What Works to Create Ladders of Opportunity?

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Recently, President Obama and a small group of stakeholders from across the nation met to discuss how to increase economic mobility and opportunity for American families. The Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF), Neighborhood Centers Inc. and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future were honored to participate in this important dialogue at the White House. At that meeting, we believe the President focused on exactly the right questions: What works to connect people to opportunity, and how do we best leverage public policies and funds to support those efforts?

The Obama Administration has tackled these difficult questions to date with initiatives, such as Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods, and the proposed Promise Zones. We believe these solutions are on the right track and, like them, future approaches must include these important elements:

  1. Focus on what works and getting people to work: This requires a silo-busting vision that includes evidence-based investments in both people and their communities.
  2. Collaboration and partnership: We must encourage and incentivize sectors to work together and bring new partners to the table. Public funds can play a critical catalyzing role in attracting private investment into communities and creating access to jobs.
  3. Connecting people to opportunity: We need to ensure that we invest in networks and connections among neighborhoods and regions, so that communities are not isolated from the larger opportunities surrounding them.
  4. Connecting the unemployed with employers ready to hire: Getting talented, motivated job seekers back to work benefits businesses, the local and national economy and our nation. Public-private partnerships can serve to connect unemployed job seekers and businesses to fill open jobs quickly and coordinate training opportunities.

Like this administration, our organizations are focused on investing in ideas that work, those that support people and places and that create ladders of opportunity for Americans working to improve their lives.

In our work, we’ve seen powerful examples of projects that bring these elements together:

  • Bay Area Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing (TOAH) Fund: The $50 million fund leveraged a $10 million seed investment from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) with private capital to invest in affordable housing and community services near transit hubs. To date, the fund has invested in projects that will create more than 500 units of affordable housing and include commercial space for grocery stores, child care centers, health clinics and small businesses.
  • ReFresh: This $18 million healthy food hub will bring retail, education, jobs and health programs to the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. LIIF provided a small but critical piece of flexible financing from its Healthy Food Financing Initiative funds to close a gap in the project, enabling the development to move ahead. ReFresh is currently under development and when complete will include a small format Whole Foods, a teaching kitchen operated by Tulane Medical School for local residents and medical students and Liberty’s Kitchen, a business that provides job training for youth and makes healthy school lunches for thousands of New Orleans public school children.

Learn more about LIIF’s projects, Neighborhood Centers Inc. and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future.