2014 Grants Challenge

Center for Sustainable Communities in Compton CA

Turning an abandoned, blighted grocery store in Compton into the Center for Sustainable Communities.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Turning an abandoned, blighted grocery store in Compton into the Center for Sustainable Communities.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a region of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

South LA

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Utilizing the community development model of "What Makes Community?" as our planning paradigm, NHS is working with the City of Compton, Pacific Coast Regional Small Business Development Corporation, and Metro CDC to create the first of several Centers for Sustainable Communities in South LA. The CSC will offer community resources for low-to-moderate income families in Compton deal with impacts of economic divestiture by serving as a hub to provide information and access to resources that make communities stronger and more resilient. Residents and businesses will tap a range of services related to housing, transit, economic development, environmental stewardship, job training, skills development, urban agriculture, and healthy living.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

The vision driving our Center for Sustainable Communities involves a broad spectrum of issues, and at the center of this focus is the need to pursue sustainability and help create resilient neighborhoods. Tying employment, housing, place, business, and lifestyle is critical to building sustainability, and the Center will serve as a catalyst for achieving broader community and personal empowerment goals that will help low income families in South LA most adversely impacted by economic divestment.

As landowner, NHS will serve as lead partner with the City of Compton, METRO CDC, and the Pacific Coast Regional Small Business Development Corporation. NHS acquired the 28,283 sq ft building and surrounding parcel in early March 2014 and we have entered the site planning and renovation phase of the project. One of our main priorities is to repurpose the facility and provide highly needed economic development, healthy living, and job training services for the Compton community. NHS plans to house 5-8 initial non-profit groups by fall 2014 with full tenancy by the end of 2014 if possible. As a part of that plan, our one year goals and implementation timelines include:

• Upgrade the existing facility to accommodate 5-8 tenants (August - Dec 2014);

• Subcontract to create Computer Training and Technology Center (August - Oct 2014);

• Partner with Metro CDC to create office for youth job training/entrepreneurship programs (August - Sept 2014);

• Partner with Pacific Coast Regional Small Business Development Corporation (PCR) to establish on-site Business Incubator Program (Sept – Nov 2014);

• Phase in green technology upgrades (solar electric panels, low-water fixtures, solar hot water) and community garden plots as a part of the structural retrofits and property rehab (Sept 2014 – March 2015).

Short term (1-2 years) goals and the implementation timeline for the CSC include:

• Finalize a local land use plan with community partners and adjacent land owners (Fall 2014);

• Establish Health & Fitness rooms, a Healthy Living Café, free library, child play area, and permanent organic gardens (Summer 2015).

• Create a Community Green Education & Conservation Center (Summer 2015);

• Create a farmer’s market enterprise to support the Center (Fall 2015);

• Serve approximately 250 families (Sept – Dec 2014);

• Serve approximately 5,000 families (Jan – Dec 2015).

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CREATE today? In 2050?

As low income communities in South LA continue to struggle with ongoing blight and work towards long-term neighborhood revitalization, the focus becomes how to help reverse the significant environmental, social, health, and economic impacts of long term divestment on residents and families. Of primary concern is how to deal with the growing challenges among these neighborhoods regarding chronic unemployment/underemployment, reduced capital access for small business development, the ongoing threat of food insecurity, substandard transit options, skyrocketing housing costs, educational disparities, and youth disengagement. Decades of studies confirm that these problems disproportionately affect underserved and impoverished communities. For example, the current surge in home purchase and rental costs means housing now consumes over 65% of average median income on average in LMI communities. Add to that consistently high unemployment (15%), a nearly 3 to 1 ratio in loan denial rates, and limited access to mass transit and healthy food - which has been proven to impact employment and educational performance – and the need for greater resources to meet basic economic demands and achieve a moderate living standard becomes evident.

In response, the Center for Sustainable Communities will provide the people of Compton in South LA a facility that will serve as a hub to build a solid foundation for creating neighborhood sustainability over the next decades. Specific impacts include 1) Improving the job readiness and overall skills base of local workforce; 2) Providing healthy living services and resources to residents; 3) Reaching and training residents in IT and tech skills; 4) Increasing lending access and originating loans for small business owners; 5) Engaging youth (ages 5-24) in on-site green education and mentoring programs; 6) Assisting families through our CSC Homeownership Center; 7) Establishing community garden projects in surrounding neighborhoods; 8) Establishing home garden projects with youth workers.

In addition to meeting crucial resource access needs for families, the Center will allow its partners to share sustainability concepts that drive planning approaches in other impacted communities throughout South Los Angeles and LA County.

Whom will your project benefit?

The Center will serve hundreds of low income families in a region that has endured many of the worst impacts of the economic downturn and decades of blight. NHS has a long and very successful history of serving low-to-moderate income neighborhoods. For 30 years, 90% of our client base has been low income families residing in the poorest and most neglected neighborhoods of LA County. In 2013, 95% of the people we help were considered low income and 84% were ethnic minorities.

As the facility grows, the Center will expand to help hundreds of small business owners, neighborhood non-profit groups, and homeowners through on-site services and regional partnerships with community service groups, community development agencies, green organizations, health providers, technology professionals, schools, and municipalities. At least 50% of our tenants will be service-driven. By 2015 we expect to partner with the adjacent Los Angeles Conservation Corps Campus to magnify our regional impact, collaborate to attract a wide range of volunteers for our municipal water and green projects, and reach out to the educational community as the Compton Creek Project evolves.

With respect to our community outreach efforts, engaging surrounding neighborhoods in the early stages of the planning process has already yielded an overwhelmingly positive response by critical stakeholders and the community toward the development of the Center. As a part of our initial outreach plan, NHS is hosting a series of summer BBQs with its new neighbors to meet, assess community needs, and clarify the focus for the project from the community perspective. The project and landscape architects are deeply involved with this process so that they can adapt community strategies into the program and facility design more effectively. The more this vision evolves, the more we see that establishing the Center will serve and help the people and the City of Compton while also creating sustainable jobs for residents.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

NHS has entered into agreements with the City of Compton, METRO CDC, and the Pacific Coast Regional Small Business Development Corporation as primary partners and is formalizing arrangements with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, the LA County Department of Health, the LA Food Policy Council, Community Services Unlimited, and the Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment to provide expertise, customized services, training opportunities, and cross-collaborative projects through the Center.

Critical factors include: 1) a commitment to build sustainability in Compton/South LA, 2) eliminating “silo organizing” on common regional issues, and 3) applying skills gained from managing eight years of neighborhood revitalization consortia during the economic crisis to assist in better serving low income communities.

Each partner brings unique experience and value:

• City of Compton – Compton contributed bond funds to acquire the property and will facilitate project approvals, general public outreach, and program advocacy.

• METRO CDC – Providing neighborhood outreach, employment training, community engagement, and referral services for youth and young adults.

• Pacific Coast Regional Small Business Development Corporation – As a tenant, PCR offers financial, educational and consulting services to small business owners and start-ups.

• Los Angeles Conservation Corps – LACC will partner on environmental and urban reclamation projects in the Compton Creek watershed and surrounding area and will provide training, education, and mentoring for youth.

• Community Services Unlimited – As one of the largest urban Community Supported Agriculture food distributors in South LA, CSU will offer urban gardening, green business resources, and cross training expertise.

• Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors – Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ office provides project level funding opportunities and overall support for the Center.

• LA Food Policy Council – Has agreed to help NHS coordinate events, outreach, and advocacy through the Center in addition to serving as a partner in creating community gardens.

• Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment – As the oversight agency of neighborhood councils, LADNE will provide extensive outreach, special project coordination, and a grassroots connection to regional community groups.

• LA County Department of Health – Committed to helping us create living projects and support our clinic plan.

How will your project impact the LA2050 CREATE metrics?

Employment in creative industries

Federal research grant funding

Jobs per capita

Minority- and women-owned firms

Gini coefficient

Number of high-growth startups

Venture capital investment

Recruiting and retention rates at local higher education institutions (Dream Metric)

Percentage of graduates from local higher education institutions that remain in LA County 5 years after graduating (Dream Metric)

Unemployment rates (and opportunities) for the formerly incarcerated (Dream Metric)

Create equity and affordable homeownership opportunities.

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Our expected outcomes will make a vital difference for families and small businesses looking to create new job training options in multiple fields, improve personal and community health, and expand sustainable economic opportunity in South LA/Compton. We will help rebuild neighborhoods with programs that keep teens active and healthy and where people coming out of prison can build marketable skills and avoid reincarceration. Center services will provide flexible capital for small business, expand affordable lending for families, and fund business incubators in targeted neighborhoods. Over the first two years the Center will strive to increase the number of minority- and women-owned firms by 20%; provide training, credit education, and finance options to create and support the expansion of 50 local startups; and stimulate direct venture capital investment through lending partnerships. The Homeownership Center will create equity and build affordable homeownership opportunities for families by 30%.

Low income and African America/Latino young adults have the highest unemployment rates and fewest high school and college graduates among residents in South LA. In addition, With a 74% high school dropout rate (36% of the parents with no high school diploma and only 31% with some college), the tide has been going in the wrong direction for decades for at-risk youth. The Center’s youth programs will expand educational and peer support, function as a gateway for IT job training, and improve skills for healthier living, driving retention rates at local higher education institutions, creating employment opportunities, and increasing the jobs per capita rate. As a tool for driving employment in creative industries and transitioning youth, we will partner with a music/entertainment company to create a media production studio at the site. Empowering youth to pursue higher education, choose meaningful work, and remain in the County is a high priority. Giving youth and young adults incentive and personal investment to live, work, and give back in their communities when they return is critical for healthy and vibrant neighborhoods. Our federal partnerships with HUD and ongoing relationships with state and local government and agencies will create options for extensive data tracking and research to guide the quality and rate of progress towards sustainability as well.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Specific benchmarks for the Center and its services include:

• Annually improving job readiness and overall skills base of local workforce by 20%;

• Providing healthy living services and resources to 1,500 residents per year;

• Reaching and training 250 residents annually in IT and tech skills;

• Annually increasing lending access and originate loans for 50 small business owners;

• Engaging 200 youth (ages 5-24) in on-site green education and mentoring programs;

• Assisting 1,200 families annually through the Homeownership Center;

• Establishing 3 community garden projects in surrounding neighborhoods annually;

• Establishing 50 home garden projects with youth workers annually.

Gauging the success and impact of the project will require tracking data among partners and service providers that utilize the facility. NHS will work with partners to consolidate and filter impact data of those taking courses, attending classes, and receiving training. Affiliated groups working through the Center will be asked to share all relevant statistics and deliverables data with NHS. NHS will serve as the central filter for evaluating the impacts and status of job training, homeowner education, senior and afterschool programming, and small business education programs.

Our on-site interactive data tracking and evaluation models will help planners, businesses, residents, employees, and community groups access information and relevant data regarding regional housing, transit, and financial management options based upon geographic factors and other variables. For example, a Location Affordability Portal would provide NHS with reliable, user-friendly data and resource estimates on combined housing and transportation costs to help residents, policymakers, and developers make more informed decisions about where to live, work, and invest in their community. A Smart Location and Sustainable Communities Database will provide additional detailed analysis to assist users where to best locate within a neighborhood based on affordability analyses, estimates of energy cost savings from green housing retrofits, and potential business profitability data rooted in transit cost factors for potential clients.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Achieving sustainability and building resilient neighborhoods in traditionally blighted and neglected communities requires creating and sharing tools that will help residents and business come together to fulfill their vision for the community. Resident buy-in and engaging beneficiaries and stakeholders in the planning and evolution of programs like the CSC are absolutely crucial.

Creating lasting partnerships with stakeholders and regional agencies and community groups requires an open and transparent set of negotiations and sharing a common vision for how sustainability can be achieved means making collective sacrifices to build broader agreements.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

NHS secured the Center property in March 2014 and has formalized agreements with six critical partners (PCR, Metro CDC, LA Conservation Corps, the LA County Department of Health, HUD, and the City of Compton). All architectural specs and permits have been completed to move the project into the primary phase of repurposing the facility. We are now in the process of renovating and upgrading the building to accommodate tenants. Funding to complete the renovation and construction phase is in hand and it is expected we will house initial tenants by late summer 2014 with full tenancy by the end of 2014 if possible. At least 50% of the tenants in the CSC facility will be service-driven. Given that the community has endured an abandoned and neglected 28,000 sq ft building for the past nine years, NHS feels obligated to open the facility and establish community services as soon as possible.

Once the core tenants and service providers have relocated offices to the facility, the Center will install large-scale community demonstration gardens and green technology upgrades on the property as a part of its on-site educational and community engagement focus. NHS will open an initial satellite office there in late summer 2014 and is able to administer the facility with minimal staff transition. NHS plans to utilize and reassign at least two existing staff to NHS offices at the Center and hire additional personnel to manage the property.

NH is confident the Center will continue to attract partners and support in the Compton/South LA community. For 30 years NHS has partnered with private and public investors, financial institutions, foundations, national non-profits, and cities to create and expand sustainable funding relationships to broaden access to capital. Our long history of serving populations in need with direct assistance and specialized housing programs has consistently earned us high marks with our funders and supporters. Based on our project funding projections and overwhelmingly positive response NHS has received from residents and partners, we believe there is sufficient support among investors and residents to meet the resource needs of the Center.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Though we have adequate funds in hand to meet our initial costs for launching the Center, securing an ongoing source of sustainable funding and investment commitments to maintain the facility over the first five years of operation will be a challenge. Our primary focus over the first phase of our launch (Sept 2014 - Dec 2014) will include locking up the necessary number of non-profit service and commercial tenants for the Center as well as continuing to leverage funds through the City of Compton, CDCs, regional financing partners, and community lending organizations to ensure viability through 2015 and beyond.

An additional challenge involves meeting the immediate needs of the community. Given that the community has endured an abandoned and neglected building since 2004, NHS feels obligated to open the facility and establish community services as soon as possible. Allocating staff to co-manage the Center will be a driving force behind staying on our planning schedule. NHS also plans to utilize and reassign three existing staff to offices at the Center property and will bring in two new staff help deliver on-site services.