Promise Zones: AmeriCorps Supports Local Economic Growth
The Promise Zone initiative works with urban, rural, and tribal communities to expand economic mobility and opportunity in their communities. AmeriCorps is supporting the initiative by providing AmeriCorps VISTA members to local organizations in Promise Zones. Members will build their host organization’s capacity to increase economic opportunity and alleviate poverty.
A cornerstone of this approach is the President’s Promise Zone initiative, which pairs Federal government partners with local leaders to streamline resources across agencies and deliver comprehensive support. To date, 13 urban, rural and tribal communities have benefited from their competitively-awarded Promise Zone designation, which confers 10 years of significant Federal support for local leaders in high-poverty communities to create jobs; increase economic activity; improve educational outcomes; increase access to affordable housing; reduce serious and violent crime; among other locally-defined priorities.
The Administration is announcing the third and final round of nine new Promise Zone designations: Nashville, TN; South Los Angeles, CA; Atlanta, GA; Evansville, IN; San Diego, CA; Spokane Tribe of Indians, WA; Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, ND; Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council; and Puerto Rico’s Ceiba, Fajardo, and Naguado Municipalities.
AmeriCorps VISTA in the Promise Zones
As part of the Promises Zones initiative, up to five AmeriCorps VISTA members are available to each Promise Zone designee.
Along with the preference on federal grant competitions, these AmeriCorps VISTA members are one of the central benefits of a Promise Zone designation. As part of the Promises Zones initiative, AmeriCorps VISTA members are serving in Philadelphia, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and eastern Kentucky.
In Philadelphia and San Antonio, AmeriCorps VISTA members are serving with each city’s mayor’s office and key partners. Together, they drive the implementation of key strategies, facilitating communication and evaluating impact.
In Los Angeles, AmeriCorps VISTA members are working to transform Los Angeles neighborhoods to ensure families have access to high-quality schools, wraparound education, and technology services to enable a successful transition from cradle to college and career.
In Kentucky, AmeriCorps VISTA members, coordinated by lead designee Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, are improving energy efficiency and developing agricultural programs, including the construction of a greenhouse. AmeriCorps VISTA members are also increasing economic opportunity by providing financial literacy training and home ownership services.
New Promise Zones
San Diego, CA
The San Diego Promise Zone (SDPZ) comprises three of the City’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, roughly bounded by the San Diego Unified Port District to the west; downtown San Diego and State Route 94 to the north; National City to the south; and the City of Lemon Grove to the east. The Zone is characterized by high unemployment, low educational attainment, insufficient access to healthy foods, concentrated poverty, rising crime, high rates of youth unemployment, and the least affordable housing in the nation. Recent rezoning, vacant land along high traffic corridors, and a central location that is well-served by public transit are assets that the SPDZ will build upon to bring economic vitality to these underserved communities. The City of San Diego and its partners will, among other goals, work to address the severe problem of 40.1 percent unemployment rate among youth ages 16-24, rising crime and lack of affordable housing.
The Westside Promise Zone (WPZ), located just west of downtown Atlanta, is home to 16,430 residents and has a poverty rate of 49.88 percent. The area has struggled in recent years with a declining population, blight, poverty, unemployment, and a crime rate that is twice as high as the city-wide rate in 2014-15. There is limited commercial activity: only 2 percent of total land area within the WPZ is commercial use. Much of the area is a food desert and services like health care are limited. Housing stock in the WPZ is older and more distressed than in the rest of the city. The city and its partners aim to catalyze commercial activity within the Zone, in part through construction of a new football stadium and other major infrastructure projects.
Puerto Rico’s Ceiba, Fajardo, and Naguado Municipalities
The Eastern Puerto Rico Promise Zone (EPRPZ) represents an area devastated by the closure of Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in 2004, which encompasses the communities of Ceiba, Fajardo and Naguabo. In 2013 the Navy finalized the transfer of 3,409 acres and 1,600 facilities to the Promise Zone designee, the Local Redevelopment Authority of Roosevelt Roads. With a poverty rate of 45.77 percent and unemployment rate of 17.34 percent, this Promise Zone is focused on accelerating redevelopment to benefit the wider Eastern Region of Puerto Rico by upgrading the former Naval Station, improving marine industry infrastructure, boosting hotel development and local tourism, and developing a local food hub and a commercial-scale hydroponic farm with teaching kitchens and a food business incubator, among other goals.
The Nashville Promise Zone (NPZ) comprises 46-square miles, including the neighborhoods just south, east, and north of Nashville’s central business district (9.67 percent of Metropolitan Nashville, Davidson County). With a population of 121,470 and a poverty rate of 37.61 percent, the NPZ represents a quarter of the County’s overall violent crimes, low post-secondary education levels and road congestion that make upward mobility, affordable housing and employment more difficult to obtain. The lead designee, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA), is working in partnership with the Mayor’s office, six implementation partners and more than 87 supporting partners from government, local institutions, nonprofits, and community organizations to achieve social and economic transformation. The Promise Zone’s goals include improving transportation access and infrastructure and boosting family economic mobility in the Zone, where almost half of neighborhood public housing residents in developments report zero income.
South Los Angeles, CA
The South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z) includes portions of the neighborhoods of Vernon-Central, South Park, Florence, Exposition Park, Vermont Square, Leimert Park and a small portion of Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw. Approximately 94 percent of SLATE-Z’s residents are people of color – primarily Latino (71.2 percent) and African American (16.9 percent) – and there is a large immigrant population (42.7 percent foreign-born). Among SLATE-Z residents, workforce participation is low, and among those working, 44 percent live at or below 150 percent of the poverty line. The Slate-Z team—which includes more than 50 schools, service centers, business incubators, health clinics, and community coalitions—aims to help residents take advantage of opportunities created by regional investments in the Blue Expo and Crenshaw light rail lines and in transit- oriented development projects around 15 stations planned for the Zone. The Zone also aims to reduce barriers to employment and higher wage jobs include incarceration, disability, low educational attainment, language barriers and immigration status, and to reduce gang-related crime.
The Evansville Promise Zone encompasses a population of 22,245 residents in the city of Evansville, and a poverty rate of 39.03 percent. The area’s boundary spans across Veteran’s Memorial Parkway and Waterworks Road (south and west) to Diamond Avenue (north) and Green River Road (east). Nearly 30 percent of the population has less than a high school diploma and criminal activity in the area is a mounting concern. The Promise Zone has a robust team of community partners, with ECHO Housing Corporation leading the collaborative effort as the head organization and the Department of Metropolitan Development as the lead partner. These partners have aligned priority initiatives and will work to attract higher-wage employment, improve transit, address physical and mental health concerns among residents and boost crime prevention efforts, among other goals.
Spokane Tribe of Indians, WA
The Spokane Tribe of Indians Promise Zone (STIPZ) includes the Spokane Indian Reservation (160,000 square acres) and all lands held in trust by the federal government on behalf of the Spokane Tribe, which include 180 square acres near Chewelah, WA, and another 145 square acres in Airway Heights, WA. The STIPZ shall build a stronger nation building sovereignty and a commitment from all of Spokane Tribe of Indian’s 2,874 citizens. The STIPZ is battling a poverty rate of 32.57 percent and 25 percent unemployment. Among other goals, the STIPZ plan includes creating jobs through investments in renewable energy, housing construction, and technology centers, and reducing crime by revising its antiquated Law and Order Code and implementing a community policing strategy.
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, ND
The proposed Pride of the Great Plains Promise Zone (PGPPZ) will include two reservations, tribal trust/owned lands, and Rolette County, North Dakota. Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, will serve as the lead applicant organization committed to improving this persistently impoverished region, which suffers from a poverty rate of 38.93 percent, high unemployment, overcrowded housing, insufficient education (36.9 percent drop out), poor health/nutrition, and escalating crime with drug trafficking/border challenges. This Promise Zone’s plan focuses on improving availability of affordable housing, expanding energy infrastructure and developing a regional food hub for agricultural production, among other strategies.
Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council
The Southwest Florida Promise Zone will further a strategic plan focused on improving the quality of life and providing new opportunities for residents in a region with a young population, low cost of living, and an abundance of developable land; but with a high unemployment rate (15.65 percent). Home to 76,438 residents and with a poverty rate of 31.2 percent, some of the notable goals of this Promise Zone include developing markets for locally grown fresh food, promoting eco-tourism, redeveloping transportation and manufacturing infrastructure, and reducing violent crime with a focus on human trafficking and drug intervention.
Existing Promise Zones
Over the past year, the West Philadelphia Promise Zone hired a Promise Zone Director and sponsored five AmeriCorps VISTA Members, embarked on an action planning process, and established six working committees which focus on education, housing, economic development, health and wellness, public safety, and community engagement. Additionally, committees have begun to create working groups around more specific, targeted issues such as, Small and Emerging Businesses, Workforce Development, and Behavioral Health.
George Pitsakis is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving as Public Safety and Economic Development Coordinator in the Philadelphia Promise Zone. George manages Promise Zone subcommittees while working to lay a foundation for tangible successes in the Promise Zone during the next 10 years. George had the pleasure of meeting HUD Secretary Castro when he visited Philadelphia last fall. As part of his economic development portfolio, George helped small and emerging businesses on the Lancaster Avenue commercial corridor by conducting business and customer surveys and gathering best practices in support of the Promise Zone’s Small and Emerging Businesses Working Group. Additionally, as part of his public safety mission, George helped transform a crime hot spot into a community meeting space. A Promise Zone partner used community input and crime statistics to identify a vacant, overgrown, and trash-filled lot, where people sold and used drugs. In response, George worked to implement the Crime Prevention through an Environmental Design Plan to transform the lot into a safe space for positive community activity. He engaged local resources and community members toward creating a clean, safe space that can serve as a community meeting place.
Los Angeles, CA
The Los Angeles Promise Zone is led by the Mayor's Office of Economic Development, the lead implementation partner – Youth Policy Institute, and the 49 key partners who are working to implement the Promise Zone plan. Over the past 15 months, the Los Angeles Promise Zone launched the Leadership Council and five working groups focused on Economic Activity, Education, Neighborhoods, Public Safety and Civic Participation.
- Vanessa De La Rosa is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving through the Youth Policy Institute in the Los Angeles Promise Zone. Vanessa created a safe pathways to school program to improve student safety. Working with parent volunteers, Vanessa launched the Safe Passages program at Joseph Le Conte Middle School in the Promise Zone. The Safe Passages program engages parents, students, school teachers and administrators, law enforcement, and other stakeholders to improve public safety in the surrounding areas of the schools. More than providing public safety, this program strengthens the overall fabric of the community by building the civic infrastructure and engaging local elected officials and nonprofit organizations.
The Promise Zone includes the counties of Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, Perry, and six of the eight census tracts in Whitley County. The Zone’s overall poverty rate is 30.41%. Four of the eight counties have a county-wide poverty rate above 30%, with the highest in Clay County at 36.54%. There are individual census tracts in the Promise Zone where the poverty rate exceeds 50%. In fact, only eight of the 58 census tracts in the Zone have a poverty rate under 20%.
The purpose of these working committees is threefold. First, to plan collaboration among partners; second, to use the strategic plan as a roadmap for community-driven progress; and third, to focus efforts for securing funding and implementing ideas and programming. A lead partner has been identified for each working committee to coordinate the efforts of all applicable partners in addressing the ten goals.
Jeffrey Helton serves as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in Madison County within the eastern Kentucky Promise Zone. With limited access to supermarkets, one of the most pressing community problems is a lack of fresh and healthy food. In response, Jeffrey provides the materials necessary for community members to create their own community garden. Thanks to his efforts, 45 community gardens have been created. He has helped raise more than $30,000 to support this initiative to increase food access.
The Sacramento Promise Zone encompasses some of the economically hardest-hit neighborhoods in the city – from Del Paso Heights in the North Area to The Avenues in the South County. More than 30% of residents in the Promise Zone have yet to achieve a High School diploma or GED. Nearly a quarter of the residents are foreign born with limited English proficiency. The Promise Zone has alarmingly high unemployment and mortality rates.
As the lead applicant, the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, in partnership with key partners, will work to coordinate resources, build capacity and create public-private partnerships to drive area revitalization. The partners have adopted the following five goals to improve the quality of life and accelerate revitalization.
The Minneapolis Promise Zone encompasses much of North Minneapolis including nine neighborhoods and 13 census tracts. One quarter of the population age 25 or older does not possess a high school degree/GED and only 39% of students graduated high school on time in 2014. The Promise Zone has alarmingly high unemployment, gun violence, housing blight, and poor educational outcomes. Despite deep and persistent needs, the Minneapolis Promise Zone is a community with transformative aspirations. The partners have adopted the following six goals to improve the quality of life and accelerate revitalization.
This Promise Zone encompasses portions of St. Louis and St. Louis County including the communities of: Bellerive Acres, Bel-Nor, Bel-Ridge, Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Cool Valley, Country Club Hills, Dellwood, Ferguson, Flordell Hills, Glen Echo Park, Greendale, Hazelwood, Hillsdale, Jennings, Kinloch, Moline Acres, Normandy, Northwoods, Pagedale, Pine Lawn, Riverview, University City, Uplands Park, Velda City, Velda Village Hills, and Wellston.
The Promise Zone has alarmingly high unemployment, crime, and mortality rates; significant numbers of vacant lots and abandoned buildings; and homelessness.
In 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau designated Camden as being the poorest city in the nation (of the 555 places surveyed), with the lowest median income of $21,191. The 2013 Census data also showed that 44.5% of adults over age 25 had no high school diploma. The Camden Promise Zone has an alarming high unemployment rate, violent crime, childhood obesity, hunger, and the lowest performing school district in New Jersey. The Camden Promise Zone Plan represents the culmination of five years of collaborative efforts aimed at improving the quality of life for Camden children, youth, and families.
The North Hartford Promise Zone (NHPZ) encompasses 3.11 square miles and includes the neighborhoods of Clay Arsenal, Northeast, and Upper Albany. The NHPZ has alarmingly high rates of unemployment, violent crime, and food insecurity. In addition, the area is marked with several blighted commercial and industrial sites. It is also one of the poorest in the country. The zone’s average per capita income is $12,099 and only 38.3% of residents have a high school degree. The North Hartford Promise Zone’s sharp socio-economic decline began after WWII with the construction of Interstate 84 which effectively divided the City in half and isolated the NHPZ from the economic activity of the downtown.
The mission of the Eastside Promise Zone is to reduce poverty and improve overall quality of life on the Eastside of San Antonio. Goals include: increase economic activity job creation & training, improve education, leverage private investment, reduce serious and violent crime, reduce poverty and increase affordable housing.
South Carolina Low Country
Funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services helped local business, Team 360 Services, to expand and relocate to the Promise Zone, creating 35 new permanent full-time jobs, with 27 of those reserved for low-income project area residents. The Oxford Place Senior Apartments will become the first net-positive energy apartment building in the state of Indiana. This housing development will provide low-income seniors with affordable housing and services designed to help them age in place.
The Promise Zone designation helped EmployIndy, the local workforce investment board, secure a $2 million Summer Jobs and Beyond grant from the Department of Labor to create career pathways for young people. Through a grant that the Promise Zone secured from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant funds, Farm 365 established a new 61,000 sq. ft. hydroponics farm, employing residents of the Promise Zone at living wages, and selling fresh foods within the Zone.