In 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:
- Improved local housing conditions;
- Improved community facilities;
- Increased opportunities for education, training and employment;
- Increase recreational opportunities for children, youth, and adults; and
- 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