DNA of the Federal Reserve,” said Erickson. “People don’t often realize that.”
Community development is an effort to empower local communities to take the reins of their economic destiny. Instead of a top-down approach emanating from Washington, DC, networks of both governmental and nongovernmental players are involved in neighborhood community development corporations and local advocacy groups. These networks build affordable housing, finance small businesses, and support community facilities. Since the low-income housing tax credit was enacted in 1986, for example, 3 million high-quality apartments housing about 15 million low-income families have been built nationwide.
Many groups are involved in the support of these programs, including the federal government, banks, foundations, socially motivated investors, pension funds, and insurance companies. “The point I’m trying to make,” said Erickson, “is that there is a lot of money here. It is not sufficient to the needs, but when we think about alliances … we have an income stream that we can work with.”
Recently, the Federal Reserve has been partnering with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to examine and improve the social determinants of health. For example, a series of conferences held across the country has brought together people interested in public health and in community development. These conferences often feature a comparison of two maps: one that shows the prevalence of a health problem such as childhood obesity in the local communities across a region and another that shows the prevalence of economic hardship in the same communities. Invariably, the maps are almost identical: as economic hardship increases, the prevalence of childhood obesity also increases. “You can hear a pin drop in these meetings at this moment,” said Erickson. “It’s obvious that we in community development and those who worry about public health are working side by side in the same communities, but we don’t know each other.”
Erickson closed by briefly mentioning three programs that he believes would be valuable allies in reducing childhood obesity: the Healthy Foods Financing Initiative3 for building grocery stores in food deserts; transit-oriented development; and small business development of companies that, for instance, provide locally sourced organic food.