Nashville is among the latest round of cities that the federal government has designated as “Promise Zones,” areas throughout the country chosen to receive 10 years of intensive support for economic development and combatting poverty.
The Promise Zone includes areas south, east, and north of the central business district.
Nashville joins 21 other communities around the country that have received this designation. As a Promise Zone, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will supply Nashville’s HUD office with an additional staffer focused on helping the Promise Zone, as well as five AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) members to assist the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency. Ed Jennings, the U.S. HUD regional administrator that oversees Nashville, said these federal government agents will collaborate with local authorities as well as local non-profit organization partners to alleviate poverty in the Promise Zone.
“Nashville on its face is a burgeoning community. Great jobs, great access to healthcare, great quality secondary and postsecondary education,” Jennings said. “But this part of Nashville was really still being left behind.” Despite Nashville’s crowning as an “It City,” the 46-square mile area that’s been designated as a Promise Zone reports a povery rate of nearly 38 percent, an unemployment rate of 14 percent, and a quarter of of the city’s violent crimes.
Promise Zones also get additional “preference points” in consideration for grants, which are a tool that 69 federal agencies use to determine the allotment of grant funding.
“There’s usually a one or two point, maybe even a half a point, differentiation between the winners and losers,” Jennings said. “So those communities that have preference points in any particular grant have a much better shot at winning.”
The additional Promise Zone points could help Nashville have a better shot at securing funds like the Choice Neighborhood grant, which the city is applying for in the coming weeks. The Choice Neighborhood grants help develop affordable housing through “locally driven strategies.”
Nationally, the first 13 Promise Zones have leveraged $500 million in funding to support these regions since they were launched in 2013. Jennings said the hope with the new Zones is to double that number, to reach $1 billion in leveraged funding.
Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, said the Promise Zones represent the Obama administration’s focus on “place-based solutions.”
“We’re fond of saying that solutions don’t come from Washington, D.C.,” Williams said. “The resources do, and they’re really your resources that go to D.C. and are invested back into these communities. The solutions come from the stakeholders who are innovative, who are ingenious, who are collaborating like never before. That’s why we’re seeing progress in these communities.”
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry echoed the importance of partnerships with local groups in the Promise Zone.
“It is completely a great example of when the feds and the local organizations can come together to actually solve a problem for someone,” Barry said.
Other Promise Zones have seen significant progress over the past several years. During the cities’ time in the Promise Zone program, Indianapolis created 110 jobs for training formerly incarcerated individuals, and San Antonio brought its unemployment rate down from 15 to 11 percent, according to Jennings.
The specific goals for the Nashville Promise Zone are to increase access to quality affordable housing, create jobs, increase economic activity, improve educational opportunities, improve community infrastructure, and reduce violent crime.