Our mission at Enterprise Community Partners is to connect low- and moderate-income families to opportunity. Housing is a critical first step—without a stable place to call home, people have little chance of working toward a better life. Excelling in school, landing a good job and staying healthy all seem out of reach if you don’t know where you’re sleeping that night or how you’ll make this month’s rent.
But an affordable home is just the first of many rungs on the ladder of opportunity. That home must be linked to good schools, well paying jobs, quality health care, nutritious food and reliable public transportation.
Typically, governments and mission-driven organizations address each of these needs separately through discrete programs and funding streams, leading to inefficiency and diminished impact. Building true “communities of opportunity” requires us to forge partnerships that span well beyond the traditional housing circle to foster a culture of collaboration, innovation and mutual accountability.
As a recent example, consider our work to revitalize communities around distressed public housing properties in San Francisco, an initiative called HOPE SF. Enterprise and our partners, including the City of San Francisco, are working to rebuild or construct more than 6,000 homes across eight severely distressed neighborhoods.
When we started this initiative in 2008 these neighborhoods were riddled with violence, which led to widespread community trauma and insecurity. From the beginning we knew that rebuilding the communities meant more than just improving the housing conditions. For the neighborhoods and their residents to truly thrive, we needed to find ways to reduce crime, improve health outcomes and help kids succeed in school.
So today we’re working with the San Francisco Unified School District to launch a school attendance campaign and train school staff to address students’ needs in and out of the classroom. We’re collaborating with health care leaders like the Center for Youth Wellness and Dr. Nadine Burke Harris to build a new system of trauma services. We’re partnering with local police and community leaders to broker a new compact between public safety officials, policymakers and residents. And we’re joining public agencies and community groups to develop a targeted transitional employment program.
We hope that hundreds of stable homes—along with services tailored to the specific needs of the neighborhood—will soon translate into better health, increased school attendance, less crime and stronger communities. And we’re already starting to see results.
Initiatives like HOPE SF are only possible by opening our circle—harnessing the expertise and creativity of a diverse group of stakeholders, getting everyone to agree on shared goals and measuring our progress along the way. The challenges facing low-income families are complex, multi-faceted and unique to each community. While affordable housing is a great place to start, we won’t make meaningful strides by focusing on any single issue in a vacuum.