National Institute Will Advance Community Building

Article written by Joe Kriesberg and Bob Van Meter, Executive Director, Boston LISC

On April 20th, we were able to participate in an important event for community development.  A new Institute for Comprehensive Community Development was formally launched with a day long conference in Washington D.C. where community developers, policy makers from the Obama administration and foundation and intermediary staff met to talk about the state of comprehensive community development work and the direction forward. 

 The Institute was created by LISC to be a center for training of comprehensive community development practitioners, and to be a nexus for policy makers, researchers and practitioners to share ideas, best practice, and communicate more broadly about the work of comprehensive community development.  The leadership of the institute draws heavily upon the experience developed by Chicago LISC over the last dozen years as it has worked in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation and local community based organizations to do comprehensive community development in fourteen Chicago neighborhoods.  That successful experience was critical to LISC’s decision at the national level to adopt comprehensive community development as a national strategic direction and encourage each LISC program site to move in this direction.  The Institute is already providing training to LISC staff around the country. Marcus Haymon and Bob Van Meter were able to spend two days in Chicago in March in the Institute’s first intensive training session.

The March training was about the nitty gritty of comprehensive work but Tuesday’s “Inauguration” of the Institute was the view from 25,000 feet.  The alignment of the vision of comprehensive community development with the vision of the Obama administration was a strong theme of the day’s events.  Three White House officials spoke at the event, Adolfo Carrion, Jr. Director of the new White House Office of Urban Policy, Derek Douglas, Special Assistant to the President, White House Domestic Policy Council and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President.  All of them spoke of the administration’s interest and support for comprehensive approaches to the challenges facing communities.  The work of three interagency working groups of the domestic policy council was described, including one focused on neighborhood revitalization that includes staff from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice.  The two other working groups are focused on “Sustainable Communities” and “Regional Innovation”.

Derek Douglas described the approach of the working group on neighborhood revitalization as having several characteristics that include; 1) reinforce broad goals rather than being prescriptive about programs, 2) to emphasize the partnership of federal agencies, 3) to be evidence based.    Douglas said that there is already discussion between agencies about joint funding and joint review of applications by agency staff.    Valerie Jarrett spoke about the possibility that future federal funding decisions for core programs would include some priority for communities which are pursuing comprehensive strategies. 

Xavier de Souza Briggs, Associate Director for General Government Programs at the Office of Management and Budget and Erica Poethig, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development at HUD participated in an afternoon symposium on mapping the way forward.  Briggs, who was most recently on the faculty at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT (and spoke at the 2006 MACDC Convention), emphasized what an important factor residential mobility is in thinking about communities and how one measures the impact or benefit of place-based comprehensive strategy.

The symposium included a number of community development practitioners as well as administration officials and others.  Hippolito (Paul) Roldan of the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation made an impassioned plea for the importance of addressing public safety as a precondition for all other community development work.  He emphasized the scourge that gang violence is in some of the communities he works in and the importance of addressing violence.  Xav Briggs responded to Roldan arguing that sometimes liberal policy makers have emphasized violence prevention to the detriment of violence deterrence and that we must do both as we think most community developers would agree and pursue as a practical strategy.   

 Both Amy Liu of the Brookings Institution and Ron Phillips of Coastal Enterprises reminded the audience that community development is not just about cities.  Poverty is a suburban and rural phenomenon  and poor people living in suburbs, according to Liu, underutilize the largest income support programs perhaps in part because of access to those programs is less in suburban locations.

Bob Weissbourd, a Chicago based consultant (and speaker at one of our Community Development Innovation Forum events in 2009), reminded everyone that neighborhoods are impacted by the market and that community development needs to be about influencing the market but that much of the change that occurs both for good or ill in communities is determined by forces beyond our direct control.

Both Julia Stasch of the MacArthur Foundation, speaking in the morning and Ann Kubisch of the Aspen Institute speaking in the afternoon spoke about the importance of the broker role.  Kubisch said that a number of comprehensive approaches in the past had been successful in creating neighborhood level consensus or coalitions but that there had been less success in building linkages to power.  In Kubisch’s view that is an important role, that of convener, broker, aligner, often, but not always, played by a CDC.   Stasch spoke about the importance of the “glue” that keeps comprehensive efforts together.  Stasch also suggested that the Institute should work to create new metrics that measure the strength of the “platform” (platform is the LISC term for the coalition of local players who work together to advance neighborhood change) and whether they increase the resilience of the community.

Another theme running through much of the day’s events was the relation between regional strategies for growth and sustainability and the importance of strong neighborhoods and neighborhood revitalization. Stasch remarked that those involved in both regional efforts and comprehensive neighborhood efforts often acknowledge the importance of each other’s concerns but that real engagement between those ideas and approaches is lacking.  She suggested that the Institute should be a nexus of that engagement.

Xav Briggs and others spoke about the need for evidence to support allocation of public resources to support efforts but the evidence is difficult to come by given residential mobility, the strength of market forces, and the complexity of factors affecting both the people in communities and the communities.

In our view, there should have been a bit more discussion about the importance of creating strong community based organizations that can make demands on the public sector and corporations on behalf of the low income communities.  One of the central questions that has to be answered about comprehensive development strategies is how do you pay for the community organizing work, the glue, that does not fit easily into a programmatic box. 

Moving forward, both Boston LISC and MACDC expect to be active participants in this national discussion. Joe Kriesberg will be serving on the Institute’s new National Advisory Board and Bob Van Meter will be participating in Institute activities through his role at LISC. More importantly, Boston LISC will be rolling out its version of comprehensive community development later this year with a new “Resilient Communities” program in two local neighborhoods. MACDC is working with the Smart Growth Alliance to develop a new “Great Neighborhoods” program to promote local smart growth efforts that advance similar goals. Both of these new programs are focused on local neighborhoods, but are tightly linked to broader regional efforts to implement Metro Future, the regional plan for Greater Boston that was developed by MAPC.

The convergence of these local, regional, and national initiatives provides us with a game changing opportunity to advance our long-held vision for comprehensive community development that can transform both neighborhoods and the lives of the people who live in them.

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