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Community-driven solutions to poverty are more sustainable and meaningful

August 1, 2017

What does home mean to you?

By Patricia Belden, President, POAH Communities

Have you ever thought about what the word “home" really means? Home is more than the place we go to sleep at night, more than where we hang our clothes and more than just a physical structure. It’s also the place we raise our family, the place where neighbors become friends and the place we go to relax and reflect.

At POAH Communities, we think the affordable homes that we build should be communities of opportunity. For some of our residents, opportunity is about raising their children in a stable neighborhood, safe from violence, where they can attend a good school and explore new ideas and skills. For some, opportunity is about finding a better job, graduating from college or purchasing a home. For others, opportunity is the ability to age in place with independence and dignity.

These kinds of opportunities tend to fall into a few key areas:  health, education, employment and financial stability. At POAH Communities, it is our goal to help our 15,000 residents achieve something meaningful in all of them.

Why? Because it’s the same thing we hope for ourselves and our own communities.  How? Begin with a few fundamental practices:

We start by listening. It would be easy to assume that we have the answers to the pressing challenges that our residents face. But if we want to create lasting solutions, we need to listen first - to our residents, to our partners and to our POAH Communities team members.   Earlier this summer we completed a series of trainings to learn about the issues that our site teams face and to invite them to be a part of the solution with us. This year, every POAH community will go through a baseline survey collection exercise, listening to the needs, concerns and talents of our residents, and charting the most appropriate course forward.

We engage our entire team. POAH Communities staff are some of the most talented, diverse and skilled people in the business. That’s why we engage them in working towards community-driven solutions. And we don’t just engage our Community Impact Team – we involve our property managers, assistant managers and maintenance teams too. We provide support to the entire site team to work with residents and partners to define goals for the community and assemble the resources to create solutions. For some of our communities, these goals are around basic needs such as access to food or transportation. For others, these goals are to provide residents with financial capability skills, access to higher education or opportunities to become civically engaged in their neighborhood.

We aren’t just a “houser”- we’re a partner. As housing owners and managers, we have the unique opportunity to create partnerships with non-profits, community-based organizations, states and municipalities to empower residents to fulfill their goals. And because we know we can’t do it all by ourselves, we look for creative partners to do it with us -- like-minded non-profits like Compass Working Capital in Boston, MA, that delivers life-changing financial coaching and asset-building tools to residents in seven POAH Communities, and Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership that provides the most vulnerable families with the supports they need to stay housed, stay stable and begin to pursue their goals. Experienced, locally trusted organizations like Community Services League in Independence, MO, engage schools, hospitals, employers and neighbors in generating economic stability for all.

We invest in information. Over the past few years, we’ve taken a critical look at our impact, our data gap and our opportunities for learning.  One of the things we discovered is that we were often making assumptions – about what our communities wanted or needed, about whether those things were working. So we asked ourselves:  What do we actually know? How can we learn from and with our residents to better serve them?

We found that we needed to invest not only in our communities, but in the data, systems, people and processes by which we learn and grow. This investment had to be practical, not just theoretical.  We hired talented central office staff to help collect, analyze and share the data.   We also began training and supporting our site teams to interpret and making meaning of the data we collect. We created individualized reports for our site teams to set benchmarks and chart progress towards their goals.

Example:  Our Chicago site team is committed to reducing the number of residents who use expensive financial tools, like money orders, to pay their rent.   We’d like to move more people into the more stable checking account system. But first we need to know how many residents fit into this category and if we can effectively change habits. And if we do, is their financial stability improving as a result?

Why do we do it?

When we invest in our communities – the power of this investment is revealed to us over and over again. And though we believe that community-driven solutions are more honest, sustainable and meaningful, we can’t expect our local teams to do this work on their own. Company leaders need to provide the financial resources, data analysis, strategic framework and ongoing technical assistance to those site teams.

We know we don’t have all the answers. We know we will make mistakes and we’ll have to adapt our strategies or techniques as the data or the experience informs us. But we believe that by working together using the fundamentals we’ve embraced - deep listening, local engagement, strategic partnership and investing in information systems - we can create safe, affordable places where everyone feels at home. Where anyone can grow. Where everyone can thrive. This simple idea is at the heart of everything we do. And it’s the reason I get out of bed every morning.

This is what home means to us. What does home mean to you?

POAH Communities is the property management affiliate of Preservation of Affordable Housing. The mission of POAH Communities is to provide high quality property management and customer services to our residents.  POAH Communities provides services and develop partnerships that improve the lives of our residents and our communities.  We are a company that develops and honors its employees and delivers long-term value to its owners and partners.