Revitalizing West End
By Shaun Donovan
For the Salisbury Post
President Obama has made clear that there is no greater economic policy than one that invests in our childrenís future and helps America out-educate the world. But thatís not possible if we leave a whole generation of children behind in our poorest neighborhoods.
Today, more than 10 million people live in neighborhoods surrounded by disinvestment, failing schools, troubled housing, and little opportunity. Research shows that one of the most important factors in determining whether or not children will do better financially than their parents is not their familyís economic status, but whether or not they grow up in a high-poverty neighborhood. The fact that we can predict health, economic, and educational outcomes of children based on their zip codes is a tragedy.
That is why the Obama Administration has been pursuing an interagency Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative that supports local leaders from the public and private sectors working to transform distressed neighborhoods into sustainable, mixed-income neighborhoods with the affordable housing, safe streets and good schools that every family needs.
At the center of the Administrationís initiative is a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization tool called Choice Neighborhoods.
First funded by Congress in 2010, Choice Neighborhoods builds on the HOPE VI public housing revitalization program. With strong bipartisan support, HOPE VI has created nearly 86,000 homes in healthy, mixed-income communities that were once troubled by distressed public housing ó leveraging twice the federal investment in additional private development capital and raising the average income of residents by 75 percent or more.
Last week, the Obama Administration awarded Choice Neighborhoods planning grants to 17 communities around the country, including Salisbury. With these funds, communities will be able to use proven mixed-use, mixed-finance tools available to transform not just public housing, but all kinds of federally- supported housing in poor neighborhoods.
Of course, a healthy neighborhood depends on more than successful, stable housing. Thatís why Choice Neighborhoods requires winners to provide neighborhood children with high-quality educational opportunities and allows communities to use a portion of their award for early childhood education and after-school tutoring.
In Salisbury, you will be able to see this approach in action. With these funds, local partners in the West End neighborhood will create a transformation plan that will improve the Civic Park Apartments public housing development, as well as build an early childhood education center and begin a tutoring program for middle-school students so Salisburyís children will have the education they need to compete.
Local leaders like Mayor Susan Kluttz recognize their work to transform housing and improve schools is most effective when localities can align their resources, break down barriers and cut through the red tape. And by bringing together local partners from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, Salisburyís grant helps make that possible.
Indeed, Salisbury represents one powerful example of how the administrationís Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative is helping government invest smarter and more effectively ó so we do more of what works and stop doing what doesnít. This approach recognizes that all of us ó government, businesses, schools and communities ó are responsible for preparing students in every neighborhood to compete in the 21st century.
As President Obama has said, ěIf poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence, failing schools and broken homes, then we canít just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community.î
To out-educate the rest of the world and win the future, we must ó and with these tools, we will.
Shaun Donovan is the U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development.