Revitalizing Urban Neighborhoods: Building Blocks for the Future of America's Cities

Neighborhoods -- stepping stones or millstones? The choice is ours. Let's make it the right one for all of our American kids.

Those were the closing lines for our blog on urban education which The Huffington Post ran on June 30, 2015. In that blog, and others posted throughout this year, we have highlighted the "crisis" conditions of many of our urban neighborhoods.

Numerous studies released in 2015 reveal what David Leonhardt labeled the "neighborhood gap" in an article that he wrote for the New York Times. That gap is the difference in the quality of life in one neighborhood versus the quality in another. The gap is substantial and significant.

Fortunately, there is an old player on the block with a new financing vehicle that is increasing the range of choices available to close that gap -- not only for American kids but for all who live, work, play and do business in those neighborhoods.

That old player is Capital Impact Partners (Capital Impact). The new financing vehicle is The Detroit Neighborhoods Fund (Fund).

The Detroit Neighborhoods Fund is a 30 million dollar Fund being launched by Capital Impact in partnership with JPMorgan Chase. It will provide financing for multifamily residential properties, mixed-use real estate, community health centers, charter schools and grocery stores that offer fresh, healthy foods in areas where those options are limited.

The Fund is important. What makes it far more important, however, is that it is not a "one-off." It:
  • Extends Capital Impact's ongoing investment in Detroit neighborhoods
  • Represents a systemic place-based revitalization approach
  • Aligns with Capital Impact's core mission, values and history

Since 2010, Capital Impact has deployed over $70 million into Detroit, helping to attract more than four thousand people to the city's inner core.

Capital Impact has invested some of that money in multi-use developments like The Auburn and Forest Arms to help rebuild areas close to Woodward Avenue which used to be known as Detroit's "Main Street." Capital Impact has also dedicated dollars to manage the Detroit Corridor Initiative a cross-sector partnership formed to promote inclusive growth that benefits Detroit's low-and moderate-income residents through entrepreneurship and preserving low-income housing access.

Capital Impact's involvement and investment in Detroit is an expansion of its nationwide community development strategy. That strategy is place-based and applies a systems perspective.

Capital Impact sees "communities as a collection of people, products, services and infrastructure that must reinforce each other for residents to prosper." It recognizes that transforming underserved communities into strong, vibrant places of opportunity requires increasing access to quality health care and education, healthy foods, and affordable housing. It focuses on leveraging factors such as job creation, new capital and philanthropic investments, redensification, and strategic cross-cutting partnerships to ensure sustainable revitalization of city neighborhoods.

One of the secrets to Capital Impact's success is forming the right public-private sector partnerships to get the job done. Over the years, it has brought many partners to the table to develop the proper alliances and networks to achieve the desired community transformation.

Its philanthropic partners have included: AARP, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Its financial partners and institutional investors have included: Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, and Nationwide Insurance. Its non-profit and public agency partners have included: National League of Cities; NeighborWorks America, and the U.S. Department of Education

Capital Impact did not come to its involvement in building inclusive communities recently. That involvement dates back to the organization's founding and reflects its mission-driven orientation.

Capital Impact has its roots in the cooperative movement. In 1978, Congress passed the National Consumer Cooperative Bank Act to encourage the development of new and existing cooperatives.

Among the many outcomes of this legislation was the creation of the "Office of Self-Help Development and Technical Assistance." This program concentrated on developing new types of services that could be provided through cooperative organizations contributing to the economic development of low and moderate-income communities. Over the next three decades, that group grew and evolved into the National Cooperative Bank Development Corporation, and then became the stand-alone nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution that is known today as Capital Impact Partners.

Capital Impact has maintained a constancy of purpose throughout its evolution. This, in combination with its comprehensive, coordinated and collaborative problem-solving methodology produces measurable results. It means that the choice for decaying, low and moderate income urban neighborhoods no longer need be just one of stepping stones or millstones.

It can also be one of building blocks. Or, as Capital Impact states it on its web-site, "building block- by- block."

Block-by-block, home-to-home, heart-to-heart. That is Capital Impact's formula for revitalizing Detroit and other communities across this country.

By all accounts, it is a winning formula for revitalizing our urban neighborhoods in a manner that will have a positive impact on the future of America's cities and their citizens. It is a formula that should replicated by organizations of all types that share Capital Impact's values, concern and commitment to bringing about the type of change that will make America a better place and its places better.

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