Last month, over 50 people from seven different states gathered in Billings, Montana for a regional convening of western, rural Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI) grantees. The SCI is a grant program designed by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities (PSC), a federal interagency partnership, which supported communities in regional planning to improve access to affordable housing, increase transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment.
Over the course of two days, grantees at the Billings gathering shared outcomes from their planning processes and attended training sessions on how to kick-start project implementation.
|Vision West, a non-profit planning organization in western North Dakota, created the North Dakota Plan for Sustainable Development under the SCI. The plan identified a lack of affordable housing and child care availability. As the capacity building partner, MHP researched potential solutions and advised Vision West on how to address the issues identified.|
MHP staff played a key role both in providing technical assistance to grantees, especially in rural areas, and, along with the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) and the Sustainable Communities Engagement Network, helped organize the gathering.
For many of the grantees, the opportunity to hear from their peers and strategize collectively was the highlight of the event, because of the rare opportunity to meet with other rural peers.
“What I liked most was the opportunity to engage as a group. This wasn’t your normal static, stale-and-starchy gathering of bureaucrats. This one got my juices going. It was great to get different people with different experiences in the room, but all engaging around overarching challenges.” –Mike Tedesco, Planning & Economic Development Director - Spokane Tribe of Indians
The teams agreed that continued regional communication is vital to their success going forward. Many suggested plans for semi-annual or annual gatherings and hope HUD will find ways to fund such opportunities in the future.
“By meeting regularly over the last three years, the rural SCI grantees have become a collective-- a community of practice. Our collaboration has created moments of accelerated learning and positive impact on each rural development practitioner’s skill set and mind set. We must find a way for this group or a group of rural development grantees to continue gathering.” –Kathy C. Trimmer, Manager, Regional Services at Heart of Texas Council of Governments
With the funds from the planning grants now spent, the teams look to the next phase of development with uncertainty due to limited staff capacity and funding. Many spoke to the need for additional funds to get their plans off the ground. MHP hopes to identify funding sources to help make this possible.
“These communities don’t want to see their plans sit on a shelf. They are ready to get to work and are enthusiastic about the future, but need staff capacity to successfully implement their projects. We don’t want to see the flame go out. We want to keep their momentum going.” —Rosemary Fagrelius, Community Development Director - MHP
For more information on the gathering, visit the event page on NADO’s website.
For more information on some of the projects completed through the Sustainable Communities Initiative, visit the case studies page of the PSC website.