Through its 30-year history, SINA has evolved as a trusted partner and a highly-effective force for positive change in the neighborhood it resides in. Its success has also brought it national recognition as a model for community revitalization.
What would become the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance was originally brought together as a committee with representatives from Hartford Hospital, The Institute of Living and Trinity College in late 1976. Named SINA in 1977, the group worked on issues of mutual concern with a variety of activist community organizations. Principal among those organizations was HART (Hartford Areas Rally Together), which by the mid-1970s, had successfully organized a large network of neighborhood block clubs.
In 1977, SINA worked with HART to structure and identify the start-up funding to launch the Southside Neighborhood News. The community newspaper served an advocacy role and quickly gained influence in City Hall’s discussion about its neighborhood policies. A similar coalition led to the creation of Broad-Park Development Corporation. The development corporation gave the community a more direct say in the physical changes that would be implemented in the neighborhood improvement process.
Both of these entities exist today and continue to play important roles. “Southside Neighborhood News ” has become The Hartford News, a weekly that remains focused on neighborhood issues. Broad-Park Development has been a constant partner with SINA, producing hundreds of rehabilitated and new affordable housing units. Broad-Park also was a principal partner with SINA in Cityscape Homes, a highly successful affordable homeownership initiative.
In addition to its immediate impact on neighborhood improvement, SINA’s early work with community organizations produced another important result. It changed the long-held perception among local residents that the SINA institutions were unconcerned about their home neighborhood. From the outset it was clear that SINA’s commitment to community improvement was serious, and that it would emphasize working with its neighbors and not imposing its own agenda. Though SINA’s role in neighborhood issues has evolved and expanded over its 29-year history, it has remained true to the community partnership approach as a central tenet of its mission.
In 1978, SINA officially incorporated. It hired Ivan A. Backer as its first president and executive director in 1979. Mr. Backer, then a Trinity College administrator, was instrumental in SINA’s creation and led the organization for 17 years.
Besides its involvement in several Broad-Park housing and commercial projects, SINA actively participated in a wide variety of other neighborhood revitalization efforts during the 1980s and early 1990s. These efforts included anti-gang and youth leadership projects, commercial revitalization planning, an employee mortgage assistance program, a comprehensive housing study, and a development study that formed the basis for The Learning Corridor concept. In addition, that era saw SINA establish its community leadership and education programs: the Scholar of the Month, the Betances School partnership, the Bulkeley Connection and the Neighborhood Service Awards.
SINA expanded its membership in 1995 with the addition of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and in 1996, when Connecticut Public Television and Radio joined.
By the mid-90s, it was clear that SINA would also have to expand its role in the neighborhood. A weak economy in the early part of the decade had undone many of the earlier gains. Homeowners were leaving, street crime was rampant, and housing was rapidly deteriorating. In 1996 SINA staff, board members, CEOs and community leaders drafted a comprehensive strategic plan for a major revitalization effort. In 1996 newly-appointed Trinity College President Evan Dobelle introduced that bold new vision based on SINA’s credibility in the community, and the resolve of the institutions to make a significant financial commitment that would have an immediate and dramatic physical impact. The focal point of this new Neighborhood Initiative was the construction of a $112 million educational campus called The Learning Corridor, in one of the most highly-visible and most blighted sections of the city.
SINA uses a high impact, high visibility approach to development projects through community partnerships. An excellent example of this method was the conceptualization and construction of The Learning Corridor, consisting of four public magnet schools. Developed on a former bus depot designated beyond remediation, the Learning Corridor partnership spanned a broad spectrum of public and private stakeholders in the community—including local residents and community groups. SINA member institutions provided initial capital of $10 million to advance the project and subsequently raised an additional $102 million to realize it in full.
This model of collaboration is the reason SINA’s Cityscape Homes initiative has achieved national and local visibility. Viewed as impossible by many, the initiative succeeded in identifying a solid market of buyers for housing in neighborhoods many thought no one would want to live in let alone invest in. Working with nonprofit community development partners, and listening to resident aspirations, SINA has earned the confidence of parents, families, and the elderly. In doing so, the organization has created a healthy market of trusting neighborhood residents and leaders, many of whom believed they would never achieve the American Dream of owning their own homes.
SINA today is leveraging the infusion of confidence contributed by the success of The Learning Corridor, and its own broad network of partnerships, to implement and expand the initiatives outlined in its original vision. It has been successful in reversing the negative trend in homeownership, stimulated renewal of the neighborhood’s principal commercial corridor, opened up employment opportunities for neighborhood residents, acted as an economic development catalyst for neighborhood businesses, and provided leadership for comprehensive neighborhood development strategies. In the process it is fashioning a national model for neighborhood revitalization.
These accomplishments and more have brought attention to SINA’s unique method of community development. Already, the American Communities Fund has highlighted SINA as a national model. In 2000 the American Planning Association followed by awarding SINA the prestigious National Planning Award. Now, SINA’s outstanding approach is being emulated across town by the founding of Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance who launched with the assistance of SINA. Finally, SINA’s impact on the community has been so great that the former executive director was elected the first Latino mayor of the state’s capital city.