This report is an evaluation of the first thirteen years of the National Community Development Initiative. It provides lessons about transforming blighted neighborhoods through housing development.

Since 1991, Living Cities has made strategic investments in the work of nonprofit community development corporations in 23 cities across the U.S.

This report tackles three questions: One, where has the money gone? A thorough and independent due diligence on the spending of the capital ensures that we are accountable for our funds. Two, what has transpired over the course of the last 13 years, and how can the lessons of this process guide future spending and local activity? And, three, how well is the Living Cities model working? Does it produce the types of programs and projects that significantly help people in disadvantaged neighborhoods?

What this report shows should prove heartening to investors, intermediaries, and communities alike. Living Cities' investment of over $370 million in it firs 13 years helped to catalyze additional public and private investment in projects costing over $11 billion. Funding does indeed go to very low-income neighborhoods that are often bypassed by “normal” capital markets. Through June 2004, Living Cities funding financed development of about 112,000 homes in the 23 locales, enough to house the population of a city the size of St. Paul, Minnesota, or Raleigh, North Carolina.

It should come as no surprise–but the report provides additional evidence–that the development of housing in low-income communities is essential for improving the lives of their residents. Housing allows residents to move from welfare to self-sufficiency and, from there, to build assets for education, retirement, and a better life.

What’s more, community development corporations (CDCs) are indeed proving to be effective vehicles for transforming blighted neighborhoods. Not all CDCs operate at maximum efficiency, but most–especially those with strong support systems in the community–are engaged in multifaceted community development activites even beyond housing.

Living Cities and its intermediaries are providing the missing pieces that allow CDCs to perform at their best, whether through loans for development activities, grants for organizational capacity-building, or stable financing that encourages the private sector to jump in and invest. Equally important, we are helping to improve the environment in which community development and revitalization take place.

We are not done. This report makes it clear that challenges ahead are many. But the community development model now has a proven record; it has long since moved out of the realm of wishful thinking and into the toolbox of a modern economy. It does, however, need strong and continuing public support if we are to revitalize and unleash the untapped potential of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods.