Each year, in just the one program designed by the Internal Revenue Service, the State of Texas makes awards totaling between $40 and $45 million to developers interested in providing fit and affordable workforce housing to residents of the state. Over the course of a decade of work, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs grants funding of almost half a billion dollars for new housing construction in the state. Other states have programs like Texas.
The low income, housing tax credit program (LIHTC) may be the most effective public/private partnership going in terms of outcomes and real gains for people and for communities. Certainly the program is an example of how public policy decisions can have positive impact on the lives of citizens. This particular approach also demonstrates how government funding can be utilized by community and faith-based groups to meet community needs at a scale that will make a difference.
Lots of people believe that government has no or little role to play in meeting the needs of the urban poor. As a matter of fact, many people feel that such concerns should be left to the work of churches.
Realistically though, as I consider the needs and the funding required, it strikes me that left to their own resources and devices, and given their expressed mission and current organization, churches can seldom rise above the level of charitable work in addressing the tough issues associated with poverty. However, by working with public entities and government organizations, faith-based and community oriented non-profit groups can affect long term, systemic change at a scale that makes real impact.
I remember years ago, when I was serving a church as senior minister, I attempted to convince church leaders to purchase an apartment building for the benefit of countless individuals and families that were coming to us for housing assistance. Try as I did, I was unable to convince church leaders that my vision had enough merit to redirect church funds for this purpose. We settled for distributing more manageable amounts of funds for monthly rental and utility assistance. We could have been more efficient and effective, but I realize now that we could never have achieved the necessary scale to make a real difference in the community given our limited vision and resources.
Interestingly, I am coming to recognize that neither side of the public/private equation works very well without the other.
The best public projects appear to be those that contract with local groups to get the job done.
The best private efforts will usually involve the infusion of public dollars to achieve the necessary scale to make a real and lasting difference.
People who feel the church should do it all err in two ways. They overestimate the capacity of the church and they underestimate the scope and scale of poverty's impact and effect.
At the same time, they leave lots of funds on the table--funds that have been paid by people like me every year on April 15!
Public/private partnerships make a lot of sense.
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