Neighbourhoods Alive! in Year Fifteen: What has been the Impact? Part 3

March 31, 2016

Neighbourhoods Alive!: Community Outcomes Final ReportIn 2015, Neighbourhoods Alive! (NA!) celebrated its fifteenth year of operation. After 15 years of operation, it might be a fair question to ask “What has been the impact of NA!, to date?”,  and whether NA! communities are being revitalized. NA! contracted independent Community Impact Evaluations in 2005 and 2010. The 2005 evaluation, conducted by the University of Winnipeg – Institute of Urban Studies (IUS), was done at a more formative stage of NA! and focused on the Community Led Development (CLD) model and the partnership with the Neighbourhood Renewal Corporations (NRC). It concluded that the CLD model and partnership with the NRCs had demonstrated some success, although the NRCs needed further support to fulfill a challenging role. The 2010 evaluation, conducted by EKOS, built on the work of the 2005 evaluation. It concluded that CLD model and partnership with the NRCs had resulted in both increased capacity for revitalization and improvements in the communities, although there remain areas for improvement. It included case studies in Brandon, North End Winnipeg and Spence. As of December 31, 2015, no further commitment to NA! Community Impact Evaluation had yet been publicly announced.

In terms of financial commitments towards community revitalization efforts, NA! has committed fairly significant funding through the three programs most associated with the CLD model: Neighbourhood Development Assistance NDA), Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF), and Neighbourhood Housing Assistance (NHA). As of March 31, 2015, NA! had committed an estimated $72 Million on the these three programs (extrapolated from the NA! 2010 Report to the Community and subsequent Manitoba Housing and Community Development Annual Reports). Perhaps equally important is the other funding and resources that NRCs and other organizations have been able to leverage from the three levels of government, charitable foundations and donors, businesses (including landlords), and residents (including homeowners) for local revitalization efforts. While it is fairly easy to quantify dollar amounts committed from these three NA! programs, it is much more difficult to determine what and how much other resources have been leveraged.

NDA has allowed for the formation of 13 NRCs across Manitoba, including six in Winnipeg. Several of these NRCs are relatively small organizations employing three people or less with budgets under $100,000 and in operation for less than ten years (one in operation for five years). The largest NRC, the North End Community Renewal Corporation (NECRC) in operation since 1998, currently employs approximately 50 people with an annual budget of approximately $5 Million (including $350,00 from NDA). The impact of the NRCs depends on a number of factors including the length of time in operation, the size of the community being served, challenges to the community and NRC, and the effectiveness of the NRC in coordinating local revitalization efforts.

NDA agreements identify five main areas for Expected Outcomes:

  1. Improved local housing conditions;
  2. Improved community facilities;
  3. Increased opportunities for education, training and employment;
  4. Increase recreational opportunities for children, youth, and adults; and
  5. Improved safety for local residents.

The NRC five-year Neighbourhood Renewal Plans are to reflect these revitalization priorities, although not limiting the NRCs to them or how they are addressed. In general, NRC plans have focused on these priorities to some extent within the context of their communities. NRF and NHA provide funding for various local revitalization projects in support of the NRC plans. In terms of the NRC renewal plans, they vary in the level of sophistication and the results that have been achieved. In some cases, the plans are modest and support smaller projects that may enhance recreational and other opportunities for local residents. In other cases, the plans are very ambitious addressing major challenges faced by the community.

It may be difficult to compare communities outside of Winnipeg, such as Thompson that is a municipality with its own local economy and government, to inner city Winnipeg neighbourhoods or even larger communities such as North End Winnipeg. A colleague who had been a long-term resident of Thompson commented that the price of nickel had much more to do with Thompson’s fortunes, but Neighbourhoods Alive! has contributed to the liveability of Thompson. The Brandon NRC has dealt with population growth such as that from Maple Leaf workers moving to Brandon by working with local landlords, businesses including developers, social service agencies, and government in developing more units of affordable housing to meet the demand.

There are many physical infrastructure improvements, including housing renewal, that have been completed both through the planning and coordinating efforts of NRCs and developmental efforts of local partners. While NHA has more recently been providing approximately $1 Million per year, mainly for small matching grants to homeowners and landlords for exterior renovations, the three levels of government and other funders have committed much more substantial funding for major housing renewal projects. In some cases such as the current Merchants Hub in the North End of Winnipeg, including several units of social housing and educational programs, the local NRC has taken a lead role in these projects. The Province of Manitoba has also committed over $15 Million with other funders committing an additional $2 Million, to date, for the Merchants Hub project.

There are also many local examples of projects that support the other three NDA priorities. While some NA! programs, such as Lighthouses, Urban Art Centres, and School Resource Officers, provide ongoing operational funding for some of these projects, sustaining revitalization efforts in these three areas has been challenging. Since 2011, the Province of Manitoba has also provided multi-year funding for some organizations/projects through its Non-Profit Organizations (NPO) funding.

Beyond dollars committed through NA! and revitalization projects undertaken, there is perhaps other ways to consider the impact of NA! and whether NA! communities are being revitalized. NA! communities were initially determined because they had been identified as neighbourhoods/communities in decline. Within Winnipeg, Major Improvement Areas (MIA) neighbourhoods were targeted. MIA neighbourhoods share common characteristics such as being neighbourhoods with declining population, older housing stock in need of major renovation, and lower family incomes. NA! communities, outside of Winnipeg, also share many of these characteristics. Conversely, increasing population, housing renewal, and increasing family incomes can be considered as signs of revitalization.

A recent research report by IUS, The Divided Prairie City (2015), focuses on the disparity in household income levels between affluent mainly suburban neighbourhoods and low-income older neighbourhoods in Winnipeg. It traces the social and economic factors that have contributed to this division between neighbourhoods, over time, including post-war suburban development and inner city decline. Comparing more affluent suburban neighbourhoods with poorer inner city and older neighbourhoods illustrates the growing gap in income levels.

Another research report by the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives (CCPA) Manitoba, State of the Inner City Report (2015), focuses on examining changes in a number of inner city Winnipeg demographics and indicators of revitalization, over time. It reviewed census data from 1996 to 2011. It revealed that there has been a general increase in population, income levels, homeownership, and property values within the inner city since 2001. A complicating factor, however, was the change by Statistics Canada to the voluntary National Household Survey in 2011. This change makes it difficult, if not impossible, to reliably compare changes in many factors such as income levels. The return of the mandatory long-form census for 2016 could indicate whether some of these trends are continuing.

A comparison of two particular NA! inner city Winnipeg neighbourhoods, Spence and William Whyte, can help illustrate both the decline and more recent increases/stabilization in population within these neighbourhoods. These are two diverse neighbourhoods separated by the rail yards physically dividing Winnipeg, but with some common characteristics. As illustrated below, both of these neighbourhoods lost approximately 40% of their population between 1971 and 2001, although there was a modest increase for both neighbourhoods in 1986 and the rate of decline was subsequently greatly reduced. Both of these neighbourhoods have exhibited increases in population since 2001. While these neighbourhoods may never return to the population levels they once had, their population base may be stabilizing. The 2016 census should also indicate whether this trend has continued for these neighbourhoods.

Total Population (both sexes) for Spence and William Whyte NeighbourhoodsThere are several factors that could be contributing to population increases in Spence and William Whyte since 2001, as well as other inner city neighbourhoods. Between 2001 and 2011, immigration to Manitoba increased substantially with many newcomers initially settling in inner city neighbourhoods with relatively affordable housing, good public transportation, and other services. Aboriginal families also continue to be particularly well represented in North End neighbourhoods such as William Whyte.  Revitalization efforts, particularly improvements in housing conditions, safety, and recreational opportunities may be making inner city neighbourhoods more attractive, although it is difficult to attribute the increase in population to any one specific factor.

At the same time, relatively affordable inner city housing and other factors may ensure that inner city neighbourhoods retain more lower income families. Neighbourhoods such as Lord Selkirk Park, including the largest Manitoba Housing complex in Winnipeg, will likely continue to be lower income neighbourhoods, although perhaps with good access to schools, health care, and other resources. Issues in these neighbourhoods such as gang activity, child sexual exploitation, and domestic violence, however, may be consequences of poverty that will continue to need to be addressed through general and targeted social and economic policy and programs.

The impact of NA! and whether NA! communities are being revitalized is complex and difficult to precisely determine.  The Province of Manitoba along with other partners in revitalization, however, should be engaged in an ongoing process to ensure that revitalization efforts are effective in meeting their objectives and that conditions in communities targeted for revitalization are improving. Revitalization efforts that demonstrate good results should also be considered for expansion. It may be the case that some current NA! communities can now manage without NA!, while other communities not currently served by NA! be considered for revitalization programs. New tri-partite and bi-partite governmental revitalization agreements may also be a way to ensure that the three levels of government work together to ensure the best results for their collective efforts. While there is some recent evidence that indicates NA! communities are being revitalized, there is also considerable evidence to suggest that there needs to be an ongoing commitment by all three levels of government and other partners to sustain and expand these revitalization efforts in communities that are in most need of revitalization.

For more information on NA!, check out the resources below:

Richard Dilay

Richard Dilay is currently a self-employed Organizational Consultant. For 11.5 years, between 2000 and 2014, he was the Manager of Neighbourhoods Alive! (on secondment to the department of Family Services between 2010 and 2012). Previously, he worked as a Community Organizer, Child Welfare Worker, and Immigrant Counsellor in Winnipeg. He has a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Manitoba.