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Notes from the Field

Investing in Community-Driven Solutions Key to Pandemic Recovery

Communities know what improvements they need, but many lack resources or infrastructure to act. This policy tool, and an example of where it is working, can help communities put solutions into action.

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.

To say that the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging our society, especially historically disinvested communities, is an understatement. This is a crisis that is highlighting the countless inequities entrenched in the being of our country.

As nonprofits centered in and working with their communities, community development corporations (CDCs) are in a unique position to respond to the needs of their constituents. A long-term recovery from the pandemic requires comprehensive, locally grounded solutions to improve the health and well-being of low-income people and places.

Governments, foundations, and other funding entities are acknowledging the work that needs to be done and are working to address recovery, but as evidenced by the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), blanket approaches with good intentions can sometimes increase inequities and injustice. Community-driven ideas are the key to change—individual neighborhoods and communities know what they need, but they may lack resources or infrastructure to meet those needs.

Meaningful engagement can be a way to connect communities with resources and put community-driven solutions into action, but it needs consistent and extensive investment in local solutions for historically disinvested communities, particularly in Black, brown, and Appalachian communities. One potential policy tool Ohio is considering is the Main Street Job Recovery Program.

The Main Street Job Recovery Program will provide state funds for CDCs that are addressing the economic needs of low-income individuals and families through the creation of permanent business development and employment opportunities. This initiative is modeled after the current federal Community Economic Development (CED) program, which has allocated more than $8.4 million in grants to Ohio since 2014. Ohio’s current federal CED allocations are expected to leverage additional public and private investment and result in the creation of 347 jobs and the creation or expansion of 36 businesses. At the state level, the Main Street Job Recovery Program will supplement the federal program by providing additional funds to community developers so they can make investments that create good, permanent jobs for Ohioans while addressing pressing community economic development needs such as blight remediation, vacant properties, and stable housing.

An example of this program in action is in Warren, Ohio. Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership’s Building a Better Warren program connects community-driven revitalization with job creation by putting residents to work in full-time, year-round jobs doing the work of blight remediation. The program provides training and employment in renovation, deconstruction, landscape installation, and vacant property maintenance to stabilize the city’s vacant and blighted properties, mitigate the impacts of blight, and create homeownership opportunities. Program participants improve their community while building marketable skills and gaining long-term employment. To date, Building a Better Warren has created 11 new jobs. Both the jobs program and the work taken on by the Building A Better Warren team are direct results of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership’s execution of neighborhood plans and through a $225,000 Community Economic Development grant. The grant was a catalytic investment that leveraged an additional $2.5 million in the city of just over 41,000.

As Ohio explores the Main Street Job Recovery Program in the first half of 2021, substantial investment in community-driven community economic work at the federal, state, and local levels can enact real change for numerous individuals as we work to recover from the economic crisis brought on by COVID-19. But the change must be designed and implemented in an equitable and just way, one that centers on the needs and wants of the residents of a community, particularly those often overlooked.

Lisa Much is the communications and capacity building director for the Ohio CDC Association, the statewide membership association of community development organizations. She leads communications, training, and technical assistance initiatives for its 270+ members. The Ohio CDC Association is a partner for the Policy Summit 2021 on June 23–25.