Newark wins funding, assistance as 1 of 10 U.S. cities picked for economic mobility initiative sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies

Newark will be announced Tuesday as one of 10 cities across the country selected by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ballmer Group to participate in a national initiative to identify, pilot and measure the success of interventions that will accelerate the economic mobility of their residents.

The cities will participate in an 18-month program in which an existing social program that appears to have the makings for success is given assistance by numerous top-level national organizations. Officials said there will be an emphasis on using data to create processes and solutions for the city, while creating a blueprint for success that other cities can emulate.

Newark’s initiative will focus on reducing eviction rates amid rising housing costs to help ensure that long-term residents share in the benefits of local economic growth.

Newark and the other nine cities already have begun working with a team of advisers from Results for America and the Behavioral Insights Team, both partners in What Works Cities, a Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative that helps cities confront urgent challenges through data- and evidence-based decision-making.

The cities will work with additional What Works Cities partners, including Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Government Excellence, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Performance Lab and the Sunlight Foundation.

Additionally, Opportunity Insights at Harvard University is helping the cities draw insights regarding economic mobility in their communities using data from the Opportunity Atlas, an interactive resource developed in collaboration with the U.S. Census Bureau.

As part of the grant, Newark will receive up to $150,000 to use toward additional needs and assistance.

Andrea Coleman, who co-leads the Bloomberg Philanthropies Government Innovation grant programs, said the program is about using data to change outcomes related to economic opportunity and prosperity in urban settings. She said it’s an urgent need.

“From the perspective of Bloomberg Philanthropies, where this comes from and what prompted this … was new data that has recently come from Opportunity Insights at Harvard University,” she told ROI-NJ. “That data shows that only half of the children today are going to grow up and earn more money than their parents. And that’s compared to 90% of children who were born in 1940.

“We know that here, in the U.S., there’s a very strong narrative that, if you work hard, you’ll get ahead. But what we’re finding through this research and data is that, in many communities, young people and families face significant barriers to climbing the economic ladder. And some of that is based on the neighborhoods where they live.”

Newark Interim Deputy Mayor and Chief Operating Officer Natasha Rogers agrees with the premise, adding that making residents feel a part of their community is key.

Rogers said it’s one of the reasons why reducing eviction rates is a key initiative for the city, where recent census data showed more than 78 percent of Newark residents are renters.

“Multiple studies show that represented tenants are more likely to retain possession of their homes than similar, unrepresented tenants, thereby reducing shelter costs, hospital costs, mental health costs, juvenile delinquency and the number of filed eviction actions,” she told ROI-NJ.

Rogers said there are approximately 38,000 eviction notices filed annually in Essex County, with approximately 20,000 of them filed against Newark tenants.

Under the program, Rogers said Newark will aim to reduce that number by 25%.

Coleman and Rogers are both confident the program can have an impact in Newark and potentially serve as a guide for others.

The reason: Newark already was making progress toward this goal. The assistance, they both said, should be viewed as additional help and guidance — not an attempt to throw money at a problem without a legitimate model to follow.

“This initiative was going to happen with or without Bloomberg,” Rogers said. “We look at their partnership this way: They’re helping us better implement this and to reduce and mitigate any issues that may have come up because of our lack of capacity or lack of bandwidth.

“We know that the data speaks for itself.”

Rogers said the outside ideas — and eyes — already are making an impact. That was evident, she said, earlier this month, when approximately 40 Newark officials began meeting with officials from the various organizations involved with the initiative.

“I invited our whole senior management team, no matter what agency they were in — public safety, (public works), (information technology), to come,” she said. “I wanted everyone to see Newark from a data perspective and see this is what the average citizen is experiencing from an economic mobility perspective.

“Bloomberg (had) pulled data to say, ‘This is what your neighborhoods and your city look like, these are the demographics, these are the amount of people that live here, this is how much money they make.’”

Then the officials measured it against what Newark looked like 20 years ago from an economic perspective.

The data, Rogers said, was eye-opening.

“We want to make objective decisions, but sometimes you sit too close to a situation and you underestimate the situation, or you have your own implicit bias,” she said.

“What we saw was that the data shows people are worse off, in certain neighborhoods, then they were 20 years ago. We’re trying to make sure that the next 20 years doesn’t look like the past 20 years.”

Coleman said Newark — and the other nine cities selected — are in position to achieve that goal.

“One of the things we’ve learned through our work with cities is that there are a few things that really ensured the best of these kinds of projects,” she said. “First, it’s a commitment from the city to address the challenge. So, in this case, in all of these cities, they were selected because there was already really strong momentum and commitment and resources around this issue, and leadership from the top to drive the work forward.

“Second is a willingness and a commitment to use data and evidence to accelerate their progress. We know resources alone are not going to solve the problem. We need to make sure that people are able to measure the results of what they’re doing and investing the resources in smart ways that will actually make an impact.

“And then, third, the team and the partners that they have in place. In none of these cities is the city trying to tackle this alone. They have partners both within the different city agencies but also outside of government.

“The program is taking advantage of that great leadership, that commitment to using data, those very strong partners that are in place. The way we’re augmenting and supporting the project and the commitment from these funders is that we’re adding a lot of expertise around the design of the intervention and the test and the measurement of being able to understand how that is working.”

File photo
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, right, during a news conference on the ‘Shaq Towers’ development project.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the announcement is further proof that Newark not only is headed in the right direction, but attracting national attention.

“I think is incredibly important for us that Newark was selected,” he told ROI-NJ. “It’s a recognition that we have been working to put some of the infrastructure in place for equity and accessibility around economic growth and housing.

“I think they recognized that, when the Opportunity Zones investment comes, Newark is ready to benefit and make sure that the residents of the city benefit from it as well.”

Baraka said he’s glad to have another partner.

“It’s great when (groups) are able to provide you funds for what you think is necessary,” he said. “It’s one thing when people come in and drop funding and try to dictate what you do and try to tell you what’s important for you and how this will help you grow.

“This is different in the sense that this is something that we agree on collectively, in terms of the direction of the city. It is the kind of funding that’s necessary to help us buttress what we’re already doing.”

Here are the other cities selected for the program and the projects that each city will pursue to address economic mobility:

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: Improve the financial health and literacy of local youth by increasing their access to bank accounts and financial empowerment services;
  • Cincinnati: Engage employers to connect low-income workers with services that help them succeed professionally;
  • Dayton, Ohio: Increase parental engagement with high-quality early childhood education through innovative outreach methods;
  • Detroit: Connect low-income residents in affordable housing units to programs and services that increase their economic opportunities and likelihood of achieving housing stability;
  • Lansing, Michigan: Increase residents’ access to a continuum of financial empowerment tools;
  • New Orleans: Engage youth in services that prepare them for successful careers;
  • Racine, Wisconsin: Help more adults obtain a high school equivalency diploma, a prerequisite for many local high-mobility jobs;
  • Rochester, New York: Develop a matched savings program for income-eligible families to help them weather financial shocks, build wealth, and create economic stability;
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma: Help youth who are not currently in work or school get the education and training they need for high-quality jobs in the community.