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LISC + Brookings: How to Spark Economic Opportunity, with L.A. as a Test Case

LISC’s SVP of economic development Bill Taft, LISC LA executive director Tunua, Thrash-Ntuk and Hanna Love of Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program offer a concrete outline for how local organizations, stakeholders and policy makers can help spark economic vibrancy and inclusion in historically under-invested communities. Invoking the myriad causes of LA’s homelessness crisis, the blog for Brookings offers a multi-pronged place-based and people-centered approach that is forging authentic change in South LA, and in parts of Philadelphia and Indianapolis, too.

The excerpt below was originally published:
How South LA is increasing economic opportunity through inclusive, place-based solutions
Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, Bill Taft, and Hanna Love, Brookings

This winter, The New York Times released an in-depth portrayal of homelessness in Los Angeles. Rather than pointing to housing shortages or escalating costs of living as the primary culprits, the authors offered a more comprehensive diagnosis: Interconnected legacies of racism, disinvestment, and displacement—all rooted in place—are to blame.

While most of Los Angeles (and the state of California) is feeling the ramifications of housing insecurity and economic inequality, the Times article showed how a constellation of factors have converged to cluster homelessness and poverty in one particular part of the city: South L.A. These factors—including redliningmanufacturing decline, and demographic shifts over time—have tilted the balance of opportunity so that those raised in South L.A. are disproportionately restricted from economic and social mobility compared to the rest of the city.

To tackle such interconnected, place-based challenges, the city must adopt interconnected, place-based solutions. So, LISC LA and an array of local community and economic development organizations are piloting a new approach for economic inclusion—one that starts with South L.A., but is replicable in historically disinvested communities throughout the country. This approach is based on the belief that entire cities can reduce inequality by coordinating workforce, small business, real estate, and community-based development efforts in a small set of historically disinvested districts.


To further this place-based and people-centered approach, LISC’s Economic Development Initiative—in partnership with local LISC offices, advocates, community organizations, planning consultants, public officials, neighborhood, city, and regional economic development stakeholders, and national partners such as Brookings’s Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking and Mass Economics—is testing a Community-Based Economic Inclusion Demonstration in three high-poverty communities in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis.

Like many processes, ours starts with data. But rather than using data to diagnose places’ challenges, we are uncovering their assets.

The demonstration, which is about six months in, broadens the conventional understanding of economic development and who takes part in conversations about solutions. There is often consensus that we must address homelessnessinvest in historically disinvested neighborhoods without displacing long-term residents, and support Black businesses and entrepreneurs. But the community organizations and economic development stakeholders working to achieve these goals often operate in silos, sitting at different tables and missing opportunities to capture collective momentum over shared solutions.

Our approach seeks to change this by aligning the rich cultural and local knowledge of neighborhood-based organizations with citywide and regional entities in the co-creation of shared Economic Inclusion Agendas. These agendas will leverage the financial resources, technical expertise, and cultural knowledge of the economic, workforce, and community development ecosystems to advance a shared equity vision for promoting opportunity in high-poverty places.

Each city’s path to this goal is a bit different depending on local realities, but they share a common aspiration: to promote a holistic approach to economic development that recognizes the multiplicity of challenges facing high-poverty communities, and tangibly increases economic opportunity for those living in them.

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