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Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West Speaks at the United Neighborhood Centers of America Neighborhood Revitalization Conference


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you.  I’m very pleased to be here.  I’d like to thank the leadership and staff of the United Neighborhood Centers of America for the invitation to speak today – and for the outstanding service you and your affiliates provide to America’s communities.  For more than a century, UNCA has worked to improve conditions in distressed neighborhoods and restore opportunity to those who live there. 

By bringing together community stakeholders with businesses, philanthropies, academia, and government, this organization has helped to lay the foundation for economic success and social transformation in cities across the country.  Your work has truly made a difference.

Today, with more than 10 million Americans living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty and far too many of them looking for work, struggling to pay rent, or striving desperately to escape crime, your mission, your resolve, your leadership and ingenuity has never been more critical.   That’s why it’s inspiring to see so many folks here committed to helping communities break the cycle of poverty and displacement.  You are the ones who work day in and day out to help these neighborhoods overcome obstacles and realize their potential. 

And I want you to know that those of us in the federal government -- and particularly those of us at the Justice Department -- we want to work with you to create safe and healthy neighborhoods; to build communities that are sources of pride and strength for our fellow Americans living and working in urban pockets throughout our country. 

And to be effective partners, we will have to break out of the everyday silos that too often define our professional circles of concern and build partnerships that will enable us to leverage limited resources and achieve problem-solving synergies we could never realize while working separately.

We must do this because the problems of persistent crime, failing schools, inadequate housing, and poor health do not impact us in isolation, one separate from the other.  We experience these issues together; as a mosaic of challenges that comprises the context of our lives. 

It’s no coincidence that communities with high student drop-out or truancy rates also experience greater delinquency and more crime.  Or that neighborhoods with high unemployment also have sub-standard housing.  These problems often coexist and reinforce one another. 

Take, for example, this one statistic:  A majority of our children – over 60 percent, regardless of race – are exposed to some form of violence, crime, or abuse -- from brief encounters as witnesses to violence in the home to being direct victims themselves. 

Now, that's not just a law enforcement challenge; when those kids show up in school and they're not ready to learn, that's an education challenge.  And when those kids show up in clinics suffering from anxiety, depression or a whole host of other issues, that's a public health care challenge.  And when they when can't find a job because they don't have the skills employers are looking for because they've dropped out of school much too early, that's a business challenge. 

So neighborhoods in which our children are exposed to violence, crime or abuse?  That's a community-level challenge.  And it requires a community-level response.

That’s why this Administration is moving to address these challenges comprehensively.  Through the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative, for instance, the White House is leading a federal effort to spark economic growth in five cities and one region, helping them maximize resources and leverage partnerships with businesses, philanthropies, and non-profit organizations.

Another critical component of the Administration’s strategy, as many of you know, is the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative.  The goal is to help transform neighborhoods in distress into neighborhoods of opportunity by using federal support to leverage local assets and increase local capacity.  Our friends at the Departments of Education, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services are key partners in this effort, with strong leadership from the White House.

And as part of this initiative, the Justice Department is launching a new program called the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation program – or BCJI – that will help develop place-based, community-oriented efforts to address neighborhood-level crime issues.  Through this exciting new effort, we’ll dig deep to examine how high rates of crime and violence can delay and frustrate the process of neighborhood revitalization and we’ll explore ways to address that difficult issue. 

Part of the way we’ll do that is by leveraging and augmenting existing sources of federal support.  For example, through BCJI, we are offering Public Safety Enhancement grants to recipients of the Education Department’s Promise Neighborhood grants and HUD’s Choice Neighborhood grants to help them address their most persistent crime problems.

Now, for many communities, that kind of coordinated approach to providing resources will mean all the difference.  But we know that not every community has the organization, infrastructure or tools to be able to access the help they need.  And some jurisdictions, while they may have the capacity to attract resources at the city-wide level, are unable to support efforts targeted at the neighborhood level.  This means that communities that need the most assistance are often unable to take full advantage of local, state, federal, or even private support. 

So today, I’m pleased to announce new awards under a groundbreaking initiative called the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program to help distressed and disadvantaged communities better compete for the resources they need.

Using a combination of Census data and site visits, we were able to identify a set of communities that are poised for progress but who have not always received attention from the traditional grant-making process.  Our goal was to select communities that, until now, have lacked the capacity to fully access resources for critical community issues.

And I’m pleased to announce that our first eight neighborhood recipients of the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program are: Ward 1 and Ward 3 neighborhoods in Flint, Michigan; Amani and Metcalfe Park neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Binghampton and Frayser neighborhoods in Memphis, Tennessee; and El Dorado and Southwest neighborhoods in Fresno, California. 

These communities were selected based on compelling statements of need and evidence of cross-sector partnerships and neighborhood engagement.  Each city will receive intensive, expert assistance and up to $75,000 to support cross-sector partnerships and up to another $75,000 in each targeted neighborhood.

I’m very excited about this effort because it will bring hope to challenged communities that for too long have been left to struggle in the shadows.  It will help them to begin the process of revitalization, help them to restore a sense of civic pride.

Because empowering communities to chart their own course, to seize their own destiny:  that is at the heart of the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative and the new grants we are announcing today.  And while those efforts are no doubt important to moving the ball of progress forward in our Nation’s urban landscapes, they alone are not sufficient.  The fact is, success in this effort requires folks like you:  dedicated individuals who are in this for the long haul. 

Folks like you, who know that crime, displacement, and despair are not inevitable; who know that we can overcome those adversities by taking individual actions of daring and courage, of resourcefulness and determination. 

Folks like you, who know that collaboration is the foundation of a healthy neighborhood. 

Folks like you, who know that every time we bring opportunity to a community, we create safer streets; and with safer streets comes renewed hope; and with renewed hope comes changed lives.

So I thank you for all you do on behalf of America’s communities and I thank you for your time today.

Updated September 17, 2014