December 18, 2013
Of youth and joy and dreams fulfilled

I recently attended a holiday open house celebration at East End Community Services in Dayton, Ohio. The celebration was two-pronged: to commemorate the organization’s completion of its 84th single family affordable home and to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the group’s expanded youth center.

East End is a multi-faceted nonprofit service provider, offering homeownership opportunities as well as supporting community development, youth development, and workforce development for residents of east Dayton. Launched in 1998, East End Community Services provides programming that is part of a holistic neighborhood transformation initiative meant to help each child succeed to the best of his or her abilities, in order to become successful adults who can give back to the community.

To achieve its goal, East End provides crucial support to both children and adults. Through their housing development, community building, afterschool and summer programming, educational initiatives, and services for teens, parents, single adults, and seniors, East End reaches more than 3,000 individuals a year. That figure rises to more than 4,000 when you count all the children from the families they serve.

A few things struck me that evening at the open house. First was the overall sense of community among those in attendance. Second, the diversity of attendees: community folks, local stakeholders from banks and foundations, East End staff members, various non-profit groups, government officials, even a former Ohio Governor came out to the celebration. And finally, the feeling of shared accomplishment for the East End and a genuine sense of joy at their success.

As I was leaving I spoke to Doug Thompson, chief financial officer for East End, and I want to share a little of our conversation. Doug recently participated in a meeting with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Washington D.C. I won’t go into details about the meeting here—perhaps we can discuss that in a future post—but I wanted to tell you about Doug’s reaction to the experience. He told me he had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming—he really was at the Federal Reserve in D.C. Doug considered it a privilege, being asked to participate in the meeting, and said he felt honored to share his experience working at East End. He called the trip to D.C. a highlight of his non-profit career, and said he appreciated that his opinion and expertise were valued by us.

It was uplifting listening to Doug tell me about his experience. For me it is always humbling listening to the stories of organizations like East End’s. Their mission and dedication are inspiring, but more important, their work is critical for those they serve and the neighborhoods they work in. Non-profit work is hard and at times slow going. That’s why it is fun to have a chance to celebrate a success story. It was a pleasure to be part of such an inspirational celebration for the East End community, dance team and all.

Bonnie Blankenship
Bonnie Blankenship
Senior Policy Analyst
Bonnie, working from the Cincinnati office, conducts outreach and policy analysis on current and emerging issues. She provides information and technical assistance to financial institutions, community-based organizations, and government entities relevant to the Fourth District. (bio)
November 25, 2013
Getting our SWAG on

I recently told my 15-year-old daughter that the Cleveland Fed was hosting a SWAG meeting and she laughed. Her urban slang definition of “swag” is confidence and style—think the rapper Jay-Z. She apparently had a hard time imagining a swag gathering of this kind at the Fed. And who can blame her? In this case, SWAG stands for Strategic Workforce Alignment Group, an effort led by Cuyahoga County business leaders and workforce development agencies. SWAG and its component workgroups have been meeting throughout 2013 to figure out how to better align employer needs—in terms of skills for current and future jobs—and the curriculum of trainers, including nonprofit organizations, community colleges, and technical schools.

More than 70 employers attended the meeting at the Fed on October 28. The day began with a panel of large employers—RTA, Dominion East Ohio, University Hospitals, and a recruiting agency—whose representatives described their firms’ hiring challenges. These include an aging workforce; a pipeline of inadequately trained mid-skilled workers; high volumes of applicants for low-skill jobs; and difficulties achieving diversity. They also described how they addressed the lack of soft skills in their applicants, the re-entry (from prison) population, persons with disabilities, and incorporating newer certifications into hiring decisions.  Soft skills are basically job readiness skills, such as showing up on time and being able to work on teams and interact with other people. Among prospective employees, panelists noted that ex-offenders and the disabled often face a variety of barriers to employment, including stigmas, although many companies that hire these populations attest to their work ethic and productivity. (See also our recent Fed Commentary, “The Employability of Returning Citizens is Key to Neighborhood Revitalization.”)

Breakout groups drilled down further. One session that focused on re-entry featured a potentially promising practice: the Edwin’s Leadership and Restaurant Institute, a recently opened culinary school that trains ex-offenders for jobs in the hospitality industry. The Institute helps applicants meet their basic needs, including housing and transportation, for the six-month training period to help ensure successful completion of their culinary education.

Challenges discussed at this SWAG meeting have also surfaced as themes from our outreach meetings and roundtables through the course of this year, as both Paul Kaboth and Joe Ott have described in previous “Notes” entries. Be sure to look for our future reports on the results of our research and outreach in both Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Mary Helen Petrus
Mary Helen Petrus
Outreach Manager
Mary Helen conducts outreach throughout Ohio. With her policy expertise, she assists organizations in understanding how the Federal Reserve Bank can partner with them to tackle key issues in community development. (bio)
October 30, 2013
A Look Back

I’m more and more amazed at how fast time passes. This year is rapidly coming to a close, with Thanksgiving less than a month away. Before we can say “Kris Kringle” it will be December and then the New Year. Back in late 2012 when my staff and I were planning our outreach, external programs, and research agenda, we recognized that 2013 would be a blur of non–stop activity. We were correct. And while reflecting at this point may seem akin to stores putting out Christmas decorations in October, I’d like to take a look back now for two reasons: to share what we’ve accomplished so far and to ask for your input as we look ahead to 2014.

We had three major goals for 2013:

  1. publish impactful research on the housing market,
  2. become engaged in and more knowledgeable about workforce development issues in our district, and
  3. provide high–quality, relevant public programs on issues where we have expertise.

While we have a few weeks to go and some work to finalize, I think we’ve accomplished each of these goals.

We released two notable research papers this year that have received more than a little attention (our third research piece will be published in 2014). The first, “Policy Considerations for Ohio’s Housing Markets,” offers policy options to improve the foreclosure process for abandoned properties in Ohio. The second, “Low–Income Rental Housing Options in the Fourth District,” discusses the operational characteristics of the two most prevalent federal programs for affordable rental housing—the low–income housing tax credit and the housing choice voucher. Both papers build on our work in housing, and have prompted requests for presentations and more information on the topics from municipal leaders, academics, and policymakers alike.

With respect to becoming more knowledgeable about workforce development issues, our outreach team has participated in some 30 meetings with individuals and entities from across our district engaged in this area. In one such effort, we partnered with the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia to hold listening sessions across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to learn from administrators and professionals who work daily to train or place the unemployed. In Ohio, we met with state and federal staff, high school and community college administrators, and professionals from chambers of commerce, business associations, and social service agencies to learn about the demand for and challenges in training workers. In Kentucky, we’ve engaged with state officials and grant makers as part of this learning process. We are summarizing all of this work, and what we’ve learned, in a report that will be published by the end of the year.

Finally, I believe we’ve succeeded in providing interesting, challenging, and meaningful public programming to our stakeholders. To mention a few highlights, almost 300 community development practitioners, public officials, and researchers attended our 2013 Policy Summit in September (you can access videos, research papers, and presentations from the Policy Summit here), which we co–sponsored with the Philadelphia Fed. We partnered with a regional policy group on a series of problem–property webinars for county and municipal administrators across Ohio. We held workshops on access to credit and capital for small business. We also partnered with three Reserve Banks on “Redefining ‘Rust Belt,’” a series of videoconferences that brings together leaders from Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit to share ideas for community revitalization. The feedback from all these efforts has been extremely positive.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in. If you’ve read our work, met with us this year, or attended one of our public programs, I thank you and would very much like to hear how our work helped you in completing your mission. More important, what can we do to build on and improve our efforts to support community and economic development in our region?

If you haven’t looked at the work on our website, I encourage you to do so. We’ve begun planning for 2014 and our menu of activities is as aggressive and diverse as it was this year. Have a suggestion for where we can add value? Let me or someone on the team know. And check back with us often to learn what we’re working on and how it may fit your needs. We appreciate hearing from you!

Paul Kaboth
Paul Kaboth
Vice President & Community Development Officer
Paul has 27 years of experience at the Cleveland Fed, mostly in banking supervision. He brings that knowledge, along with a passion for improving the region’s neighborhoods, to his role as the teams leader. (bio)
September 27, 2013
Road trip: hearing from Pennsylvania’s Workforce Developers

This past summer, the Community Development teams from the Federal Reserve Banks of Cleveland and Philadelphia collaborated on a series of listening sessions in Pennsylvania to better understand the issues and challenges in workforce development. The impetus for our conducting these sessions was to develop a broader understanding of the lower labor force participation rate and skills mismatch of young people between the ages of 16 and 24, particularly in post-industrial cities and their surrounding regions. Additionally, we wanted to identify local strategies that encourage the alignment of education and employment initiatives to improve job opportunities for this demographic, as well as ways to facilitate engagement and collaboration among a broad group of stakeholders.

In all, we traveled to five cities (Erie, Harrisburg, Scranton, Pittsburgh and Johnstown) and met with more than 100 workforce practitioners to gather information.We will share what we learned from the sessions this fall in a joint Cleveland/Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank publication; however, here are a couple of general observations I’ll share now.

For most complex issues, there are many diverse stakeholders taking different approaches to address problems …and workforce development is no different. Stakeholder focus (including type of client served), background, funding and expertise vary widely within and across regions. For the sake of manageability, we convened only a segment of each region’s stakeholder groups (on average 25 experts in each location). However, total staff focused on workforce development easily number in the hundreds within each of our selected geographies.

Along with the diversity in representatives, we were amazed at the variation in their viewpoints. To give you a sense of the variety of players involved (there will be a comprehensive list in the upcoming publication) and the breadth of their perspectives, consider that we invited K-12 school districts, community colleges, chambers of commerce, social service agencies with workforce development programs, and community foundations to participate, because they are all actively working in the field. These organizations, along with local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) and Pennsylvania’s CareerLink systems, represent only a subset of the total workforce development infrastructure. Not surprisingly, each of these organizations faces different challenges and has opportunities to excel where others cannot.

Given the wide scope of worker training needs, it seems natural for such an array of stakeholders to be involved. The variation in worker age, education, skills and employment opportunity lends itself to a broader network of service providers to address the different and complex needs of worker training. However, having so many providers in the delivery system does add a layer of complexity. Because worker training needs vary so much, efficiency and scalability may be harder to incorporate into the workforce development infrastructure; however, based on the information we gathered, it appears that additional effectiveness and efficiency can be realized. To that end, we learned about a number of effective and efficient practices currently in place to connect workers to employment opportunities. Additionally, we identified several organizations that were partnering with one another to realize efficiency on specific programs and initiatives. Nevertheless, it is not clear that partnering is systematic across the Commonwealth. Furthermore, we noted that regions generally are not actively collaborating with other similarly situated regions. The good news is that we identified practices that can be shared, incorporated, and replicated into the delivery system to increase effectiveness and efficiency while still being responsive to particular locales and constituents.

As I note above, the intent of this post is simply to provide some high-level, general observations gleaned from our joint initiative. Currently, we are working on our joint publication with the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank; this publication is scheduled for release later this Fall. In the meantime, here are a couple of resources you may find useful in thinking about workforce development:

Joseph Ott
Joseph Ott
Senior Policy Analyst
Joseph, with 14 years of experience in community development, directs programming and outreach activities in western Pa., southeast Ohio, and the panhandle of West Virginia. He provides technical assistance to organizations about, for instance, credit availability and housing. (bio)
August 21, 2013
CityLink Bundles Up

We’ve all heard of “bundled services,” where a provider—say, your local telecom—offers area residents discounts if they opt to purchase telephone, Internet, and cable television services in a single package. The advantages to consumers include cost savings and the convenience of dealing with a single provider for service issues and billing. Advantages to providers are increased volume of services purchased and economies of scale in providing those services.

Now that concept is being tried in community development. Last fall I attended the grand opening of CityLink Center in Cincinnati, a project 12 years in the making. The original idea for the center was to provide services for homeless citizens in the city’s Queensgate neighborhood. Over the years, the focus broadened from providing services strictly for the homeless to providing a range of support services for the working poor. The $12 million project was funded largely with private donations through a faith-based organization.

Here’s how the newer model works: CityLink combines many agencies at the same site to offer a one-stop shop for individuals in need of support. The services may include financial education, workforce development, education, transportation, health and wellness, and even daycare for individuals while on site. CityLink’s approach is based on the idea that support services are much more effective when they work together. A growing movement for this integrated, co-located services approach includes organizations using this bundled model in helping people overcome poverty.

This bundling of services comes from a model developed by the Center for Working Families (CWF), an organization pioneered by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and supported by several other foundations as a means of helping low-income families reach financial stability and make their way up the economic ladder. Prompted by feedback on why programs to fight poverty were underutilized—reasons ranged from an inability to get childcare or transportation to lack of awareness and embarrassment in asking for assistance—CWF devised bundling to address the multifaceted challenges low-income, working adults and their families face.

CityLink integrates multiple services and offers a holistic solution to these barriers by offering financial education, employment-readiness services, and access to publicly available resources in a single location. This bundled services model is now being used in a variety of organizations across the United States, including

  • The MET Center in St. Louis, a regional workforce training program with a wide variety of clients, partners and public-sector funding streams,
  • The Bon Secours of Maryland Foundation, a smaller, community-based program in West Baltimore, and
  • Central New Mexico Community College, a large regional college mostly serving low-income working adults.

The Casey Foundation published a report in 2010 evaluating and detailing how these three organizations had each incorporated an integrated services approach to fostering family economic success. The report also includes key principles for successfully implementing the CWF model in any organization.

Many individuals came to support CityLinks at its grand opening--politicians, bankers, social service providers, and representatives from faith organizations, foundations, learning institutions, and more. I counted 68 groups listed on the program! The desire to help is evident; here’s hoping this is a lasting model to assist people who want to build a better life for themselves and their families.

Bonnie Blankenship
Bonnie Blankenship
Senior Policy Analyst
Bonnie, working from the Cincinnati office, conducts outreach and policy analysis on current and emerging issues. She provides information and technical assistance to financial institutions, community-based organizations, and government entities relevant to the Fourth District. (bio)
July 10, 2013
Lessons in Rowing in the Same Direction

Reflecting on a series of visits to Erie, Pennsylvania, this year, I find that one of my most notable takeaways is the passion and commitment to the region of those working in community development. Many of the Erie stakeholders we’ve met with mention the great quality of life the region offers—including the affordability of the market, its amenities (including recreation opportunities the lake provides), and the creative spirit of its residents. Erie has its share of community development issues that need to be addressed, such as pockets of blight within communities, the lack of sufficient jobs for its residents, and the need for better land–use strategies for future development. However, Erie stakeholders are also making a number of positive investments that will benefit the future of the region. The mere fact that multiple stakeholder groups are organizing to address these issues demonstrates that Erie is moving in a positive direction.

Community development issues

Similar to many smaller, older industrial cities facing like challenges, Erie leaders are placing a considerable emphasis on housing and economic opportunity. The City of Erie has an oversupply of housing, as well as more than 4,000 vacant lots. Additionally, there appears to be a spatial mismatch between the areas in which residents live and available housing. Erie’s downtown district, for example, sports very low vacancy. According to local developers, market–rate rental housing in this district—filled for the most part with empty nesters and young professionals—has a vacancy rate of less than 2 percent. At the same time, developers report shortages in affordable rental options. It is worth noting that, according to some reports, approximately 92 percent of new homes constructed in the City of Erie are subsidized in some way. Though the types of subsidies depend on the type of project, efforts are being made to focus investments in a manner designed to yield the greatest return. However, similar to many municipal investment strategies, investments should periodically be reviewed by local leaders to ensure efficiency. Finally, 75 percent of Erie’s homes have values that are lower than their respective replacement costs (this figure includes the City of Erie and the City of Corry). On the surface, some may view this figure as a badge of Erie’s affordability; however, this is concerning to many because of the likelihood of a much higher instance of vacancy and abandonment.

Properties with values lower than their replacement costs are common in many 4th District communities. What are your thoughts on the best way to address this issue? Please feel free to contact me with your ideas. Also, look for my next post on workforce development listening sessions we’re conducting in partnership with the Philadelphia Fed.

Joseph Ott
Joseph Ott
Senior Policy Analyst
Joseph, with 14 years of experience in community development, directs programming and outreach activities in western Pa., southeast Ohio, and the panhandle of West Virginia. He provides technical assistance to organizations about, for instance, credit availability and housing. (bio)
June 5, 2013
It’s (Still) About the Data

The need for better and integrated data to address policy and social issues is a recurring theme that comes up time and again in our outreach. For example, on a visit to Warren, Ohio, we learned from the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership (TNP)—the only community development corporation in Warren—that the biggest community development problem in town is the significant number of scattered vacant and blighted properties. In order to strategically address the blight, TNP first needs data on properties and their conditions so they can determine which properties are candidates for demolition or for repair. TNP is using a recent HUD Community Challenge grant award to thoroughly inventory all property parcels in the city in a survey of their condition and occupancy status. In cases of extreme dilapidation, TNP advocates for demolition by the city. TNP also runs a side lot program for the Trumbull County Land Bank wherein neighbors can buy vacant lots resulting from demolition in order to expand their properties.

Having an inventory is important to address blight, as is having data more generally. As one community development practitioner puts it, to know where you are going, you need to know where you are. This knowledge is also important in broader regional economic development conversations. Economic competitiveness is one topic we’ve been hearing about in Northeast Ohio. For example, the question of how to make cities like Warren, with shrinking populations and dwindling employment opportunities (both of which contribute to vacancy and abandonment), economically competitive is very much on the minds of staff at the Raymond J. Wean Foundation. Local conversations on regional economic development in the Mahoning Valley have focused on talent development and inclusion. Foundations and decision makers recognize that data—and the ability to manipulate it—is integral to understanding the issues at hand and to monitor changes in response to investments. One such issue that we hear repeatedly in our outreach, particularly in Northeast Ohio, is how to expand job opportunities for traditionally hard-to-employ populations.

Northeast Ohio is lucky to have NEO CANDO, a free and publicly accessible social and economic data system managed by Case Western Reserve University’s Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development. The system has data for the 17 counties across Northeast Ohio. What data resources are available in your community? And what resources would help you do your job?

Related resources:

Mary Helen Petrus
Mary Helen Petrus
Outreach Manager
Mary Helen conducts outreach throughout Ohio. With her policy expertise, she assists organizations in understanding how the Federal Reserve Bank can partner with them to tackle key issues in community development. (bio)
February 20, 2013
Wooing Key Strategic Partners

I recently became aware of a trend funders are using to identify key strategic partners. Before joining the Cleveland Fed last year, I worked in the nonprofit industry. One of the challenges we faced was competing with other nonprofits for a finite pool of money that funders typically awarded to individual grantees. Organizations like mine all worked separately to make a case for how we could put those dollars to best use. The success of a project was determined by the capacity of the individual organization to deliver and the impact the project had on a neighborhood.

Now funders are employing a more holistic model, where multiple entities work together to solve complex issues facing communities. Multiple organizations working together can not only enhance and deepen understanding of the breadth of these issues, but they are also better equipped to devise and effect solutions. This collaborative approach aligns a cross-section of agencies, including non-profit, government, corporate, and philanthropic, and allows for coordination of resources. Organizations working together toward the same goal can use the same methods to measure outcomes. This collective impact approach can be applied to a range of complex issues involving community development, education, workforce development, and health.

So, what does this mean for organizations seeking a foundation's support? One key is to become the lead organization in a strategic partnership. Funders are looking for organizations to take a leading role in strategic partnerships. Strategic pairing of organizations allows for capacity building for communities. With resources becoming scarcer, funders are looking to achieve the highest and best use of their investment dollars with organizations that collectively can produce the desired outcomes.

Here's an example of what can happen. A nonprofit whose board I serve on will receive funds because it is a lead organization in a strategic partnership. What this means is the organization will go from building one or two homes a year to redefining its community's central business district. It will be able to bring multiple new businesses into the neighborhood, change the dynamic of a community by providing an art center, and provide affordable safe rental housing in its community.

We are also considering providing a community kitchen. Many exciting ideas came out of a community quality-of-life planning session this past summer. These changes occurred because there was cohesiveness among many organizations and the right leadership in place to organize multiple entities. This wasn't an easy process; it took years of getting the right leadership in place to achieve these goals and be in the position to impact this neighborhood in a significant way. In the end, though, such collaborations can yield wonderful benefits to a community.

And that's the name of the wooing game these days.

Bonnie Blankenship
Bonnie Blankenship
Senior Policy Analyst
Bonnie, working from the Cincinnati office, conducts outreach and policy analysis on current and emerging issues. She provides information and technical assistance to financial institutions, community-based organizations, and government entities relevant to the Fourth District. (bio)