Community Development & Growing Democracy Series, Part 2: What role do government agencies play in stimulating community development? 

By Hannah Lebovits, Assistant Professor at University of Texas, Arlington (and former Growing Democracy project manager)
[Part 1: What is community development?]

In the United States, governments at all levels are involved in promoting community development efforts. At the federal level, the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides grant funding for community development efforts at the state and local levels. HUD also directly supports secondary measures to assist with community development via loan programs and investment credits. 

State governments also play an important role in community development work, either through state-level departments or via grants to local communities. For example, state departments of transportation are important community development drivers through public transit support efforts. Meanwhile, state economic development agencies often determine which communities are eligible for investment dollars and how the money must be spent.  

Of course, the level of government most acutely involved with community development efforts is the local one. Cities and neighborhoods are the primary space for community development work making those who directly govern them most responsible for engaging in the community development process.

City agencies often use state and federal funding to promote a broad number of neighborhood stabilization efforts related to the acquisition, design, and use of public land. Community development efforts can also include direct engagement with communities and collaborative efforts with neighborhood associations and nonprofits. Cities might also offer small grants directly to community organizations seeking to enhance the quality of life within a neighborhood or locality. Community conversations, public meetings, and local forums are also supported by city dollars and staff. 

Local legislators also sometimes maintain a pot of monies for community development work within their wards. These dollars might be used for neighborhood beautification efforts, community center programming, or direct support to organizations and associations. 

With local governments playing such a pivotal role in community development efforts, resident involvement in local politics and city management is key to successful community development. Without proactive residents and systems of accountability for local legislators and administrators, community development efforts will not have a lasting, positive impact on the city or neighborhood.

However, resident involvement alone is not enough. Governmental agencies at all levels need to be proactive in their efforts to ensure that testimony and lived experiences drive community development efforts and that residents have power within the process.