To achieve equity in our cities, start at the neighborhood level

Originally posted in Saporta Report

By Guest Columnist SHIRLEY FRANKLIN, executive board chair of Purpose Built Communities and Atlanta’s mayor from 2002 to 2010

eastlakeSRLast week, Lesley Grady of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta wrote an insightful piece called “Equity, Inequality and Myth Busting” that highlighted the extreme income inequality between white households and African-American households in Atlanta.

“Addressing income inequality will require our collective courage to acknowledge historic, pervasive biases and structures, bounded by race and class, which anchor whole families and communities in perpetual poverty,” she argued.

We agree.

I just returned from the sixth annual Purpose Built Communities Conference in Fort Worth, TX, which brought together leaders from fields including business, real estate, medicine, public health, housing, education, social entrepreneurship, social justice, criminal justice, and the faith community.

More than 350 people from 49 communities across the country came together to learn about neighborhood transformation and breaking the cycle of inter-generational poverty.

There are those who think a neighborhood focus is too narrow. According to the latest data and research, neighborhoods are exactly where we should be focusing if we want to reverse decades of concentrated poverty and create equity and prosperity.

There are those who think a neighborhood focus is too narrow. According to the latest data and research, neighborhoods are exactly where we should be focusing if we want to reverse decades of concentrated poverty and create equity and prosperity.

Several sessions at the conference focused on the ways neighborhoods determine health outcomes. Dr. Lisa Chamberlain from the Stanford Medical School and Dr. Douglas Jutte from the Build Healthy Places Network shared striking data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthy America  about life expectancies in different neighborhoods within cities.

In Minneapolis, a distance of three miles could equal a 13-year difference in lifespan. In New Orleans, life expectancy can vary as much as 25 years from one neighborhood to another.

New York University professor Patrick Sharkey’s research about place and poverty shows that having a mother who was raised in a distressed neighborhood puts a child at a two-to-four year cognitive development deficit at birth.

The question is, why is this the case?

According to Jutte and Chamberlain, the science shows that environment has a greater impact on health outcomes than genetics.

Our neighborhood environment, including physical conditions (e.g. presence or lack of sidewalks and lead paint), service conditions (e.g. transportation, stores, schools) and social conditions (e.g. crime, sense of community or lack thereof), largely determine how long a person will live and what kind of quality of life they will have.

Factors like toxic stress, which is prevalent in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, impact both neurological and physical development.

Dr. David Erickson, director of the Center for Community Development Investments for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and Carol Naughton, president of Purpose Built Communities, shared the latest research impacting community development, including the work of economist Raj Chetty, whose research found a strong correlation between place and upward economic mobility.

There are two ways we know of to address this: one is to move people out of neighborhoods of concentrated poverty to ones where the physical, service and social conditions are qualitatively better.

Another is to improve those conditions in distressed neighborhoods.

Purpose Built Communities exists to help with the latter, assisting local leaders implement a comprehensive model consisting of mixed-income housing; a cradle-to-college education pipeline; and community wellness programs and services guided by a dedicated “community quarterback” nonprofit organization whose sole focus is the health of the neighborhood.

In the span of just six years, we now have 13 Purpose Built Communities Network Members from coast to coast, including East Lake here in Atlanta which provided the blueprint for this model of neighborhood transformation. All of these neighborhoods have community quarterbacks and partners implementing this model to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty.

Our Annual Conference is a chance for those working in these neighborhoods, and those who are thinking about doing this work, to learn from one another to achieve the results we so desperately need.

As Lesley Grady said, “we have to go further and deeper and fix the fault line that prevents all families and communities from sharing in the region’s growth and prosperity.”

By focusing on the neighborhood level in a holistic manner, Atlanta and other cities can change the trajectory for hundreds of families, especially children, so that a zip code will no longer determine a person’s health, income or lifespan.



Post Katrina Leadership Emerging in New Orleans

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, three New Orleans businessmen and civic leaders, Gerry Barousse, Mike Rodrigue and Gary Solomon, teamed up to play an inspirational role in the rebirth of their beloved city. Their effort to rebuild New Orleans through the creation of the Bayou District Foundation led to demonstrable results in the standard of living and people’s lives. They are part of a new, emerging brand of leadership that we should applaud and support nationally.

Two months after the storm, many people doubted whether certain parts of their city would ever recover. Gerry, Mike and Gary believed otherwise. They decided to focus their attention in the former St. Bernard public housing development, which was largely destroyed by the floods. They created the Bayou District Foundation, a nonprofit that served, to use a football metaphor, as a “community quarterback” for one of the greatest rebuilding efforts in New Orleans. Working with Columbia Residential as its development partner and the Housing Authority of New Orleans, they contacted displaced residents in New Orleans and across the country, engaging those who wanted to shape the new development with their input.

The three men were inspired to take on this enormous challenge after visiting the East Lake neighborhood in Atlanta, where businessman and philanthropist Tom Cousins championed the revitalization of one of the most dangerous and under-invested parts of the city. What the three men saw at East Lake provided a vision for what was possible: a revitalization that could have impact far beyond neighborhood boundaries.

Gerry Barousse, Mike Rodrigue and Gary Solomon understood the potential for a better future for New Orleans that could be accomplished through civic and business leadership. Over the past nine years, the Bayou District Foundation, with Columbia Residential, has led the development of 685 new, high-quality mixed-income apartments at Columbia Parc. Now it’s a fully leased development that is a safe and welcoming environment full of families and individuals spanning a wide range of ages.

Before the storm in 2005, the St. Bernard public housing development was only 72% occupied, according to the Housing Authority of New Orleans, due to the deteriorating condition of the buildings. In addition, it was an unsafe environment for families and children. From 2001 to 2005, there were 684 felonies and 42 murders within the 52-acre site.

Today, crime is virtually nonexistent. All residents of Columbia Parc are either employed, in school, in a vocational training program, or retired, and incomes of residents represent a healthy mix, from low income to those earning six-figure salaries. It is a community where people want to live that offers paths out of poverty for the lowest income residents.

The Bayou District Foundation also partnered with Educare to create an early childhood education center on the campus serving 167 children ages 0-5; created a health clinic with St. Thomas Community Health Center which serves more than 300 patients per month; and will break ground on a new K-8 charter school in 2016.

The leaders of the Bayou District Foundation are taking risks and making long term commitments, tackling issues that have bedeviled American society for generations. They are investing their reputations, connections, political capital and even their philanthropy in neighborhoods that have long suffered from the effects of concentrated poverty. Neighborhoods like this exist in just about every city across the country. The question is, why would leaders like this want to invest in them, and to what end?

The answer is that these leaders care about people and results. They believe that if given the opportunity to grow up and live in a healthy community, every child can succeed in school and achieve their full potential. It sounds idealistic, and it is, but there is now a track record of work in several fields that demonstrates this is no pipe dream.

At Purpose Built Communities, we are looking for more leaders who are not afraid to embark on a difficult path working with the community to transform neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, change lives, and ultimately, create a better country. We should all recognize and support this brand of leadership that can make a real difference in urban areas across the country.


Isn’t Being Poor Enough?

foostampsAs factions in Congress debate whether the federal government can afford to support needy Americans through extended unemployment benefits, food stamps, and social security benefits, millions of Americans live everyday in poverty. Researchers suggest that 1 in 5 American households need federal assistance for food security. Food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP at $80 billion a year it has doubled in five years.

And now those in the medical community are making the link between cutting food aid and higher medical costs. “If you’re interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition,” said Dr. Deborah Frank of Boston Medical Center, who founded the Children’s HealthWatch pediatric research.

Today, poverty is a painful reality for many Americans. States challenging expansion of Medicaid/Medicare, no unemployment insurance extension, minimum wages that are not living wages, a recovering economy with people who have given up looking for work and increasing empty shelves in food banks are logical explanations for why Americans live in poverty.

CBS News reported that Georgia State Representative Greg Morris introduced House Bill 772, which would force low income Georgians to pass drug tests to qualify for food stamps. According to Morris “it’s just fairness and protecting taxpayers’ dollars.” Georgia law currently mandates welfare applicants pass drug tests. Chances are House Bill 772 would be challenged as unconstitutional. Such details don’t seem to matter to some legislators.

Morris’ leadership is needed in Georgia to find ways to expand the economy, to support increased funding for every level of education from preschool through college and technical school, to adopt healthcare coverage for all needy Georgians. What a waste of taxpayer money to chase a bill that most believe is unconstitutional. Though democracy requires full participation from every quarter of the electorate, it is frustrating to have our legislators waste taxpayer money on such frivolous efforts.


GOP says: GED or No Soup for You

Blogging While Blue is a progressive Democratic site that invites civil dialogue and discussion among readers. The views expressed by contributors to this website do not necessarily reflect our views however occasionally we share other opinions in the spirit of free speech.  The post below is from a contributor who offers an interesting view on a bill currently before the Georgia legislature.  

The Georgia State Senate this week passed a bill (SB 312) requiringrecipients of food stamps to complete certain “professional growth activities”, to be determined by the Georgia Department of Human Services. I became aware of the Senate bill in a phone conversation with my wife who was outraged by the bill.

My wife and I are committed liberals, but I fancy myself much more of a pragmatist. She was concerned that members of her family and those people with whom she has been close in the past were to be subjected to some form of humiliation: grovelling for money from the state and having to submit to GED classes in order to receive their pittance. It was the idea of adding insult to injury to which she objected.

I was much more sanguine. I believe the social safety nety is of tremendous importance. It historically has kept many millions out of abject poverty and has prevented the children of the working poor from going without the basics of food and shelter. With that said, I and my wife are first-generation middle class, as are most of the people I know. For this reason, we have known those that are a little less engaged in the outcomes of their lives because they have the safety net to fall back on. That is not to say that they are lazy or unenterprising per se. It’s that a culture has developed around poor schools, low opportunity, and disaffection that makes life on public assistance palatable.

[Read more…]

Welfare By Any Other Name

If you listen to some legislators around the country whowant to drug test welfare recipients, the unemployed and anyone seekinggovernment assistance, you might wonder where the growing hostility andopposition to government aid comes from. You might question if opponentsdisagree with the policy or the people.
The welfare system in the United States began in the 1930sduring the Great Depression. The expanded legislation in the 1960s includedthose who were neither elderly nor disabled. Recipients were eligible toreceive welfare payments, Medicaid, food stamps, special stipends for pregnantwomen and young mothers and in some cases subsidized housing. Because womenheaded so many poor households in the 60’s, the number of families on welfareincreased from 4.1% to 10% by 1980.
During the Clintonadministration the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity ReconciliationAct (PRWORA) gave control of welfare financial assistance to the states. Thereis significant statistical data that suggest there are racial disparities inthe welfare system. While the issue of the importance of welfare reform can bedebated for years to come the data seems clear. Martin Gilens’ wrote a booktitled, Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media and the Politics of Anti-Poverty Policy, which surmises that the animosity and negative feelings aboutwelfare have a direct link to a perception that welfare is a program forAfrican Americans and the questionably poor.
So when I heard Georgia State Rep. Jason Spencer (R -Woodbine) who introduced legislation requiring drug tests for TemporaryAssistance for Needy Families (TANF) applicants say, “Georgia taxpayershave a vested interest in making sure that their hard-earned tax dollars arenot being used to subsidize drug addiction.” I was reminded of the originalintent and purpose of government assistance. And I was also reminded of themisconceptions and misguided myths that underscore the overt disdain for thepoor. A similar law in Florida was suspended by a Federal District Judge nodoubt because the research results confirmed that only two percent of thosetested were found to have any traces of drugs in their system.
Welfare was designed to promote self-sufficiency and enforcea desire to work and earn a living wage. During a recession where theunemployment rate has been as high as 10%, earning a living wage has been achallenging undertaking for many poor families.
During this recession, which only parallels the Great Depression,it seems worth noting that politicians using rhetoric instead of research toaddress public policy would be better served by remembering our history insteadof waging war against the poor.
Blogging While Blue