Monday, April 7, 2014

Choice Neighborhoods: Critical Community Improvements Promising Practice Guide

The goals of Choice Neighborhoods, the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative program operated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, go beyond simply revitalizing distressed public housing. The program is aimed at transforming entire communities by bringing together stakeholders such as residents, local leaders, schools, private developers, nonprofits and cities to create and execute a vision for the entire neighborhood surrounding public housing or HUD-assisted housing. To this end, Choice grants provide Implementation grantees with up to 15% of their total award to create critical community improvements, projects that will improve community assets and transform blighted conditions.

The city of Boston’s innovative use of their critical community improvement funds is the topic of a recently released Choice Neighborhoods Promising Practice Guide. Boston’s grant award totaled $20.5 million, giving the city $3,075,000 to spend on neighborhood improvements in the Quincy Corridor community. The consensus-driven process Boston used to select the projects funded with these dollars goes beyond Choice Neighborhoods and is an inspiring example of city leadership and collaboration.

After receiving one of the five initial Choice grants in 2011, Boston’s mayor created an advisory committee comprised of city officials and community based organizations to determine how to use the critical community improvement dollars. The mayor encouraged the committee’s collaboration and required the group to fund projects that were transformational, had a physical presence in the neighborhood and did not replace money the city would have otherwise invested in the community.

Ultimately, the city funded a diverse group of projects that represented the interests of each community partner. Boston’s critical community improvement funds supported the following projects:
  • Bornstein and Pearl Food Production Small Business Center (aka Pearl Meats) – A former meat packing plant, Pearl Meats is being transformed into a community kitchen that will support over 50 food production businesses and create 150 jobs in its first five years.
  • Fa├žade Improvement Projects/Main Street Revitalization – The city is expanding its existing Community Development Block grant resources to improve the store fronts of local businesses along the city’s main corridor.
  • Facilities Improvements for Nonprofits – A portion of the funds will be used to rehabilitate facilities that serve neighborhood residents.
  • Community wi-fi – Free wireless internet service will be expanded with a stronger signal.
  • Playgrounds – Two playgrounds are being renovated and expanded to address the neighborhood’s limited play space for children.
Boston’s neighborhood improvements are helping to transform Quincy Corridor into a thriving community. Their diverse group of projects demonstrates how innovative ideas can emerge when a variety of stakeholders are given the opportunity for genuine collaboration.

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