Long ago, I was greatly influenced by Jane Jacobs’ seminal book, Death and Life of Great American Cities, which speaks so powerfully to the value of investing in the physical well-being and social and economic health of our communities. Today, LISC and other community development organizations apply that same passion to investing in affordable housing, economic development and the many other aspects of healthy urban and rural communities.
LISC’s experience in 2018 illustrates the power of a comprehensive, community-led approach. Our record $1.5 billion in investments ranged from affordable housing and workforce development to small business growth, community safety, education, health, athletic facilities and the arts. Those investments helped invigorate cities and rural areas across the country, breathing new life into distressed communities.
Today, it is easy to see how LISC’s interconnected web of investments contribute to economic opportunity across the country. But, at our launch in 1979, much of our vision was still theory. There was little in the way of innovative private-sector finance focused on community-driven objectives and no data to prove what worked. It was all new.
What became clear over the ensuing 40 years and $20 billion in LISC investments is that this work is not just about new housing, businesses or jobs — though those are vital. It’s about the interconnected national objectives of strong growth and widespread economic well-being. When our economy creates opportunities for people to do well, regardless of where they live, they build strong family incomes, support vibrant local economies, and fuel national economic progress.
In 2018, LISC supported those goals by expanding both its size and scope. Our network of more than 80 Financial Opportunity Centers launched new programs tailored to local employment conditions so that more people could develop the skills they need to move into good jobs and grow their incomes. LISC also tapped its extensive disaster recovery experience to support communities hit hard by hurricanes, floods and fires. And our housing efforts directly addressed the nation’s affordability crisis, while also providing a foundation on which new economic development plans can be built. Record investments of more than $1 billion from LISC’s National Equity Fund affiliate contributed greatly to this effort.
The evolving composition of LISC’s board reflects our priorities. In 2018, we brought in new directors from the fields of investment banking, health care, and academia to add their voices to those from community-based organizations, philanthropy and financial institutions. LISC benefits from their expertise in both investing and community development as we develop strategies to create community-based economic development in places often overlooked by conventional investors.
In my 20th year as LISC chairman, I think that everyone at LISC should feel great satisfaction in all that they have accomplished. But there is so much more to do. If you believe, as I do, that economic inequality and wage stagnation are major barriers to achieving our country’s full economic potential, then the need for robust inclusive growth is an imperative.