Evaluation of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Teams Pilot: Final Report. A6.3.3 Activities

08/25/2014

The SC2 team spent the first three-and-a-half months executing “quick wins.” This strategy helped the team to hit the ground running and make early progress while more long-term activities were in development. Quick wins were defined by the team as projects or activities whose objectives were to address issues that matter to the average citizen, can be completed in three months, and provide evidence of critical SC2 support. Other projects tackled by the SC2 team, such as those addressing murder reduction or workforce development, required more time for planning and had a longer implementation time frame.

Once implementation activities had been identified, team members tended to work one-on-one with individual city staff to conduct their work, with oversight from the SC2 team lead and the city’s point of contact. Throughout the pilot, team members remained open to new ideas for implementation not initially included in the work plan, allowing the city to benefit from a flexible federal response to emergent opportunities. Very often these emergent opportunities were related to breaking down federal bureaucratic barriers or cutting red tape. The key activities undertaken by the New Orleans SC2 team are described below.

Securing Federal Answers to Remove Barriers to Local Progress

In many instances team members had the access to the federal government necessary to expedite responses for the city. This made a huge difference for the city, for example, in accelerating the timeline for implementing a soft second mortgage program. The $52 million, Community Development Block Grant-funded first-time homebuyer program was foundering at the start of the SC2 pilot. The program was designed to provide gap financing to new homebuyers who had received mortgage counseling and were otherwise qualified buyers. However to move forward, the city needed information from HUD about allowable subsidy limits and debt coverage ratios. The team member was able to access and work with a HUD team to provide clear and expedited responses to the city, enabling the city to confidently move forward with its work. In another case, a team member helped the city avoid the loss of $20 million in housing funds. Since 1996, New Orleans had kept poor records on the spending of HUD HOME funding. As a result, the city risked having the federal government recapture past funding and restrict future funding. By working with the team member from HUD, the city was able to reconcile the records and clarify the status of the funding. In doing so, New Orleans avoided the recapture and restriction of the funds..

Improving Coordination of Federal Programs

A similar example of SC2 team intervention is seen in a street car line expansion project that included funding from both HUD and DOT’s Federal Highway Administration. New Orleans had secured grants from both agencies for the project but, due to inconsistent policies and regulations (for example, HUD encourages local hiring, DOT prevents it), the funds could not be pooled or leveraged. This meant the two grants would have to be treated as separate entities, leading to an inefficient process involving issuing two RFPs, paying contractors out of two accounts, and reporting to two entities. Through the SC2 pilot the city was able to connect with the Assistant Secretary at DOT, who helped identify a mechanism by which HUD and DOT could coordinate funding (SEP-14).Using this mechanism, the DOT highway funds and HUD disaster funds were pooled and the process streamlined.

Cross-agency collaboration facilitated by the SC2 team also solved a problem with a program that paired housing vouchers from HUD with supportive services funded by HHS. The program’s aim was to more seamlessly link people experiencing homelessness eligible for services with HUD housing. The challenge was that the housing authority had a minimum rent of $50, which was enough to keep many individuals from participating. The HUD team member was aware of a hardship policy that allowed the housing authority to waive the $50 requirement. At the time of the evaluation site visit, 70 people had been housed thanks to the waiver. This hardship policy is applicable to housing authorities across the country.

In a third case of federal coordination, team members from the Department of Justice, HHS, and HUD worked collaboratively to expand an existing Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) voucher preference to new recipients. After Hurricane Katrina, HUD issued PSH vouchers to the State of Louisiana to support vulnerable populations, and both the city and the state wanted to expand eligibility for the vouchers to individuals returning from prison or substance abuse treatment. While expanding the vouchers to include these populations was not a challenge, there was a time limit for distributing vouchers. The challenge, then, was quickly identifying and enrolling individuals who could benefit from the vouchers, a task the city was struggling to complete. To advance the project, the state reached out to the team member from HHS and asked her to engage the team members from DOJ and HUD in the process. Given their expertise, the three members of the SC2 team were able to quickly convene community partners involved in behavioral health, housing, and criminal justice, and a system was put in place for reaching the targeted populations and helping them to apply for the vouchers.

Providing Additional Capacity to Move Local Initiatives Forward

Some of the SC2 team’s work was described as “hands-on.” These were typically instances where team members were in great demand because of the time they had available rather than because of specific skills they could offer to the community. Many of these “hands-on” activities helped to expedite critical work.

In one case, the SC2 team collaborated with the city to develop a behavioral health strategic plan. As part of their effort to improve behavioral health care in New Orleans, the city and the SC2 team created a Behavioral Health Resource Guide, a comprehensive listing of substance abuse and mental health care providers and services to help residents easily identify and access care and services for mental health and substance abuse conditions. This work is seen as foundational and lasting.

The SC2 team was also asked to assist the city with a health care access project. The New Orleans health department has faced a lack of quantitative and qualitative data about primary care in the city. A team member conducted interviews with health care leaders and organized a working group to plan for improved health care access. The team member presented data gathered during that process to the city Health Commissioner who used it to help determine where in the city access to health care was insufficient and where to open clinics.

A team member also assisted the city in coordinating a substance abuse reduction strategy. Before the pilot, a community stakeholder had convened a working group to address substance abuse in New Orleans. During the pilot, a team member from HHS became involved with the working group, planned a retreat, and connected the group to the city’s health department, other coalitions addressing substance abuse, and the Drug Free Communities grant program. Previously, the city had never had a formal substance abuse prevention plan in place. Due to the collaboration of the working group, the team member, and the city, the health department developed and released a substance abuse plan in 2012.

Developing a Local Collaboration to Address City Priorities

The mayor’s top priority for the pilot was reducing the city’s high murder rate. A team member from DOJ helped identify a successful murder reduction strategy in Milwaukee that became a model for New Orleans, leading to the creation of the Mayor’s Strategic Command to Reduce Murder. The Command serves as a way for state and local law enforcement officials to share information and coordinate activities; it looks closely at each murder that takes place in the city and determines a coordinated response that could help avoid retributive acts in the future. The Command also partners with Tulane University to produce real-time, comprehensive data reports on crime in New Orleans that are used to drive local criminal justice policy. The team member was instrumental in assembling the partners in the Command, which has led to improved relationships in the law enforcement community.

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