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Friday, June 14, 2024

Closing the Gap: LISC Builds Healthier Communities

“To help forge resilient and inclusive communities of opportunity across America.” That is the overarching mission of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a business aimed at supporting underserved communities through local and national efforts.  

Founded in 1979 by the Ford Foundation, LISC has grown to include 38 local offices and a rural program that includes more than 2,200 counties across 45 states. The organization has provided $1.3 billion in grants and invested a total of $24 billion into affordable housing, healthy neighborhoods and economic development over the past 43 years.

LISC supports job growth in underserved communities by helping equip local businesses with the resources they need to grow, and they strive to help get funding into the places that need it most.

Affordable Housing

With housing prices skyrocketing in Arizona and an influx of out-of-state homebuyers flocking to Arizona, it is becoming more difficult for Arizonans to find affordable housing. 

The “cornerstone” of LISC has always been affordable housing, and this continues to be a major focus for the leadership within the company. 

Terry Benelli is the executive director for the Phoenix LISC office and joined LISC in 2014. She was recently appointed to the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Los Angeles branch. 

“We’re working with nonprofits to build their capacity so that they can serve more people,” Benelli said in a podcast by heararizona.org. “So really if someone’s looking for support to purchase a home, our closest nonprofit partners are Trellis and Newtown CDC.”

LISC works with nonprofits like Trellis and Newtown CDC to help provide support for affordable housing through grants and funding. Loans are offered to community development corporations, nonprofit and for-profit affordable housing developers, as well as local and state housing authorities. To date, the company has provided $2.7 billion in loans for housing projects and aided the development of 436,320 affordable homes and apartments 

“LISC aims to support communities that face systemic challenges because they have historically been overlooked and disinvested,” Frieda Pollack, Phoenix LISC director of communications & operation, says. “We work with place-based organizations who are trusted in their communities and help them build their capacity to address the need for affordable housing, small business support, anti-gentrification and anti-displacement efforts, family financial stability and other elements of a healthy community.”

‘Resilience Hub’

LISC is also focused on helping those in “heat-vulnerable” communities. According to a 2020 report, there were more than 300 heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County alone, of which 53% were among the homeless.

With the support of an EPA Environmental Justice Small Grant, LISC will leverage resources already available for additional street tree shade and sitting areas for those who rely on public transportation.

LISC is collaborating with the Maricopa Department of Public Health, Catholic Charities, and the ASU School of Sustainability to address the needs of those in the downtown Mesa community by creating a “Resilience Hub.” According to Pollack, this Resilience Hub would provide emergency services during heat waves and/or power outages. It will also aid members in the community to advocate for themselves by developing neighborhood cooling strategies.  

“Providing this safety net during heat emergencies is necessary, however equally important is community capacity building for long-term strategies to address neighborhood inequities and balance the tension between resulting gentrification and displacement of long-term residents,” Pollack says.

With the help of the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) and 2021 Financial Assistance (FA) Awards, LISC is utilizing $3.4 million to expand their efforts supporting healthy food, charter school financing and affordable housing in underserved communities.

“We know that community development moves at the speed of trust,” Pollack adds. “And we don’t believe we have all the answers. It’s through partnerships with community members, neighborhood-based organizations and funders that we’re able to have an impact.”

For more information, visit lisc.org.

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