The La Crosse Investment

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If tomorrow a rule came down that Promise programs could no longer use the word ‘Promise,’ what would be the replacement? In my mind, one word sums up the initiative: investment. The Pittsburgh Investment. Or the New Haven Investment.

The word comes up a lot. How many funders have heard, “It is critical that business invests in the community?” Or Promise Scholars working too many hours in a low-wage job, “You need to protect this investment!”

But up in La Crosse, Wis., the word has even deeper meaning. Recipients of the La Crosse Promise aren’t just required to live within city limits, they must invest in the city’s most challenged neighborhoods.

“We’re trying to attract market-rate homes … into [high-poverty] neighborhoods,” said Jerilyn Dinsmoor, executive director of the La Crosse Promise. “That way, we’re not leaving vacant homes and forgetting about a community … The health of the downtown affects the entire region. The more we can revitalize the core, the better for the entire region.”

Three anonymous donors have provided funds to offer $25,000 and $50,000 college scholarships to 30 families who move to two of La Crosse’s low-income neighborhoods adjacent to downtown.

Writes Malcolm Burnley of Next City:

In order to qualify, a family must agree to invest enough money into a home to raise the home value well above market rate (specifically, by putting $50,000 worth of renovations into a home assessed at under $150,000, or paying $150,000 in construction costs on a brand-new home).

In May, Justin Wolfers of the New York Times detailed two studies the demonstrated that “neighborhoods — their schools, community, neighbors, local amenities, economic opportunities and social norms — are a critical factor shaping your children’s outcomes.”

This is one investment worth watching.

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