Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Outtakes—The Promise of Hope

By Rick Outzen

Community leaders have begun to think big and look at a more comprehensive strategy in improving our poor, inner-city neighborhoods.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward and Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May have pulled in the county, city, Escambia County School District, University of West Florida, Pensacola State College and United Way to seek Promise Zone designation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for a 20-square mile portion of the city and county.

Promise Zones are based on the position that a child’s zip code should never determine his or her destiny. However, we know that the neighborhood in which children grow up impacts their odds of graduating high school, health outcome and  lifetime economic opportunities.

The Promise Zone designation partners the Federal government with local leaders in developing programs that can lead to crime reduction, neighborhood revitalization and workforce development. Promise Zone designees receive an opportunity to engage five AmeriCorps VISTA members in the Promise Zone’s work;
a federal liaison assigned to help designees navigate federal programs; and preferences for certain competitive federal grant programs and technical assistance from participating federal agencies. The designation lasts for 10 years.

In 2014, President Barack Obama announced the first round of Promise Zones. They were located in: San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Last year, he announced eight more in Barnwell, S.C., Camden, N.J., Hartford, Conn., Indianapolis, Ind., Minneapolis, Minn. Porcupine, S.D., Sacramento, Calif. and St. Louis, Mo.

Eight more designations will be announced this spring. HUD intends to designate five urban communities. USDA intends to designate one rural and one tribal community.

The City has acted as the lead organization. The UWF Institute for Innovative Community Learning has agreed to manage the operation should Pensacola receive designation. The application concentrated on six goals: expansion of educational opportunities, job creation, workforce development, economic development, crime reduction, promoting health and affordable housing.

The Promise Zone designation is a long shot. There were 82 applications submitted representing 38 states and Puerto Rico.  However, we do need a macro approach to poverty.

As Commissioner May told a PNJ reporter, “There is a multiplicity of issues that need multiple stakeholders to bring about solutions.”

Should HUD decide not to bestow a Promise Zone designation on Pensacola, let’s hope community leaders will use the application as a blueprint for future efforts and find other funding sources.

Pull quote: Promise Zones are based on the position that a child’s zip code should never determine his or her destiny.