30th Anniversary Spotlight: A Catalyst for Local Change - Community Strategies

30th Anniversary Spotlight: A Catalyst for Local Change - Community Strategies


What happens when local stakeholders and a community development financial institution team up to help shape policy and neighborhood revitalization initiatives to improve outcomes for low-income families? In 2014, New Jersey Community Capital’s Community Strategies Initiative (“Community Strategies”), a program addressing the need for localized, hands-on access to expertise and capacity building, collaborated with the Center for Community Progress (CCP) in Washington D.C. and the Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies at Rutgers University to assess the market conditions of neighborhoods across Newark, New Jersey to recommend strategies for improvement. The data-driven study became a model since embraced by other communities across the State, demonstrating how the intersection of data, community stakeholders, and local policy can catalyze neighborhood revitalization in low-income communities.

Laying the Groundwork: Newark, New Jersey

The study compiled key data on crime, home foreclosures, vacancy, homeownership rates, and home sale prices in Newark, working closely with local stakeholders and leaders involved with rebuilding their own communities to help interpret the data. Creating an index to rank neighborhoods in terms of market readiness, and a table of strategies appropriate to different market conditions, was central to helping stakeholders select the right strategy. The comprehensive assessment equipped municipal leaders with a toolkit to address neighborhood challenges such as vacant properties and public safety, as well as a blueprint for future investments and policy change. 

“The assessment granted us an opportunity to supply local leaders with the data, best practices, and strategy suggestions needed to address neighborhood challenges and create meaningful and long-term impact in their respective communities,” says Diane Sterner, Director of Community Strategies at NJCC.

The study inspired other metropolitan cities to engage with Community Strategies and its team to undertake similar projects, including a neighborhood condition assessment in Trenton, New Jersey in partnership with the City and local community development and environmental organization Isles, Inc.

A Model of Change: Trenton, New Jersey

Ranked 5th in the nation for vacant housing, Trenton faced similar vacant property challenges to Newark. Utilizing the findings of Isles' freshly completed city-wide parcel-level assessment, Community Strategies once again partnered with CCP and Rutgers’s Cornwall Center, as well as Isles, Inc., and the City of Trenton, to perform a rigorous analysis of existing neighborhood market conditions across Trenton. 

As with Newark, the study, Laying the Foundation for Strong Neighborhoods in Trenton, New Jersey, considered market-oriented factors that figure into an area's readiness to revitalize, including the percentage of vacant properties, home ownership rate, home sale prices, the number of mortgage foreclosure filings, crime incidents, and tax delinquent properties. This time, the team also created “dashboards” for each neighborhood, which residents and civic groups could use to understand conditions in their neighborhood and advocate for programs and policies to improve the community. The study team used these dashboards to meet with resident groups to help them understand the data and brainstorm options for addressing their neighborhood's challenges. While major factors such as the crime rate in particular communities required the City's involvement to fully address, residents realized they had the ability to improve certain conditions by taking such actions as installing better security lighting or increasing storefront visibility. 

Since publication, the study was used to update Trenton’s master plan, while helping community and civic groups advocate for additional neighborhood resources and programs. The report has also informed decisions at the municipal-level concerning citywide strategies and approaches to neighborhood revitalization. 

“Laying the Foundation for Strong Neighborhoods provided critical data necessary to develop market-based, neighborhood-specific actions that are driving positive change in the places where we work,” says Julia Taylor, AICP, Deputy Operations Director/Managing Director of Community Planning and Development at Isles, Inc.

Having now worked in over 20 communities across the state, the Community Strategies Initiative is an invaluable component of NJCC’s comprehensive community development approach. By supplying local leaders with data, best practices, and strategies to spur effective neighborhood revitalization, NJCC plays a vital role in enhancing the impact of community development lending and countless community development initiatives across New Jersey.