content with its supporting role to organizations such as the Oregon Hill Home Improvement Council, Interfaith Housing Corp., Virginia Supportive Housing and the Highland Park Restoration and Preservation Program.
Greta J. Harris, senior program director of Richmond LISC, who has been with the organization since 1997, says the community development corporations are the real heroes.
"They are run by the people who live and work in these …