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Community Development TIG Week: Empowering Residents of an Affordable Housing Complex Through Evaluation by Deacon Dzierzawski, Laura Brinson, and Mary Ann Wojton

“Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having a voice to be heard.” -Liz Fosslien

This year Community Development (CD) TIG’s sponsored week focuses on community development evaluation and how members are addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Research shows that diversity and inclusion in the workforce enhance organizational performance and creativity, and positively impact population health outcomes ( CDC; Science Direct Diversity Article). In the forthcoming week, the CD TIG will seek to highlight these efforts, as well as share Hot Tips and Tools with readers on how to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within the community development and evaluation workspace.

We are Deacon Dzierzawski (President), Laura Brinson (Senior Evaluator), and Mary Ann Wojton (VP of Research) from Epiphany Community Services (ECS).  We used the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) framework to support Amy Macechko, Health and Wellness Coordinator for the Coalition for a Healthy Community—Oxford Area, Ohio, in her work with residents of an affordable housing complex.

The foundation of ABCD revolves around community members driving the development process by identifying and mobilizing existing assets. Often this results in a citizen-centered organization. In our case, the goal was creating a resident council that would actively engage and support the residents.

We would like to share what we learned during this process.

Listening is the key to understanding.The Coalition contracted with ECS to conduct a listening session to better understand the needs of the housing complex residents. Drawing from ABCD theory, evaluators designed a listening session that modeled community-based participatory evaluation, providing all residents an opportunity to share their concerns.

Barriers to attending the listening session were reduced. The listening session was held at the elementary school, across the street from the housing complex. Childcare was provided so residents with young children could attend. Meals were provided for all participants, adults and children. Finally, adults received a gift card in appreciation of their time.

It takes time to develop trust. During the listening session, evaluators listened to participants. Evaluators checked in with participants to ensure their voices were heard and understood. Afterward, we shared our notes with Coalition members. Then, Coalition members began to meet with the residents to discuss listening session findings.

Honoring commitments is essential. During the listening session, evaluators learned residents did not understand their lease. Coalition members realized this was important and arranged for attorneys to meet with residents to explain the lease. Residents shared that they could not reach naloxone distribution sites. The Coalition leveraged a relationship with another partner to bring naloxone distribution and training to the housing complex. After learning it was difficult for residents to get to the food pantry, Coalition members arranged for residents to meet with the food pantry director. This meeting resulted in pantry staff bringing the pantry to the housing complex.

A breakfast club, including teachers and students, was resurrected. Coalition members and school staff gather students at the apartment complex and walk them to school. Students receive breakfast, enrichment activities, a snack pack, and a book to take home to build their personal library. During an asset mapping exercise, the housing complex management shared the value of outdoor, off-campus experiences for the youth. The Coalition, with the support of school staff and the community parks and recreation department, provided numerous summer and after-school experiences for the youth.

Collaboration is essential. Residents and Coalition members worked in pairs to survey and interview apartment complex residents to better understand resident concerns. Residents identified their top priorities and Coalition members supported their efforts to make changes.

The residents developed a Resident Council. The residents set the agenda. The Council provides residents with the tools and structure to create change. Coalition members support the Council by listening to residents and serving as the liaison between the apartment management and residents.

This work takes time to actively listen, develop relationships, and find mutually agreeable solutions.

Rad Resource:

To learn more about Asset Based Community Development, check out the ABCD Toolkit.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Community Development TIG Week with our colleagues in the Community DevelopmentTopical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our CD TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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