District of Columbia Housing Authority customers need supportive services in their communities to help promote stability, children’s success in schools, and offer opportunities to uplift entire families.
To help young people and their families change their trajectory, DCHA created the Impact 5000 initiative. Impact 5000 is a site-by-site effort where the power of corporate and public sector partners will be brought to bear to create strategies for each community’s success. DCHA and community navigators will work with corporate and public sector partner agencies to strengthen existing resources and identify new opportunities in fields such as health, education, and safety, among others identified through community input.
One technique for community input was a recent survey done in a partnership between DCHA, the Urban Institute, Benning Terrace’s Resident Council, Howard University, and the University of the District of Columbia. The resident survey was part of DCHA’s Impact 5000 initiative which aims to inform public policy, while supporting the roughly 5,000 children living in DCHA’s communities to achieve their goals.
“We saw a lack of concentrated and outcome-driven programs in our communities,” said DCHA Executive Director Adrianne Todman at a panel discussion held January 18 at the Urban Institute. “We need our youth to do well, so we can compel the whole family to succeed.”
The survey was done as a baseline to measure future success, better target the types of services that are needed in these neighborhoods, and develop the strategies and tactics to address issues that arose from the survey, she said. The authority’s responsibility is to house families and individuals, she said. Therefore, service providers must come to DCHA communities. A new request for proposal process is about to begin to attract the “best and brightest, mission-driven” providers to partner with the agency for Impact 5000, she said.
Some of the findings from the recent survey include that more than half of the parents surveyed think their child or teenager is doing well. However, some families reported that their children have chronic health issues, for example.
“The findings highlight the need to provide support to DCHA families to promote stability. Obviously not everybody needs that kind of help but there is a substantial proportion that does need more help in order to help their children be more successful,” said Susan J. Popkin, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and one of the leaders of the survey. “It points to the types of partners DCHA will need in order to ensure their children have a better future.”
David Bowers, vice president and mid-Atlantic market leader for Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., said that it is well documented that it is much more cost effective approach to be on the preventative side of health, education, and public safety rather than the institutional side.
“There are all kinds of ways in which corporations can think creatively and intentionally about how to harness the dollars they have, the brain power they have” and bring that to DCHA communities, he said. Other corporations would follow, he said. “We have to create that mindset that says for these 5,000 children, we as a city are going to put the flag in the ground and say that five years from now, 10 years from now, we will look back and know that we fundamentally we transformed their life outcomes.”
Deborah Shore, executive director and founder of the Sasha Bruce Youth Network, said communities have requested long-term programming from her organization, as well as community centers, and other services they need to create opportunity. Matching the community’s needs with research—the plan for IMPACT 5000—is key to providing “good, supportive transformational services,” she said.
“We believe that young people have the capacity to transform their own lives. I think we have to believe that people and families in public housing have the capacity and the intelligence and the wisdom to transform their own lives,” Shore said. “But we all learn from the research that gets done...learning along the way what is having an impact.”
Todman stressed that these issues are pervasive throughout D.C., as well as the country.
“If you care about moving the needle in the District of Columbia on education, or on health, or on public safety and the like, if we can move the needle on this subset of children in our city, we know it will have a disproportionate ripple effect,” said Bowers. “If we can focus where there is a disproportionate burden and move the needle there, it can have a ripple effect on education, in public safety, in workforce and job outcomes.”
Popkin praised DCHA and other housing authorities for trying to address these challenges, but stressed the importance of a sustainable system.
“How do you take the lessons you’ve learned, as DCHA has done, and think about what that means for informing your whole service system and building something that is sustainable so that it isn’t something that just goes away after the research dollars...goes away, but it becomes something that is embedded,” Popkin said. “And I think that we’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with some of the housing authorities who are thinking about those kinds of challenges.”
The 5,000 children currently living in DCHA communities targeted by IMPACT 5000 are “not a finite pool,” said moderator Margery Austin Turner, senior vice president for program planning and management at the Urban Institute. She said if the program is a success and all of the children graduated from high school and became employed, there are still more families in need.
“If we are able to have the family unit be able to move forward because the children moved forward, then you know what, now we have another public housing unit for the next family on the waiting list...that we can now do the same intentional work with,” Todman said. “That is a powerful concept.”