The community development field emerged over 50 years ago to address the deepest crises in our neighborhoods by changing the way development was done. It created new types of community lending and services that emphasized affordable, community-controlled assets and financial tools to serve the local residents and small business owners that conventional lenders ignored.
While the field continues to evolve, much of its practice remains anchored to a transactional model. Though many who work in community development come into the field seeking to remediate the harms of inequitable development, the field as a whole still struggles to disrupt the systemic inequities created and maintained by traditional finance systems.
As local partners move community development projects, they often find themselves hitting systemic barriers such as the zoning and land use patterns that have made segregation a norm in the US. The usual response is to jury-rig a way around the barriers, for instance by requesting variances, to get the deal across the finish line.
However, this approach almost always leaves the underlying system intact. Without addressing the underlying problems and substantively changing the way the system works, the next project will likely face the same challenges, which, in the long run, burdens practitioners, maintains inequity, and impedes the community’s ability to achieve its priorities.
The factors that make it easier or harder to develop and fund projects are what the Center for Community Investment (CCI) calls the enabling environment. Those factors range from policies, funding sources, institutional practices, and platforms for collaboration to skills, relationships, and a community’s shared narratives about its past, present, and future.
In this guide, we focus on how to change one element of the enabling environment, public policy at the local level, including how to shape local legislation, regulations, and funding streams to address the fundamental inequities built into the system itself.