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Mayor Alvin Brown, at podium, talks with members of the Community Wealth Building Initiative Task Force. The 15-member panel is charged with developing strategies to better develop the economy of the Northwest Jacksonville neighborhood.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jan. 28, 201512:00 PM EST

Group trying to build Northwest Jacksonville says effort may take 2 years

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

The city’s newly launched Community Wealth Building Initiative Task Force has been almost a year in the making, but wealth building is nothing new in Jacksonville.

In February, a group of city officials and nonprofit representatives visited the Evergreen Cooperative, which is Cleveland’s community development and wealth-building program.

The cooperative was described as “the most advanced city in this initiative” by Michelle Barth, Mayor Alvin Brown’s deputy chief of staff and liaison to the task force.

The program in Cleveland was launched in 2008 and has since developed a commercial laundry, a greenhouse operation that sells its production to commercial accounts, and a company that designs and installs solar arrays for commercial, institutional and government customers.

While Cleveland’s community wealth-building effort was built from scratch, Jacksonville has a head start on developing a coordinated plan.

“We have a lot of existing initiatives,” said Nina Waters, president of the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida and a member of the task force. “This is not new to us. We are not starting from zero.”

One of the programs underway is “1,000 in 1,000,” a program administered by Family Foundations, a local credit-counseling nonprofit. The goal is to move 1,000 people out of poverty every 1,000 days.

Beginning in 2007, the foundation, supported by the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, began identifying the key factors that could help people gain financial stability and then build wealth.

In November 2013, the foundation and JAX Chamber unveiled a program design that identified nine critical assets that will allow a family to get out of poverty: Affordable housing, transportation, parent training, quality child care, job training, resolving of criminal backgrounds, accountability, debt reduction and taking advantage of available income tax credits.

Based on the work so far, when seven of the nine assets are attained, a family doubles its probability of successfully emerging from poverty, said Dawn Lockhart, Family Foundations president and CEO.

The concept was to develop a system change and the task force is in a position to help expand the reach of the program, she said.

“For the first time in 30 years, the community in general is talking about wealth building,” Lockhart said.

She also sees the new initiative as supporting work that has been done. It also will bring more visibility to the importance of building wealth, especially for people who don’t live in Northwest Jacksonville.

“The task force places the program at the level of being a critical strategy for the community,” she said.

After the task force adjourned its inaugural session last week, Brown acknowledged work is being done to improve wealth in the community in general. The question is how to best focus the effort on a specific area of the city. He said a reasonable time frame for the panel’s work is 12-24 months.

Waters said the task force must “go into this work carefully” to ensure that the final product has the best chance of success. It’s not the first time there’s been a push to bolster the economic stability of the area north and west of the St. Johns River.

She doesn’t discount the significance of the new task force being the latest push.

“There have been a lot of promises made to people who live in Northwest Jacksonville and many have not been kept,” she said.

“We need to under-promise and over-deliver.”

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