Billions of dollars in community development investments have been poured into communities over the last several decades, both in pursuit of drawing resources in to improve places as well as creating pathways to opportunities in other communities. But as Black Americans continue to be murdered by law enforcement and the country grapples with deeply entrenched systems of violence and racism, the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) is calling on the community development industry to more intentionally center community and resident safety in the investments, processes, and policies that define our work.
Much of the community development work we do today addresses the legacy of redlining and the racial segregation it entrenched in communities nationwide. Extending the reach of capital to support the social determinants of health – including affordable housing, high-quality early childhood education, and more – is all in pursuit of creating and supporting communities of equity, opportunity and well-being. Although resident safety is broadly implied in our industry’s mission, it is striking that safety is often treated as a by-product of these investments rather than a concerted goal.
LIIF is among many community development organizations grappling with the reality that we can no longer assume we are doing enough to dismantle racial injustice simply by nature of the investments we make and the people of color they serve. As the country grapples with systems of violence and racism, the community development industry has an opportunity to apply its experience and expertise to help restructure systems and reallocate resources directly to communities of color, with residents engaged as key decision-makers in their own safety.
In a new paper titled “Towards Equity, Opportunity and Well-Being: How the Community Development Industry Can Approach Safety and Policing,” LIIF shares a review of existing literature and conversations with partners to suggest three areas in which the community development sector can be intentional about community safety.
- Community-led planning must be inclusive and accessible
The Strong, Prosperous and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) – an initiative that LIIF founded together with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Enterprise Community Partners, and the Natural Resources Defense Council – has valuable lessons for communities to consider as they seek to make police more effective community partners. SPARCC takes a multidisciplinary approach that centers community residents, particularly people of color and low-income communities, in identifying solutions to local and regional issues. This locally-driven and community-powered approach should also apply to local decisions about policing and safety.
However, government decision-making processes are not always accessible or inclusive for residents, which limits the community perspectives and priorities that are emphasized in local budgets. SPARCC partners have demonstrated that localities must intentionally set inclusive, accessible processes to collect community feedback and hear directly what residents need to feel safe and supported. In many cases, this may mean a more limited role for police officers themselves and reinvestment in community services and infrastructure to promote a more prosperous community ecosystem.
- Place-centric revitalization can support a healthy and safe community ecosystem
Through segregated housing and localized disinvestment in Black communities, the built environment – including the quality of the housing stock, schools, parks, and other aspects of the local infrastructure – has become closely linked to the presence of crime. Rather than an increased police presence, place-oriented investments that support a stable, diverse, functioning community are a holistic and sustainable way to reduce crime.
Physical renewal is one of the main tools that can be used to alter the conditions that make neighborhoods unsafe, and the community development industry has a central role to play in channeling resources and expertise to finance these revitalization efforts. The Purpose Built Communities model, a successful place-centric community revitalization initiative, emphasizes the importance of mixed-income housing, cradle-to-college education, and community wellness as vital components of creating a strong community ecosystem.
But to truly break the cycle of disinvestment, the federal government must commit to unprecedented investments in key forms of community infrastructure that have too long been insufficiently supplied in communities of color.
- Policy advocacy must explicitly acknowledge and incorporate community safety
Community development stakeholders have an implicit interest in promoting and ensuring resident safety, as well as an ability to influence local conversations and actions around policing and safety. This includes engaging in policy advocacy to ensure our nation’s policing and community development systems are equitable.
Community development advocates can be allies in the pursuit of police reform efforts that seek to rein in violence and brutality that disproportionately impacts the communities we serve. We can also be vocal advocates for federal, state, and local budgets that invest in community services and a supportive social infrastructure that truly promote safety. But in designing policy interventions to support economic mobility and community safety, policymakers must apply an equity lens to ensure systems of inequity are actively dismantled and not passively upheld.
This is not an exhaustive list. It is intended to advance broader discussions about the role of policing and safety in the community development sector. And this work is now more urgent than ever: HUD’s recent termination of its 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule in favor of a substantially weaker Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice rule is a stark illustration of continued government disinvestment and abandonment of people of color.
In the absence of federal standards, guidance, or concerted evaluation of desegregation and inclusive communities, it is incumbent on community development practitioners and advocates to continue advancing equity, justice, and safety alongside our partners.