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$1.9M innovation grant to help city tackle poverty-D&C Article-December 15, 2014

$1.9M innovation grant to help city tackle poverty
David Riley, Staff Writer

A $1.9-million grant will kick-start a city initiative to drive down the poverty rate in just one section of Rochester in a single year.

The goal is to develop innovative strategies that then can be used to curb poverty in other impoverished neighborhoods, city leaders said Monday.

The money will come over the next three years from the Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The grant is part of Bloomberg’s Innovation Teams program, which helps cities tackle stubborn urban problems through the use of data and innovation, it says.

Rochester is one of 12 cities newly added to the initiative, Bloomberg announced Monday. Also among them is Syracuse, which will receive up to $1.3 million.

In Rochester, the city will use the money to flesh out the staff in its new Office of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives, which was established in September. It now has only one analyst on staff, but thanks to the grant, it soon will have seven more employees, including a director who will answer directly to Mayor Lovely Warren.

The initial focus of the so-called innovation team will be curbing poverty, Warren said at a news conference Monday. But the effort will start small.

“What we’re trying to do here is not get ourselves in a situation where we’re trying to solve poverty across the city,” Warren said. “We want to start in a particular area, and then we want to grow from there.”

The innovation team will try to reduce the poverty rate in just one section of the city by a single percentage point in a year.

“It sounds like a very small goal, but our objective is to try to figure out what works, to be able to measure this to see actual improvements … and then figure out how to expand that across the city,” said Delmonize “Del” Smith, the city’s commissioner for neighborhood and business development.

The city has not yet picked a target area, and how exactly it hopes to achieve a reduction in the poverty rate remains to be seen.

Plans will be developed with help from Bloomberg, which has access to national experts, Warren said.

One likely option is a model borrowed from Cleveland, where the city and private groups helped to launch new businesses offering basic goods and services to existing major institutions and employers, Smith said. One business, for example, provides laundry services to area hospitals and universities.

The new ventures would hire and train city residents and function as cooperatives, meaning that workers would own a share of the business and its profits, Smith said.

The idea is to build wealth in impoverished areas. The goal is especially aimed at reducing child poverty — a problem that plagues the city, Warren said.

“Our belief is that the way that we can help a child best is to make sure that their parents have access to a good quality job,” she said.

Smith previously said the innovation office should come up with radical, transformational approaches to entrenched problems and not simply strive for incremental gains.

Other cities, from Memphis to Chicago, have seen major successes through Bloomberg’s programs, Warren said Monday.

The mayor cast winning the grant as one of several accomplishments during her administration’s first term.

“I think that on the ground, we’ll see that we’re making significant changes,” she said.

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