Why community economic development can be used as a tool to promote equity

At the end of the day, community economic development (CED) is about equity. 

The idea of “community” goes far beyond the residential block — communities set the stage for residents, families, and countless generations to grow and thrive. They encompass a cohesive, nuanced system of all things in our environment that impact our well-being: businesses, financial and economic systems, housing, and social enterprises. 

Therefore, the economic development of our communities (or lack thereof) often goes on to determine one’s success from a myriad of angles. When neighborhoods are revitalized, homeowners gain equity. When entrepreneurs have resources to set up shop, there are more jobs to go around. When downtowns become more walkable, resources become more attainable for all populations. The list goes on. All of these successes — whether financial, social, or economic — directly correlate with building financial stability throughout generations, ultimately uplifting historically marginalized populations and promoting equity.

With this in mind, CED isn’t a lone buzzword; it’s a tool for social and racial justice. An entire ecosystem that can be used to support under-resourced communities and address systemic racism. 

Still, as with any tool, we must learn how to harness it. Leveraging CED comes down to another buzzword that has been increasing in popularity among nonprofits and government organizations today: capacity. We all face the same struggle of identifying how to do more with fewer resources, both human and financial. For that reason, one of CEDAM’s top priorities is fighting for additional resources for programs to increase capacity to continue our members’ vital work. 

So: What does CED look like in Michigan, and how are we at CEDAM specifically promoting it? 

First, our members advocate for a Community Investment Program, a donation-based tax incentive that would provide long-term, sustainable support for community organizations. For example: If you made a donation directly to a place-based nonprofit focused on something like small business or community revitalization, you would receive a 50% state tax credit on that donation. We’re working to have these bills reintroduced in the legislature to unleash private resources for Michigan’s communities.

We are also currently fighting for funding for the Michigan Housing and Community Development Fund to ensure our neighbors have access to safe, affordable housing. Governor Whitmer included $10 million in her executive budget recommendation for the fund, and we’re working to ensure that money stays in the budget and goes to our members.

CEDAM also takes action for this type of positive change by identifying sustainable funding for our Community Development Fellowship. The fellowship builds capacity for communities across the state by embedding fellows in 10 communities across Michigan. Fellows spend 15 months in a community offering technical assistance, often spearheading projects or funding proposals to address community needs. CEDAM will soon be recruiting fellows for our 2021-22 program.

CED also encompasses the allocation of additional resources for Children’s Savings Accounts, critical programs that greatly increase post-secondary educational attainment and go on to increase financial stability throughout generations. Fifteen Michigan communities have CSAs, and we’re looking to build on those programs and expand to new communities. 

More broadly, however, CED means advocating for additional sustainable resources and funding. At CEDAM, each organization, each community, and each person has a role to play in uplifting communities and, as a result, promoting equity. Because our ability to create positive change relies on having sufficient capacity, our job at CEDAM is to fight for these resources.

Community economic development relies on all of us to invest time, energy, and resources into our neighborhoods and our people. CEDAM is committed to helping sustain those programs in order to improve the social, economic and environmental conditions for all communities and all people. 

To learn more about how community economic development is taking place across Michigan communities, register for our June 30 webinar, “ “Driving Recovery and Inclusion.” Rep. Sarah Anthony and Joan Nelson of Allen Neighborhood Center will join us to discuss the importance of community development programs and their impact on racial equity across our state.