Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Neighborhood Stabilization at 3

Sarah Greenberg
Senior Manager, Community Stabilization
NeighborWorks America
Sitting in a roomful of community development practitioners brought together by the Center for Community Progress, the Greater Ohio Policy Center, and Enterprise Community Partners to create a new toolkit for neighborhood change, I was struck by how a new subset of community development has grown up over the past three years.  Venerable names in community development mixed with young leaders in the field like those on my staff, providing an interesting study on both continuity and change in the field.

We should not underestimate the stimulus effects of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.  The program, a response to the foreclosure crisis, has stimulated new thinking and new leadership in the field.  National intermediaries like NeighborWorks, Enterprise, LISC, and the Housing Partnership Network began as early as 2007 to redeploy existing staff and add new staff to focus on community stabilization and foreclosure response.  I have been privileged to lead these efforts at NeighborWorks America.  These programs grew rapidly, both catalyzing and documenting key trends in the field, including:

  • A new national intermediary designed to facilitate the efficient transfer of foreclosed properties to local stabilization efforts through the National First Look Program.
  • The growth of a regional or sometimes local intermediary function that can provide the leadership needed to coordinate stabilization efforts - providing real estate development capacity; creating real property data systems; land banking properties for future disposition; branding and marketing distressed communities as places of opportunity; and generating or supplementing end buyer financing products through the creation of new loan pools. 
  • Attempts to intervene earlier in the cycle of distress through purchasing delinquent mortgage notes, short sales, and fast-track foreclosure processes for vacant units.
  • A return to a more comprehensive, place-based approach to community development that mobilizes residents and stakeholders towards a common goal.

And the field has risen to the challenge.  NeighborWorks alone has trained thousands of practitioners through a new community stabilization curriculum offered through the NeighborWorks Training Institute and online; HUD has trained thousands more in NSP-specific areas with the help of a small army of technical assistance providers, many of whom have been in the field for several decades.

Sunbelt communities that have never dealt with stabilization issues learned from Rust Belt communities that pioneered neighborhood revitalization initiatives.  Communities devastated by the foreclosure crisis learned from the response to other recent crises like Hurricane Katrina and the EF5 tornado that leveled Greensburg, KS.  Old programs were reexamined and lessons gleaned from their execution, such as the Resolution Trust Company, HUD’s Asset Control Area program, and the 203(k) loan program.

More than 9,500 units have already been returned to productive use through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, with programmatic projections in the hundreds of thousands of units.  In the NeighborWorks Network at least 130 local organizations have taken advantage of NSP funding to support their stabilization efforts, many adding staff and capacity in the process.  For all of these reasons I believe that even with all of its challenges, as a field we will ultimately consider NSP a success as a stimulus program.

How will this work continue when NSP funds are gone, especially given recent cuts to essential long-term programs like CDBG and HUD Housing Counseling?  This is but the latest in a series of challenges in community development, and sitting in that room yesterday reflecting on the community of stabilization practitioners that has grown over the past three years, I have faith that we will again join together as an industry to craft creative responses.