Shared Priorities in Action: Richmond, VA

Every community has competing needs and priorities. Developing and communicating a clear vision of what is at stake and how a set of investments can move a community towards the realization of its vision not only helps to attract capital, it also reduces the risk of failure by demonstrating focus and commitment.

A strong shared priority helps position stakeholders to make appropriate decisions among competing needs, align and maximize scarce resources, and bridge the gap between planning and implementation so they can move more quickly to action.

In Richmond, Virginia, a team participating in our Connect Capital program is focused on housing as a way to improve health and economic outcomes. Initially, the team sought to facilitate the creation or preservation of 500 units of affordable housing. At a workshop that focused on developing shared priorities, they examined the needs of residents, as well as market pressures and opportunities.

According to Mark Constantine, president and CEO of the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, “We had a moment when the whole team was flummoxed and didn’t know how to move forward. The facilitator had asked us questions that made us think about why it is that there wasn’t more affordable housing in Richmond. Why isn’t this working? As a city we’ve got these great institutions. We’ve got a lot of money. We’ve got a lot of good stuff going on in the region. Yet we don’t seem to be making any progress on housing. It was a catalyst for a really honest conversation. The facilitator pushed us to slow down, to not default to blaming NIMBYism or a problem with the government or a real estate market that isn’t on our side. That was a really pivotal moment for us.”

Through those conversations and additional research, the team identified bottlenecks in the processes for developing and preserving affordable housing, especially units in mixed-income developments that would accept housing vouchers. The team also identified the need to develop a narrative that would ground this work in broadly shared values and a vision of a Richmond for everyone.

The team now embraces a new shared priority: removing barriers that limit housing choices for low-income people by ensuring that families currently earning less than $22,500 annually have quality choices in where they live so that they can reach their full potential.

Richmond’s experience illustrates several of the components we consider critical to an effective shared priority. Their priority considers the system, taking into account the actors, resources, and constraints that collectively accelerate or impede the production and preservation of affordable housing. Equally important, the priority is neither too broad nor too narrow in its scope. Instead, it puts forward a goal that can galvanize a wide range of actors while also remaining relevant and actionable in the community. The priority is easy to articulate and easy to understand, which is important when soliciting engagement from investors and other key stakeholders.

Formulating shared priorities is a critical step in galvanizing and focusing the energy required to make community investments happen at scale and with impact. Deciding as a community where resources should flow makes the difference between being positioned to take advantage of unanticipated opportunities or being left behind. Well-defined shared priorities help shape the deals that make up a relevant pipeline and clarify what aspects of the enabling environment could better support progress. Making thoughtful choices about shared priorities is the corner¬stone of an effort to unlock community investments.

To learn more about shared priorities, read Defining Shared Priorities.

Transforming investment in communities

CCI is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The California Endowment, and The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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