Suburban communities need a quarterback - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Suburban communities need a quarterback

According to the Brookings Institution, starting in 2000, more of the nation’s poor lived in the suburbs than in cities. The Chicago region in particular saw this shift officially occur in 2010. These stark facts were laid out by Brookings Fellow Elizabeth Kneebone at an MPC Roundtable on December 13th that also included Herman Brewer, bureau chief, Cook County Bureau of Economic Development, David Bennett, executive director, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, Matthew Reilein, senior vice president, New Markets Tax Credit Group, JPMorgan Chase, and Robin Snyderman, principal, Brick Partners, LLC.  

Elizabeth pointedly discussed how the suburbs, with limited budgets and capacity to address the challenges associated with these demographic changes, need a “quarterback;” an entity, organization, or partnership that is supporting municipalities and driving good policy and program practice in and for suburban communities.   Her comments supported the release of the paper Supporting and Sustaining Interjurisdictional Collaboration for Housing and Community Development  by the Metropolitan Planning Council, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which features three clusters of communities in South, Northwest, and West Cook County that are partnering on housing, community, and economic development efforts. The paper makes recommendations designed to strengthen their capacity, attract needed investment, and foster more efficiencies and scale. 

Serving as a quarterback is exactly what the three clusters– the Chicago Southland Housing and Community Development Collaborative, Northwest Suburban Housing Collaborative, and West Cook Collaborative, are doing.  33 municipalities are members of the three clusters, who are actively providing them with direct services and programmatic support, including:

  • identifying development priorities and concentrating resources geographically to maximize their impact;
  • developing shared housing policies and regulations to benefit the area’s shared housing market;
  • implementing public programs to lift the administrative burden from local communities;
  • bringing in established and reputable partners from both the public, non-profit, and private sectors; and,
  • attracting and targeting vital public and private resources and investment

To date, these clusters have received $850,000 in foundation support that has in turn leveraged $35M in public and private-sector resources. 

The Chicago Southland Housing and Community Development Collaborative, Northwest Suburban Housing Collaborative, and West Cook Collaborative are establishing a new paradigm for suburban planning and development. What the paper is designed to address is how their long-term sustainability can be secured. Foundation dollars are important, but not guaranteed. Public resources have helped, but bring with them administrative burdens without the flexible dollars to support the management of the regulations and processes associated with the grants themselves.  Each cluster is unique – one is housed within a council of governments (COG), one is supported by an independent consultant staffed by one participating town, and the third is supported through the consulting support of a community development financial institution. While these structures cater to the unique needs of the communities they serve, they also pose challenges particularly for public agencies and partners who are interested iin adjusting guidelines to support them.  

Dave Bennett of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus outlined at the event the several ingredients for success for existing and new multi-town partnership. Clusters must:

  • establish agreed upon subregional priorities to drive and attract resources
  • develop a shared staffing strategy that clearly defines the role of the staff serving all participating municipalities
  • document the commitment of member communities through by-laws, rules, intergovernmental agreements and/or in-kind staff support
  • Ensure the structural ability to receive public and private funds, including the possible alignment with existing government entities like counties or councils of governments.
  • Facilitating and formalizing partnerships with organizations with the capacity and reputation to support the implementation of cluster priorities.

The paper also outlines needed partnerships with public and private sector organizations. Matthew Reilein of JP Morgan Chase highlighted that establishing a single point of entry for the private sector to work with multiple communities is increasingly important given current market challenges. Regulatory changes from public agencies at the county, state, and federal levels are also paramount, including allowing for joint applications from communities, coordinating more effectively across departments and issue areas, and working through the clusters to establish relationships and design programs that best serve the needs of the member communities. Herman Brewer described the work Cook County has been doing to better support and coordinate with these clusters, using the clusters' on-the-ground expertise and relationships to better support suburban communities and allocate limited puplic resources more effectively. The paper was released to a packed house of over 100 participants at MPC, many of whom represented municipalities from across the region, as well as public agencies, a hopeful sign that there is growing interest for this approach throughout the Chicago region.

Click here to see the presentations
Click here to view the video recording of the event

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