The financial field that I work in is part of the larger “community development” industry. This is an industry that prides itself on helping those in need in anyway possible. I’ve been part of this industry as a member of one company or another for the last five years. It is an extremely rewarding industry in that you can make a decent salary (not comparable to market rate salaries) and you can help people at the same time.
However, one of the big problems that I’ve been finding in the community development field is that there is a bias against the unknown when it comes to defining “community.” Many of the industry leaders in this part of the nation (who, by the way, should let their younger staff have a larger role in strategic planning) have a biased view against using their scarce resources to help communities in the rural and suburban parts of the state. The idea is that since there is some private money in those areas, then the development projects in those areas can be financed by the local banks which are holding those private dollars. The problem is that this doesn’t happen and since it doesn’t happen, there is a drought of development to provide services to underserved communities in these types of areas.
In other words, if you’re not working on a project that is a multi-unit low-income housing development in extremely urbanized areas like Essex or Camden counties, then your projects probably aren’t going to get favorable rates or terms – if they get any at all. I saw this happen first hand today. My company puts its dollars into projects where underserved communities are provided with vital services. One of these services is education and the school choice movement. A project to provide a substantial loan to a school in northwest New Jersey (think near the Poconos in Pennsylvania) was shot down because one of the decision makers said, “This isn’t in Newark or Irvington or any type of urban market that we know something about. It’s off in a part of the state where we don’t know what’s going on.”
I’m sorry, folks, but that’s crap and it’s not good enough for the community development field. The scarce resources that are allocated to this industry either through private investment or through public funds cannot ALL be funneled to the Newarks and Camdens of the world. There are a variety of underserved communities around this state and this country and not all of them are concrete jungles.
It’s time that the urban bias in community development was addressed head on and eliminated from the industry.