Successful Community Development is a Team Effort: Lessons from the 2018 National Interagency Community Reinvestment Conference

By John Moon

To understand the myriad related challenges that make it difficult for a low-income person to move up the economic ladder, let’s consider the circumstances of a typical individual, Arcelia*, a single mother of two girls, ages 3 and 6. Arcelia lives in Antioch, a suburb 40 miles away from San Francisco where she commutes by BART and car 80 minutes each way to get to her job as a hotel housekeeper. Arcelia recently moved because of sky-rocketing housing costs from Oakland further out to Antioch and into a small one bedroom apartment that has mold and rodents, which triggers her three-year-old daughter’s asthma. Arcelia’s finances are stretched to the last penny with 50 percent of her paycheck going to housing, leaving the balance to manage the cost of childcare, transportation, and other living expenses. Any unexpected financial shock of more than $200—like an ER visit or car repair—leaves her family in a precarious situation, with the added stress resulting in Arcelia’s recent diagnosis of hypertension. Arcelia’s circumstances can’t be improved with only decent housing, or better access to a hospital, or a shorter commute, or financial asset building assistance because all of these issues are intertwined.

At the 2018 National Interagency Community Reinvestment Conference, we focused on the theme of alignment recognizing that someone like Arcelia needs solutions that address the interrelated challenges in her life. Our program highlighted cross-sector partnerships that demonstrate the power of working together around aligned values and interest to develop more sustainable, creative, and holistic solutions.

In a TED Talk-style series on the main stage, Othello Meadows, President and CEO of Seventy Five North Revitalization Corporation, discussed how his team motivates partners toward a shared vision beyond numbers and org charts. Jenny Ismert, Vice President of Policy at UnitedHealthcare, shared how they are investing in affordable housing to improve health while reducing medical costs. Maurice Jones, Chief Executive Officer of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, reflected on some of LISC’s innovative partnerships that are bringing new ideas by expanding the sectors they work with. (Watch the full session facilitated by Emerson Hall, Regional Manager for Community Affairs at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.)

Following those inspiring presentations, I had the pleasure of moderating a breakout session focused on our signature cross-sector initiative at the San Francisco Fed: The Strong, Prosperous And Resilient Communities Challenge, or SPARCC. We started with an overview of the initiative—funding, partners, and our vision to improve how and what gets built so that we can improve racial equity, reduce health disparities, and become more climate resilient. Partners from three of SPARCC’s initial sites shared stories of how the initiative is working on the ground in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. We further discussed how and why the partners involved in SPARCC are using racial equity as a foundational principle to guide our work and answered audience questions about the initiative.

Through these presentations and our own work, we were challenged to move from a traditional transactional model of community development to true partnerships that provide more complete solutions to low-income people and communities. The problems may seem daunting, but as our panelists urged, we need to dip our toes into the water to learn and also be aggressive enough to invest at the scale our communities deserve.

Watch the full set of conference recordings focused on alignment, and stay tuned for our next installment of videos from the 2018 National Interagency Community Reinvestment Conference.


* Not a real person.

The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Federal Reserve System.