What are we learning by coaching communities in Home Address?
By Joe Bartmann and Mike Knutson, with Dr. Jim Beddow
Photo credits to Dakotafire
We’ve enjoyed the honor of coaching four community teams participating in the Home Address program over the last year. Together as a network of eight local teams, a dozen resource providers and our team of coaches, we’re learning great lessons for rural communities who want to take action in a strategic, lasting way. Here are just three of the many lessons that are emerging:
- Improving the condition of existing properties and neighborhoods is a high-leverage opportunity. Maybe the biggest tactical “ah-ha!” through this pilot has been the realization that the highest leverage point—the spot that can create the biggest impact with the smallest effort—for every Home Address community is understanding the natural flow of housing property conditions. If you have ever owned a home, you know that, unless you intervene, property will move from sound condition to needing repairs to becoming dilapidated beyond repair, just like water would run through a series of connected bathtubs with faucets and drains. A pileup of properties needing major repairs or demolition is a drag on the entire system, taking home opportunities out of the picture and contributing to a downward spiral in neighborhood appearance, confidence, equity and vitality, not to mention public and private infrastructure and construction costs. Much to the surprise of many in our network, the answer to a housing problem is not necessarily just building more houses.
- People want to be part of the conversation in their community. We’ve structured the Home Address process around core teams that hold the center of the work in each community. It’s clear that a lot of people in each community may not be able to serve as a core team member, but housing is a conversation that is important enough for them to show up for. In several cases, local teams were overwhelmed (and excited) by the turnout at community gatherings to talk about housing priorities. When there is a genuine invitation to co-create the future, people will show up.If we ask for their input we should also ask meeting attendees to be part of the process for creating solutions. These meetings are NOT a presentation letting folks know what you’ve decided is important. When they’ve been part of deciding the priorities and co-creating solutions, ownership in the goals becomes shared and supported around the community.
- Networking and coaching make a big difference in strengthening capacity. Going into the pilot project, we knew it would be important to help participants develop relationships with people at the various housing resource organizations around South Dakota. Knowing what an organization does, and feeling comfortable with staff in those organizations makes it much easier to tap into the resources. What we’ve also witnessed is that communities are learning from each other. We’ve seen this type of learning at work in each of our communities. More behind the scenes, coaching has helped community leaders develop their leadership skills. For instance, they have learned how to engage and communicate with people in their community, and dive into a deeper understanding of the housing “iceberg” so they can know the wisest actions to take. In other words, the capacity building stretches beyond understanding programs and into the realm of how to get things done.