Happy Birthday, New Communities

Chicago’s New Communities Program (NCP) is turning 10 this year. The initiative has been pioneering comprehensive community development for the past decade, so I suppose that now is as good a time as any to become familiar with their innovative and highly successful approach to community investment and revitalization.

Overview:

The New Communities program is a 10-year endeavor undertaken by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation/Chicago (LISC) to work with 16 Chicago communities challenged by loss of ground, loss of diversity, and attempts at gentrification.  NCP neighborhood efforts are led by a coalition of a neighborhood-based local agency appointed to take the lead on addressing issues and other local organizations and citywide groups that take on a supportive role. Partnerships between these groups and other nonprofits, businesses, government entities, and residents are highly encouraged. These coalitions also have the support of:
• Two full-time staff positions: an NCP director and an organizer.

• A pool of loan and grant funds to mount short- and long-term initiatives. The funds, distributed by LISC on a competitive basis, serve as seed money to leverage other public and private resources.

• Technical support and peer-learning opportunities, including planning expertise, trainings, access to subject-area experts and meetings with peers in other NCP agencies.

NCP’s 10-year anniversary was celebrated at the “Getting It Done II” conference put on by LISC and the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development. The Institute was formed in 2010 to share the successes and lessons learned from NCP and LISC’s Sustainable Communities approach to community development and urban revitalization. The NCP model has since been used in 20 additional cities around the country.

The NCP model has achieved great success over the last decade. The initiative has resulted in the addition of over 1000 housing units, including 130 affordable green homes, the resurgence of use of public spaces once underutilized because of the fear of gang violence, as well as the development of extracurricular educational opportunities.

It is easy to see how St. Ambrose reflects the values and successes of the NCP; providing housing programs and support to over 3,000 families each year, collaborating with local residents, community organizations, religious groups, businesses, government entities and financial institutions, and finding innovative solutions to Baltimore’s housing issues. Since its inception, St. Ambrose has been committed to strengthening Baltimore’s neighborhoods, and it continues to be a leader in neighborhood development.

Gerard Joab’s First 100 Days at St. Ambrose

Gerard Joab, who became St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center’s Executive Director in December, 2011 after founder Vincent Quayle’s departure, has been on the job for a little over three months. I had the opportunity to meet with him last Thursday to see how it was going.

Though his last job was in New Jersey, Joab’s beginnings were in Baltimore, so there’s a sense that he is coming home. In New Jersey, Joab was the Executive Director of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) of Greater Newark and Jersey City. LISC provides funding and technical assistance for community development corporations. As director at LISC, Joab facilitated funding and support to organizations like St. Ambrose. Thus, he has an intricate understanding of the funding processes these organizations undergo as well as the obstacles they may face, and ultimately the elements necessary for success.

Joab has been taking the first few months as Executive Director to “learn, learn, learn”. While reacquainting himself with Baltimore, Joab is also getting familiar with the programs available at St. Ambrose and is continuously impressed by the depth and breadth of services available. “It is important to hold on to and affirm the history of St. Ambrose,” says Joab, indicating that there are no plans to make programmatic changes. He wants to reassure the community that St. Ambrose will continue to be a strong presence in the Baltimore community and a wealth of resources for all. Joab is eager to share the good news of the strength and diversity of St. Ambrose’s services, and offers a warm welcome to all those interested in participating and partnering.

As Joab explores the program offerings, he has seen how and why specific programs are utilized. He explains how the foreclosure prevention program has become one of St. Ambrose’s premier programs in recent times. “Because of the economic environment, foreclosure has been front and center”. In addition to foreclosure prevention, St. Ambrose excels in managing 300 rental sites across the city and in Baltimore County with the belief that quality rental opportunities lead to neighborhood stabilization. Another neighborhood stabilization program that stands out at St. Ambrose is Homesharing, which provides a unique and innovative approach to community building and strengthening neighborhoods. Homesharing, which helps homeowners stay in their homes, can stave off foreclosure and make houses more affordable.

The commitment to housing is palpable, but to everyone at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, a home is more than a house. It’s a house in a stable, strong, and supportive community where people can live, learn, work, and grow, where dreams can be had and goals can be achieved, where children are safe and have access to more opportunities than their parents.

After 100 days as the new Executive Director of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, Gerard Joab is full of energy, enthusiasm, and experience. “Everything that I’ve done has prepared me for today and what I do today will prepare me for tomorrow,” he says.