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LISC Institute Retools for the Future

Nearly a decade ago, LISC created the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development as a platform for the dynamic exchange of knowledge and ideas about our shared work, and as a clearing house for best practices. Since then, it has trained thousands of people in the field and shared hundred of articles, opinions and research reports. Now, with renewed energy and leadership, we are delighted to be relaunching the Institute, equipped with an interactive website and a trove of fresh tools, views and data that will help propel our work into the future. Read all about it in a message from the Institute's founders.

LISC and the Institute

Communities are complex environments. There is an interdependency among all neighborhood elements – housing, health, safety, education, transit, local investment, business vitality and economic opportunity. In thriving communities each of these elements adds value to the others. In thriving communities each of these elements is part of a larger well-functioning system.

In the neighborhoods in which we work, systemic inequality persists. Relying on community organizing and local leadership development, comprehensive community development seeks to strengthen the fundamental elements by reconnecting them and enhancing their individual and collective ability to produce positive outcomes.

In 2009, we conceived of the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development to advance the state and practice of community development and the positive impact it has in urban and rural communities across the country.

Our goal, quite simply, was to build the capacity of community development practitioners; to provide technical assistance; to apply the lessons learned through research and evaluation to improve community development initiatives and develop new ones; to reinforce public policies that facilitate comprehensive community development; and to communicate broadly the best there is in practice and theory in the field of community development.

We celebrated the founding of the Institute in Washington in April of 2010, where keynote speaker Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, welcomed its creation, calling the Institute “a laboratory where we can highlight best practices; where we can actually teach and focus on the skill of community development.”  She added that the Institute will highlight “the many success stories that we have across the country and that LISC has been a part of for so many years.”  

Implementing Comprehensiveness

From that auspicious beginning, the Institute evolved into an active enterprise that trained 1,700 participants over three years in comprehensive community development (CCD). We also produced over 200 case studies and articles on our website, conducted research roundtables with the best and the brightest in the field to assess the practice and theory of comprehensive community development, and published a journal highlighting research and ideas of leading thinkers and innovators.

 The Institute’s ”Getting It Done” conference in 2012 attracted 900 practitioners, funders, policy makers, and public officials from 80 cities, 4 foreign countries, and over 100 neighborhoods engaged in CCD across the country to learn, share best practices, forge partnerships, and craft solutions.

Comprehensive strategies began to take root, as more LISC sites, other networks, and the Obama administration saw their promise. Choice Neighborhoods and Promise Neighborhoods were attempts by the federal government to shift policies to embrace comprehensiveness. At the same time, Purpose Built Communities in Atlanta, the Tamarack Institute in Canada, and the Collective Impact model championed by FSG and the Aspen institute Forum for Community Solutions were each, in their own way, deploying a comprehensive approach to catalyzing community change.

On the other hand, despite great energy, widespread enthusiasm, and many different efforts, by 2006, neighborhoods were being battered by rising interest rates, foreclosures, and falling housing prices,  experiencing the early warning signs of the Great Recession. Public sector budget cuts limited infrastructure investments. Deadlocked federal and state governments impeded progress. More organizations competed for limited philanthropic support. As the political winds shifted, community development organizations and other partners faced mounting challenges. Many struggled just to survive.

The Present

Despite these barriers, LISC and its partners have responded to the challenge and fought for the recovery of our nation’s communities. Last year alone, LISC invested over $1.2 billion in 14,700 affordable homes and apartments and over 3.5 million square feet of commercial and community space.

In doing so, under the leadership of President and CEO Maurice Jones, LISC is reinvigorating its commitment to a comprehensive development approach with a renewed emphasis on several of its major elements, especially (though not to the exclusion of others) housing, economic development and health.

Affordable, well-designed and integrated housing remains fundamental to LISC’s core mission. But there is a new urgency in the understanding of the essential role that jobs, financial security and wealth creation plays in the strategic development  of a community.  Similarly, there is ever greater understanding of the dynamic interplay between environmental factors like housing and economic well-being with individual health indicators in a neighborhood, such as life-expectancy, obesity, teenage pregnancies, diabetes, asthma and the like.

Of course, there are other significant elements that must be considered within a comprehensive approach as well, including community safety, education and transportation. Basic to everything is the recognition that communities must organize and develop a leadership cadre to assure that their progress is both directed by and accrues to the benefit of neighborhood residents.

That’s why the Institute is so important, not only to LISC and its partners, but to the nation’s community development enterprise in general.

Turning Knowledge into Action: Back to Basics

With renewed energy and a new generation of leadership, the Institute is positioned to play a vital role in the future of community development. By sharing knowledge from LISC, its partners, and other organizations across the country, the Institute offers more and better training, technical assistance, research, evaluation, and the thought leadership necessary to address the challenges of today’s world and the opportunities presented in neighborhoods across the country.

As the Institute turns to the future, we offer a few fundamental questions facing those facing the field of comprehensive community development and the Institute that must be answered for its mission and promise to be fulfilled:

  • What are the principal challenges facing practitioners, public and private sector, and philanthropic partners in the field of comprehensive community development?
  • As the work on the ground is maturing, how do we identify the most promising approaches and support successful implementation?
  • What tools and resources are needed to support an effective system for the delivery of community revitalization strategies?
  • How can we best aid communities in vital sectoral initiatives, such as economic development and health?
  • How can comprehensive community initiatives inform and influence policy direction more effectively?
  • What types of research are needed to advance the field? How can they best be supported and encouraged?
  • How do we attract the next generation of leaders (organizers, practitioners, policy makers, researchers, and funders) into the field?

A Final Thought

Today, government is divided. The body politic is split red and blue. Cable news highlights the polarization of society. Frustration abounds on all sides. And yet, in neighborhoods, people engage every day in improving their communities and their lives. Americans by nature are social beings who will always work together to improve their “place”. You can depend on this. It’s what drives every “local initiative” ever initiated. It is why LISC was formed in 1979.

For nearly 40 years, LISC has built bridges between red and blue, Democrat and Republican, businesses and residents, lenders and affordable housing advocates, employers and potential employees. In recent years, through its comprehensive approach, LISC has built the web of relationships, the partnerships, and the skills necessary to enable local communities to develop their communities.

The Institute provides the tools – to engage, to plan, to act, to develop, to renew, to communicate, and to evaluate. And to do it again and again, in dozens of cities, rural communities, and hundreds of neighborhoods across the country.

The importance of the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development now is greater than ever.

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