Poverty in America

In 2013, I decided to leave my position at Case Western Reserve University to focus on community development in Cleveland. I wanted to finish my master’s degree and focus on social justice issues. The only way I knew to do that was to quit my full-time job.

Here in the city, neighborhood projects are funded through Cleveland’s Department of Community Development. This particular department — in turn — is partially funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Money flows from the federal government, down to each state, and onto the city level, thanks to these “CDBG funds.”

There are a number of community development corporations (also known as CDCs) scattered throughout the city. Each one is responsible for maintaining the housing stock and overseeing a handful of social programs. Some are more successful than others, and much of it has to do with the way these CDCs are managed.

I mention all this because 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the founding of HUD, a Cabinet department created through President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiative. I admire the forethought of Johnson and my local government predecessors, but I would like to see more success stories. Where does this money go, and who is keeping track of the success that comes out of it?

I have been following the CDC movement in Cleveland for some time. I also have been critical about CDC oversight and other matters of the heart.

If you visit some of the pages on this blog, you will probably get a sense that I am somewhat of a community activist. This all began after I purchased a 1920 bungalow in Old Brooklyn in 2007. I wanted to understand community development a little better and see how local governments worked in urban and rural neighborhoods.

My views are not always the most popular. I often raise my hand and challenge the leadership in Old Brooklyn. Very little has changed here since I purchased my home. I have seen a lot of failed projects, and I wonder, who is keeping an eye on our progress?

I never really was an activist until I recognized the changes that needed to take shape. I lived in the suburbs for so long, I never saw the problems — now — that I see every day. I also spent a lot of time working at Case Western Reserve and familiarized myself with the research conducted by The Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development.

I worked directly on papers with the input of incredible research professors. I immersed myself in local service projects while tackling problems that were happening on my street. One paper I wrote was selected to present at the War in Poverty conference in San Francisco. In 2014, I had a chance to meet with like-minded colleagues who conducted similar studies on low-income neighborhoods.

In 2015, my new challenge was to take a look at 50 years of the Appalachian Regional Commission, a partnership made up of federal, state, and local governments. Created in 1965, ARC’s mission is to create a better America for thousands of people who live in Appalachia, a region comprised of 13 states. Many of the communities within these states have been languishing in extreme poverty for decades.

From what I read, ARC is very much like Cleveland’s CDC form of government. Each state in Appalachia receives its own pile of money to oversee individualized programs related to housing and human health. ARC has been spending money for 50 years trying to figure out a plan that gets people in rural communities working and living healthier lives.

I wonder if there are parallels to the urban poverty I see in Cleveland? I wonder if there are programs that Cleveland has developed that can be replicated in other parts of the country?

I wonder a lot these days.

I hope to look at Appalachia a little more in-depth and blog about it. This is a new project for me, so I hope to continue learning as much as I can about people, places and neighborhoods. If you want to know why I have an interest in all this, here is a post that details my interest in the south.