Making Ends Meet: Fiscal Challenges at Local Nonprofit

Casa Aztlan has served Pilsen residents since the 1970s. Today, the organization is struggling to keep up with building expenses and operating costs. (The Gate/Lucia Anaya)

Casa Aztlan has served Pilsen residents since the 1970s. Today, the organization is struggling to keep up with building expenses and operating costs. (The Gate/Lucia Anaya)

A longtime community organization that has brought culture and programs to Pilsen residents could be closing its doors soon. Casa Aztlan, a center that has been open for over 40 years on 1831 S. Racine Ave. has been unable to keep up with the demands of its property.

The three-story building has been in foreclosure since last summer. That’s mainly because the center’s administrators haven’t been able to make payments on a balance of $115,622 owed to MB Financial Bank, said Casa Aztlan’s executive director Carlos Arango.

According to Department of Buildings’ records, the building has a number of code violations; from broken window panes, to exposed wood in the basement ceiling and failure to maintain interior stairways.

Seeing Casa Aztlan struggle hasn’t been easy for some nearby residents who have witnessed the organization grow and assist many immigrants since the 1970s.

Rosemarie Sierra, 68, is one of them. She has been going to the center since she was 15-years-old.

“Casa Aztlan was where community organizing would happen,” she said. “It was where the Brown Berets originated, where many Latino and Chicano issues were advocated for.”

The community center, Sierra said, is now only a shadow of its glorious days.

Operating budget cuts have led to service and programming cuts in addition to disruptions in basic utilities to keep the organization up and running. “Sometimes I would go there and it was freezing. I would say ‘can’t you put the heat up?’ Well, they had shut off the gas, they hadn’t paid their gas bill.”

Last month, the building was apparently sold for $293,000 to a third party in a judiciary auction, a court ordered auction of the foreclosed property. But Arango said the sale hasn’t gone through. He hopes to find a way to keep the building. He said the center filed for bankruptcy in March of this year and there are some legal technicalities that can stop the sale from being completed. There is a person interested in buying the building, he said, but the judge presiding over the foreclosure case has not approved the final sale.

“The bank has put pressure on us, but no, Casa Aztlan is not for sale nor do we intend to sell it,” he said. “We have an opportunity there to resolve this situation.”

According to Arango, getting the building up to code and acquiring the necessary funds to keep up with the mortgage has been a long struggle.

Casa Aztlan relies heavily on government grants and community contributions, as well as monthly rent payments coming from three community organizations that use the building as their headquarters. But even with that, it’s not enough to cover the maintenance and administrative costs.

“We’ve never had a tremendous economic absorbency,” Arango said. “Obviously our contributions have declined so our cumulative costs have been greater and that has been the problem.”

The building has served as a community center for neighborhood residents since it opened in 1896. It has also been the hub for services to the immigrant community in the area. First, it was home to the Howell Neighborhood House and the Neighborhood Service Organization, before it became Casa Aztlan. The organization currently offers free GED tutoring, citizenship and English classes and an afterschool program for middle school children.

Arango said keeping up with the age and size of the building have made things difficult. The recent recession reduced the number of donations and grants that were coming in. It became harder and harder to keep up with mortgage payments.

Casa Aztlan is not the only organization struggling to make ends meet. This is a very challenging time for nonprofits economically, said Laura Zumdahl, vice-president of Nonprofit Services at Donors Forum.

“Some nonprofits are still under a lot of economic pressure,” she said.

According to her, it’s harder for organizations that rely strictly on government funding mainly because payments and funding streams could be delayed, or eliminated entirely.

Nonprofits today are trying to get their funding from multiple sources, she said. That includes individual donors, foundations and corporations.

Some organizations have become more creative when it comes to building donor relationships, she said. But building that takes a while. “It’s a long term investment and that can be hard.”

Zumdahl said getting the funds to pay for overhead costs such as utility bills and building maintenance, can be extremely hard as well.

Often funders want to invest in a specific program but not in all the other associated costs, like operating expenses that are necessary to keep an organization up and running, she said.
And when organizations that provide crucial services are gone, she said, the communities are the ones that suffer the most.

That’s what Sierra fears–that selling the building would mean a loss for the many Mexican immigrant families that rely on the services the center still provides.

“It would be a shame,” she said. “You just know that if a developer buys the place, they’re going to build townhouses that will probably shoot up the rent in the neighborhood.”

Arango said the board is currently looking to friends, family and supporters to help raise enough money to keep the building in the hands of the board. A hearing on the foreclosure case of Casa Aztlan is scheduled for August 8.

Subsistiendo: Retos Fiscales en Organización no Lucrativa Local

Casa Aztlan (Flickr/chicagogeek)

Casa Aztlan (Flickr/chicagogeek)

Una organización comunitaria de mucho tiempo que ha llevado cultura y programas a los residentes de Pilsen podría cerrar sus puertas pronto. Casa Aztlan, un centro que ha estado abierto por más de 40 años en el 1831 al Sur de la Avenida Racine no ha podido mantenerse al día con las demandas de su propiedad.

El edificio de tres plantas ha estado bajo proceso de embargo hipotecario desde el verano pasado. Eso es principalmente porque los administradores del centro no han podido hacer los pagos de un saldo de $115,622 contraído del Banco MB Financial, dijo el director ejecutivo de Casa Aztlan Carlos Arango.

Según registros del Departamento de Edificios el edificio también tiene un número de violaciones de código; desde cristales rotos en ventanas, madera expuesta en el techo del sótano y falta de mantenimiento en las escaleras.

Ver a Casa Aztlan con dificultades no ha sido fácil para algunos residentes que han presenciado cómo la organización ha crecido y ayudado a muchos inmigrantes desde la década de los 70s.

Rosemarie Sierra, 68, es una de ellas. Ella ha estado yendo al centro desde que tenía 15 años de edad.
“Casa Aztlan era donde la organización comunitaria ocurría”, dijo. “Fue donde los Brown Berets se originaron, donde se abogaba por muchas cuestiones de latinos y chicanos”.

El centro comunitario, dijo Sierra, es ahora sólo una sombra de sus días de gloria.

Recortes al presupuesto operativo han llevado a recortes de servicios y programas ademas de interrupciones de las utilidades basicas para mantener la organización en marcha. “A veces iba y hacía mucho frío. Decía ‘¿pueden subirle a la calefacción?’ Bueno, habían cortado el gas, no habían pagado la factura del gas”.

El mes pasado, el edificio aparentemente fue vendido por $293,000 a un tercero en una subasta judicial, un tribunal ordenó la subasta de la propiedad hipotecada. Pero Arango dijo que la venta no ha pasado. Espera encontrar una manera de mantener el edificio. Dijo que el centro se declaró en bancarrota en marzo de este año y que hay algunos tecnicismos legales que pueden impedir que se ejecute la venta. Hay una persona interesada en comprar el edificio, dijo, pero el juez que preside el caso de embargo hipotecario no ha aprobado la venta final.

“El banco nos ha presionado, pero no, Casa Aztlan no está en venta y no tenemos intenciones de venderla”, dijo. “Tenemos una oportunidad de resolver esta situación”.

Según Arango, poner el edificio en regla y adquirir los fondos necesarios para mantenerse al corriente con los pagos de la hipoteca ha sido una larga lucha.

Casa Aztlan depende en gran parte de subvenciones gubernamentales y contribuciones de la comunidad, además de las rentas mensuales que cobran de tres organizaciones comunitarias que utilizan el edificio como sus oficinas principales. Pero inclusive con eso, no es suficiente para cubrir los costos de mantenimiento y administrativos.

“Nunca hemos tenido gran capacidad de absorción económica”, dijo Arango. “Obviamente nuestras contribuciones han disminuido así que nuestros costos cumulativos han sido mayores y ese ha sido el problema”.

El edificio ha servido como centro comunitario para los residentes del vecindario desde que abrió sus puertas en 1896. Ha sido el centro de servicios a la comunidad inmigrante en el área. Primero, fue el hogar de la Casa Comunitaria Howell y de la Organización de Servicio Comunitario, antes de convertirse en Casa Aztlan. La organización actualmente ofrece tutoría para el GED, clases de inglés y ciudadanía y un programa después de clases para niños de primaria.

Arango dijo que mantenerse al día con la edad y tamaño del edificio han hecho las cosas difíciles. La reciente recesión tuvo un efecto en el número de donaciones y subvenciones que recibían. Se hizo cada vez más difícil mantenerse al corriente con los pagos de la hipoteca.

Casa Aztlan no es la única organización que lucha por sobrevivir. Este es un momento muy difícil para las organizaciones sin fines de lucro económicamente, dijo Laura Zumdahl, vicepresidenta de servicios a organizaciones no lucrativas de Donors Forum.

“Algunas organizaciones sin fines de lucro aún están bajo mucha presión económica”, dijo. Según ella, es más difícil para las organizaciones que dependen estrictamente de fondos gubernamentales principalmente porque los pagos podrían demorarse o ser eliminados completamante.

Las organizaciones no lucrativas hoy reciben sus fondos de múltiples recursos, dijo. Eso incluye donadores individuales, fundaciones y corporaciones.

Algunas organizaciones se han hecho más creativas en cuanto a formar relaciones de donadores se refiere, dijo. Pero formar eso se lleva su tiempo. “Es una inversión a largo plazo que puede ser difícil”.

Zumdahl dijo que el conseguir los fondos para pagar por gastos generales como las utilidades y mantenimiento del edificio puede ser extremadamente difícil también.

A menudo los donantes quieren invertir en un programa específico pero no en todos los otros costos asociados, como los gastos operativos que son necesarios para mantener una organización en marcha, dijo.

Y cuando las organizaciones que proveen servicios cruciales ya no existen, dijo, las comunidades son las que sufren más.
Eso es lo que Sierra teme—que el vender el edificio significaría una pérdida para las muchas familias de inmigrantes mexicanos que dependen de los servicios que el centro aún proporciona.

“Sería una pena”, dijo. “Sabes que si una constructora compra el lugar, va a construir casas que probablemente van a disparar las rentas en el vecindario”.

Arango dijo que la junta actualmente acude a amigos, familiares y simpatizantes para ayudar a recaudar suficiente dinero para mantener el edificio en manos de la junta. Una audiencia del embargo hipotecario de Casa Aztlan está programada para el 8 de agosto.

One Response to Making Ends Meet: Fiscal Challenges at Local Nonprofit

  1. Its a shame that such a historic place would even be considered to be on the chopping block. I feel as a Mexican American who was born and raised in Pilsen has some type of responsibility to commit himself in helping Casa Aztlan remain open. But i’m just one person, it would definitely help the community. Especially during these times when Pilsen is going threw the whole let’s relocate the MEXICAN POPULATION out of Pilsen campain. Just to accommodate undercover racist and bigot people. I’m disgusted with what i see in Pilsen now. White people taking credit for cleaning up Pilsen from filthy Mexicans who are so ignorant and dirty. I disagree with this stereotype. And there bold Utube videos need to be addressed and remembered next time there hypocrite ass tries to rent an apartment or eat in your restaurant or drink in your bar.

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