Partners (Number 3, 2006)

Vol. 16, No. 3, 2006


CLTs Keep Housing Affordable

Keeping Pace in a Changing Environment

EITC Boosts Local Economies

Split Refunds Link Tax Time to Savings

Banking the Unbanked on Both Sides of the Border

Bringing HBCUs Back to Their Communities

CDFI Investing Made Easy with CARS

Post-Katrina Housing Woes Challenge Residents and Planners

Spotlight on the District—Alabama and North Florida


Bringing HBCUs Back to Their Communities

Since 1837 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been producing African American leaders: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes, Oprah Winfrey, Samuel L. Jackson and Edwin Moses are only a few HBCU alumni who have made substantial contributions to American society.

Benedict College

But the importance of HBCUs extends beyond the young women and men they educate. They contribute substantially to economic growth by sending a steady stream of graduates into middle- and upper-income careers. HBCUs have also traditionally worked to improve the economic health of the neighborhoods surrounding their schools, and many include this commitment in their mission statements.

Collaborating to meet pressing needs
Commitment to the community often presents stiff challenges for HBCUs. Some are situated in the middle of well-established urban African-American communities, while others are in the heart of rural America. Regardless of their surroundings, institutions are faced with the need to adapt to a changing world. Shifts in demographic trends, economic structures, land-use patterns, social forces, government policies and funding patterns all affect a school's ability to address community needs.

Inadequate affordable housing, high unemployment rates, lack of accessible child care, below-par secondary schools, shortage of affordable health care and elevated crime rates create a daunting scenario for HBCUs trying to make a difference in their communities.

Addressing such issues is not a job for the HBCU alone, but one that calls for strong partnerships and coalitions with neighborhood and political leaders, nonprofit organizations, corporations, foundations and the faith community. By forming such alliances, HBCUs can maximize their value as a resource for the community.

The perspective and knowledge afforded by education is an academic institution's most obvious asset. These schools serve as centers supporting research, original thinking and innovative ideas. Faculty and students can offer talent, expertise and problem-solving skills relevant to many facets of community life. HBCUs can also bring the insights of various disciplines, including health care, education, economics, sociology, environmental management, business, information technology, architecture, urban design, and planning.

Although much work can be done through volunteer community service programs, it is unrealistic to expect them to be sufficient by themselves. Adequate funding is critical to make the best use of all the academic and human resources HBCUs can provide.

HBCUs should consider using the CDC structure to separate community development activities from the school.

Over the years, the White House has extended its support to these efforts. In 1980, President Carter signed an executive order establishing a federal program to assist HBCUs working in their communities. Similar executive orders were issued by later Presidents. This money became an incentive prompting many schools to increase their involvement in community initiatives.

Since 1980, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which administers the funding, has allocated millions of dollars in grants. But in recent years, funds have become less available, forcing many schools to limit their involvement in community development initiatives. Some have even discontinued their programs.

Sixth District HBCU educators convene
On June 14, 2006, representatives from HBCUs met at the Birmingham Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta to discuss strategies for creating or enhancing community development programs at historically black institutions. Representatives from a dozen schools in the Sixth District identified key issues of concern:

  • Preserving and sustaining existing community development programs;
  • Obtaining additional grants and subsidies;
  • Securing administrative, financial and moral support from college presidents and boards of regents by conveying to them how the programs benefit the school;
  • Engaging the broader community.
Benedict College neighborhood
Photo provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond's
Community Affairs office publication of Marketwise, Issue Two, 2004
Benedict College received HUD grants to help support its neighborhood revitalization efforts.
Dr. Cordell Wynn, president emeritus of Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., opened with the keynote address, which emphasized the importance of working in partnership with the community. In addition to representatives from the Federal Reserve Bank, officials from HUD, Seedco and the Federal Home Loan Bank Board were on hand to discuss the benefits of their programs.

Benedict College and Benedict Allen-CDC in Columbia, S.C., were cited as models of best practices. The Benedict Allen-CDC has successfully built and rehabilitated neighborhood housing at all income levels to create a more vibrant, mixed-income community. It has also provided a recreational park and plans to implement local broadband internet service. These projects have the added benefit of serving as self-sustaining revenue sources.

Summit yields strategies
Participants in the summit concluded that all HBCUs should be interested in the economic viability of the communities surrounding their schools, stating that it is crucial for academic institutions and communities to foster a shared vision. They noted that concern about the economic health of the community is not solely altruistic; the well-being of the neighborhood has a direct impact on a school's ability to recruit and keep students.

The group also agreed that a community development program can not be successful without the complete support of the school's administration. Searches for top leadership positions at HBCUs should seek candidates with community development backgrounds or those who will support the school's involvement in the community.

Finally, they determined that HBCUs should consider using the CDC structure to separate community development activities from the school. It is critical, they advised, for the CDC to include a number of stakeholders from its community on the board of directors.

For additional information

Refer to the following article from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond's Marketwise publication on Benedict Allen-CDC: affairs/marketwise/pdf/mwise2004-2.pdf off-site image

The following works examine the relationship between HBCUs and their neighboring communities:

Freeman, Kassie and Rodney T. Cohen (2001). "Bridging the Gap Between Economic Development and Cultural Empowerment: HBCUs' Challenges for the Future." Urban Education 36(5): 585–96

Department of Housing and Urban Development (2003). Minority-Serving Institutions of Higher Education: Developing Partnerships to Revitalize Communities. Washington, D.C.: 86.

They concurred that qualifying for and selling low-income housing or historical tax credits is a viable way for the CDC to obtain funding for building affordable multifamily housing projects. While CDCs should partner with an experienced developer, they must establish a fair partnership agreement to address issues such as fair compensation as well as require periodic meetings and site visits for learning opportunities.

An HBCU-sponsored CDC is eligible for a number of free technical assistance options, and it can compete for grants with other nonprofits. HUD, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, and Seedco are a few of the institutions that can provide funding, loans and technical assistance.

In addition to forming CDCs, HBCUs were urged to create educational programs to encourage faculty, staff and students to integrate higher education in a variety of community service, educational and research activities within the community.

In conclusion, HBCUs have great potential as catalysts in addressing the needs of entire communities of which they are a part. Thus it's vital to explore new or better ways to increase their capacity for community and economic development, especially by linking human and financial resources via effective partnerships.

This article was written by Mike Milner, regional community development director in the Atlanta Fed's Birmingham branch.