Since 1975, DeKalb County has used federal funding for various neighborhood projects such as constructing swimming pools, paving streets, home renovation and constructing senior housing, and community and recreation centers.
These are great uses of the funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to develop viable urban communities, said Chris Morris, DeKalb’s human and community development director.
But the county needs to do something differently, she told community leaders April 19.
“Why aren’t these neighborhoods revitalized?” Morris asked. “Why don’t we have stronger neighborhoods everywhere in DeKalb County?
“When you drive through our neighborhoods, do you see strong, sustainable neighborhoods consistently all over DeKalb County?” Morris asked. “I am hoping everyone realizes we need to do something a little differently in order to have a greater impact with our neighborhoods.”
Morris introduced the DeKalb Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative (DSNI), a pilot program that will foster a collaborative, community-based approach to improving the quality of life in DeKalb neighborhoods.
Morris said the initiative, once approved by the Board of Commissioners, will be part of the five-year plan, the county submits to HUD.
The county’s department of human and community development and its partner, the Emory University Office of University-Community Partnerships, has identified seven candidate areas for the pilot program: Clarkston, Columbia, Cross Keys, Lithonia, McNair, Stone Mountain and Towers.
These areas, based on county school district clusters, were identified because of their eligibility to use resources available through the county’s HUD-funded programs, Morris said.
These communities will be narrowed down to two areas that will participate in the pilot program. The finalists will be selected based on their ability to leverage their community assets and collaborate with businesses, agencies and organizations that share an interest in the community to develop a comprehensive approach for improving their neighborhoods.
To vie for a spot in the pilot program, candidate communities must prepare a letter of intent.
Michael Rich, director of the Emory University Office of University-Community Partnerships, said the letter is not a formal proposal, but a narrative document that describes the community’s commitment, its leadership team, top three pressing neighborhood issues and a proposed “early action” project that demonstrates the community’s ability to work together.
The letters of intent are due May 10 and the finalists will be selected later that month.
Rich said the current way that many communities address community development is with a “multiplicity of programs that are focused on a single issue.”
“We see a problem, we convene a task force and we create a program,” Rich said. “You have all this particularized fragmentation that makes it very difficult to pull the resources together to holistically address a problem.
“The new paradigm… of collective impact is recognition that, if we are holistically going to address our communities and make them stronger, we need to work together, we need to have a common vision, we need to draw on the strengths of the neighborhoods,” Rich said.
“This is not a study,” Morris said. “We want to develop plans that we can actually work with. We want to be able to leverage all the funds that we can to make a difference.
“We can always do projects and initiatives,” Morris said. “We’re trying to have a greater impact.”