Revitalizing Inner Cities Requires a Regional Mindset

Article excerpt

"How do you connect poor people and poor places to the mainstream economy?" This is the question that guides I the efforts of the Delaware Valley Community Reinvestment Fund (the Fund), said Jeremy Nowak, the Fund's executive director, at an April 8 conference on revitalizing inner cities.

The $50 million community development financial institution works in about a dozen counties spanning three states and boasts a track record that includes financing 2,000 units of affordable housing creating a venture capitalist fund to support local businesses, and spearheading workforce development efforts in three business sectors. The Fund recently received the Philadelphia Award, the city's highest civic honor, in recognition of its accomplishments.

Nowak joined other recognized researchers and practitioners in the community development field at the conference, sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., to discuss a range of issues--welfare reform, housing, job markets, and land use policies--affecting inner cities and their residents. Donna Cooper, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Policy in Philadelphia, was among the panelists. Nowak's regionally-based model of community development became the major focus of the morning session.

Nowak observed that metropolitan areas have been undergoing major population shifts--shifts that have led to the scattering of people and opportunities across regions, and at the same time, increasing concentrations of poverty These changes have created challenges for inner cities and their residents.

The Fund advocates five distinct strategies to accomplish this goal: workforce development, rebuilding real estate markets, creating an infrastructure Of affordable child care, increasing the supply of jobs, and rebuilding the market for land.

* Workforce development. In the area of workforce development, the Fund establishes job networks with employers in different sectors in an attempt to increase the supply of jobs available for inner city residents. The Fund works through urban churches to "mediate the market," according to Nowak, linking regional employers to job seekers in the inner city

* Rebuilding real estate markets. The Fund works to rebuild real estate markets in both central cities and suburbs. The major thrust for their efforts is "multi-income" housing, noted Nowak, a two-pronged strategy that involves both creating affordable housing options in the suburbs and bringing middle-income people back to the inner city.

* Creating affordable child care. As welfare reform places increasing pressure on many low income people to enter the work force, affordable child care becomes more critical. The Fund is helping to create the necessary infrastructure of affordable child care agencies, both nonprofit and for-profit, to respond to this heightened need.

* Increasing the supply of jobs. The Fund is helping to increase the overall supply of jobs for low-income, inner-city residents by investing in industries that provide entry-level jobs.

* Rebuilding the market for land. Land use policies have a significant effect on the location decisions of people and businesses. The Fund recognizes this reality through its commitment to promoting and rebuilding the market for land in inner cities.

Making any of these strategies work, according to Nowak, requires building political coalitions around shared interests. …