Building Healthy Communities: An Exploration of a Place-based Initiative, Participant Characteristics, and Preliminary Outcomes
Decades of discriminatory housing policies have resulted in geographic segregation, forcing low-income minorities into areas of concentrated poverty (Massey & Kanaiaupuni, 1993; Stoloff, 2004). Areas of concentrated poverty are typically marked by poor housing quality, under performing schools, high crime rates, and limited access to resources such as healthcare and grocery stores, lack of social cohesion, and poor health outcomes (Crump, 2002; Dutko, Ver Ploeg, & Farrigan, 2012; Kawachi & Berkman, 2000; Massey, 1990). To combat the challenges associated with concentrated poverty and build healthy communities, place-based interventions have become increasingly popular (Arias, Escobedo, Kennedy, Fu, & Cisewski, 2018; Diez-Roux, 2017; Jutte, Miller, & Erickson, 2015). Several place-based models (e.g., Harlem Children’s Zone, Purpose Built Communities) have shown positive outcomes (Bridgespan 2004; 2011), however, evaluations to guide replication and the identification of best practices have lagged.This study examined data from a nonprofit replicating the Purpose Built Communities model in the southeastern U.S. Renaissance West Community Initiative (RWCI) is a place-based nonprofit that coordinates activities and services for residents living in a newly redeveloped mixed-income community and an adjacent low-income community. Activities coordinated by RWCI include college and career readiness programs, health education programs, health resources, community engagement activities, and children’s programs. Data from program participation and community surveys were assessed to understand the characteristics of adult residents, such as their education level, employment status, income, health, social networks, perceptions of their neighbors, participation in the nonprofit’s activities, and the degree to which each of these variables are related. Additionally, longitudinal analyses examined changes in these variables over a twelve to eighteen-month period. Findings show that residents’ socioeconomic status (SES) and social network size were the primary predictors of the types of RWCI activities in which they participated and the frequency of participation. Participation in RWCI’s activities was not related to changes in SES, health, or neighborhood perceptions, but participation in activities was related to increased social network size. Social networks were also related to neighborhood perceptions, such that residents with stronger neighborhood social networks had more positive perceptions of their neighbors overall. Residents with a disability had the lowest perceptions of their neighbors and reported worse health status. The present study provides an example of how even limited quantitative data can be used by place-based nonprofits to understand the characteristics and experiences of adults living in their service area to monitor implementation and outcomes, and provide guidance for improvements in use of resources to improve the community. . The findings have implications for RWCI and their ongoing efforts to revitalize this low-income neighborhood into a healthy mixed-income community. Recommendations for ongoing data collection and analyses, targeting of services, and community building strategies are provided.