Creating Collective Capacity: New York City’s Social Infrastructure and Neighborhood-Centered Services

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A new framework is needed to help New York City government and the social services sector work with one another and with neighborhood leaders and residents to develop a strategy for building collective community capacity. The overall social services infrastructure in New York City is not strong given the extent of poverty and stress in neighborhoods like Brownsville and East New York. The public and policymakers generally think of social services as an array of resources, each targeted to specific problems and needs. However, objectives often collide; homelessness prevention services seek to prevent families from being evicted, even as the public housing authority seeks to collect rent, maintain housing quality, and evict nonpaying or unruly tenants when necessary. One city agency addresses the collateral damage when another agency does its job.

Government and the social services sector must move in the direction of “collective efficacy”—working together for the common good—so that the government oversees and funds service systems in such a way that they do a better job of providing the essential social service infrastructure to neighborhoods and families. New York and other cities have experienced many prior efforts to define a comprehensive strategy for community building and community renewal in low income neighborhoods. We can learn from all of them, and do much better.