David Greenberg, LISC’s new director of research and evaluation, talks about the path that led him to LISC and the imperative of translating research into better policy and practice in the field.
What inspired you to come to LISC?
I started my career working in homeless shelters in New York City as an advocate and organizer. This may seem obvious, but you can’t spend time in those kinds of institutions without developing a profound sense of how important it is to have a home that is safe and affordable. So LISC’s commitment to housing has always attracted me.
Another reason is LISC’s commitment to neighborhoods. When I was working on homelessness issues, shelters were mostly located in neighborhoods without a lot of community cohesion and economic opportunity. All the system failures that led to people becoming homeless in the first place were usually magnified, and still are, in those areas. Applying a community development lens helps to understand how those issues arise, and it offers a way to innovate and begin to solve those longstanding [problems].
LISC is the place to do this. Its deep partnerships with local organizations in particular, and its emphasis on community members helping drive the agenda, are what make LISC so effective. Those same relationships, by the way, are particularly useful in doing research in communities.
What led you to become a researcher in the first place?
I worked in the shelters in the 1990s, during the era of welfare reform. As advocates, we understood the changes to income supports, to housing assistance and to other public benefits that were on the horizon. And we could see the beginnings of economic changes that are now accelerating—all the things that have contributed to a wave of homelessness which, in fact, we are experiencing right now.
But what we didn’t know was how to address it. So I went to graduate school to understand more precisely the levers that we have as a society that can make the most difference. Not just to understand the scope of the problem, but to be more effective in trying to do something about it.
At least that was my grandiose ambition. What I learned in school is that you can have all the knowledge in the world, but it doesn’t matter unless you also have a way of turning knowledge into action. That’s another thing that draws me to LISC: the platform for translating assessment into changes in practice and policy.
Tell us about a research project that was really pivotal for the way you think about your work.
When I was studying the impact of investments on neighborhoods through Chicago’s New Communities Program, I appreciated how important it is to have solid research partnerships, both with LISC Chicago and the community organizations that were trying to enact comprehensive community development. Community groups challenged us as researchers to find new ways to assess the effect of development projects on neighborhoods, on residents, and on underlying conditions, and to understand the nature of groups’ own partnerships, to better understand how neighborhoods can respond to problems ranging from budget cuts to increased violence to dramatic changes in the school system.
What do you hope to bring to research at LISC?
Researchers have a pretty big tool box now--tools we didn’t have when I started out. We’re learning how to really measure the impact of large scale investments on neighborhoods. We have new data sources, new statistical methods and better perspectives about what makes for healthy, resilient communities. And we’re starting to be able to apply those techniques, in ways that can be guided by community groups to provide useful information to practitioners and policymakers.
What’s one thing you like to do when you’re not engaged in research?
I am a moderate to mediocre runner, and I like to jog through neighborhoods. I’ll take the subway to a neighborhood that I may or may not know and run through it. It’s a way I get to see and explore New York and enjoy the city.