Strengthening HUD Promise Zone Communities with Mobility Management

  • Author: NCMM Staff
  • Date: June 21, 2019

Promise zones face a wide spectrum of quality of life issues, including a lack of educational opportunities and affordable housing, higher levels of crime, and economic disinvestment. Transforming these Promise Zones require holistic, place-based approaches that leverage local partnerships to meet specific community needs.

In 2014, the Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced an initiative to designate a number of urban, rural and tribal communities as Promise Zones. Promise Zones are high-poverty communities in which the federal government assists local leaders with increasing economic activity, improving educational opportunities, leveraging private investment, reducing violent crime, enhancing public health and addressing other priorities identified by the community. To date, 22 urban, rural, and tribal Promise Zones have been chosen through three rounds of national competition, in which applicants demonstrated a consensus vision for their community and its residents, the capacity to carry it out, and a shared commitment to specific, measurable results.

Map of HUD Opportunity Zones Highlighting States and Cities that have receive awards

Image credit: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

The Promise Zone designation helps communities address their needs in a holistic and comprehensive manner. Alongside HUD, twelve federal agencies participate in the Promise Zone program including the Department of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, and Transportation. Through technical assistance, received priority access to federal investments that further their strategic plans, and five full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members to recruit and manage volunteers, local stakeholders can realize their vision for improving quality of life in their communities.


Opportunities for mobility management in Promise Zones

Transportation’s role in economic development is well documented. Reliable and efficient choices to get around a community underpin economic vitality by ensuring access to housing, jobs, education, healthcare, supermarkets, and social services. Studies have shown that reducing commute time is a significant factor in escaping poverty. In Promise Zone communities, local stakeholders frequently highlight the lack of workforce readiness, economic activity, high-quality education, and poor access to health and wellness services. With the multitude of local needs, coordination amongst transportation, health-care, education providers and the private sector is necessary to bridge the gap between these services and Promise Zone residents.

As a result, solutions to these challenges must be interdisciplinary, multi-modal, coordinated, accessible, and sustainable in nature. Mobility management makes sense in Promise Zone communities because mobility management supposes:

  1. Demand-driven. The number of riders is increasing due to an aging population, new incentives to relocate, and increased economic activity.
  2. Flexible. The importance of multi-modal services and public-private partnerships ensures the needs of the community are met in a variety of ways.
  3. Enhances quality of life. Connections with health, education, housing, and jobs enhances livability.
  4. Spurs economic development. Market driven services create more opportunities and jobs.
  5. Customer-focused. Involving riders (people with disabilities, older adults, and those with low income) and other community members in the design of services results in more buy-in that creates lasting change.

Mobility managers are uniquely suited to coordinate transport in promise zones. Mobility management reaches a diverse array of stakeholders, including people with disabilities, older adults, and individuals of low income. Plus, their access to more than 80 federal programs to leverage transportation services to fund transportation in Promise Zones (FTA Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility) can help communities share-costs across agencies, administer services across policy and regulations, deliver service, and monitor performance accountability for continuous improvement.

Some examples of how transportation has played a role in the development of promise zones:

  • Nashville, TN – The Nashville Promise Zone is divided into six subzones, with subzones taking ownership over one goal each. Subzone 4 has focused on expanding community infrastructure. Alongside the Nashville Area MPO, local NGO Conexión Américas proposed inclusive development along a major Nashville corridor to prevent displacement.
  • Evansville, IN – In Evansville’s Promise Zone, many residents of nearby ECHO Housing are miles away from a grocery store. To tackle the issue of limited transportation and food deserts, the Promise Zone partnered with the local TED Trolley tourist line. Dubbed “Feeding the Promise Zone,” the bi-weekly shuttle takes residents to a Ruler Foods to shop for one hour, removing the burden of transportation to access high-quality and low-cost food.
  • Los Angeles, CA – The South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z) collaborative selected its name to focus on opportunities that public transit expansion brings for “neighborhood revitalization and educational alignment.” A transit working group helped design and is implementing the countywide Metro U-Pass Program, providing discounted transit passes for college students. Since its launch, over 500 LATTC students have benefited from the program.

As seen above, Promise Zones underscore the need for a holistic approach to community revitalization efforts. Even in non-designated communities, the same tools are available to local partners across the United States. With the assistance of mobility managers, tailored solutions that overcome traditional and inefficient sectoral silos can be crafted to meet the unique mobility needs of a community.


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