Neighborhood Financial Health
An increasing body of literature points towards the impact of neighborhood level services – or lack thereof – on the social and financial mobility of its residents. Building on this momentum, the Office of Financial Empowerment created the Collaborative for Neighborhood Financial Health, a collective of financial empowerment and economic development practitioners, to create a framework and strategy for defining and measurably improving neighborhood-level financial health. The Collaborative consists of two teams that collaborative actively but operate largely independently inside the neighborhoods in which they work: the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn and East Harlem.
In January 2016, OFE selected Urbane Development, supported by Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (BSRC), Local Initiative Support Coalition (LISC), and Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), to lead the efforts in Bed-Stuy. In collaboration with other organizations, Urbane was tasked with creating over 3-dozen indicators to measure and evaluate Bed-Stuy’s financial health; work with community groups and local stakeholders to collect baseline data; and develop and implement an intervention in Bed-Stuy that can positively impact one or more indicators.
Over the course of 6 months, Urbane led the efforts to interview 25 stakeholders, including church pastors, school principals, NYCHA residents, small business owners, and service providers, and conducted three charrettes with 45 participants to provide insights and inform the indicators relevant to Bed-Stuy’s most undeserved communities. Through this workshop series, residents revealed barriers to financial health and stability, including a lack of formal and informal safety nets; inadequate support services; and poor social and physical infrastructure to support the equitable growth of the neighborhood.
The charrettes also provided a venue to begin brainstorming the intervention. In April, the team launched a commuter van that connects Northern Bed-Stuy to the neighborhood’s main thoroughfares, such as Fulton Street, Nostrand Avenue, and Bedford Avenue. The van, which ran twice-daily three times per week for a total of two months, served 182 unique riders and connected 142 residents to additional services to secure housing, employment, and government benefits. Its success has prompted BSRC to extend the van through the summer with the potential to expand its services into neighboring areas.
The final report, which will be released in early August 2017, will include findings from the commuter van intervention to determine whether further investment can address strategic shortfalls preventing’s residents of these communities from achieving financial stability. Additionally, it will document the process of the Collaborative, which is the first of its kind, to provide a framework for other communities and replicate and scale the intervention.