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Federal Urban Policy (General)

White House Announces Seven New SC2 Communities

Last week, the White House officially announced that seven new communities will participate in the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) initiative. The seven communities to receive the SC2 designation this year are Brownsville, TX; Flint, MI; Gary, IN; Macon, GA; Rockford, IL; St. Louis, MO; and Rocky Mount, NC. SC2 is “an innovative and flexible program designed to strengthen local capacity, coordinate federal investments, and spark growth in economically distressed communities.” Cities participating in the initiative receive the assistance of federal inter-agency teams working alongside local government and organizations to address problems of persistent poverty.
 
The seven new cities will try to replicate the success seen in the first class of SC2 participants-- Chester, PA; Cleveland, OH; Detroit, MI; Fresno, CA; Memphis, TN; New Orleans, LA; and Youngstown, OH. Each of these seven pilot cities received help from a federal SC2 team beginning in 2012 to improve efficiency of services and better use hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding. Projects in SC2 cities focus on economic development, housing, transportation, public safety, and public health. SC2 is an integral piece of the Obama administration’s commitment to place-based neighborhood revitalization policy and creating “ladders of opportunity” for communities blighted by long-term poverty.
 
Ron Clewer, CEO of Alliance member organization the Rockford Housing Authority, expressed excitement about what the designation means for the people of Rockford: “Originally being placed on the list as a possible applicant comes with the challenge of recognizing your community's struggles and opportunities. Being named an SC2 City is a great opportunity for us (public and private leadership) to better align our organizations and programs for the greatest potential improvement for our community.”
 
A key feature of SC2 is creating strategic partnerships between private, non-profit, and government resources to find sustainable solutions tailored to the needs of a specific community. Every community is unique and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to spur community and economic development. The administration is also committed to measuring the impacts of SC2 and other neighborhood revitalization initiatives. In April 2013, the White House released the first Annual Report on SC2. We encourage you to read the report on the first year of SC2, as well as project descriptions from the first class of SC2 designees and the newest class. This type of programming represents a new direction in federal policy and shows a welcome commitment to neighborhood revitalization at the Executive level.

White House, Federal Agencies Invest in Pay for Success Initiatives

A recent blog post from the White House describes some of the ways that the Administration and other federal agencies are beginning to invest in so-called Pay for Success initiatives. Under the Pay for Success model, governments partner with philanthropic and private investors who fund innovative projects with up-front capital that the government later reimburses if predetermined measurable outcomes are met. With this model, government funding is not invested in programming that does not achieve results; but rather in organizations that do achieve successful, measurable outcomes reducing families’ and individuals’ need for future services.
 
Among the examples of Pay for Success initiatives taking root in the federal government are: HUD’s recently announced $5 billion in Hurricane Sandy infrastructure rebuilding, the Department of Labor’s $25 million grant program to improve employability and reduce recidivism among ex-offender populations in New York and Massachusetts, and the Treasury Department’s recently issued Request for Information (RFI) to design a $300 million Incentive Fund to expand Pay for Success initiatives.  Some of these initiatives are part of the proposed $500 million investment in Pay for Success included in the President’s FY2014 budget.
 
If you want to learn more about the federal government’s impending investments in Pay for Success, check out the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, part of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

More Details Emerge About President’s Proposed “Promise Zones”

In April, the White House released its FY2014 budget proposal which included a new neighborhood revitalization program dubbed Promise Zones. Few details emerged until recently, when HUD’s Office of Community Planning & Development posted more information, along with some helpful FAQs, online.
 
The interagency, place-based Promise Zones program is inspired by the existing Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. Communities suffering from intransigent, high poverty may propose projects and must “identify a set of outcomes they will pursue to revitalize their communities, develop a strategy supporting those outcomes, and realign resources accordingly.” Promise Zone projects must be individualized and responsive to local community needs. The role of the federal government will be to “partner with and invest in communities to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, expand educational opportunities, and improve public safety.”
 
Up to 20 communities will be selected for Promise Zone assistance over the next four years, including up to five communities this year. Promise Zone designees will also receive competitive preference in existing NRI grant programs, such as Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods, and Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation. For 2013, designees will be chosen to apply from a list of 75 existing grantees of NRI and similar programs. Based on the pilot application process, draft qualifying and competitive criteria for future Promise Zones competitions will be released for public comment later this year. For more information, email promisezone@hud.gov.

Early Childhood Education Builds Stronger Communities

The following post was written by Monica Bandy, summer intern for the Alliance for Children and Families and United Neighborhood Centers of America's Public Policy Office. She is a graduate student and a former Head Start teacher, who has been closely monitoring proposed early childhood education reform this summer.
 
Nearly 90 percent of brain growth takes place in a child’s first 2,000 days - long before they first step foot into Kindergarten. Healthy brain development requires developmentally appropriate, positive, and intentional interaction. When children have access to stimulating learning environments and responsive relationships with their parents and caregivers, their brains develop the connections necessary for success. When families have access to early childhood resources that help them build on the strengths of their community, our neighborhoods grow stronger. Watch a video on the importance of early childhood brain development from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child.
 
When a child is exposed to an environment that includes toxic stresses, such as: extreme poverty, chronic neglect, abuse, or exposure to violence, the child’s brain circuitry is fundamentally altered. This difference in brain development can place children exposed to toxic stress far behind their more advantaged peers, making it more difficult for them to keep up in, and ultimately graduate from, school. The achievement gap appears long before children enter Kindergarten, and this gap becomes much harder to close after age five.
 
Investments in early childhood education are proven to have a high rate of return by preventing these disparities before they start. In 2012 Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke estimated the return on investment for early childhood programs to be 10% or higher. Intervening early also reduces costs to society in the long run, by decreasing future enrollment in federal assistance programs and law enforcement activities. We can prevent the achievement gap, save money, and create better health and economic outcomes for our communities with early childhood education.
 
Quality early childhood education engages the community and develops the next generation of human capital. UNCA member agency Chicago Commons is an example of some of the fantastic work happening in the early childhood realm. Chicago Commons offers comprehensive services to families including: full day preschool, after school care, parent forums, adult education programs, and neighborhood support programs.  By partnering with families Chicago Commons prepared 1,082 preschoolers for Kindergarten in FY2011. Our communities can best realize their full potential when they can build on a strong foundation from early education.
 
Right now, there is a rare window of opportunity to increase federal support of early learning by building on what is already happening in several states. Twenty seven governors referenced the importance of early childhood education in their state of the state addresses, while President Obama proposed increased federal investments in early childhood education in his State of the Union address.
 
Show your support for early childhood education by signing the Grow America Stronger petition and/or sharing your story about your positive personal experience with early learning.
 
Now is the time to raise our voices in support of early childhood education. Quality early learning opportunities make every child, every family, and every community stronger.

Connecting a Bright Future with a Long History

On the heels of the 2013 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference last week, the future looks bright for policies focused on comprehensive, place-based, and resident-centered community redevelopment. Researchers, policy-makers, thought leaders, and practitioners presented and discussed the latest successful programs and models, delving into both anecdotal and empirical evidence suggesting that holistic and highly localized efforts can have huge impacts on persistent, intractable, concentrated poverty. The movement has grabbed the attention of federal policy makers, sparking continued investment in programs such as the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, Strong Cities Strong Communities, and Promise Zones. A lot of energy is coalescing around neighborhood building that encourages resident participation and leverages the strength of informal networks. These kinds of programs are trendy, which begs the question: if it’s such a good idea, why has no one thought of it before?
 
The short answer is that they have. In fact, this type of work has been going on continuously (if out of the spotlight) for a long, long time. At its core, “place-based policy” is essentially the same as the settlement house movement: local programs braiding together different funding streams and leveraging the strengths of the neighborhood to provide comprehensive wrap-around services to adults, children, and families in the community. A renewed interest from academics, politicians, and economists only lends quantitative evidence to what settlement houses have known and practiced for decades (in some cases, more than a century): where you live matters.
 
Far from being the antiquated relics from the time of Jacob Riis and Jane Addams, settlement houses (and their various iterations—neighborhood centers, community centers, etc.) are just as relevant in communities today as they were among the tenements 130 years ago. In fact, many settlement houses have had such longevity because of their ability to evolve and adapt to changing communities—always prioritizing responsiveness to the needs of the neighborhood itself. As other trends in urban policy have come and gone from the conversation in Washington, at think tanks, and on university campuses, settlement houses have quietly continued serving their communities with much the same philosophy throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st.
 
Rather than continuing to muddle through, and waiting for the next sea change in social policy, settlement houses and neighborhood centers should seize the opportunity to galvanize community members and decision-makers around resident-centered neighborhood revitalization. Many settlement houses have been around for so long because the values remain relevant: meeting the needs of a community with neighbors and as neighbors. The future is bright for place-based policy not just because of new research and trendy, new jargon, but also because of a long legacy that should be harnessed to inform the future.

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by Dr. Radut