Neighborhood Trusts

Local Return supports the recommendation made by the Rhode Island Foundation’s Make It Happen: Investing in Rhode Island’s Future committee to invest $50 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds in neighborhood trusts.

A neighborhood trust is a collection of funds, controlled by members of the community for the long-term benefit of the community. This is a way of getting funds directly to neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by both COVID-19 and generations of financial disinvestment — and generating economic activity, local agency, social resilience, and community wealth.

$50 million could seed nine neighborhood trusts, along with robust technical assistance for the first five years and legal support upon start-up. View the slideshow above for more details on our proposal.

Do you believe in this proposal like we do? Contact your state Representative and Senator now. Tell them:

  • The unequal impact of COVID-19 on neighborhoods stems from decades of disinvestment, racism, and systemic failures.
  • Neighborhood trusts center community decision-making, giving distressed communities local ownership and control of the resources that flow into them. People know their own needs and those of their communities best.
  • I support the proposal to use $50 million of ARPA funds (less than 5% of the Federal Relief Funds allocated to Rhode Island) for neighborhood trusts.
  • This idea has the potential to be truly transformative, and those are the kinds of investments we need to be making right now for Rhode Island’s long-term future.

Community Conversation with LUNA Community Care

“When people are neurodivergent they’re often forced to think in a way that’s very normative, which can be very harmful,” said Casey Gallagher, “so we really want to create a space and support programming for individuals to be themselves and celebrate neurodivergent joy.” 

Casey and Tara Boulais co-founded LUNA Community Care to provide programs and support services — such as one-on-one peer counseling, special interests groups, and a drop-in center based in the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket — for neurodivergent people.

Casey is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and Casey is a Community Health Worker and Peer Support Specialist. They are both mothers. “I’ve been working in a system for the past seven years that is broken, and I would like to fill the gaps,” said Tara. All of LUNA’s programs and services are shaped and delivered by people with lived experience.

LUNA Community Care is also a worker-owned cooperative. Why a cooperative? “My favorite word is ‘synergy,’ Tara notes, “which means everybody working together for the greater good.” And Casey explains that LUNA is committed to collective liberation. “That means really means amplifying the voices of the most marginalized people in our communities, so that we all feel like we are neighbors and community members and local to one another.”

LUNA is actively looking for volunteers and members — as well as grassroots investors to support their worek. Visit https://www.lunacommunitycare.org/services-membership for more information. 

Community Conversation with Lanre Ajakaiye

Lanre Ajakaiye is president and CEO of 25 Bough Street Development. He is also the first person in Rhode Island to do a Regulation CF crowdfunding campaign, a fundraising strategy made possible by the JOBS Act of 2012 which allows non-accredited investors to contribute. 

“It’s a pathway for unlocking the community and the network, and your community and your zealous advocates,” said Lanre about Regulation CF.

25 Bough is a 22,000 square feet commercial building that takes up a corner city block in the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence. Lanre’s vision is to host a Futures Hub to provide youth grades 3 through high school with financial literacy, career awareness, and more. Nonprofit partners will locate in the building, which will also house a cultural experience museum and event space. Lanre is in discussions to bring a local bank to 25 Bough; there’s currently no locally-owned financial institution within the neighborhood. 

A Rhode Island native born to parents who immigrated to Providence from Nigeria, he purchased this building a mile from where he grew up. Within just a few months, Lanre raised $206,000 from “188 investors from the community who want to see this come to fruition.” As he pointed out, the crowdfunding campaign gave people an outlet to express their support for his vision. 

“I’m way past community engagement,” said Lanre, “and I’m all about community activation.”

“A wicked meaningful RI holiday”

Special thanks to Ed Fitzpatrick of the Boston Globe for including Local Return president Jessica David in “A wicked meaningful R.I. holiday gift guide” in today’s edition of Rhode Map. It’s a great reminder to buy your holiday supplies from a locally-owned business in a community you care about. Your money will stay local longer and multiple through the local economy. 

P.S. Give the gift of local journalism with a subscription to a local news outlet or gift to a nonprofit news source! 

Support Your Locals! Join us for year-end cash mobs

It has been A Year, hasn’t it?

Now’s your chance to show up for local neighborhoods and businesses with financial and moral support. Local Return is planning some cash mobs at popular local events.

What’s a cash mob? It’s an easy and fun way to show support for local businesses as a group. Here’s how to participate:

  1. Show up on one of these dates:
  2. Explore the charm of a local neighborhood, discover new-to-you locally-owned businesses, and meet your neighbors.
  3. If you can, spend some money to support the local businesses and take care of holiday shopping!
  4. Check in with Local Return to meet the people behind the pinwheel.

Rhode Island is lucky to have many bustling business districts, charming main streets, and neighborhood hubs, which means lots of opportunities to buy local. We encourage you to support them all, including:

Field of Artisans x Whalers Brewing Company: Holiday Series: Sundays, November 21-December 19

Celebrate Downcity, Providence: Saturdays, November 27-December 18

Artist Sunday: Sunday, November 28

Festival of Lights, Wickford Village: Thursday, December 2 – Sunday, December 5

Maker Marketplace, Rochambeau Public Library: Sunday, December 5

Hope Holiday Stroll, Hope Artiste Village, Pawtucket: Saturday, December 11

Meet Your Makers Holiday Market, Hope & Main, Warren: Sunday, December 19

Why buy local?

Every $1 you spend has consequences. If you choose to buy from locally-owned businesses, your money does more good for your local community. We can give you at least six good reasons to buy local:

  1. Money: When we shop local, money stays in our local economy longer and does more good. For every $100 you spend at a locally-owned business, an average of $68 stays in the local community. Compare that to just $43 for a big box store.
  2. Jobs: Local businesses = local jobs. Small businesses are the state’s largest employer. They hire our neighbors, family members, and friends.
  3. Charm: Local businesses shape the character of our communities. They make our places unique and interesting.
  4. Climate: Buying local is good for the environment. It means less resources and energy were used to transport goods.
  5. Community: Local businesses are more inclined to give back to the local community — think Little League teams, raffle donations, and charitable giving — because they are part of the local community. They donate almost 2.5x more per employee than national chains.
  6. Trust: It feels good to do business with someone you know.

With every purchase you make, you can strengthen the Rhode Island economy.

Community Conversation with John Santos and Philip Trevvett

Are you a member of Urban Greens Food Co-op, the consumer-owned grocery store located on Cranston Street in Providence? Perhaps you’re a stock holder. Or maybe you’re just wondering why Urban Greens never ran out of toilet paper early in the pandemic.

Urban Greens opened its doors in the summer of 2019, after years of work by a dedicated board, including now-Chair Philip Trevvett. Since then, it’s become a neighborhood staple, thanks to the hard-working team led by General Manager John Santos.

“Sharing the wealth means sharing opportunity,” says John, and that’s really what Urban Greens is all about. They provide healthy food, purchase food from local farmers and producers, and prioritize local businesses for all their needs. As Philip describes, “there’s many ways in which the community-owned business – both through how it profit-shares and how it relationship-builds – recycles more money in the local community than a typical business might.”

Urban Greens raised money to build the store through a direct public offering, in which anyone could become a shareholder for as low as $2,000. Over 150 people and families invested, resulting in over $600,000…and a brand new grocery store.

This is community investment!

A $2.6 billion downpayment

How Rhode Island could use ARPA money to build community wealth and resilience

Congress passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to “help turn the tide on the pandemic, address its economic fallout, and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery.”[1] The ARPA consists of over 84 unique programs distributed across 19 federal agencies. Rhode Island will receive more than $2.6 billion through state and local aid and targeted investments.[2] 

This money presents an unprecedented opportunity for our small state. While the allocation processes aren’t very transparent, state and local leaders are making decisions now on how these funds should be allocated. These are momentous decisions with the potential to change lives for years to come. 

In the spirit of laying the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery, Local Return offers the following ten examples of potential community wealth-building investments that could be made on the state or local level using ARPA funds. (These suggestions build upon the eight principles we previously shared.) 

  • Individual Development Accounts: IDAs are savings accounts that help people build assets, achieve financial sustainability, and pursue long-term goals. People can use IDAs for buying a home, starting a business, paying for school, or more. The money contributed to an IDA is matched 1:1 or 2:1, helping individual savings go further.

    For example, the Genesis Center / Pawtucket Credit Union Keys To Success IDA helps people match up to $2,000 in savings for the purchase of a reliable vehicle. 
  • Local Currency Stimulus: Municipalities could give a direct stimulus payment to residents through a local currency vehicle that could be used at locally-owned businesses. This would supercharge the benefits of a “buy local” campaign and keep those stimulus dollars circulating in the local economy, creating a multiplier effect.

    For example, in Rhode Island, Bonus Bucks increase the spending power of shoppers using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at farmers markets by providing a 100% match on grocery purchases to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables. Tenino, Washington launched a local currency early during the pandemic. The city of Boston is working with Colu on the B-Local App, which provides rewards for shopping locally.  
  • Local Economy Preservation Fund: The impact of the pandemic on local businesses is still playing out. Businesses may continue to close, or out of state corporations or investors could scoop up struggling businesses. Preserving these local assets and jobs is critical. 

    For example, the Democracy Collaborative and Council for Development Finance Agencies have developed a public funding model called a Local Economy Preservation Fund, which would make equity investments in local companies that were viable pre-COVID and will be viable afterward, place them in a holding company, and provide an exit to community ownership in the recovery. LEPFs would emphasize ownership by people of color, employee ownership, or local ownership that stays local.
  • Exit to Employee and Cooperative Ownership: With our aging population, Rhode Island is facing a silver tsunami. In the coming years, small business owners will be retiring without clear succession plans, particularly in key industries like manufacturing. Employee ownership is a sound model for succession planning. Worker-owned cooperatives have been proven to reduce inequalities in the economic system. Dedicated funding, outreach, and technical assistance should be dedicated to business owners interested in exiting to local, shared ownership. 

    For example, the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University provides technical assistance, training, and outreach to business owners looking to exit their business and sell to their employees. The Small Business Development Center and Polaris Manufacturing Extension Partnership, both located within the University of Rhode Island, are natural partners to lead such an effort in Rhode Island. 
  • Community Equity Fund: Access to capital is a major barrier to business ownership for entrepreneurs of color and those in low-income communities, who often don’t have friends or family who can invest early, high-risk equity. They are limited by relying more on bootstrapping, debt, and predatory vehicles. A community-based equity fund that focuses on entrepreneurs who don’t have access to traditional financing would fill a strategic gap in our ecosystem and allow these business owners to start or grow their businesses.

    For example, the Eagle Market Streets Corporation in Asheville, North Carolina, is creating the Community Equity Fund, an innovative opportunity for small person-of-color-owned businesses experiencing barriers to traditional operating capital that offers non-traditional operating capital. 
  • Community Property Ownership: Real estate ownership is a key wealth creation strategy, but it requires money. The “post-COVID19 land grab”[3] has begun, and we know that  speculative property owners can dramatically change the character of communities. There are promising models (such as cooperatives, community land trusts, and real estate investment trusts) that allow small dollar investors to pool their resources to purchase, hold, and develop land or buildings for commercial or residential use. This collective buying power can help preserve local ownership and long-term affordability in places that are ripe for speculation. One particular area of focus should be on innovative, low-risk commercial spaces to support inclusive economic development. While it might take time to establish community ownership structures, governments could purchase and land bank key properties.

    For example, the Sawmill Community Land Trust in Albuquerque, New Mexico, develops retail, commercial, and light industrial spaces that benefit the community with job creation and needed services.
  • Social Infrastructure Grants: Communities that have experienced disproportionate impact from COVID should look inward to the assets (e.g. land, environment, industries, community partners) that exist within their places. Available funds could help provide grants to block clubs, neighborhood associations, and nonprofit organizations to improve vacant or neglected properties and put them to use for community gardens, farms, or pop-up shops.

    For example, in Montreal, a partnership between the city and Regroupement des Éco-quartiers helps residents transform neglected alleyways into ruelles vertes, beautiful spaces for community. 
  • Home Repair Grants and Loans: Aging and low-income homeowners may struggle to keep up with necessary home repairs, leaving them vulnerable to housing instability and loss of assets, and meaning their homes become susceptible to investors who want to flip the properties. State and local programs could make no-interest loans or grant funds available for home repair to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing and local ownership.

    For example, we could extend the economic benefit to Rhode Island by linking homeowners in need of services with graduates of the Building Futures construction pre-apprenticeship program and similar efforts.   
  • Support for Business Districts and Commercial Corridors: Let’s look beyond individual businesses to their environments. We saw tremendous ingenuity by businesses, neighborhoods, downtowns, commercial districts, village squares, and towns in taking community and business outside during the pandemic. Now is the chance to deepen and sustain some of those changes. Funds could be used to reactivate vacant spaces for community or business use, market businesses within a district, make physical improvements to the outdoor infrastructure, host special events, activate alleys, pursue economies of scale, establish business improvement districts, or better link commercial spaces. To be clear, funding is needed for ongoing programming and maintenance, as much or even more than capital improvements.

    For example, Rhode Island could reinvigorate and grow the Main Street Streetscape Improvement Funds from 2016-2018. 
  • Wireless networks in low-income QCTs: With work, school, government, and healthcare going remote, COVID proved that reliable, quality internet is crucial community infrastructure. Funds can be used to improve access to affordable networks.

    For example, ONE Neighborhood Builders created ONE|NB Connects: Community WiFi, a mesh WiFi network that covers 5 million square feet of Olneyville (about half the neighborhood and roughly two-thirds of all neighborhood residents).

These are just ten examples of specific investments that could keep federal recovery dollars circulating longer and multiplying more in Rhode Island, leading to deeper and broader benefits for Rhode Islanders. We strongly urge state and local officials to prioritize investments like these that address long-standing wealth gaps. Wealth matters because it leads to resilience, one’s ability to withstand challenges, persist, and adapt. While COVID did not discriminate, wealthier households had more options to stay safe and recover. 

One last note: Investments should be strategically woven together and targeted to (and, importantly, implemented in partnership with) the most historically marginalized communities. Not surprisingly, the communities hardest hit by COVID are also those which have the largest and most long-standing disparities in health, economic, and social outcomes. We should follow Treasury’s lead and start with the 52 Qualified Census Tracts in Rhode Island.[4]  

Investing $2.6 billion wisely, where it can have deep and long-lasting benefit, is a tremendous opportunity and a formidable challenge. We offer these ideas to provoke creative thinking and productive dialogue, and we would be pleased to help moving forward. 


Footnotes:

[1] Treasury.gov

[2] Economic Progress Institute of Rhode Island

[3] Phrase borrowed from Nikishka Iyengar and John Haines, Next City op-ed

[4] Qualified Census Tracts must have 50 percent of households with incomes below 60 percent of the Area Median Gross Income or have a poverty rate of at least 25 percent. According to HUD, Rhode Island has 52 QCTs.

Community Conversation: Dulari Tahbildar

The rest of the economy relies upon the childcare industry, and yet it’s undervalued, under-compensated, and disrespected. Dulari Tahbildar helps the 350+ family childcare providers in Rhode Island who are members of SEIU 1199 obtain professional development and training. She hears over and over “that family childcare providers do not want to be treated as babysitters. They want to be respected as professionals.”

The SEIU Education and Support Fund offers professional development workshops, technical assistance, community and network building, and workforce development. “Family childcare providers are this amazing group of mostly women, mostly Latina women, who are incredible lifelong learners,” says Dulari. “They have this true desire to keep learning, to keep developing their craft and keep developing their skills. 

Family childcare providers offer a unique and critical option to parents. They care for small groups of children, usually up to six or nine, out of their homes. They offer more flexible hours than many centers, which some employees require. They may share the language or cultural background of the child. “Family childcare providers are really embedded in neighborhoods,” Dulari describes. “It’s so vital to have that access. When the person that is taking care of your child is located in your neighborhood, there is a sense of familiarity, there is a sense of similar cultural context, that really helps build connection in communities.” 

What’s the first thing Dulari would do to build a more just local economy? “Change who’s making decisions, change how people listen to women immigrant entrepreneurs, and really hear what they say they need, and give it to them.”

Community Investment SWOT for RI

Picture of SWOT analysis
Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats for RI’s Community Investment Ecosystem
(click to zoom in)

It takes an ecosystem to build community wealth. No person or place exists in static isolation, so we need to understand the connections and dependencies between entrepreneurs, investors, support resources, policies, funding streams, and the broader environment.

Participants in the Local Investment 101 Workshops worked together to develop a SWOT analysis of our community investment ecosystem. This gives a pretty good overview of where we’re starting — and what we have to tackle to build wealth, resilience, and equity in Rhode Island.

What do you think? Let us know.