Monday, October 15, 2012

Strong Cities, Strong Communities

by Erika Poethig
Guest Blogger
From time to time, Housing Perspectives will feature posts by guest bloggers.  We are pleased that the first was written by Erika Poethig, Acting Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Her post reflects thoughts she shared at a Brown Bag Lecture delivered at the Harvard Kennedy School on September 25, 2012.  Her talk was entitled "Putting the 'UD Back in HUD."

Louisiana releases fifteen thousand inmates annually. But lacking rehabilitative services and reentry supports, approximately half of these former inmates commit another crime and find themselves back behind bars within five years.  That’s why Mayor Landrieu and his team at New Orleans City Hall have made reentry a key component of their anti-crime strategy. However, the City will not have to go at it alone.

Through the Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, StrongCommunities (SC2) initiative, the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Justice (DOJ) have partnered with the City and State to create a permanent supportive housing voucher preference for people returning from substance abuse treatment and people with disabilities (including mental illness and substance abuse challenges) reentering from incarceration to ensure these individuals have the housing and support services they need to successfully reintegrate into their communities and reduce the likelihood of recidivism. This federal-local partnership exemplifies President Obama’s new, more collaborative approach to urban policy and development—the focus of my recent Brown Bag Lecture for the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Back in 2009, shortly after the inauguration, Administration leaders launched an urban policy listening tour. Top officials visited cities across the country to take stock of how we could better engage with communities. The overall lesson: the federal government needs to be a better partner. Rather than the top-down heavy-handed approach of the past, we need to be a flexible, locally responsive federal partner with the willingness to listen. We need to abandon the one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approaches of the past in favor of flexible programs easily tailored to municipal challenges while also providing technical assistance to build local capacity so communities can implement their own visions. We need to ”bust our silos”  to better align Federal initiatives and improve efficiency. We need to ensure all hands are on deck to address urban challenges by leveraging private and nonprofit assets and encouraging regional collaboration. While working to be a better partner, however, the federal government also needs to hold our partners and grantees accountable for results to ensure that federal resources foster integrated, diverse communities with access to opportunity.

Our new partnership approach and the principles it embodies inform each of this Administration’s signature place-based programs in which HUD is a leading member. Take the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI) for instance, which brings together five agencies (ED, HHS, HUD, Treasury, and Justice) to help communities develop and obtain the tools they need to transform high-poverty neighborhoods into sustainable, mixed-income communities. Each of the NRI programs require significant community involvement, partnership with the nonprofit and private sectors, and regular evaluation based on performance metrics aligned across programs. Extra points are awarded to applications that align federal resources by harnessing multiple NRI grants. And whatever the particular grant’s focus (housing redevelopment, community health, cradle-to-college education, etc.), plans must be embedded in broader community development efforts sufficient to improve resident outcomes.

Recognizing that communities have varying needs and capacities, this Administration has structured its urban development programs along a capacity continuum. The Building Neighborhood Capacity program provides historically disadvantaged communities with hands-on technical assistance to begin comprehensive planning, driven by local priorities and community input, and to set the stage for rebuilding and revitalization. Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) deploys teams of government experts, early-to-mid career fellows, and a national resource network to assist struggling cities in achieving their economic development goals while deepening municipal “bench capacity.” The Partnership for Sustainable Communities enables cross-sector engagement and coordination of federal investment to support regions and communities nationwide in achieving multi-jurisdictional goals: improving access to affordable housing, increasing transportation options, and lowering transportation costs while protecting the environment.

Stay tuned as these initiatives continue. In collaboration with our local, state, and private partners, we can together achieve our shared goal of stronger local and regional economies that create access to opportunity for all Americans.

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