Why Funders Shouldn’t Overlook Place-Based Grantmaking

Written by: Tahirih Ziegler

Date: January 12, 2016

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) has worked in Detroit since 1990, investing close to $200 million in grants, loans and equity into neighborhoods in the city. Over the past five years, LISC’s work has focused on neighborhood investment around affordable and supportive housing, health clinics, grocery stores, safety initiatives, prosperity models and home repair financing for existing homeowners. While LISC continues to focus on housing as critical to stabilizing and strengthening neighborhoods, our work has evolved to reflect a more comprehensive concept of neighborhood revitalization that includes parks, public transportation, quality grocery stores, safe streets and access to good schools, health care, jobs and other amenities that make communities vital, appealing places to live, work and do business.

To do this work, LISC receives crucial support from the Kresge Foundation, the subject of a recent Philamplify report. I was excited to participate in NCRP’s recent webinar, “PIMBY: Philanthropy in My Back Yard” that connects the report to the practice of place-based grantmaking, and to discuss how foundation investment in communities is a prime strategy for long-term success.

In 2012, Detroit LISC began a place-based initiative to help build sustainable communities in five neighborhoods: two are in Southwest Detroit and have largely Hispanic populations (one of which is adjacent to the downtown central business district and has begun to attract entrepreneurs and people looking to move back to the city). One is a historically stable, middle class neighborhood in Northwest Detroit that was negatively impacted by the foreclosure crisis. Another is in a key location north of the city center along a new transit line scheduled to open in 2017. The fifth is a neighborhood in Northeast Detroit with a high concentration of children and returning residents but little real estate investment.

After years of disinvestment, Detroit is experiencing an influx of private and public dollars that’s reshaping the downtown area and drawing new residents in search of dynamic urban environments. As LISC continues to invest in place-based work in neighborhoods beyond the downtown area, however, the issue of equity is at the forefront. How can we work with other funders to ensure that their investments help neighborhoods offer a rich mixture of housing and better access to jobs and opportunity for people at all income levels?

First, we can recognize the grassroots leadership already embedded in communities and encourage those leaders to come together and create their own blueprints for change. LISC’s placemaking strategy begins with a four to six-month participatory planning process that engages neighborhood residents, business owners and institutional stakeholders in identifying priorities for neighborhood improvement, articulating measurable goals and objectives and creating a work plan. The planning process incorporates any existing plans and strategies to build a framework for long-term neighborhood investment and improving quality of life. We need to ensure that the process is inclusive and that a diverse range of stakeholders sit at the table. Too often, stakeholders leading community-based organizations may not live or work in the communities they represent or have little in common with the people who do. Finding and elevating neighborhood voices gives credibility to transformational community development work. Without that credibility, there is little buy-in from residents and any transformation taking place in their communities appears exclusive.

Next, what we measure matters. Residents and funders sometimes define success differently, so using two sets of overlapping metrics allows us to take into account both perspectives. Funders may emphasize market indicators while community stakeholders may emphasize other metrics. When LISC measures quality of life in a neighborhood, we look at indicators such as employment, the number of mortgages in foreclosure, housing tenure and changes in population. Residents and community activists, for their part, may define success as physical improvements to parks, increased use of public space, greater access to quality education and jobs and grassroots engagement in community safety initiatives. They may also place greater value on relationship-building or more inclusive development, led by developers from their own neighborhoods.

Finally, we can build reciprocal partnerships by asking for community assistance through formal meetings and one-on-one settings. All the members of a partnership benefit from acknowledging that equitable community development is hard work over the long haul: it can take more than five years before we see significant results. To that end, we can foster equity by moving away from funding disparate new initiatives and single-purpose transactions and focusing instead on investments that consider the community as a whole, and that connect real estate development with the cultural, social and economic needs of a neighborhood as well.

To learn more about place-based grantmaking, check out the recording of NCRP’s PIMBY webinar now!

Tahirih Ziegler is executive director of Detroit LISC. Follow @TahirihZLISC on Twitter and join the #PIMBY conversation.

CC image of Detroit by Digital 3rd Eye.