Helping Beyond Thanksgiving: Investing in the Revitalization of Low-Income Communities

Thanksgiving is a time to gather with friends and family, a time to reflect on our privileges and the past year’s accomplishments and—most of us—also look forward to enjoying a big, festive meal.  Whether you host or travel to a loved one’s homes, many Americans will spend this Thursday gathered around a table, enjoying the comfort of a warm home and delicious food, and maybe even watching some football that afternoon.

For those people living in poverty, struggling with homelessness, those affected by devastating natural disasters, or those without access to affordable, healthy food, the holiday can be quite a different experience.

L.A. Prep is a New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) financed project in Los Angeles that will serve as an incubator for 50 small- to medium-sized food producers who have outgrown their startup spaces. The anchor tenant of the project is L.A. Kitchen, which is a commercial kitchen and produce processing hub that prepares meals and nutritious snacks for seniors and low‐income families.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS), “data from the latest census (2000), about 23.5 million people, or 8.4 percent of the U.S. population, live in low-income neighborhoods that are more than a mile from a supermarket. Low-income neighborhoods are areas where more than 40 percent of the population has income less than or equal to 200 percent of the Federal poverty threshold ($44,000 per year for a family of four in 2008).” A 2017 ERS report also found that “11.8 percent of American households were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2017, meaning they lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.” However, that number may be higher, depending on where you live.

The January 2017 Point-in-Time count from the HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report found that there are 553,742 people experiencing homelessness in the United States. Hundreds are without homes after the camp fire in California, and thousands are still dealing with hurricane damage from this year and last year.

Many of us volunteer on Thanksgiving, serving food to individuals and families in need. But how can we help those less fortunate beyond a few hours spent volunteering on Thanksgiving? This is an issue central to the field of community and economic development.

Since being implemented, the New Markets Tax Credit has been used across the country to help improve many of these challenges through the financing of food banks, grocery stores located in food deserts, homeless shelters and other community facilities that serve communities and people in need. Since 2003, the NMTC has financed 276 of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, food delivery services, food banks, and other projects expanding access to food in underserved areas.

NMTC practitioners like Habitat for Humanity, LISC, Greenline Ventures and many others in our community have been key in helping families repair and rebuild homes after hurricanes or providing financing to organizations like the Houston Food Bank and North Dallas Food Bank, which provided direct assistance to the families and communities affected by the unprecedented flooding and destruction of Hurricane Harvey and Irma.

If we want to help, we need to get to the root of the problem and invest in programs that are focused on improving the lives of people and communities struggling with economic hardship. Helping organizations and businesses access the capital necessary to grow local businesses, expand community services and create good paying jobs is key and the NMTC has a strong record of accomplishing just that.

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