January 9, 2014

The Promise of Promise Zones

During the height of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt challenged the nation when he said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Fifty years ago, another president took up this challenge and Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty was born.

Today, President Obama continues to challenge a status quo where low- and middle-class America struggle to get ahead and with far too many families feeling trapped in a cycle of poverty.  It simply isn’t right that a child born into this cycle has a significantly worse chance of succeeding than his or her peers—no matter how hard they or their parents work. Simply put, a zip code shouldn’t determine a young person’s future.

That’s why our nation must take action to give every person the fair shot they deserve.  President Obama is taking a critical step in keeping the promise of ‘the American Dream’ by designating the first five Promise Zones located in particularly hard-hit communities across the country: San Antonio, Texas; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; Southeastern Kentucky; and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Promise Zones represent a sharp departure from the federal government’s failed community development approach of the past.  In the old days, Washington would swoop into communities and plan for them rather than with them.  This approach tended to address problems one-by-one instead of taking a holistic approach.  So when it came to housing, developments would be built in areas often surrounded by crime, bad schools, limited transportation options, and few jobs.   Clearly, this was a recipe for failure.

That’s why Promise Zones approaches challenges in a different way by working with local leaders to support their vision.   These first Promise Zones are embarking on ambitious, comprehensive plans that can turn communities of despair into communities of hope.   HUD looks forward to working with them to ensure that the families in these areas have access to quality, affordable housing.

Home is the foundation of all of our lives; housing is at the center of our communities.  Working with local leaders, along with the philanthropic and private sectors, we’re going to help connect housing with job, health and education assets to expand opportunity.  Together, we will pave new paths of progress so that families can get ahead.  By strengthening these communities, we strengthen our nation.

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