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Nonprofit innovators

Two Chicago nonprofits on the cutting edge of creating green communities are among eight organizations from around the world receiving a MacArthur Foundation award for creative and effective institutions.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology will receive $650,000 and the Chicago Community Loan Fund will get $500,000 with the award.

“These organizations may be small but their impact is tremendous,” said MacArthur president Jonathan Fanton in a statement.

An innovator in research and practice on urban sustainability for over three decades, CNT is now seeing many of its ideas emerge as policy proposals under the administration of President Barack Obama — who once served on CNT’s board of directors.

The administration’s stimulus bill included money for energy conservation, for greening water infrastructure, and for a smart electric grid, all areas where CNT has been a pioneer, said Nicole Gotthelf.

CNT’s work since it helped found the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership in 1990 is reflected in new federal support for high-speed rail, and the recent announcement that HUD and the U.S. Department of Transportation will work together on transit-oriented housing development cited CNT’s groundbreaking Housing and Transportation Affordability Index.

CNT projects which promote urban sustainability include the I-GO car-sharing program and the Energy Smart Pricing Plan. An Energy Savers Program provides energy audits and financing to reduce energy use (and maintain affordability) in multifamily buildings — a CNT effort that goes back more than two decades.

The Chicago Community Loan Fund promotes sustainable building practices by nonprofit and for-profit development groups — a focus it took up several years ago, when spiraling energy costs challenged affordable housing developers and tenants, said executive director Calvin Holmes.

Founded in 1991, CCLF provides low-cost financing and technical assistance to nonprofit community development organizations for affordable housing, economic development, and social service initiatives. The Fund backs small and emerging groups in low-income communities, providing predevelopment financing not generally available from banks.

Now CCLF helps clients achieve greater energy efficiency and utilize environmentally-friendly building materials. The group publishes a guide to Building for Sustainability, sponsors an information exchange working group of affordable green builders, and holds an annual workshop on sustainable development for community development corporations, contractors, and others.

With the MacArthur award, CCLF plans to expand its technical assistance and add resource fairs and more targeted workshops, in order to help community development groups, contractors, and architects stay on top of rapidly-advancing green building technology, Holmes said.

“We want to be part of the knowledge transfer, to keep our clients current on what’s new, what’s best-in-class, and what’s becoming obsolete,” he said.

The awardees will be honored in a ceremony at the MacArthur Foundation’s Chicago office on June 11.

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Category: environment, nonprofits, philanthropy

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