Community development encompasses public and private efforts to strengthen the economic, physical, and social environments in low-income areas. The community development sector plays a vital role in shaping thriving communities through place-based investments, economic development, and community organizing and engagement. Recognizing that there are many factors that influence health, community development aims to address poverty and upstream drivers to foster transformative change and co-create thriving communities for present and future generations.
Community development unites professionals from real estate, city planning, law, social work, public policy, public health, affordable housing, and finance fields with a common focus on improving neighborhoods. Community Development Corporations, neighborhood-level nonprofits that implement community development projects, and Community Development Financial Institutions (private financial institutions dedicated to delivering lending in disadvantaged communities) are all key players that develop and finance affordable housing, schools, community centers, health clinics, social and health services, and workforce and economic initiatives.
Today, thousands of community development organizations operate in the poorest urban and rural parts of the U.S., leveraging over $200 billion annually. The modern community development sector has its origins in the War on Poverty programs of the 1960s, which introduced new federal programs to provide education and job training, and garnered support for community planning and organizing. Growing momentum to address social justice issues of the day led by activists and stewards within government and philanthropy helped spread innovative financing models; which, alongside federal funding programs, created the community development system at the scale we see today.
The community development sector plays a precipitous and transformational role in improving vital community conditions. Expanding and improving upon community development efforts can improve well-being for people living in low- and moderate-income communities on a massive scale. With its focus on disadvantaged communities, the sector is positioned to address systemic inequities experienced by people living in poverty, as well as engage, organize, and empower marginalized communities in decision-making.
Effective community development requires collaboration across sectors, including government agencies, healthcare providers, nonprofit organizations, residents, community organizations, local leaders, and private stakeholders. Changemakers can take advantage of funding sources such as the Community Development Block Grant to invest in community centers, affordable housing, and health clinics to build healthier communities.
Community development leaders can leave lasting impacts through promoting partnerships and meaningful participation, fostering a sense of ownership, empowerment, and accountability. Leaders can advocate for policies and programs that create equitable and strategic solutions—that avoid community displacement and ensure affordable housing. Additionally, changemakers can work with place-based community leaders and leverage community voices to improve health outcomes by sharing resources, diverse knowledge, and expertise.