A question I often hear is “How does the stimulus affect your work?” And while I can provide varying answers depending on the state or locality, it’s safe to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is making a substantial impact. Equally important, we see the stimulus package as one step in a larger campaign to connect low-income communities to a firm economic base.
ARRA’s ability to keep police on the streets, teachers in classrooms, and help municipalities and states provide basic services cannot be underestimated. These investments partially thwarted a collapse of basic services in low-income neighborhoods, but going beyond those basic services, members of the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Association (NACEDA) have reported varied levels of ARRA and NSP I resources reaching the neighborhood level.
In many areas, the infusion of federal funds saved hundreds of shovel-ready projects that are preserving jobs and anchoring communities. NACEDA partners in Philadelphia, for example, report that hundreds of homes financed by the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit are under construction because of the infusion of federal assistance to make LIHTC projects viable. Such success stories create jobs and prevent homelessness. It’s difficult to imagine the potentially disastrous impact on neighborhoods without the federal infusion Tax Credit Enhancement Program (TCAP) funds when all private financing options were off the table but with the need for affordable rental housing at an all time high.
When we view ARRA in the long term, we realize that many of the dividends of the investment will flow to our communities for years. For example, ARRA’s $4 billion infusion to the Public Housing Capital Fund will modernize and renovate public housing across the country while providing energy savings for decades. This will allow public housing authorities more flexibility to enter innovative partnerships with localities and community development agencies. Investments in retrofitting homes for the elderly and disabled, rural water, and sewer projects, Native American Housing Block grants, the Community Development Block Grant Program and a wide array of projects made possible by ARRA will have an impact lasting generations, serving as a small counterweight to years of federal disinvestment in low-income communities.
Projects as massive as the ARRA always leave room for improvement. Rural NACEDA members report that information about ARRA’s resources is not reaching the grassroots level fast enough. A survey of our colleagues in rural North Carolina and South Carolina underscored this in early August. It is a priority for NACEDA to ensure that all organizations and communities of all sizes have access to ARRA’s resources. Thus, ongoing capacity building at all levels is integral to the ARRA’s overall success. NACEDA will continue to relay these concerns to the administration and we are encouraged so far by the level of responsiveness to the community needs that we’ve identified.
When USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack delivered the keynote at NACEDA’s annual summit in April, he emphasized a cross-silos approach toward counterparts at HUD, Treasury, and other agencies across the administration. This goes far beyond photo opportunities. Vilsack expressed an eagerness to work across agency boundaries while underscoring President Obama’s personal commitment to the core issues undergirding our work. The access and two-way listening demonstrated by Vilsack and his colleagues in the administration earned them credibility within our membership.
Ultimately, NACEDA sees the ARRA as a foundation for progress. We will work with the administration and Congress to share lessons learned over the next few months and years. Also, it’s important to view missteps as learning opportunities. We’re also eager to expend our creative energy looking for alliances to transform the communities we serve. After all, it was only a short time ago when we were fighting to save Community Development Block Grants and other irreplaceable building blocks for our work from the chopping block. Such battles give us a bit of patience and perspective as we watch the ARRA take its course. Those battles also remind us to hold our leaders at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue accountable every step of the way.