Northeast South Dakota Community Action Program (aka GROW South Dakota)

Report date
December 2016

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Engaging the community: One focus of Grow Housing was to engage community members to take ownership of housing challenges in their community. Each community had a community meeting to discuss current conditions and identify priorities for housing solutions.

Each community had regular meetings focused on housing solutions. They met with the coach, who provided guidance and direction on addressing concerns. This also held the community accountable to keep focused on housing.

After the community meeting the small groups began the task of finding solutions. In one community, a contractor decided after the meeting to partner with the local development corporation to spec build a house. Many solutions came from the small groups’ work. One group made a binder of vacant lots, which allowed a nonprofit to determine a potential development. Other group work included, resurrecting the city clean up day, apply for a grant to paint a home with volunteers and donated professional labor and begin a separate investment corporation to finance housing activities.

The overarching aspect that came about was community members have desire, if you ask, it can be done.
Building Relationships: The First Impression Tour is a tool that provides unbiased professional, qualitative results to help communities make informed decisions. GROW SD implemented the idea with Grow Housing. For First Impression Tours, the coach coordinated with the five community Grow Housing coordinator’s (“Tourists”) to tour the communities together.

Guided by the host and the coach, the tours seek opinions on infrastructure, appearance, business climate, housing and tourism. Because the Tourists work in community development, their opinions are well-informed and sympathetic.

The overall reaction to the tours has been phenomenal. Communities see it as a tool to address challenges. The collaboration between communities is noncompetitive with an atmosphere of trust allowing candid discussion. Shared ideas are brought back as possible solutions for their home communities, resulting in façade grants to businesses, tax discretionary ordinance changes, and other benefits due to this initiative.

Through Grow SD this initiative is being replicated in other communities.
Learning into Action: Grow Housing groups have grown and evolved throughout the past two years. They are incorporating other non housing related activities into the housing arena. Through Grow SD three communities were able to receive funding to attend a Community Leadership Institute, this institute provided training to community members on various topics. One community put into action the learning they had obtained while attending this institute by having an indoor Housing Block Party while another revitalized their community through resurrecting the city clean up project which involved the high school football team. Currently another community is addressing beautification in the downtown area, anticipating the surrounding housing community will be inspired to do the same.

While the group was able to learn about different techniques and tour community initiatives, they also were able to experience first hand the diverse cultures, technology and resources that are outside of their own community. The onsite visualization and conversations outside the training rooms provided additional ideas to replicate in their own community.

Key lessons learned

Patience – As one community member said – “Thank you for the herding cats”. In some respect when I began this venture, I truly felt that way when trying to get all the coordinators and communities going in the same direction, when each one came in with different expectations and wanting quick results, which in the housing arena is not likely to happen overnight. Teaching and coaching community members to understand why they are in the current situation and how to combat the problematic system that may be causing the barriers to go forward is a slow process. The communities that had received some coaching prior to Grow Housing had a better understanding of the barriers and had already overcame some of the hard knocks learning.
I believe the First Impression piece that was incorporated into Grow Housing initiative provided more opportunities for the coordinators to see results of work that they were considering and/or obtain ideas that were new and successful. It also allowed them to dispel some of the myths about a community. Sharing personally and professionally the tours brought about a connection among the coordinators. It also provided an opportunity for the group to bounce ideas, different ways to create, explore and engage community members and ideas.
Continued coaching – engaged accountable. What I envisioned would happen was that the coordinator would continue where I, as the coach, left off. That did not happen in some of the groups--at least not to my knowledge. My interaction with the groups has been limited and sporadic since the end of the Grow Housing Initiative. Like an empty nester, I trust we have taught them well enough to be on their own.

Reflections on the community innovation process

I believe the most important part was going from the Generate Ideas to Test and implement solutions. It was engaging and enlightening to hear all the different ideas and possibilities coming from the communities. Some communities went forward and enjoyed success, other times they would go forward, then digress and go back to the idea and start the upward process over again. Most of the communities had a difficult time taking the idea and putting into action as it caused them to reengage, reenergize and take a risk that was not in their normal process. Once they decided it was worth the risk and the idea or event took place, they found that it was successful beyond their comprehension. “What would happen if we would only believe beyond our doubt? (BBD – believe beyond doubt). We stand on the ledge not seeing the full picture on the other side so we are not willing to step on to the bridge and walk across.” When the communities saw and heard the testimony from other communities it provided a trusted guide to begin their own journey of implementing solutions.

Progress toward an innovation

The communities have a person to reach out to or the city has stated they will review the housing needs in a broader aspect on a quarterly basis. One community is going to continue to have their education component on an annual basis (indoor housing block party), another has began the process of having an investment solution for future housing developments to access, and a third has evolved its program into a broader engagement of community as a whole (more than just housing focus).

What it will take to reach an innovation?

Not applicable

What's next?

Grow Housing has sparked several next steps. It has worked for several months with similar coaching approaches to combine the best of all worlds. A new initiative called Home Address Plus (HAP) will provide the best of the engagement and technical assistance pieces from several different organizations. It has been offered to the existing Grow Housing communities. A new community has begun the HAP’s demonstration project. HAP is expected to expand as other communities see the benefit.
GROW SD has engaged one community through a Community Leadership Institute initiative. The group has had discussions about making a community master plan and bringing the different organizations, community leaders, and businesses to a monthly round table community update. We will continue to be part of the coaching and guidance for this community.
Grow SD has began the First Impressions piece of this community coaching to five new communities. They will learn and share with each other their community success and challenges. These communities will also be working directly with a community coach to provide engagement, technical and educational guidance from GROW SD for approximately 24 months.

If you could do it all over again...

Don’t let the process hinder the progress. I believe that the Grow Housing initiative provided an atmosphere where each step provided the ability for the coach to share and guide which allowed the community to decide which direction to consider. Each community needed to be guided differently with each coordinator, utilizing different ways to deliver information, outcomes and expectations. Each community came into the initiative with similar challenges, but each was at a different stage of ability to learn, engage, and take risk. It was a good mix, and each community learned how to lead, how to follow and how to inspire.

One last thought

Through Grow Housing, the Bush funding provided communities the opportunity to believe again, to test innovations, to engage and to step onto the bridge of Hope.