Leaders at Southwest Solutions participated in a free-ranging discussion with a top official from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at one of our signature program sites in southwest Detroit.
Luke Tate is special assistant to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Tate also is part of President Obama’s advisory committee to formulate and implement the President’s neighborhood revitalization policy initiative.
Tate visited our Larkins Early Learning Communities (ELC) last Friday (2/11) afternoon. After a brief tour of the program, Tate took part in a 90-minute roundtable. Also present were representatives from United Way for Southeastern Michigan (UWSEM), Focus: Hope, and Goodwill Industries.
The discussion was both highly technical and strategic, touching upon early childhood education, workforce development, adult literacy, uplifting low-income families, public and HUD-assisted housing, homeless veterans, foreclosure prevention, and other issues.
Tate came to Southwest Solutions because the organization is a model of integrating diverse programs and services to address multiple needs of consumers and the community.
Under the Obama administration, HUD and other federal agencies are seeking ways of re-organizing and interconnecting federal programs to more effectively confront the complex issues in high-poverty neighborhoods.
Tate wanted to learn more about the Southwest Solutions model and what HUD can do to help facilitate this kind of comprehensive, place-based approach, in terms of breaking down barriers, incentivizing program integration, and improving how programs are funded and evaluated.
In his opening remarks, Tate said the Detroit HUD office told him that he had its “permission to be excited about what Southwest Solutions is doing.”
Tate then talked about how the Obama administration is pushing to change federal policy in poor neighborhoods in two major ways.
First, by advocating for innovative and transformative approaches that integrate programs, express best practices, and demonstrate good outcomes. These approaches are “place-based,” that is, serve specific and well-defined geographic areas. As examples, Tate cited the Promise Neighborhood and Choice Neighborhood initiatives that the Obama administration is trying to catalyze in locales across the country.
Second, by improving how large, federal funding sources are allocated and used. Tate said that this funding should focus more on effective, place-based models. In addition, organizations actualizing these models should have greater flexibility in using the funding, and federal agencies should strive to eliminate barriers that hamper effective organizations from acquiring funding and deploying it creatively.
Further emphasizing these points, John Van Camp, president of Southwest Solutions, said that the vision of integrated, placed-based programs requires the alignment with resources and policies. This theme was explored by others at the table.
“Currently, there is no formal incentive at the federal level to integrate programs and services at the local level,” said Hector Hernandez, director of our Housing Opportunity Center. Hector added that Southwest Solutions achieves its integrated approach through the efforts of its programs to make referrals to other programs in the agency, and through partnerships formed with other organizations.
In our Early Childhood and Family Literacy programs, staff build relationships with parents who are enrolled, and when the parents disclose other needs, the staff refer the families to our other programs in counseling and housing, said Donna Cielma, director of our Children, Youth and Families division. The referrals are ultimately based on trust, Donna stressed.
Tim Thorland, executive director of Southwest Housing Solutions, addressed the issue of why Detroit was unable to put together an application for the Choice Neighborhood initiative.
“There was not a viable way to align the requirements of the proposal with the needs of our community,” Tim explained to Tate.
Tim encouraged HUD to have greater flexibility in its Choice Neighborhood criteria to take into consideration the distinctive features of Detroit and its neighborhoods.
Tim also urged HUD to loosen restrictions on some of its programs so that more homeowners at risk of foreclosure can remain in their homes.
The Center for Working Families (CWF) model was discussed in detail. In this model, low-income families are provided a combination of relevant support services to help them advance economically. Linda West (director of our CWF), Anita Martinez (the CWF point person for UWSEM), and Ryan Dinkgrave (government affairs’ manager at Focus: Hope) talked about the success of the model.
Workforce development was a major topic among participants at the table, including Lorna Utley, president of Goodwill. Everyone agreed that neighborhood revitalization efforts ultimately depend upon the norms around employment and sustainable wages.
Tate concluded the roundtable by expressing his gratitude for the candid discussion about the issues. At a recent committee meeting with Obama, Tate said, the president reminded his staff that it is a privilege to visit programs making a difference in their communities.
Tate’s visit to Southwest Solutions was facilitated by the United Way, and we are thankful to Jacqueline Jones and Annemarie Harris for making it happen.