November 10, 2003
NEIGHBORHOOD REVITALIZATION ZONES
By: John Rappa, Principal Analyst
Kevin McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You wanted to know how many towns have neighborhood revitalization zones (NRZs), how they formed them, and the benefits for doing so.
Since 1995, residents in 11 towns have created at least 33 NRZs, the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) reports. They did so under a statutory procedure that allows residents to plan and implement strategies to revitalize distressed areas (CGS Sec. 7-600 et seq.). Hartford tops the list, with 14 zones, followed by New Britain, with four, and Hamden and New Haven with two each. The other towns with NRZs are Bridgeport, Colchester, East Hartford, Middletown, Vernon, Stamford, Waterbury, and Windham.
By law, residents can form an NRZ only with the town's approval, a requirement that seems to insure the town's support for the NRZ and its plans. If a town's legislative body decides it wants to designate a zone in a given area, it must adopt a resolution authorizing the area's residents to designate the boundaries and prepare a plan to revitalize the zone. The residents must hold public hearings on the plan and then submit it to the legislative body for approval. Attachment 1 is an OLR memo (2000-R-0408) that details the NRZ formation and planning process.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that most NRZs have completed neighborhood revitalization plans and worked effectively with other organizations to implement them. It also suggests that funding agencies target NRZ properties for development and that the NRZs have successfully represented residents' interests and concerns before other planning groups. In the late 1990s, Hartford's NRZs reached an organizational milestone after they formed a coalition to share ideas and resources.
But no one seems to have systematically evaluated the NRZs or identified why some seem more successful than others. Nor could we systematically collect and assess data on the NRZs within the week you gave us to respond to your questions.
NRZ SUCCESSES AND BENEFITS
Attempts to evaluate NRZs should recognize that most are ad hoc, grass roots organizations operating with no permanent full-time staff or funding. It may take longer for NRZs to develop and implement plans if their residents initially had little or no experience in civic affairs or collaborative action. The statewide Community Economic Development Fund (CEDF), which funds NRZ planning, suggests that
“The most mature NRZs have been at work for three to four years, have well thought out strategic plans and have carried out projects within the plan… Many other NRZs are in the process of completing their strategic plans. Still others are just starting out in the planning efforts” (Community Economic Development Fund (CEDF), Neighborhood Revitalization Zones, 2003 http://www.cedf.com/nrz.html).
The statutes require NRZs to establish committees to prepare plans, and it appears that most have done so. Only seven of the 33 zones have not completed their plans, OPM reports. (We have asked OPM to list the zones and indicate whether they have completed their plans.) At least 12 NRZs completed their plans with CEDF or foundation grants. (Attachment 2 is a CEDF report describing the purposes of these studies.)
One measure of NRZ success is the extent to which state and local policies and plans recognize NRZs or address their goals. The state's community development plan, for example, seeks to “provide continuing education and training programs in code requirements at the grassroots level to residents actively engaged in Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ) efforts in their communities” (Department of Economic and Community Development, State of Connecticut—Consolidated Plan, XIV Non-Housing Community Development).
Hartford uses NRZs as a way to help more residents buy their own homes. A 2003 Anne E. Casey Foundation study discussed how a proposed neighborhood design center “could serve as a tool for helping Neighborhood Revitalization Zones (NRZs) conceptualize and realize their plans for neighborhood improvements” (Creating a Neighborhood Design Center, Anne E. Casey Foundation and the Center for the Study of Social Policy, p. 14).
Developers also seem to be consulting with NRZs about their plans. For example, the owners of a new Harley-Davidson dealership in Stamford's South End formally presented their plans to the NRZ committee and subsequently received federal funds to clean up and redevelop the proposed site. A developer proposing a new doughnut shop in Hartford's Frog Hollow neighborhood sought the NRZ's favor before applying for city permits. The new shop employs 25 residents.
The law requires NRZs to implement their plans, but give them no funds to do so. For this reason, they must leverage funds from different public and private sources, and anecdotal accounts suggest they have. In 2001, Hartford received over $400,000 in Urban Act funds to address the Broad Street NRZ's housing goals. Hamden's NRZs aim is to make the neighborhoods safer, and the town addressed this goal by participating in a state program to help police officers buy homes in the neighborhoods they patrol.
Newspaper reporters often quote NRZ chairmen when writing stories about local housing projects and programs. Hartford recently targeted housing funds and other resources at the Northeast neighborhood as part of a citywide neighborhood revitalization program. The local NRZ chairman complemented the program, stating that neighborhood activists had been trying for years to obtain the resources needed to reduce the residents' racial isolation and improve their quality of life.
In 2000, Clay-Arsenal NRZ officials applauded Hartford after it obtained federal funds to develop a supermarket in the neighborhood. The article noted that neighborhood activists had been trying to do this for years. In 2001, Hamden received state funds to develop a grocery store on a blighted site the State Street NRZ targeted for revitalization.
Government agencies, nonprofit development organizations, and banks seem to favor development projects in NRZs. The New Haven-based Regional Growth Partnership mentioned the fact that two of the contaminated sites it selected for clean up were located in Hamden's NRZs. The New Haven Savings Bank created a loan program specifically for businesses in Hamden's Highwood NRZ. Similarly the NRZ designation seems to have helped groups in New Britain's NRZs secure funds to hire more police, develop cooperative housing, and plan neighborhood improvements.
Another measure of an NRZ's success is its ability to pass the knowledge and expertise it gained on to neighborhood residents and other citizens. Hartford's NRZs formed a coalition in the late 1990s to share ideas, resources, and information and work collaboratively on projects. Its Neighborhood Training Institute specializes in training residents on how to revitalize neighborhood economies. It also helped the city secure $12 million in state urban development funds. In 2001, it received funds and technical assistance from the Anne E. Casey Foundation for more organizational planning and development (http://www.hartford2000.org).
Some NRZs have also helped residents participate in other local economic development programs. For example, Rockville's NRZ helped Vernon apply for assistance from the utilities-sponsored Connecticut Main Street program, which helps merchants in small towns revitalize historic downtown districts.
NRZs are also effective if they continue advocating for their neighborhoods after they have completed their plans and helped towns and other organizations obtain funds to implement them. A New Britain NRZ member briefed a transportation planning steering committee about his NRZ's desire for more bike paths and related amenities. In January 2001, the city's North/Oak NRZ organized neighborhood meetings with government officials about crime and the related problems plaguing their neighborhood. During the meeting, a city official announced that the police intended to rebuild a police substation that had burned down over the summer.
It seems that Hartford's Upper Albany NRZ demonstrated it clout when Walgreen's dropped plans in 2002 to build a store at the site of a former gas station. The NRZ favored the project but not the architectural plans, which the residents claimed did not fit in with the area's appeal as an African American and Caribbean retail center. Walgreen withdrew its plans even though the NRZ obtained a grant to prepare alternate designs for the pharmacy.