Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Back to School Rallies Get Kids Ready for School

By Tonya Young, Homeport relationship coordinator, and Pamela Palmer, AmeriCorps Member

Homeport, a NeighborWorks member in Columbus, Ohio, hosted back to school rallies at many of its communities to help provide children with the tools they need to be successful in school. Homeport board members, staff, and AmeriCorps members volunteered alongside employees from Chase, Hilton, Express, and other organizations handing out backpacks filled with school supplies. The children enjoyed the events and left feeling so excited to go back to school! 

In addition to stuffed backpacks, the residents received free food and information on safety and other community and social service programs available to help improve their lives. For most, the moments treasured included when members presented participants of the Homeport summer camp program with certificates of completion, and when they announced the names of the children and families selected to receive refurbished computers.  

These rallies involved collaboration amongst various community partners, including YMCA, Columbus Gives Back, Columbus State Community College, The Junior League of Columbus, and United Way of Central Ohio. The residents had an opportunity to meet their child’s 2012 School Liaison Officer, who promotes and encourages increased parental involvement in the education process, as well as representatives from City of Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman’s office, and other public officials. The success of these events was made possible by the selfless acts of others and the formation of new partnerships. What a great way to kick off a new school year!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How to Create a Community Garden

We couldn't resist including this wonderful last piece in our community gardening series. Thanks to all who sent in entries and to all those who work on gardens across the country.

By Bob Halstead
Founder, Bridgeport Urban Gardens

Photo courtesy of The Housing Development Fund, Inc. (HDF)
I've had 30 years of experience building community gardens and I can tell you they always start from the heart.  The first step is to assess if the commitment is there from the neighborhood.  The rule of thumb is that there need to be five people solidly invested at the start.  The number of participants will grow later.

If there is not a community garden organization in your area, you can probably find one to partner with.  Here in Connecticut we have the Connecticut Community Gardening Association.  Working with an established organization can give you technical assistance on how to go about the nuts and bolts of creating a community garden and may also provide access to resources and connections supportive of community gardening.

As in any development project, there are several critical ingredients needed to create a community garden.  Interest and commitment are an important first piece, and the next crucial piece is a site, which must have good sun and water.

Photo courtesy of HDF
To secure a site, you either need an agreement with the owner, or you have to buy it yourself.  The ideal site is one that is in close proximity to where the interested community lives.  Having a site that is walkable for those who are involved makes it easier to maintain and check-in when walking by.  Increasing pedestrian traffic also improves the community.

After locating a desirable parcel, the owner must be contacted and a contract must be formed.  Municipalities, religious institutions, schools, housing complexes (public or private), and community centers are common partners for land agreements to establish community gardens.  Private landowners are also common site owners for gardens, and contracts can be tailored to suit all of these groups.  Tracking down the owner of a specific piece of property will be easiest for someone with knowledge of real estate, and may involve going to town or city hall to research land records.  If the owner is already known, you simply need to approach them with a proposal for what you have in mind.

Working with a private owner often has benefits compared to dealing with municipalities or institutions, which can be a time-consuming and complicated process.  A private landowner may welcome a community garden, especially during difficult economic times as it may free them from maintenance issues until such time as the market will support a development.  Private landowners often can avoid some cumbersome taxes by deeding a property to a nonprofit as a tax deduction, and this may be one reason to investigate either partnering with a nonprofit or registering your garden as a 501(c)3.   Insurance is also a big issue, and can be another reason to consider working with an established nonprofit corporation who might offer to include you under their policy and be the fiduciary for your gardening group and the contract holder.

Photo courtesy of HDF
Working with municipalities who own vacant lots or park land often requires working closely with your governmental representative or the city planner for your town.  Use of municipal land will eventually require the approval of the governmental body and chief elected official. To gain approvals, it is best to mobilize the community and bring out supporters to public hearings either in person or with letters to representatives and the local media.  Positive press can encourage elected officials to participate and be seen in a good light politically.  It is worth noting that some municipalities may offer dedicated staff people to coordinate your program and provide public works machinery.

There are basic templates are available on land agreements and can be found through a local community gardening association or on the Internet.  It is desirable to have a commitment for five years with three years the minimum, given the amount of work and investment that has to be made on a garden.

The next step is to create a budget, which should include such items as water systems, fencing, lumber for raised beds, tools, sheds, plants and topsoil.  Start-up costs for a community garden can range anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000. If your local community gardening agency has staff or volunteers to assist you with budgeting and/or locating resources, you should absolutely engage them.  If you are eager to get started quickly and cannot yet secure, for example, water service to the site, seek agreements to use what is available.  Neighbors might allow use of their water line, or there may be existing soil available (some communities have a town compost program). 

Always work with an eye toward bigger improvements down the road.  Having the garden up and running (along with property control) can play a huge part in helping you secure grants, participation and donations to continue developing your site.  Hosting a fundraiser on site once you’ve begun to get the garden in place can be a dynamic way to excite donors and the community.

Early on you need someone to ask as a captain who assigns plots after doing canvassing in an area.  Once all the basics are taken care of, a garden is a sustainable operation.  People then appreciate what they have and will work to keep it.  They usually know how to garden or are willing to teach those who don’t and they really appreciate it socially. 

Partnerships are invaluable to the success of a community garden project, especially in depressed urban areas.  If the core supporters of the garden are willing to ask, you can uncover a tremendous outpouring of altruistic activity from corporate institutions, organizations such as United Way, churches and schools.  Volunteer groups can show up for all or part of a day and quickly supply you with the needed ‘whack’ to construct your raised beds in a matter of a few days. 

HDF partnered with Bridgeport Urban Gardens to bring a volunteer day to the
Clinton Avenue Community Garden in Bridgeport, CT.
Photo courtesy of HDF
Success breeds success...and funding.  Once your garden has started to take shape, getting some exposure as a community garden will make it is easier to get funding.  Available funding sources include: HUD Community Development Block Grants (through a municipality), state Departments of Environmental Protection, community foundations, philanthropists, state or local Health Departments, educational programs, corporations and national foundations, and local businesses (who might donate in-kind with supplies or services).  The Keep America Beautiful Foundation, for example, offers grants in partnership with Lowes that can be used for community garden projects. This year, for NeighborWorks Week, the Housing Development Fund, a volunteer day with Bridgeport Urban Gardens which received one such grant. It was used to provide the garden with a host of supplies and materials that we used on site – mulch, plants, a new shed, organic soil mix, etc. The one-day effort resulted in a wide-reaching refurbishment of this beloved community space, including mulching of pathways, construction of a supply shed, tilling and planting of garden beds and the involvement of members of a special-needs class from the high school that sits across the street from the garden site.

Happy gardening!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

From Vacant Lots to Community Gardens

By Case Wyse
Pathstone Community Improvement of Newburgh
From the rubble of vacant, neglected, and under-utilized land, Newburgh Community Gardens in New York are gently picking up steam as raised beds become the signature of cheap, delicious local food. The gardens are made possible by a collaborative effort among Pathstone Community Improvement of Newburgh, the Newburgh City Council, and the hard work of numerous AmeriCorps volunteers and local residents.
Dutch Reformed Church garden

The official process started when Pathstone Community Improvement of Newburgh applied for a grant through the city council.  As part of the application process, soil tests were conducted at each of the potential garden sites. This data was appended to the maps created earlier with the help of the Orange County Office of Planning and Development.  After site selection, public events were held seeking community input and interest.  From this information, a plan detailing the intended owners and stewards of each garden was drawn up and presented to the city. All this work paid off when the Newburg Community Gardens got the green light.     

Recently, Newburgh welcomed the addition of two more public gardens cultivated from the efforts of several dedicated organizations.  The garden at the Dutch Reformed Church is adjacent to the city library and sits before a monolithic set of pillars characteristic of Newburgh’s aging architectural wonders. Immediately following and during the installation of this garden, the community began to take notice and offer assistance. 

Boys at San Miguel work on garden
Though the program is still in its infancy, community enthusiasm continues to encourage other organizations to take responsibility for managing a garden bed.  In the case of San Miguel Academy, a single bed was insufficient. On the corner of Farrington and Lander, a former high-crime risk center in the city, there is now a beautiful series of raised garden beds constructed and maintained by recent graduates from the academy.  These beds offer the unconventional classroom for educating future generations to properly maintain fruits and vegetables. The rising trend towards local food means that developing an urban agriculture skill set could ensure a wholesome meal and job security in the future.

Armory Garden's green team
Along with San Miguel Academy, a number of other community organizations have undertaken the responsibilities gardening. At the Newburgh Armory Unity Center more than 30 garden beds stand ready for the 2013 growing season.  In the two years since its inception, the Armory Garden has hosted everyone from the first-time gardener to the life-long green thumb.  This diverse range of gardeners and organizations provides the social system which underlies the future success of Newburgh’s community gardens.  Plans currently under development include a food dispersal network in which produce from each of the gardens could either be donated to local food pantries or sold at the local farmers market, a city-wide composting program, and a nursery capable of supplying all the vegetable starts necessary for gardeners across Newburgh. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Las Monjas Community Garden

Our community garden series travels to San Juan, Puerto Rico today. This post was originally published on the Enterprise Community Partners blog, @The Horizon.There were some minor edits to this reposting. Learn about the Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellows Program here

By Juan Calaf, Enterprise
Rose Architectural Fellow
Earlier this year ENLACE, a community-based organization in San Juan, Puerto Rico created an organic community garden with the residents of Las Monjas neighborhood. Las Monjas is one of the most densely populated and poorest neighborhoods in Puerto Rico. Las Monjas Community Garden is the only organic community garden in the entire Caño Martin Peña neighborhood comprised of around 27,000 residents. Initially, the residents volunteered their time to clean what was once a vacant neglected lot where illegal dumping occurred. After several months of clean-up and building raised beds the community has now a vibrant and diverse garden producing mostly organic vegetables, lettuces and spices (ie. pumpkin, arugula, basil) for the residents to eat and in some cases to sell at community events.

Last month a community garden organizer from ENLACE, Roberto, asked me if I would help them to plan for the future expansion of the garden, given that they now have a new parcel to the eastern side and to the north of the garden. ENLACE got some funding from the Ford Foundation to build out some structures necessary for the garden to be more self-sustaining. Since then, I have participated in various meetings with the community leaders and garden organizers to come up with a list of priorities and to create a more holistic design for the garden. The group wants to include an outdoor classroom, a larger composting area, more garden beds and a nursery garden area. There are also some improvements planned for the existing fencing around the garden as well as a new gate to provide better access into the garden.

Juan garden1
Las Monjas Community Garden
I have been helping with the schematic designs for the second phase of the garden’s design. This phase will also include a rain-water collection cistern connected to a roof, shading devices to minimize wilting from the extreme summer heat and a mechanical composting facility all to make the garden more self-sustaining.
Community gardens like Las Monjas and others around the country serve two vital functions for the community. First, they support food independence by teaching organic gardening practices to youth and families to have their own low-cost alternative to eating local produce. Second, they foster better relationships between neighbors by encouraging strong collaboration and participation which ultimately has a positive overall impact in the neighborhood.
Community Garden Design Meeting Sketches
Want to start a community garden in your neighborhood? Click here

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Transforming Neighborhoods with Vision and Partnership

This blog entry shows how gardens are one piece of community transformation, along with other green efforts and a little artistic creativity. This story was originally published on the Leaders for Communities blog here

Bernadette Orr, director, 
Community Building & Organizing
Last week I had the good fortune to spend two days visiting with Community Building and Organizing member groups in our Northeast Region.  As with so many “hands-on” experiences, what I expected when I left on the trip was far exceeded by the many insights and lessons learned over the two days.

I started the visit in Philly, where New Kensington CDC (NKCDC) was hosting guests from Argenta CDC North Little Rock, Arkansas.  Mary Beth Bowman, Agenta CDC's executive director, and Shanta Nunn-Baro, their resource development and IDA manager, came up from Little Rock to learn more about what NKCDC has done to “green” their neighborhood.  In particular, they wanted to learn about urban farming – something they hope to replicate back home.

Teens 4 Good mint plant. Teens 14-18 years old
produce about 3000 lbs of food on this lot every year.
We visited a fantastic and productive local farm called Teens 4 Good run by neighborhood youth, a beautiful plant nursery and produce center operated by GreensGrow (“growers of food, flowers, and neighborhoods”), and stayed a while at NKCDC’s own garden center.  Along the route, we passed numerous small lots transformed from abandoned, weedy, problem sites to thriving community gardens. While at the garden center we saw local families coming by to pick up their weekly food shares of fresh produce, as a local chef provided cooking demonstrations and handed out that week’s fresh food recipe.

The weekly farmers market attracts
500-1000 customers each week.
As the day progressed, we slowly realized that, even more than the “green” theme we had come to explore, what we were really learning about was the power of partnerships. Each group brings their own particular expertise to the table and shares a vision of healthy, vibrant communities, and a commitment to neighborhood transformation in partnership with local, resident leadership.  The collective effort brings forth a resulting transformation that is nothing short of magical.  Housing, streets, businesses, art, food, youth, health, education, festivals, community building – everywhere we turned we saw the threads interwoven with impressive results.

This produce for NKCDCs farm to families program is
worth at least twice the $10 charged.
We ended the day back in the office, learning more about how NKCDC’s participation in a project called Sustainable 19125 is moving the neighborhood from the challenges of more than 1000 abandoned lots strewn with trash and debris to Philadelphia’s greenest zip code (click to watch a great video about this work). You can access more photos from the trip on my Twitter account:  @boylstonst.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Coachella Garden Brings Community Together

It's harvest time and community gardens are providing a bounty for people of diverse ages, backgrounds and geographies, so this week we're focusing our blog on a few great stories from these local growing efforts. This story was originally published as an article on the Coachella Unincorporated website. Coachella Unincorporated is a youth media startup in the East Coachella Valley, funded by the Building Healthy Communities Initiative of The California Endowment and operated by New America Media in San Francisco. 

By Johnny Flores
Youth reporter
Coachella Unincorporated

When Hilda Hinojosa’s baby has colic, all she has to do is walk across the parking lot and pick some manzanilla from among the various vegetables, fruits and herbs at Las Casas Apartments Community Garden.

She uses the herb, also known as chamomile, to soothe four-month-old Berenice to sleep.
“I don’t drive, so it’s much easier to come to the garden,” said Hinojosa in Spanish. “It would take me longer to get to the store, and my little girl would still be crying.”

The residents of Las Casas Apartments work together in their community
garden, sharing their bounty with one another and their neighbors. Hilda
Hinojosa (above) grows and shares the manzanilla that she uses to make
tea for her daughter, Berenice. Photo credit: Coachella Unincorporated
Hinojosa has been planting in the community garden ever since moving to Las Casas eight years ago. During that time, she has developed a bond with her fellow community gardeners. The 20 or so active participants tend to their individual crops and share their bounty with one another. Because many are migrant farmworkers, the community gardeners look after each other’s crops when some leave the area to follow the seasonal harvesting work. One active gardener, Jesus Sandoval, even devised an irrigation system that makes the gardening easier for everyone.

Residents who don’t participate in the community gardens are still welcome to pick from them.
“I share my cilantro with everyone,” said Hinojosa, who plants hierba buena (spearmint), onions, nopales, (cactus) and cilantro. She makes salsa from the peppers and tomatoes grown by her neighbors.

Beatriz Gonzalez, who has also been an active community gardener at Las Casas for eight years, shares her corn, radishes, and strawberries. “We share what we plant with whoever needs it,” said Gonzalez, who works in the community garden after a full day of picking grapes in the fields of the Eastern Coachella Valley. “We let them in and give them what they need.”

Residents at Las Casas discuss their garden
Las Casas is comprised of three smaller complexes totaling 180 units of farmworker and family housing. This multi-family project was developed and is owned by NeighborWorks affiliate Coachella Valley Housing Coalition (CVHC), an award-winning non-profit organization dedicated to building low-income housing throughout the region. The organization provides a variety of comprehensive community service programs, such as childcare programs and computer classes, at each of its 31 multi-family complexes. Las Casas is one of five CVHC complexes with a community garden.

“These are farm workers who work to feed the country but don’t have access to food themselves,” said Josseth Mota, community services coordinator for CVHC. “We want to strengthen the community and allow the residents to work for pleasure and benefit outside of their normal job.”

Nadia Villagran, CVHC’s director of communications and operations, affirms that the gardeners are harvesting community along with their crops.
A close-up photo of the Las Casas bounty

“Through these gardens, we hope residents of Las Casas feel a true sense of community,” said Villagran. “In doing this, we want to be able to sustain the community and help those who cannot afford fresh produce to feed their families.”

To learn more about housing opportunities, or find out how you can help, visit or call (800) 689-4663.

Monday, August 13, 2012

NextGenCD: Who Am I?

In honor of the upcoming NeighborWorks America Young Professionals symposium, we have collected several blog posts from those under 35 asking their feelings on the meaning of community development. Share your comments on Twitter using #NextGenCD.
By Sara Varela 
NeighborWorks America
Community Building and Organizing
communications specialist
I decided to title my blog entry “Who Am I” because that was the first question that popped into my mind when I read the prompt. Technically speaking I am over the 35 age limit we use to define ‘young’, but realistically speaking, “young” is a relative term. Plus, even if I am technically not that young any more, as the very famous Colombian song goes… “Yo tambien tuve 20 años” ("I was also 20, once"). So I’d like to share some of my experiences and thoughts about community development.

In 1998 I was a young foreign student who had just arrived from Venezuela with hopes of finding a job, finishing my bachelor’s degree and understanding the American culture a bit better. I remember being in a bus in Manchester, NH and having a Spanish speaking person approach me and engage in conversation. This seemingly random person gave me a referral to a job opening at a great community development financial institution. After I got called for an interview, I reached out to this person again to give him an update. His one piece of advice was: “just make sure you say you like to work with the community”. I wasn’t really sure what he meant by that, but somehow, when the moment was right, during my first interview I said it – and that’s how I landed my first job in community economic development.

Flickr user naillkennedy Creative Commons
This concept of “community” has appealed to me ever since. I actually ended up doing a master's in community economic development, just to make sure I totally understood what this “community” concept was. However, I don’t really think I ever thought about what communities I belonged to, or I came from, or anything, until I started working in community development. I share this because a survey we did in preparation for the NeighborWorks Training Institute (NTI) symposium this Wednesday reflects that a great majority of young professionals currently working in community development stumbled across this line of work by accident, just like I did.

I have been working in this field ever since, and I love it. So, going back to my understanding of community development, I think it is the field that connects the haves with the have-nots, that teaches people to fish for themselves vs. giving them a fish. It is the connection between the corporate and the non-profit world. It attempts to level the playing ground for people living with lower income levels, less education and fewer assets. In my experience, community development is a very rewarding field of work and has been a fantastic discovery for me.

Trying not to lose the forest in the trees
However, in terms of career opportunities it can be challenging sometimes to see the bigger picture. I tend to get lost in the forest; I haven’t been able to see a clear path to career growth. When I worked at the local level, I learned that most organizations doing economic development have a very flat structure, which is great for many things, like: young professionals with a hunger for learning. This gives them the opportunity to take on responsibilities and projects of great importance; On the other hand, flat organizations have very limited growth potential, and young professionals tend to leave after a couple of years when it is apparent the only option for professional growth is to wait for someone in upper management to retire. I started writing this entry before seeing the results of the survey that went out to all the registered participants for the symposium, and I found it very interesting to see many of my feelings and observations reflected there.
Post-its from New Orleans NTI workshop

I will be participating on a panel in the symposium, and will take part in two courses the other days. I am really looking forward to the week ahead, and was very excited when I learned the symposium theme was young professionals, perhaps because I still feel I fit that category. So three cheers for those of us “young people” and the connections we will make, and three cheers for NeighborWorks America for choosing that theme as a focus. It will be interesting to see if more opportunities open up in the field and within the organizations sending staff because of the symposium theme and the conversations it will generate.

Friday, August 10, 2012

NextGenCD: Unlimited Potential

In honor of the upcoming NeighborWorks America Young Professionals symposium, we have collected several blog posts from those under 35 asking their feelings on the meaning of community development. Share your comments on Twitter using #NextGenCD.

Isaiah Dawson,
NeighborWorks America
Community Scholar Intern
When I started my job, I thought that I was going to be a community scholar intern working directly on a summer social media research project. However, since the northeast regional staff is so small at NeighborWorks America, I ended up supporting the company and our network organizations in many different ways by using my prior knowledge of marketing and social media. I’ve since taken a greater interest in the development of social media strategy and training, and this has greatly affected my professional and personal growth. All this was made possible by the great people and culture at my nonprofit.

Nonprofits are becoming an ideal career destination for young people because new hires are exposed to various career paths, gain the skills they need quickly, and take on a great deal of responsibility early on in their careers.  By contrast, I've found private sector roles are much more formally and strictly defined, which means that it’s harder to try your hand at something new without changing jobs or acquiring years of experience. As a recent college grad, I am very appreciative for the opportunity to gain valuable new skills which will translate into opportunities down the road.

a word cloud of this blog entry created with Wordle,
an online word cloud generator
Right now, I feel virtually unlimited potential in developing my own unique career path.  I love that I’ve been able to have a great deal of responsibility at a young age and have become a consultant specializing in a particular area. My social media skills will be useful for years to come because nonprofit leaders increasingly realize the power of social marketing, and they value the expertise and insight of young professionals who understand the digital environment. Everything I'm doing now is setting me up for future success.

For me, though, the greatest advantage of working in community development is the easy access to everyone at all levels of the organization. I can share ideas and opinions with anyone, no matter their title. This openness is what makes nonprofits an ideal destination for young professionals interested in making a difference in the world. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

NextGenCD: A Sense of Belonging

Jason Arnolod,
NeighborWorks Community Scholar,
Kansas City
In honor of the upcoming NeighborWorks America Young Professionals symposium, we have collected several blog posts from those under 35 asking their feelings on the meaning of community development. Share your comments on Twitter using #NextGenCD or follow Jason using @RepresentKC.
A community is a place where people live, usually defined by a geographic region or another characteristic.  Community development  is a highly multifaceted field.  For some, it is a chance to own a home.  For others, it is an opportunity to build a career around helping people.  For underserved neighborhoods, it is often English as a second language classes, rental assistance, or after school student services.  A simple definition might be: “Community development gives people a chance to live their lives." 

In today’s world that is no easy thing. Globalization has reached into every corner of the planet, affecting our economies in a way that is still not understood. Shifting demographics have challenged our cultural and economic landscape, prompting us to learn new ways of doing things (see Sir Ken Robinson’s video on revolutionizing education).

A butterfly captures the mood on Lykins Neighborhood
Community Farm, Northeast Kansas City
My home state of Wyoming is built on the country’s largest coal reserves. That meant that I would enter either a low-wage service economy or the energy industry. So I did what many young people do. I left. I served with the Peace Corps in El Salvador for two years, and, when I returned, I saw my country with new eyes. There were opportunities literally everywhere. There were also enormous challenges.  While I had never been very motivated by climbing the career ladder (perhaps that’s why I was in the Peace Corps in the first place?), I found that I was now driven by a strong desire to do...something. This is not an unfamiliar story.  The question was, what? That is how I found myself living in Kansas City, studying entrepreneurship. I joined a young community of urban farmers with the goal of bringing local produce to market. 

My dream as a community development professional is to live and work in the same community. I want my children to belong.  I do not want to build a career as an outsider, delivering services to people who view me as an extension of some federal policy.  I want the life that I have been promising to people.  Do I still want to serve people?  Of course.  The difference is that I want to do it together.  And this time I am on familiar turf.  I speak the native language.  This is my home.  

In the last year of my service in El Salvador, I was befriended by several families.  They welcomed me into their homes and taught me about their way of life.  I was tremendously encouraged to have these relationships, since cultural isolation is very real.  I now hope to bring the same attitude to my work here in the states.  If you are an outsider, a foreigner in this community, I want you to know that you are welcome here.  That is how I was treated and I can offer no less.

My daughter, Annabelle, models for a
renovation project. Northeast Kansas City. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Communities Find Success with Nontraditional Forms of Homeownership

This thought piece was originally published August 7, 2012 on the Bipartisan Policy Center's website. The questions were: Do alternative forms of homeownership, such as shared equity models and rent-to-own programs, present viable alternatives for future homeownership? Can they be taken to scale in a way that can encourage stabilization of neighborhoods and housing markets?

Photo of Eileen Fitzgerald
By Eileen Fitzgerald
Chief Executive Officer
NeighborWorks America
NeighborWorks believes that community stabilization requires a comprehensive approach to housing opportunities, which employs strategies that support traditional and nontraditional forms of homeownership, as well as rental options. This approach includes providing affordable inventory and low-cost accessible mortgage financing.

We certainly support alternative forms of homeownership, like shared equity and rent-to-own, as part of the strategy. Alternative homeownership models benefit people and communities. For generations, families with the resources to do so have lent money so their children can buy homes prior to inheriting wealth. This is an informal shared equity model which can overcome the inheritance gap. Formalized shared equity models or lease-to-own programs provide a way for people with less privileged social networks to achieve homeownership, and provide for long-term affordability, benefiting future generations. Done correctly these models not only provide an affordable homeownership option, they come along with education and support to make sure they are a sustainable arrangement for residents.

A number of NeighborWorks organizations have had success with shared equity and lease-to-own models. For instance, Durham Community Land Trustees and Champlain Housing Trust in Vermont have effectively used the land trust model to build homeownership opportunities for lower income families. Beyond Housing in St. Louis, Missouri has had success with its lease-to-own program.

There are new opportunities for scaling up nontraditional homeownership approaches that face challenges, but are worth exploring. Sometimes these strategies are resource intensive, so it is important to develop the organizational and external (legal, financing) infrastructure necessary for success. Local market conditions can also dictate what resources are needed to achieve success. For instance, one of the best places to use shared equity is a community with an inclusionary housing requirement, as is currently happening in an Austin, Texas program run by Habitat for Humanity. In those communities, little or no additional capital is needed to undertake the model.

In closing, we believe the best way to further community stabilization is through multiple strategies, which support many different forms of homeownership, as well as rental housing. All of those elements of a successful approach require flexible resources that can sustain plans tailored to the needs and resources available in each community.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

NextGenCD: Imagery as Identity

 In honor of the upcoming NeighborWorks America Young Professionals symposium, we have collected several blog posts from those under 35 asking their feelings on the meaning of community development. Share your comments on Twitter using #NextGenCD.

Reneé Bibby,
marketing coordinator,
Primavera Foundation
About six years ago I had a strange experience: I was watching a reality TV show, when I discovered that one of the contestants, a young woman of mixed heritage, resembled me. My ethnic heritage is an uncommon mix, and my racial ambiguity has forced me to engage in dialogues surrounding race on a rather regular basis. But, while I’d studied issues of race in college, my emotional connection to the issue had been rather micro; I thought mainly of race in relation to my day-to-day interactions with other people. Discovering a person on TV who had skin color like me, who had the same texture of hair as me, created powerful exhilaration and pride. Seeing myself reflected—even for the briefest moment—in the media prompted a personal and professional revolution, which directly affects my work with Primavera Foundation’s community development services.

As the marketing coordinator, I complete all the photography and design work for our organization, which means I also work with the communities that partner with Primavera Foundation to build healthy, thriving neighborhoods. I am in a unique position to serve as conduit for the families, the individuals, and the community as a whole to become bright beacons in a dark media landscape.I make it my personal mission to meet with our participants, to hear their stories, photograph them, and provide a forum to share that with a wider audience.
First time Hispanic single female homebuyer helped by Primavera
photo courtesy of Primavera Foundation
Tohono O'odham homeowner in south Tuscon
photo courtesy of Primavera Foundation
It means something for people to see their imprint in the world. I’ve experienced that personally, so I understand what it means when we create those opportunities into our community development work.  I choose to use photographs, stories, design, and language that reflect who they are, and who they want to be—allowing the communities to have creative ways of saying, “We are here. We exist.” So that, hopefully, in the years to come, a young woman of color can look at into the wider world and say, “I see myself here.” And that won’t be a rare moment for her.

Friday, August 3, 2012

NextGenCD: Evolving Definitions

In honor of the upcoming NeighborWorks America Young Professionals symposium, we have collected several blog posts from those under 35 asking their feelings on the meaning of community development. Share your comments on Twitter using #NextGenCD.

Dani Rosen, NeighborWorks America
community scholar intern
NFMC Quality Control and Compliance
At each stage of my academic and professional life, “community development" has emerged as a different issue, program, or agenda. My interest in community development started at the local level – while I was working as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in Hudson County, New Jersey. While there, I saw community development as an effort to increase access to resources for families and individuals in need. This definition broadened while I studied as a Master of Urban Planning student at New York University (NYU). In the classroom, I learned about community development as neighborhood organizing. For example, the way Jane Jacobs fought to preserve the local character of homes and shops in Greenwich Village, New York.

Unfortunately though, I also came to understand that in many areas the phrase "community development" is used as a disguise for potentially unwanted change in a community in transition. Developers and city officials use the term to smooth over the introduction of out-of-context buildings or large commercial developments that could alter the nature of a specific neighborhood.

I currently understand community development as an investment in a specific area. The investment can be financial, political, or social and the area specified can be a block, a neighborhood, or a metro-area. With the right motives and support community development can make a substantial impact.  The strength of community development can best be seen in the depth and breadth of projects and programs available.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons
Community gardens are a great example of what community development can achieve at the local level. Community gardens have become incredibly popular in urban areas in the past few years. They come in all shapes and sizes and bring many different advantages to an area. Community gardens are social and financial investments that provide both education and opportunity for social interactions. They provide fresh produce, often to those who lack other access to fruits and vegetables. They also reinforce the connection to local land as residents work to transform patches of dirt into small, but beautiful natural spaces.

At the state level, community development has the potential to benefit a much larger audience. NJ After 3 is an initiative to provide quality after school programming for school-aged children in New Jersey.  The program goals include reducing gang involvement and increasing scholastic enrichment so that all members of the community have the opportunity for a better future. NJ After 3, and similar programs, fill a gap by giving working parents more structured time for their children when parents cannot be at home.

There are countless additional examples of community development addressing other issues at multiple levels of focus.  The value of each program rests in the benefits that are brought to the individuals and families involved.  Community development has the potential to be a “catch all” phrase but I think that is one of the most important strengths of the field. Because community development includes many different types of investments in a range of geographic sizes, successes are magnified and can be celebrated by the entire field.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rebuilding Market Demand: The Neighborhood Marketing Program

By Ascala Sisk, senior manager,
Neighborhood Stabilization
NeighborWorks America

In recent years NeighborWorks has launched a number of initiatives to respond to the impact foreclosed and vacant properties have on families and communities.  Now we are pleased to add another tool to the foreclosure response and community stabilization toolbox. Last week, NeighborWorks America’s Stable Communities Initiative publicly launched the Neighborhood Marketing Program, a new initiative to stabilize communities by helping to restore stakeholder confidence and build market demand.

We started this program understanding efforts to stabilize communities need to do more than restore housing. To build strong communities, the case needs to be made for investment, both by current and by future residents and businesses. For that reason, we are supporting a group of high capacity organizations that have made significant neighborhood investments with additional tools and funding to work with resident leaders to reframe the image of their community, improve stakeholder perceptions and build market demand. 

Sixteen organizations in the NeighborWorks Network were competitively selected to participate in the 2012-2013 pilot program.These organizations will receive approximately $50,000 in grants and technical assistance to create neighborhood marketing and branding campaigns. Over the next several months, all of the recipients of the Neighborhood Marketing Initiative grants will begin working with residents, stakeholders and marketing coaches to develop plans to move their communities forward.  

At NeighborWorks, we see the Neighborhood Marketing Initiative as a natural extension of our existing leadership in helping residents, local nonprofits, and other businesses respond to the foreclosure crisis and build strong communities. As part of that, CEO Eileen Fitzgerald, pledged the Neighborhood Marketing Program as the NeighborWorks America commitment to action at the recent Clinton Global Initiative America. With this public commitment, we hope to engage more partners in supporting this and similar neighborhood-based recovery efforts.

Check out for more on the program and updates on how things are going. You can also download our new case studies report here.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Community Leadership Institute Success: the Sabor Del Northside Community Festival

By Sara Varela 
NeighborWorks America
Community Building and Organizing
communications specialist
This entry is reposted from the Leaders for Community blog:

The NeighborWorks America Community Leadership Institute (CLI) is coming up in October, an event where local leaders from throughout the country gather together to learn how to better serve their communities. I have been generating excitement online using a Facebook group and this week I decided to read through the outcomes tagged as CLI projects to share success stories with the group. CLI outcomes are one of my favorite topics to read about, because the ideas for the projects are generated by a team of resident volunteers who attend this national event, and then go home full of energy and make positive changes in their communities. It is resident empowerment at its best.  Avenue Community Development Corporation (Avenue CDC) in Houston, Texas submitted this text and photos. This story is great because it shows what can be accomplished when residents who care partner with organizations that are ready to support them.
“Schools, businesses, artists, community organizations, and residents came together at “Sabor Del Northside” to celebrate the great things in the Northside. What began as a brainstorm from eight resident leaders became reality as more than 1,000 people flocked to Ketelsen Elementary for this vibrant community festival.
Image courtesy of Avenue CDC and Epic Shots Photography

Even before the festival day, the “Sabor Del Northside” planning committee considered the event a success, because the planning process truly brought the community together. More than 50 organizations and businesses signed up to have booths at the festival to showcase their work. Project GRAD hosted a student art show on the next block. Local bands signed up to play, and cheerleaders and dance groups eagerly asked to perform. Parent-teacher organizations sold tacos and drinks to support their schools. Lindale Civic Club brought out children’s games and prizes. Marshall Middle School created elaborate decorations. It seemed that the idea of a festival, located in the heart of the neighborhood, sparked the collective imagination of the community.

Image courtesy of Avenue CDC and Epic Shots Photography

At the festival, it was clear that there is so much to celebrate in the Northside. The festival was also the groundbreaking for the new Ketelsen SPARK Park, a beautiful new community playground and park that will be built this summer.

The festival was funded by a $2,000 NeighborWorks America CLI grant, and including volunteer hours and in-kind donations, leveraged more than $43,000 in resources.”
For additional photos from the Northside neighborhood and the great work they are doing visit their Facebook Page. To stay in touch with Sara Varela, you can use @SaraVarelaCBO on Twitter.