Recommended Reading

Public Works Partners at the Change Capital Fund Forum: Smart Organizations/Strong Neighborhoods

Public Works Partners was proud to participate in the Change Capital Fund (CCF) Forum, Smart Organizations/Strong Neighborhoods, on February 28.  The Forum provided reflection and provoked discussion on CCF-funded community development corporations and their impact on poverty in New York City.  We joined the four CDC grantees: Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, Fifth Avenue Committee, New Settlement Apartments, and St. Nick’s Alliance, to discuss their successful outcomes and lessons learned from measuring and scaling their impact in reducing poverty in their neighborhoods.

We have been working with CCF, a collaborative of 17 funders dedicated to improving economic mobility in New York City neighborhoods, since the planning year of its current cohort’s four-year cycle. The Fund provides the four CDCs with substantial support, including technical assistance, to help these neighborhood organizations establish the systems and capacity to measure impact. Public Works supported the grantees to develop common metrics across organizations to assess and share the impact of their workforce development, adult education, youth education, and affordable housing strategies.

At the forum, keynote speaker Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Dr. Hermania Palacio, noted that poverty is not just about individuals and a temporary state, but rather affects entire families and communities that have been stuck in cycles for decades. As a response, the City is committed to helping 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty by 2025. Other speakers noted that to reach this goal, pathways need to be created so that all 800,000 can not only escape the cycle of poverty, but also excel in their endeavors – a large role CDCs can play.

Building off this theme, Public Works Partners CEO Celeste Frye moderated a panel, “How to best leverage NYC’s Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to reduce poverty,” with the Executive Directors of the four grantees. The discussion revolved around the unique role of CDCs and their work in grass roots mobilizing and advocacy to create system changes around issues that communities, families, and individuals face. The three R’s (Roots, Resources, and Relationships) are key to these place-based organizations in order to establish credibility, retain the resources and facilities to serve their constituents, and gain mutual trust and respect.

The Executive Directors also discussed opportunities that can help CBOs reach everyone that can benefit from their programs. Their responses reflected the value they found from being part of CCF, including funding for operations and technical assistance (something commonly left out of non-profit funding); program-specific funding, such as providing opportunities to youth who need support in pursuing jobs, job training, and/or post-secondary education; and a massive commitment to  collaboration between economic development, education, and workforce development to lift everyone out of poverty.

We want to thank the panelists for sharing their insights: Michelle Neugebauer, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation; Michelle de la Uz, Fifth Avenue Committee; Jack Doyle, New Settlement Apartments; Michael Rochford, St. Nick’s Alliance.

To learn more about Change Capital Fund, explore their reports here.

Supporting Trenton’s Master Plan in time for the City’s 250th Anniversary

 The City of Trenton is looking ahead to a new chapter as a leading 21st-century city. In time for the 250th anniversary of its incorporation in 2042, the City envisions playing a role as a key economic and cultural hub in the region, built on education, arts, and industry. To chart its course forward, Trenton recently released Trenton 250, a comprehensive master plan reflecting a community-informed vision that will drive opportunities for citizens, businesses, and government. Through this stakeholder-driven process, Trenton has laid the groundwork for becoming a model capital city through investments in civic institutions and the construction of inclusive public spaces. We had the incredible opportunity to be on the team of consultants, led by Group Melvin Design, that supported the City of Trenton in designing this long-range plan that will drive economic development, education, housing, land use, and transit policies.

Our role focused on developing workforce and educational strategies, and helping Trenton plan for its goals of creating a vibrant economy and improving social mobility for its residents. We applied our extensive experience working within the workforce system to engage multiple local stakeholders, including the school district and the Workforce Investment Board, to determine priorities and explore opportunities to increase education levels and career trajectories for residents of all ages and backgrounds. We took a collaborative approach to our work, interviewing multiple participants and participating in brainstorming sessions with Trenton City officials and the rest of the consultant team. Also equipped with important labor market information, we delved deep into understanding what the issues were and what opportunities could be present.

Our programmatic recommendations included bolstering Pre-K to secondary education to improve graduation rates and student performance; opening new opportunities for adults to continue their education and explore relevant workforce opportunities; and encouraging lifelong learning. Specifically, we found that expanding school programs to teach more critical thinking and technology skills would drive positive employment outcomes in the future. For those beyond secondary school, we relied on our workforce expertise to identify an array of strategies that will prepare residents from a diverse range of backgrounds to attain and succeed in jobs that are and will be in high-demand.

Ultimately, we developed the education report, which outlines over 20 initiatives that came from engaging the right array of people and highlighting best practices from all over the country. Implementing these initiatives will enhance access to learning opportunities for all Trenton residents, enabling the city’s residents to access short-term job opportunities while simultaneously being prepared to take advantage of new opportunities in an ever-shifting economy.

Read the full Trenton250 plan to learn more about its vision for the future and blueprint for getting there.

Growing Conscious Consumerism: Understanding the Rent-to-Own Industry in NYC

For our workforce development colleagues: you know the importance of financial education and empowerment in positioning your participants to maintain jobs and build sustainable employment. However, protecting the communities you work with from predatory financing and lending practices that put them at long-term risk can be a challenge. One piece of the solution is understanding where financial risks lie. We recently conducted a survey of practices in the Rent-to-Own (RTO) industry in New York City to understand how RTO stores conduct business and help explore ways in which consumers can identify risks within these types of agreements. Our research – including interviewing subject matter experts, conducting outreach to consumers, and doing our own secret shopping – taught us a lot about this sometimes illusive industry. We wanted to relay a few of our learnings in the interest of raising awareness around these issues and informing how RTO might impact your clients or program participants.

First, how it works: RTO is a service directed to consumers who immediately need specific products such as appliances or household furniture, but may not have the funds on hand to make a purchase outright. An RTO retailer will rent those products to consumers through a modest upfront payment, followed by recurring installments for an agreed to period of time until the product is paid off. Unfortunately, many who enter these rental agreements can end up paying more than 2.5 times the purchase price of a product through the structure of monthly payments and interest over their rental term. For example, during our secret shopping we found that a television marked $699.99 at Best Buy might be $1,049.99 in total fees at an RTO establishment. Simply put, that’s a bad deal.

Second, things to look out for:

  • In NYC, RTO chains are consolidated in neighborhoods with above average poverty rates, including areas in the South Bronx, Upper Manhattan, Central Brooklyn, and Southeast Queens. By mapping Aaron’s and Rent-a-Center locations in NYC, two of the nation’s largest RTO retailers, we found that they are predominantly situated in or near areas with more than 20% of households in poverty.
  • Our research suggested that RTO salespeople frequently focus their pitch on the product, and are often vague or unclear about the rental payment terms. They often do not share written terms until after you’ve agreed to purchase an item. Consumers also noted difficulty in getting RTO salespeople to provide clear and informative responses to their questions.
  • Even when rental terms are provided, consumers expressed confusion on how to assess those terms and admitted they didn’t understand what they were getting into – or the ultimate costs – before committing to the purchase.
  • Consumers noted the negative effects of missing just one rental payment. RTO retailers reportedly hire collection agencies to collect missed payments, using employer information and personal references to track down consumers.

Raising awareness around RTO and these practices is a critical next step in helping protect consumers. It may sound straightforward, but encouraging consumers to request and thoroughly review payment terms before signing any rental agreement is likely to go a long way in helping them to protect themselves. While our survey represents initial consumer engagement, further research and outreach would help surface nuances to the experience and challenges faced by consumers in NYC, which in turn will help inform actionable solutions. We encourage you to raise awareness around RTO within your organizations and keep an eye out for when your participants may have fallen victim to unfavorable rental terms.

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