Over the next few months, residents in the newly created Promise Zone in Los Angeles are likely to see tangible results from the federal designation that will bring additional resources to East Hollywood and surrounding areas.
In January, city officials celebrated the announcement that Los Angeles — specifically the Hollywood, East Hollywood, Koreatown, Pico Union and Westlake neighborhoods — may receive additional federal funding to create jobs, expand educational opportunities, improve public safety, build affordable housing and more.
“Ladies and gentleman, we don’t need to go to the Promised Land, because the Promise Zone is coming to us,” Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District, said on the day of the announcement.
While the funding opportunities have received a lot of attention, the Promise Zone’s expedition from Washington, D.C., to L.A. will bring more than federal dollars. It will also bring manpower in the form of five full-time AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members and a full-time federal government employee who will serve as the zone’s director.
Dixon Slingerland, executive director of the Youth Policy Institute (YPI), which helped facilitate the Promise Zone designation, said the team is “one of the more exciting aspects” of the designation.
“It will be extremely valuable — no question,” he said.
Slingerland said the director will be a liaison between the Promise Zone and federal agencies, “which will be fantastic.” Typically, when YPI pursues a grant, they usually have someone stationed in Washington, D.C., where the individual usually forms a “mechanical” relationship with department staffers, he said. The new director will change that, Slingerland said.
“This is going to be very interactive,” he added.
Slingerland said the federal government is currently conducting its application process to determine who will fill the role.
Like the director, the VISTA members are slated to arrive in the next couple of months, he said. Slingerland said AmeriCorp VISTA generally focuses on fighting poverty, but the members will help in several ways.
At least one individual will be stationed at the mayor’s office to support the mayor’s Promise Zone team, Slingerland said. Another will focus on data collection, using YPI’s Effort to Outcome database to track outcomes, participants and families. The other three will be based throughout the zone — possibly at a school site or community center — and will help identify funding sources and work closely with the director, Slingerland said.
With such a large collaboration of agencies involved in the Promise Zone initiative — approximately 75 — the assistance will be valuable, especially since some of the organizations have never filed for a federal grant, he said.
As part of the effort, an advisory board will also be established, but that too will be figured out in the next couple of months, Slingerland said.
According to a White House fact sheet, the Los Angeles Promise Zone will work to increase housing affordability, expand the full service community schools model to all schools in the Promise Zone, offer training opportunities, invest in transit infrastructure and eliminate duplicative government programs.
Many of those efforts are already underway. Slingerland said YPI received a Choice Neighborhood grant from the U.S. government to map out an affordable housing strategy for certain areas within the Promise Zone, but now the initiative will spread out through the Promise Zone. He said people are already coming forward with potential projects, such as a 60-unit development for artists and a facility for LGBT teens.
Slingerland said YPI has been implementing the full service community schools model since at least 2007, when the organization received a $30-million Promise Neighborhood grant. The idea is to make existing schools more of a community hub, where adults and students can take classes, he said.
“It’s kind of flipping that [traditional school campus] dynamic on its head,” Slingerland said. “I can already tell after two months, that this is going to a big, exciting part of this.”
The transit investments could eventually benefit bike lanes and other cyclist perks, transit-oriented development and bus programs, such as a Bus Rapid Transit project on Vermont Avenue, Slingerland said.
The training element of the Promise Zone should impact both students and adults. Slingerland said the mayor will be locating three new WorkSource Centers — essentially a one-stop shop to pursue employment opportunities — in the zone, possibly as soon as July 1.
Students will likely benefit from “linked learning,” in which high school students prepare themselves for career pathways through internships, summer jobs, job shadowing and more, he said. The curriculum will reflect those career pathways by offering, for example, math that is connected to healthcare, he said.
“It kind of infuses everything the kids are doing,” Slingerland added.
Los Angeles was among the first five Promise Zones designated by President Barack Obama in January. The president plans to announce another 15 over the next three years.
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