Jan 30, 2017

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Putting Resident Voice at the Center of Community Planning & Development

by | Jan 30, 2017

Mile High Connects has always put the needs of residents at the forefront of our work. As we have embarked on an ambitious agenda to increase private, philanthropic, and public capital for important community investments, we have maintained a commitment to finding innovative strategies for putting residents’ needs at the center of community investment decisions.

We know that resident-driven planning is hard and sometimes messy. We also know that it is essential and that it cannot be done without committed community organizations that have deep connections in the communities in which they work. To better understand how our partners engage residents in planning and community development, late in 2016 we conducted a survey. The survey was distributed to nonprofit, for-profit, and government entities that work at a neighborhood or city/regional level. We were heartened by the tremendous commitment that we saw among the 24 organizations that completed the survey. And, we realize that there is a lot more work to be done to deepen our collective efforts to engage residents in community planning and development.

A few of the highlights from the survey:

  • A majority of respondents’ community engagement work focuses on affordable housing (79%), transit area stations (58%), and infrastructure (54%)
  • A majority of respondents’ engagement work includes community visioning (58%), comprehensive neighborhood planning (58%), leadership development (62%), and knowledge building and education around the development process (54%)
  • Only 16% of respondents indicated “working with developers” is a focus of their resident engagement, while a third (33%) indicated that education around financing for development is a priority

Respondents use a variety of tools to engage residents:

  • 91% community meetings
  • 74% workshops
  • 69% surveys

Respondents provide significant services in their community engagement efforts including:

  • 86% provide meals
  • 82% provide translation services
  • 78% make ADA accommodations
  • 58% provide child care
  • 47% provide transportation to/from meetings

The following geographies were most frequently cited as locations in which respondents engage residents:

  • Denver – Westwood (88%)
  • Other Denver City/County (87.5%)
  • Denver – Globeville/Elyria/Swansea (81%)
  • Denver – Federal Blvd. Corridor (73%)
  • Denver – Northeast Parkhill 73%
  • Adams County Unincorporated (64%)
  • Arapahoe County (56%)
  • Aurora (50%)
  • Westminster (44%)
  • Commerce City (40%)

And while we learned that many of the organizations dedicate more than 50% of their resources to engaging residents, there are still many barriers to engaging community, especially:

  • Capacity (staff, organizational and financial)
  • Taking time and effort to describe how planning and development issues are personally relevant, and important. Understanding and discussing what is important to community.
  • Making forums accessible to community members
  • Community members’ interest and time
  • Time, trust and language
  • Systemic racism, language and transportation barriers, processes that don’t allow time or resources for effective engagement
  • Lack of education on basic planning and development concepts

In the end, we learned that the organizations that work with community take this work seriously.  Their own words may provide the greatest insight:

“Community priorities are safety, affordability, cultural identity, family; these are not always the values that developers bring to the table and/or want to have conversations about. So then the community does not want to participate.”

“Planning and development are topics of privilege. Many community members are facing issues that demand their attention for today or tomorrow. Asking community members to plan and take time to talk about development should include answers to “so what”, “why should I care”, “does it matter”, “how will my thoughts and opinions be utilized”?

We look forward to working with our community partners including neighborhood organizations, nonprofit organizations, and developers to determine some of the best ways to engage residents in community planning and development processes and to ensure that their thoughts and opinions will in fact be valued and utilized.

– Katherine Pease, Capital Absorption Project Manager, Mile High Connects

Recent articles

HEALTH:
HEALTH FIRST COLORADO (MEDICAID)

To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.

FOOD SECURITY:
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)

Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.

FOOD SECURITY:
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)

Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.

EARLY LEARNING:
COLORADO CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (CCCAP)

Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.