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When the White House calls

In community development, there are days when it's easy to become disheartened by the challenges we face. And then there are days like last Thursday.

Michael Rubinger

I had the privilege of meeting with President Obama and several senior members of his Administration at the White House last week as part of a small group brought together to discuss poverty and economic mobility—or, in the President's words, to talk about how we can create "ladders of opportunity" for low-income people to reach the middle class.

We shared a remarkable two hours, and I was grateful to be among about a dozen thought leaders invited to participate. It gave me a chance to describe how comprehensive community development drives significant, measurable progress—even in neighborhoods long ago given up as too blighted and poor to be decent places to live. We see progress every day in the places we work.

During my remarks I noted that this kind of profound transformation does not happen overnight and it does not happen without the federal government. From the Low Income Housing Tax Credit andNew Markets Tax Credit to Choice NeighborhoodsPromise Neighborhoods and even the President's newly proposed Promise Zones, a strong federal framework is critical to the work we do with our partners across the country. With these tools, we can make our streets safer, our schools stronger, our housing healthier, and our businesses more vibrant, all while connecting more people to living-wage jobs.

President Obama's Administration has been supportive of this kind of work, advocating for flexible programs that bridge funding silos within individual agencies and help bring encouraging efforts to scale. I was glad to offer some on-the-ground perspective on the lift that is having in places from Eastern North Philadelphia to the Nystrom neighborhood in Richmond, Calif.—disadvantaged communities where people live better today than they did a decade ago, thanks to committed local leaders and a comprehensive approach to community development.

It's a vantage point we've reached after decades of trial and error. As I told the President, the local networks now in place are a seasoned, organized force for change. From community-based nonprofits and social services providers to local police departments, hospitals, universities, and businesses—we work together to make the best use of precious public resources and attract billions of dollars more in private capital to neighborhoods where the private market would not otherwise go. We are rebuilding their physical and economic infrastructure. We're lifting both people and places.

What did the President take from all of that? What might this meeting mean for the future? In these tough budget times, there is a long road ahead. But this I know: community development was invited into the Roosevelt Room last week because of a belief that what we do is critical to our national economic future. Our work today is about connecting struggling people to new opportunities. And in the places where we succeed, the results are changing lives.

Posted in Thinking Out Loud

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