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Strategic Investment Areas: A New Planning and Investment Model

Community Development in Detroit

Neighborhood planning varies from one community to another. In some, comprehensive planning at the community-wide level includes parallel planning at the neighborhood level. Many municipalities have established formal processes for recognizing and adopting plans developed by CDCs. Sometimes local planners are assigned to assist individual CDCs to ensure coordination and the incorporation of their plans into the comprehensive plan. In other communities, municipalities may recognize and support neighborhood planning processes, but the relationship between CDCs and local government is less formal.

In Detroit, CDCs undertake planning and development. CDCs made an effort to obtain local resident input into the planning process. At the local government level, however, it was not until the mid-1990s and the city-sponsored Community Reinvestment Strategy that residents were given an opportunity to become fully engaged – beyond the requisite public hearing – in planning for their communities. Presently, the relationship between CDCs and local government is best described as uneven. Both local officials and CDCs recognize and appreciate that CDCs have a critical role to play in the revitalization of Detroit's neighborhoods.

There are more than ninety CDCs in Detroit, a figure not accurately reflecting the growing presence of faith-based CDCs. Of these, Detroit LISC supported twenty-five in the first two years (2005-2006) of its three-year targeted cross-sector initiative through grants, loans, and TA. LISC also funded bricks-and-mortar activities in eleven social service/social action agencies, but not as their main line of business.

Shifting Gears: The Case for Developing a New Planning Model

Since its establishment in Detroit, LISC has reviewed and approved requests from CDCs for grants, loans, and TA to support revitalization. Applicants for funding were required to be fiscally sound, Detroit-based, with a strong business case. Until recently, Detroit LISC's approach to investment focused on identifying feasible projects throughout the city and supporting them – understanding that the success of these projects, regardless of their location in Detroit, would advance development of viable neighborhoods.

In 2005, as part of a comprehensive organizational assessment, LISC considered its impact in Detroit over the years and contemplated whether or not a change in its investment approach was needed. Between 2002 and 2005, Detroit LISC had invested in neighborhood revitalization at more than $15 million in grants and loans to local CDCs. This investment, in turn, leveraged $280 million in additional investments, resulting in 1,500 new units of housing and 56,000 square feet of commercial space (Detroit LISC 2005). During this time, LISC also continued to provide training and TA to build capacity.

However, while the value of LISC's neighborhood investment is evident, as the organization began to consider whether or not it was maximizing its investment or if an alternative planning and investment strategy might not be more effective, the answers were not as clear. The outcomes of LISC's role as an investor for housing and commercial development were visible, but LISC also understood that community revitalization was not limited to bricks and mortar.

Consequently, Detroit LISC started thinking about its role as a change agent on a more comprehensive level. While bricks-and-mortar projects remain the cornerstone, LISC and other key stakeholders agreed that education, health care, public safety, workforce development, business assistance, and other sectors should have a seat at the table.

LISC also recognized that the convergence of the following trends and resources provided an opportunity to move in a different direction.

• Technological advances that create new ways of sharing of data, identifying trends, tracking outcomes, and making informed decisions.

• Increased power at the local level for deciding how money and policies are used.

• Successful sustainability of comprehensive, multisector neighborhood planning initiatives in cities like Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.

• Increased support for collaboration from funders who are collaborating more themselves to ensure the best alignment of resources.

• Increased pressure from residents on public and private funders and service organizations to address challenges in their communities.

Moving forward, LISC was prepared to make a fundamental change in the way it worked with community-based stakeholders, including a willingness to take on the role of catalyst by convening meetings, engaging other non-CDC community- based organizations, and supporting cross-organizational and cross-sector efforts. LISC also encouraged CDCs to become change agents and think more broadly about their role in the community. Detroit LISC considered how it might support CDCs in working with organizations across sectors and partnering with new organizations to identify and address community issues and needs. Finally, Detroit LISC understood that moving in a new direction called for inviting and welcoming new stakeholders to the planning process as equal partners.

Developing the New Framework

Detroit LISC began the process of exploring alternative approaches to planning and investment by seeking input from a wide range of stakeholders, including CDCs. LISC wanted to balance the twin goals of strategically allocating resources in a way that leverages visible and measurable improvement in the city's neighborhoods and providing continued support to successful CDCs.

The shift to a cross-sector, geographically targeted planning and investment strategy in this instance was initiated by an external convener. That is, Detroit LISC provided the leadership for this effort. However, the cross-sector, targeted model was developed from an inclusive, participatory strategic-planning process that solicited and incorporated input from local CDCs and other key stakeholders. The SIA strategy included

• Three separate CDC focus groups.

• Approximately thirty-five interviews with Detroit-based CDCs.

• Input from LISC's Local Advisory Council, which serves as the board of directors.

• Research on national community planning and investment models.

The participatory strategic-planning process allowed CDCs not only to review but also to offer feedback on the first draft Neighborhoods NOW plan, which was adopted. For example, LISC received strong objections from CDCs to the use of the term “neighborhood developers" to describe LISC's primary stakeholder group. As a result, LISC eliminated references to "neighborhood developers” and used of the term CDCs. Later, to further ensure that the shift to a new strategy was undertaken in a supportive and participatory manner, a few CDCs provided input into the SLA Request for Proposals (RFP), later disseminated to all CDCs.

At the time, LISC staff reported that, overall, there was considerable CDC support for the comprehensive, targeted investment vision that was to become the new planning and investment model. LISC also reported that CDCs appeared to be supportive of taking a more comprehensive approach to investing in Detroit – one that moved beyond bricks and mortar. There also appeared to be support for LISC providing other stakeholder groups access to resources.

This integrated strategy was designed to increase both the effectiveness and efficiency of revitalization and community-building efforts. Through financial, technical, and capacity-building support, Detroit LISC hoped to provide the resources needed to assist CDCs and other community-based organizations and institutions in developing a sustaining governance structure in each target area, whose role would be to identify and implement programs that help strengthen and repair the physical and social fabric of the community.

The New Model

Ultimately, with stakeholder input, LISC decided not only to take a more comprehensive approach to community development planning and investing but to take a more targeted approach as well. Four geographic areas were identified in which LISC would focus the lion's share of its SIA investments (Detroit LISC 2005).

Implicit in this new model is interorganizational, multisector collaboration. While LISC may be the intermediary that invited the stakeholders to the table, the success of the SIA model depends in large part on the ability of these organizations and residents to develop a viable collaborative partnership. Organizations representing the community development, education, human services, health, and other sectors would need to come together to organize their work effectively and efficiently to solve the community's problems.

The new model is expected to lead to the development of a self-governing body of community leaders within each SIA. The new governing body, a unique feature of the model, provides a mechanism for transferring "temporary ownership" of the process from LISC – as convener – to a multisector partnership of community stakeholders. It sets the SIA model apart from many other neighborhood planning models because it hopes to put in place a permanent structure whose role will be to provide the oversight and accountability required to ensure successful implementation of the plan. Further, the new governing body will provide a framework for sustaining revitalization efforts well beyond the end of the LISC initiative, achieved through a strategy that incorporates broad community outreach and engagement, participation in an organizational capacity-mapping process, organizational development technical assistance, and the development and implementation a comprehensive investment strategy for each SIA, including

• Mapping community assets,

• Building relationships across sectors,

• Convening participants and continually inviting other partners to the table,

• Identifying shared issues and areas of concern,

• Developing a shared vision,

• Leveraging resources to support the implementation of the investment strategy, and

• Implementation of the work plans.

The SIA strategies address a range of needs: housing development (affordable, market-rate, rental, etc.); commercial revitalization; neighborhood improvement initiatives (crime/safety, beautification, community outreach, etc.); and institutional improvement initiatives (recreation centers and parks, health centers, schools, etc.).

Transition to a New Model

In launching the new SIA model, LISC knew that the transition would not be entirely problem-free. LISC understood that for some CDCs, the strategic move to focus a good deal of the organization's financial and technical resources on four geographically targeted communities would not be universally well received. Historically, community development funding in Detroit had not been geographically based. Perhaps this is why the SIAs were fairly large. In fact, the four selected target areas combined accounted for one-half of the city's 139 square miles. However, while the four SIAs represent a significant portion of the city, not everyone ended up on the “right” side of the boundary lines. Understandably, LISC retained the flexibility to support a few promising strategic and/or high-impact projects whether or not they were located in an SIA.

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