NCDA Founder John A. Sasso Honored
for Over 30 Years of Service in Community Development Field
By Nicole Maharaj
National association heads, community development practitioners, and friends gathered on the last evening of the National Community Development Associations’ (NCDA) Winter Conference on Saturday, January 29, in tribute to the association’s Founder and Executive Officer, John A. Sasso, honoring over 31 years of outstanding service in the field of community development.
Both Conference of Mayors Executive Director J. Thomas Cochran and Terrence R. Duvernay served as masters of ceremony for the event. Duvernay once served as former Community Development Director for the City of New Orleans, NCDA President, and HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary. Former Community Development Directors and Past Presidents of the association as well as some of Sasso’s most esteemed friends and colleagues presented remarks in tribute to Sasso, including Freddie Mac Vice President for Industry Relations, Dwight R. Robinson, Dianne Vonieda, Bess Donaldson, and Cress C. Lander.
Sasso began his tenure in the field of community development over 38 years ago. First, he worked as a Housing Inspector/Planner for the City of Providence. After working in this capacity for three years, he was appointed as Deputy Director of the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency from 1965-1968, and advanced into the position of Executive Director of the Pawtucket Model Cities Program, where he served for two years in this position.
In 1970, John became the first president of the Model Cities Community Development Directors Association (MCCDDA). This association eventually became the National Community Development Association (NCDA), after passage of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 (the act responsible for enacting the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG).
Under Sasso’s leadership, NCDA has been at the forefront in securing effective and responsible housing and community development programs for local governments, and is comprised of members that administer housing and community development programs in their respective communities. The mission of the organization is to assist local governments to achieve high-quality, locally responsive programs for making communities better places to live and work, particularly for low- and moderate income people. Sasso has served as Executive Secretary since the association’s inception, and will now serve as an emeritus board member.
Moreover, Sasso has served as a lecturer, trainer, mentor and an outstanding advocate for community development across the nation and throughout the world.
Besides his outstanding career and being the recipient of numerous awards, Sasso is affectionately known as the ‘godfather.’ “The political world and our urban life in the USA is a democracy where each player does his or her best, doing their thing, playing their own horn, beating their own drum, or singing their hearts out. Thanks for using your power to help others do their thing to empower themselves, thus making our cities better places to live. That is your legacy and I’m so lucky and grateful to be a part of it,” said Conference Executive Director J. Thomas Cochran.
Don Borut, Executive Director for the National League of Cities, said “In my generation, no one has done more to carry the banner to support and aggressively protect the Community Development Block Grant program. John’s strategy, one that is fundamental to the culture of NCDA, has been to support and assist local elected officials in communicating the critical importance of CDBG funds to cities. The National League of Cities and our members are grateful to John for his tremendous contributions to improve the quality of life and opportunities for those who live in our cities and towns and thank him for his ongoing legacy.” NCDA Executive Director Chandra Western remarked, “We the staff of the National Community Development Association would like to take this opportunity to express to you our gratitude for your more than thirty years of commitment to the values and ideals of neighborhood based community development, and the wise and dedicated stewardship you have exercised over the life of this Association. Thank you John–for everything.”