White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative Represents New Place-Based Approach

August 1, 2011

by Michael Karpman

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and White House Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes joined hundreds of neighborhood leaders from across the nation in Washington, D.C., on July 21-22 to discuss how the emerging White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI) can help transform neighborhoods of concentrated poverty into communities of opportunity.

These officials were among a number of Administration representatives who spoke at the first-ever Neighborhood Revitalization Conference. The conference was organized by United Neighborhood Centers of America, a Milwaukee-based, national nonprofit organization that was founded in 1911 by Jane Addams and other leaders of the settlement house movement to represent neighborhood-based member agencies.

President Obama's NRI, which was launched last September, served as a focal point for the conference. Recognizing that the challenges facing distressed neighborhoods - unemployment, crime, failing schools, poor health, inadequate housing and limited access to capital - are intertwined with and reinforce intergenerational poverty, an interagency collaborative led by the White House is forging a new, holistic, place-based strategy that aligns federal resources to empower local communities. Key agencies involved in the NRI include the White House Domestic Policy Council, White House Office of Urban Affairs and Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development.

A New Strategy for Neighborhood Improvement

The Administration's new emphasis on place-based partnership offers a sharp contrast to federal agencies' traditional way of doing business, with significant implications for cities. Moving away from the siloed approach of addressing families' individual problems separately, the NRI is interdisciplinary, coordinated collaboratively across jurisdictions, data- and results-driven, flexible and locally led.

These features are evident in NRI's centerpiece programs, such as Promise Neighborhoods, which funds neighborhood-based efforts to strengthen the cradle-to-career educational pipeline for children and youth, and Choice Neighborhoods, which transforms public and assisted housing into mixed-income, sustainable communities.

Place-based strategies that complement the NRI include the six-city National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, Regional Innovation Clusters and the recently announced Strong Cities, Strong Communities Partnership to help cities leverage federal dollars to promote economic growth.

Together with these initiatives, NRI acknowledges the challenges that local officials face due to lack of flexibility and alignment across federal funding streams.

Currently, many cities and their local partners assemble a patchwork of funds from a wide range of public and private sources.

These funds are then used to support individual components of comprehensive plans to reduce youth violence, improve education or restore neighborhoods.

To streamline federal support for locally driven collaborations, NRI is working to align eligibility and reporting requirements, outcome metrics and timing of funding notices for federal programs.

These changes are designed to help local leaders more effectively braid funding streams as they implement neighborhood improvement plans. NRI is also integrating place-based programs to offer joint grant awards, beginning with Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods and Community Health Centers.

In addition, NRI will provide selected neighborhoods with intensive training and technical assistance to build their capacity for revitalization, and the Administration has proposed offering flexible Neighborhood Revitalization Grants to help neighborhoods fill gaps in their local plans, strengthen their capacity to collaborate and use data and leverage other major federal funding sources.

NRI Report

The White House unveiled a new NRI report at the conference to highlight promising neighborhood-based initiatives from communities throughout the country, examples of how to braid multiple funding sources and ideas for maximizing federal dollars from several large federal grant programs. The report identifies five key elements of an effective neighborhood revitalization strategy:

  • Promoting resident engagement and community leadership;
  • Developing strategic and accountable partnerships;
  • Maintaining a results focus supported by data;
  • Investing in and building organizational capacity; and
  • Alignment of resources to a unified and targeted impact strategy.

Several initiatives that have successfully incorporated these elements were featured at the conference and in the report. For instance, the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation in Indiana has used numerous U.S. Department of Education programs to implement a district-wide, full-service community schools approach. Secretary Duncan stated his belief that while districts should run schools between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., nonprofits should offer programs at school facilities between 3:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.

Applying federal funding strategically, the City of San Antonio has targeted 60 percent of its Community Development Block Grant dollars toward the East Side neighborhood, which has secured Promise Neighborhood and Choice Neighborhood planning grants.

In Missouri, the mayors of 24 St. Louis inner-ring suburbs served by the Normandy School District worked with nonprofit organization Beyond Housing and other partners to develop a comprehensive, community-driven revitalization plan. Building on the Strive collective impact framework, the 24:1 initiative has already led to new matched savings accounts for college, a Youth Summit, construction of a new grocery store, a Healthy Start home visiting program for new mothers and quality improvement assistance for 11 licensed child care centers.

Details: To learn more about the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative and download the report, visithttp://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/oua/initiatives/neighborhood-revitalization.