Celebrating 30 years of Building Sustainable Communities

Posted by on June 27, 2011

LISC online annual report: http://www.lisc.org/annualreport/2010

Celebrating 30 years of Building Sustainable Communities

What began for us in 1980 as a creative way to rebuild the physical infrastructure of crumbling neighborhoods has grown into a broad, multi-faceted effort designed to help low-income families build a better quality of life and for their neighborhoods to flourish in the process. We call it Building Sustainable Communities.

Certainly, the world has changed a great deal since those early days. Communities once given up for dead have, in fact, become good places to live, work, do business and raise families. You need only stroll down the streets in some of these places to see that.

What some might not recognize, though, is how much the mindset about poverty has also changed. Over the last 30 years, LISC and the entire community development field have proven that the right partners, the right financial tools, and the right policy framework can move low-income families and communities toward stability and growth. Even today, there is opportunity for even the most troubled places to move beyond their current struggles, just as so many have emerged from their disinvested pasts.

Consider how far we have come. LISC’s earliest local programs in places like New York City and Chicago were established amid wrenching dislocation in impoverished communities. We were facing the precipitous decline of traditional neighborhoods as primary points of connection… as the places that rooted families, businesses and institutions to economic opportunity, social stability and to each other.

Back then, top-down government programs could not reverse the slide. Individuals could not shift it. And
motivated community groups were just barely nudging the needle forward, as most lacked the financial or
organizational capacity to enact lasting change. For much of America, the idea of entrenched poverty became just another evening news norm, with blighted neighborhoods viewed as a reality largely beyond our control.

Except, it wasn’t beyond our control — not in 1980 when LISC made its first loan and not now. Today, we have a comprehensive community development strategy that puts more tools than ever at our disposal. We have a federal government increasingly focused on breaking down silos between programs affecting communities. We have a nationwide base of sophisticated community organizations with the experience and capacity to drive revitalization. And we have a wealth of experience gained from 30 years on the ground in what were once — and in some places continue to be — the most challenged communities in the country.

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