How Neighborhood Development Disrupts Chronic Poverty
Let’s get right to it: humanitarian organizations exist for the sake of… humans. Whether you’re doing nonprofit work, faith-based ministry, philanthropy, or volunteer work, your work is all about making life better for people. Development disrupts chronic poverty and is a key way to create flourishing for human beings. For a faith-based person, you might say that ending chronic poverty is akin to seeking shalom.
We want to equip you to do that! Our big idea, neighborhood development, is a powerful way to disrupt chronic poverty.
What is Chronic Poverty
A huge number of people around the world do not have sufficient access to the resources required to cover basic needs. That’s what we mean when we say poverty. For some people, this is just a short-term situation. Catastrophes like natural disasters can cause short-term poverty. Once the situation changes, people can usually recover access to the resources they need.
Chronic poverty is different. It’s when people consistently struggle to access the essential resources. This kind of poverty lasts for years — even generations. Chronic poverty is almost always systemic. Systems create, exacerbate, and maintain chronic poverty. Because these systemic imbalances often come from injustice, chronic poverty can groups of people. It can swallow whole neighborhoods.
How Big of a Deal is Chronic Poverty
The short answer: it’s a big deal affecting millions of people. Let’s just look at the United States, the country where we have our office. In 2013, an estimated 50 million people were experiencing chronic poverty in the United States. The researchers followed families for 11 years! That number includes over 7 million workers whose wages weren’t livable.
Chronic poverty drives down quality of life for people (and it’s important that these statistics represent people). Poverty shortens life expectancy. It can impede a child’s cognitive development. It creates huge amounts of stress for people and makes our country less healthy as a whole.
And last but not least, chronic poverty is a big deal because it usually rooted in injustice. Essentially, chronic poverty usually exists because we are doing active harm to a group of people. It spreads when we habitually exploit our fellow humans.
What is Holistic Neighborhood Development
Holistic Neighborhood Development (HND) is a subset of Community Development (you can read more about Community Development here). Here’s a core belief that sets the tone for HND: people who are poor don’t need to be “saved” or even “helped.” Neighborhoods need freedom from the forces that pin them down. It’s about liberation. As one organization put it, we need to “remove the structural constraints” that enforce chronic poverty.
HND focuses on removing those constraints at a hyper-local level. One neighborhood at a time. At its core, it replaces transactional giving with mutuality and partnership. It measures success by long-term impact. And long-term impact only arises when we focus on community-wide solutions to systemic challenges. This is the heart of how development disrupts chronic poverty.
HND means rooting into one neighborhood. Then, unite with neighbors and then take a multi-pronged approach to creating equity. Since context matters, this kind of development has many effective approaches.
How Holistic Neighborhood Development Disrupts Chronic Poverty
HND is all about reshaping the systems and environments that create poverty. It’s about freeing people to flourish. HND looks for the systems that have disproportionately kept people in historic poverty, and then it makes new ones when it can. All of this happens at the hyper-local level, where neighbors operate as partners.
Unfortunately, treating people experiencing chronic poverty as partners is revolutionary on its own. Too often, approaches to eliminating chronic poverty leave out the voices of the biggest stakeholders of all: people who live with it. HND recognizes that the best ideas will come out of the people with the most intimate knowledge of how poverty happens.
What makes development like this so effective in disrupting chronic poverty is that it places the daily, lived experiences of people in the context of structural forces. Charity and relief cannot do that. It goes beyond teaching the proverbial man to fish. Instead, it asks who put the fence around the pond, why the pond is poisoned, and why the fish market in this area is so saturated to begin with. All of these facets need to be addressed at once in order for a community to revitalize.
How Holistic Neighborhood Development Principles Can Disrupt Chronic Poverty: a case study
Our parent organization, Focused Community Strategies, has practiced HND in an Atlanta neighborhood for the past 20 years. The neighborhood, Historic South Atlanta, was founded in the late 1800s and was a cultural hub for Black Americans for decades.
South Atlanta lost its anchor in 1941 when the Clark University and Gammon Theological seminary relocated to the West End of Atlanta. The community experienced hardship and divestment for the next 50 years through phenomena like white flight, red-lining, and other forms of discrimination. By the time community leaders and residents approached FCS, homeownership stood at 10% and a huge number of houses were vacant. Local amenities like groceries stores had disappeared, and local jobs were scarce.
FCS started by listening carefully to South Atlanta residents and community leaders. What did they envision when they asked to partner with FCS? What were their goals and hopes? A number of FCS staff moved into the Historic South Atlanta neighborhood in order to integrate and learn about the community.
Ultimately, FCS and local leaders decided to pursue a few core areas including housing and economic development. They even forged a master plan for the neighborhood which will guide development in the neighborhood for decades.
Nearly twenty years later, homeownership has grown so that half of residents in the neighborhood own their homes. A quarter of those homeowners are low-income. In order to make this tangible impact, FCS developed its own low-interest mortgage lending program. Why? They had to – most residents had been shut out of traditional mortgage lending programs for decades.
In a similar thread, a grocery store has now been operating in Historic South Atlanta for 5 years. FCS established a small, walkable store with an inventory that fit the context just right. Along the way, they created 12 local jobs.
In both of these examples, the HND approach illuminated the systems that weren’t serving the neighbors of Historic South Atlanta. They paid attention to the ways the neighborhood had been intentionally marginalized. Then, they worked with neighbors to create new systems that would fit the context. Along the way, they have reduced the chronic poverty of the area in just one generation.
How you can do neighborhood development
The most important step you can take today if you want to disrupt chronic poverty is to evaluate where you are. If you’re already actively involved in charity work, evaluate how it’s going. If you’re early in this journey, go deeper by taking a course with us.
Chronic poverty has been around for a long time. So has charity. Essentially, don’t rush to jump in without taking time to equip yourself for the long journey. Eliminating chronic poverty IS possible. We want to see you make it happen.