JAN. 30, 2012 – Low-income communities across North Carolina replaced blight and neglect with green, sustainable neighborhoods and businesses in 2011 thanks to more than $3 million in financial investments and a range of innovative projects launched by the N.C. Community Economic Development Initiative and its network of partners.
“The results and impact of North Carolina’s community economic development sector during the past year is a remarkable testament to the innovation and tenacity of the people who work in this sector and the many partners – public, private, academic and nonprofit – who share a commitment to this important work,” said Initiative CEO Abdul Rasheed.
The Initiative teamed with its network of partners in two leadership retreats during 2011 to plan the sector’s response to the new “post-Great Recession norm.” North Carolina communities face unprecedented economic challenges, new public spending priorities and cuts, and a widening wealth and income gap between the poorest and wealthiest people and communities.
Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Executive Director Leslie Winner told participants: “This is an important time for all of us. The gaps are widening and we need to work together to narrow them. I urge you to seize the moment.”
Financial Investments: Funding sustainable development
The Initiative awarded $3 million in grants during 2011 to N.C. organizations that focus on promoting economic growth in low-income, minority and traditionally underserved communities in North Carolina.
The Initiative makes grants and loans to organizations that demonstrate impact in activities that range from developing affordable homes, commercial ventures and community spaces to counseling and services that help low-income families build assets and climb the ladder to economic security.
The Initiative also invests in pilot projects that test and demonstrate new strategies, with a particular focus on those that promote energy-efficient, sustainable building.
Among the projects and results achieved by Initiative-supported organizations during 2011:
- In Rocky Mount, Rocky Mount/Edgecombe Community Development Corp. completed an $8 million renovation of the historic Douglas Block African American business district. Five renovated buildings house the Booker T. Theater multi-purpose event facility, residential apartments, restaurants, doctor’s offices, an antique shop, a law office and a salon. In Asheville, Mountain Housing Opportunities restored a neglected corner of the city’s River Arts District to a vibrant mixed-use development. The three-phase Glen Rock Depot project is expected to contribute $15 million to the tax base within five years and employ 100-150 people.
- In Jacksonville, East Carolina Community Development Inc. opened a “green” affordable apartment community for low-income seniors, The 56-unit Glenstal Apartments is one of the first affordable housing developments in North Carolina built with low-environmental impact features, such as a rainwater harvesting system that captures rain water for use in its community garden.
- In Spring Lake, Kingdom Community Development Corp. opened a new for-profit enterprise, an IHOP restaurant, that is creating permanent jobs while generating revenue to help the nonprofit become financially self-sufficient. An extended-stay hotel and a green, affordable neighborhood are under development.
- In Cherokee, Fayetteville, Kannapolis and Wilmington, Initiative investments through a federally funded Neighborhood Stabilization Program funded renovation of 19 foreclosed homes that were sold to low-income families at affordable rates. Partner organizations plan to complete 30 homes, stabilizing property values in neighborhoods hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis and providing quality affordable housing to low-income families.
Innovation: Green, affordable solutions for low-income communities
The Initiative and N.C. Housing Finance Agency were honored in 2011 with special partner awards for helping launch System Vision, the nation’s first guaranteed energy-efficiency program for affordable housing, a decade ago.
The Initiative invested $1 million to help fund the program developed by Advanced Energy, the nonprofit building science organization located at Centennial Campus.
The SystemVision program enabled 100 N.C. affordable housing developers across the state to integrate energy-saving features into more than 3,000 homes. As a result, low-income working families who purchased the homes saved more than $3.4 million in energy savings and reduced the state’s energy consumption.
In 2011, two new Initiative-funded green projects launched, both aiming to become equally high-impact, replicable models for community economic development:
- Carolina Steel Solutions, the Initiative’s joint-venture with UDI Community Development Corp. in Durham, introduced a revolutionary green building material, Tavacore. The versatile steel-and-foam panel system made from sustainable materials is stronger, lighter and more energy efficient than wood and costs less to build and own.
- Clean Energy Durham developed a unique neighborhood model for energy savings education based on its existing “neighbors-training-neighbors” program. The nonprofit is developing data, manuals, training methods and best practices to be used in the replication of its program in communities around the state.
Leadership Development: Tackling the “new normal”
The Initiative’s leadership development activities in 2011 focused on helping the sector retool and rebuild its funding streams to meet the needs of communities across the state.
Low-income communities and families took disproportionately harder hits from the foreclosure crisis, recession and public funding cuts, and more people fell victim to their impacts.
The Initiative and its partners responded in several key ways:
- The Initiative, N.C. Association of Community Development Corporations and N.C. Rural Economic Development Center teamed to host two leadership institutes, dubbed Transform NC, for leaders of community economic development organizations and partners in government, academia, the private sector and nonprofit community. Participants examined the challenges facing North Carolina communities and how the sector can expand its capacity to meet their needs, from working regionally to pooling resources to creating revenue-generating ventures that can fund community economic development projects.
- The Initiative launched a program with funding from the Rural Center to test models for effective collaboration among local community development corporations and community action agencies. Participating organizations collaborated to use federal weatherization funding to train workers for jobs in the green economy. The Initiative will compile and share best practices from the program when it closes in the first quarter of 2012.
- A fourth class of high school seniors participated in the Initiative’s Summer Youth Leadership Program, gaining firsthand knowledge of the needs and solutions to promote economic growth in their communities while gaining valuable work and life skills and experience.
Looking Ahead: Investing and connecting for greater impact
The Initiative is launching a new look and a new communications program in 2012 to better connect and engage the wide field of players who have a stake in strengthening North Carolina’s poorest communities.
“By strengthening these communities and families, we strengthen our economy and our state overall,” Rasheed said.
The Initiative will continue its work in the coming year to focus its investments on strategies and organizations that can catalyze sustainable economic growth for low-income and minority communities in North Carolina:
- Launching a new investment strategy based on three-year business plans and measurable outcomes for its 2013 grant cycle and recruiting a competitive field of applicants.
- Engaging new partners and funding sources to sustain and expand the work of community economic development.
- Seeking new investment opportunities that promote environmental and financial sustainability.