Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New nonprofit to launch community indicators project - Gazette

Initiative seeks to address problems in Takoma Park and Long Branch

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008

A new nonprofit hopes to help residents in Takoma Park and Long Branch secure grants and establish new programs to solve problems in those communities through a report that will collect data on major areas of concern.

The Silver Spring/Takoma Park Community Indicators Project will measure data collected against other communities and report the findings to government officials. The first area the group will examine is housing in Long Branch and Takoma Park.

The first public meeting to discuss the housing indicators project is 7 p.m. today at Columbia Union College, 7600 Flower Ave. in Takoma Park.

"An indicator is a number or statistic that is selected to be the best example of what is going on in the community," Bruce Baker, one of the project's board members, said Monday at Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board meeting of its Neighborhoods Committee.

The housing indicators project will include 15 people, Baker said, seven of whom will be renters in the community; the rest will include property managers, developers and homeowners. Support in research and data collecting will be provided by Montgomery College and the University of Maryland and local data collectors like the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

Baker said about five to 10 indicators will be chosen for measurement for the housing project, which will be followed by similar projects on education and economics.

Examples of potential housing indicators are the number of foreclosures, housing sale values or the number of rental units at $1,000 or less, Baker said. He said the data could be categorized by individual neighborhood or housing complex.

"It's an attempt to measure the quality of life at the community level," Baker said.

Once the data is collected – the housing project report could be finished by January 2009 – it can be used to benchmark Long Branch and Takoma Park against other communities and transmitted to county agencies for budgeting purposes. It also can be useful for organizations seeking grants.

"Things that don't get measured don't get attention, they don't get fixed," said Anita Morrison, a Long Branch resident who was familiar with a similar project in Baltimore, which Baker said has raised more than $5 million in grants.

The report will also be made available to the public at the Long Branch and Takoma Park libraries and online.

Tonight's meeting will be the first of three open to the public where the project team will determine what the indicators will be. Baker said the data collection could include surveys, focus groups and examination of existing census data.

Alan Bowser, chairman of the Neighborhoods Committee, said he hopes the housing indicators would include code violations, landlord and tenant disputes, and measurements of rent increases.

"If this can guide policy, it's a wonderful project," Bowser said.

The project requires additional funds after receiving $25,000 from the city of Takoma Park and $2,000 from private donors. Both Baker and the Neighborhoods Committee showed interest in bringing the program to other neighborhoods in Silver Spring and elsewhere in the county after Long Branch and Takoma Park have been served.

The program began in March after the Long Branch Citizens Committee and Long Branch Task Force had mentioned interest. Baker developed a relationship with the Montgomery County Community Foundation, which helps establish nonprofit organizations, and a partnership with IMPACT Silver Spring.

"It is going to be a tremendous benefit," said Frankie Blackburn, executive director of IMPACT, which will help the program form the data collecting teams. "One of the things we rare lacking in the Silver Spring community is information that informs us about how people are living and surviving."

No comments: