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Final Blog in Three Part Series: Reflections from Community Leaders Forum

 

Posted: 20 May 2014 02:36 PM PDT

                       

Below is the final of three blogs reflecting perspectives on the Fed’s Community Leaders Forum, which took place on March 5 and 6 in Washington, DC. Our guest bloggers in order of posting are Michelle Hoereth of IFF, Renee Hatcher of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and Sarida Scott of the Community Development Advocates of Detroit.

A key purpose of the Community Development function in the Federal Reserve System is to document trends, observations, and concerns of organizations serving consumers and communities. Information we gather informs our programmatic and research agendas. To that end, we invite perspectives of both newer and well-established private sector community development organizations, and build relationships with long-tenured, as well as emerging leaders in the field.

The Community Leaders Forum, organized by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the Federal Reserve Banks of St. Louis and Chicago, was a dialogue with emerging leaders, and we are grateful for their participation and thoughtful input. The goals of the forum were to:

  • § Strengthen the community development function through peer-to-peer learning that promotes applied research and innovative community strategies; and
  • § Improve the Federal Reserve’s understanding of emerging trends and their impact on consumers and communities, in particular those traditionally underserved.

By Sarida Scott

In March, the Federal Reserve Board convened a Community Leader’s Forum, the second of four, in Washington, DC. This session brought together representatives from cities like Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Memphis to talk about current community development issues and how Federal Reserve resources can be used to support work on the ground.

As the Detroit representative, the experience was beneficial in a variety of ways. Despite participating in a number of educational and informational sessions held by the Fed in Detroit, I was not aware of the extent of the Fed’s involvement in community development. It is helpful to have an understanding of the various ways in which the Fed connects with communities, which includes conducting policy analysis and producing research papers. This fact suggests that there are additional opportunities to connect with the Fed and influence activities designed to support the industry.

The other significant benefit was the opportunity to network with community development professionals from other cities. Hearing the stories of the challenges and of various solutions being employed provided great insight. While it was a reminder that our challenges in Detroit with respect to vacant property, blight, and development are on a significantly larger scale, it was at least comforting to know that we are utilizing or have tried solutions that are also being used by our counterparts. The conversations also sparked ideas for new efforts and initiatives. Of interest were the collaborative projects discussed that pull in different and sometimes unexpected partners in ways that are having great impact in neighborhoods.

Current challenges in Detroit include an overwhelming number of vacant properties and the accompanying blight issues. Faced with an inventory of approximately 70,000 vacant structures, there is no simple resolution to the problem. While funds have been funneled to the city from the federal government and other entities for demolition, that alone will not solve the problem. Recognizing that demolition is necessary in many cases, residents and organizations also continue to seek funds for home rehab and deconstruction work to preserve what is still a beautiful housing stock. Despite the demand and interest, these types of funds prove difficult to attract.

Additionally, engaging in a significant amount of demolition will result in enormous amounts of vacant land, land that will need some level of development. In a challenged city, one already facing bankruptcy, that level of development will be difficult to achieve.

Despite these stark facts, we are hopeful in Detroit. There is investment. There is great support from philanthropy. There is new leadership in the form of a mayor and for the first time in 100 years, a city council by district. And there is the community development industry that has remained committed to supporting neighborhoods and improving quality of life.

As the executive director for the community development trade association in Detroit, participation in the Federal Reserve Board’s Community Leaders Forum was an excellent opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and resources for our work. We look forward to continuing and fostering this relationship.

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