Wednesday, May 8, 2013

NeighborWorks Rochester Expands Healthy Blocks Approach

By Ascala Sisk, Senior Manager
Neighborhood Stabilization
NeighborWorks America

Reposted from

NeighborWorks Rochester has partnered with residents in three neighborhoods to make exterior home improvements, address quality of life issues, and attract new residents and investment. Through this targeted “Healthy Blocks” approach, homeowners, tenants and landlords work together to create neighborhoods of value and choice.

After eight years of sponsoring “Makeover Madness” home beautification campaigns, organizing social events, planting gardens, sponsoring neighborhood clean-ups, and promoting new neighborhood branding, the Healthy Blocks approach has proven to be successful in improving physical conditions, creating pride, and fostering a community identity. For example, in “The Pocket,” a 7-block neighborhood of 750 residents in the East Main–Atlantic area, NeighborWorks Rochester has observed that physical conditions are improving, the average sales price is up 20 percent since 2008, and homes on the market sell in an average of 18 days as compared to 27 days in 2008 — all signs of a rebounding housing market.

Building on this success, NeighborWorks Rochester is considering candidates for its next two Healthy Blocks initiatives. To help with the selection and to train new staff members on the core components of this approach, NeighborWorks Rochester CEO Kim Brumber turned to David Boehlke, the nation’s leading Healthy Neighborhoods strategist. Joining them over the course of two rainy days in January 2013 were representatives from NeighborWorks Western Vermont who wanted to learn how they might apply this thinking to their own newly selected target neighborhood in the town of Rutland.

With a healthy dose of offbeat humor, Boehlke stressed the need for strategies that are grounded in market realities and build confidence among existing residents. “Markets need to be built,” he said, “not just houses.” This is especially true in cities with stagnant or declining populations where potential homebuyers have many homes and neighborhoods to choose from. In order to compete, you need to reposition your neighborhood in the marketplace. Building confidence in the future of the neighborhood validates people’s choice to live there, creates pride, and encourages investment because it makes economic sense.

So, how do you build confidence? A lot of it has to do with image and physical conditions. Neighborhoods with houses that are reasonably well-maintained and have tidy gardens and litter-free streets instantly convey that this is a neighborhood where current residents succeed, and where future homeowners would want to buy. But according to Boehlke, the key to building confidence is engaging residents and building their capacity to manage day-to-day neighborhood issues. Ultimately, people are more likely to invest in areas where residents work together to improve the quality of life.

Homes in Rochester
As NeighborWorks Rochester considers its next Healthy Blocks, it will select neighborhoods where resident engagement activities and modest investments in home repairs are likely to leverage additional investment. As the team from NeighborWorks Western Vermont also learned, Healthy Blocks’s focus on building markets, improving image and physical conditions, and fostering resident leadership offers lessons for other organizations that are designing place-based revitalization strategies.

To learn more about the Healthy Neighborhoods approach that David Boehlke created and teaches, take a look at his monograph, Great Neighborhoods, Great Cities, written about the Healthy Neighborhoods approach in Baltimore for the Goldseker Foundation.