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Notes from the Field

CityLink Bundles Up

Community development organizations are increasingly adopting the practice of bundling services.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

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 n 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 CityLink 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.