Neighborhood Visionary: Phil Tom

Phil-Tom1-231x300In 1978, Phil Tom came to Indianapolis with a job to do.

He had just been named the new pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church on the Near Eastside, and was excited about the opportunity. But when he arrived, he was surprised at how much the neighborhood had deteriorated.

“When I first came to Westminister, there was lots of dilapidated, boarded-up housing. People were leaving the neighborhood, and it just wasn’t a great place to live. So some of us in the community took it upon ourselves to tackle the situation.”

Phil and members of his church teamed up with Eastside Community Investments to promote neighborhood home ownership and property investment. They worked to secure development grants from the state to help offer attractive, affordable housing to people who wanted to live in the neighborhood. Neighborhood residents also swung into action, repairing properties and ensuring their upkeep, helping to improve the reputation of the Near Eastside.

Phil and his neighbors also helped create better employment opportunities by purchasing land and building an industrial park near the neighborhood. Given the park’s close proximity to downtown Indianapolis and highway I-70, it seemed like the right area to recruit businesses. The plan worked, and the park’s first company, American Cablevision (now Bright House), moved in right away.

Phil’s involvement in community development in Indianapolis didn’t stop on the Near Eastside. Phil served as vice president for community development at the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP), where he helped formulate the Indianapolis Neighborhood Development Initiative, which grew into the financial foundation of local community development. Phil also played a key role in founding Concord CDC, West Indianapolis CDC, United Northeast CDC, WCDC, and Southeast Neighborhood Development (SEND).

If you ask Phil what the key to successful neighborhood development initiatives is, he’s got an easy answer:

“Resident-owned, resident-driven, resident-led initiatives are the ones that work. People have to want change in their neighborhoods, and they have to work for it. They have to envision it and plan it. Here in Indianapolis, we were successful because that’s what happened.”

Over 30 years later, Phil still has a job to do. He currently serves as director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Labor under the Obama Administration. It’s a position that allows Phil to do what he does best: build partnerships, inspire people, and help communities achieve their goals.