In late September, members of the Innovation Team and the Office of Community Wealth Building traveled to Detroit to participate in the first convening of the City Accelerator program’s cohort on equitable local business and job growth. Each of the cities in the cohort was awarded a $100,000 grant and technical support from the collaboration between Governing, the Citi Foundation, and Living Cities. The two-day event provided an opportunity for our project team to get to know and learn from the participants from Atlanta, El Paso, Long Beach, and Newark.
Each city faces their own distinct challenges and is using different tactics to tackle the issues of equitable business development and job growth:
Our teams will come back together in several months to provide updates on each initiative’s progress and further learn from others’ experiences.
My name is Elizabeth Ingham, Kiva Rochester Assistant Program Coordinator, and after graduating Wells College in 2017 I joined the Kiva Rochester team. While in college, I took a semester to work with Kiva down in NYC, so I was excited to support a Kiva program in my hometown. As a Flower City AmeriCorps member, I have had the privilege of working with the Innovation Team for just over a year. Angela Rollins gives a great run down of Kiva Rochester, so if you haven’t yet, check it out here. AmeriCorps VISTAs focus on building sustainability, while Flower City AmeriCorps focus on day-to-day operations.
Over lunch one day, Angela and I were discussing how to make our communication more effective when Kate May recommended that we read the book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Cass Sunstein and Rochester’s own Richard Thaler. The book offered insights that were used to improve our messaging to Kiva applicants, resulting in more and higher quality applications.
Since then, we have made consistent revisions to our email messaging, and reworked our handouts and informational materials. Still, our Kiva borrowers kept coming back with the same questions and hitting similar roadblocks. I had been using one-on-one meetings to help guide the customer through the Kiva process and doling out worksheets as the customer needed them, but I needed a better way to get the information out. My solution was the creation of a new handout, A Guide to Kiva Rochester Small Business Loans, with a conscious balance of design and function. The idea of this book is that any business owner or aspiring business owner can pick it up and be as successful as possible when applying, fundraising, and repaying through Kiva.
A few Kiva applicants have used drafts of the book to help them, and so far the response has been positive. We are making physical copies available in all of the local libraries, a digital PDF available online for free, and distributing copies to many of our Rochester area partners. Hopefully, with its official release more of Rochester's entrepreneurs will be able to use Kiva Rochester to grow their businesses, and the Rochester community.
This week, the City of Rochester took two important steps to address housing affordability. First, City Council passed legislation amending the Charter of the City of Rochester to redefine affordability. Second, the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development (NBD) released its Request for Proposals (RFP) for affordable housing developments with new efforts taken to target low income and special needs populations. While these steps are only the beginning of the actions the City is taking, they represent an important commitment to focusing our community’s efforts on those who are most in need.
Prior to Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the Charter defined affordable housing as housing affordable to anyone earning up to 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI). AMI is calculated based on the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes all of Monroe, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, Wayne, and Yates counties. The inclusion of non-city residents skews the median income upwards; in the MSA, the median income for a family of four is $74,000, while in the city alone median income is less than half of that. Mayor Lovely Warren directed City staff from the Office of Innovation and the NBD’s Planning and Housing teams to look into why the Charter’s definition was not adequately reflecting the reality faced by Rochester residents.
After thoughtful deliberation amongst the interdepartmental team, it was determined that the use of the MSA and not the city median income could not be changed due to the ways in which it would interfere with HUD funding streams and other programming. However, the team decided that the City could adopt more specific HUD terminology that would provide for a more nuanced understanding of who the target populations of the City’s affordable housing efforts should be. Eventually, it was recommended to the Mayor that the Charter be amended to define low and moderate income as follows:
With these definitions in place, the City has the language to say that affordable housing efforts ought to target those who are Extremely Low Income or Very Low Income because those are the financial circumstances actually faced by residents with the greatest housing affordability challenges.
The real impact of the Charter amendment is how it informs other policies and work undertaken by the City. The first tangible result of the Charter amendment is how it informed the RFP for affordable housing developments that also was released this week. Successful proposals receive City support either in the form of funding or letters of support written to New York State. The NBD Housing team took the new affordability definition into account and changed the way proposals will now be scored. The new RFP awards additional points to proposals that have plans to address Extremely Low Income and Very Low Income residents, as well as special needs populations such as domestic abuse victims or those suffering from drug addiction.
Housing affordability is a challenge that the City is constantly working to address. Thanks to the direction of Mayor Warren and the efforts of the Housing team, Planning team, and countless internal and external partners who were consulted, Rochester has taken important, innovative steps to support those in need. As the Office of Innovation continues to work on the housing affordability issue, we will keep the blog updated with our latest efforts.
Throughout Rochester’s history, entrepreneurship and business growth have been a cornerstone of our city’s identity. Companies like Kodak, Bausch and Lomb, and Xerox were born in Rochester and helped drive innovation across the globe. However, the prosperity and wealth created by these businesses was not equally distributed. People of color were denied the opportunity to build wealth through business ownership due to a web of discriminatory policies and practices. As Rochester works to reinvent itself and become a town of companies rather than a company town, it is imperative that everyone is given the chance to take part in our economic renaissance.
Last week, Mayor Lovely Warren announced that the City of Rochester was chosen as a member of the Living Cities and Citi Foundation City Accelerator for Local Job Growth. The initiative, set to kick off in early September in Detroit, is a joint effort between the Offices of Community Wealth Building, Innovation, and the Business Development team here at the City. We will be working in partnership with Living Cities, Governing Magazine, and the Citi Foundation to research, develop, and implement strategies to support the growth of local business in Rochester, particularly among women and people of color. The grant provides $100,000 and one year of consulting services from Ascendant Global, an international economic development firm, to support several different initiatives.
Through the City Accelerator project, the City will work to build a stronger and more coordinated network of services available to entrepreneurs and existing small business owners. As anyone who has ever started a business will tell you, the process is extremely complicated – there are dozens of steps that need to be taken, and not everyone has the training needed to do so. There are many organizations in Rochester that offer assistance to entrepreneurs and small business owners. However, there is not yet a defined network of organizations that works collaboratively, makes referrals, and helps entrepreneurs navigate the process of starting their business.
In addition to building a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem, the City will also take a hard look at how our internal practices and policies can be adjusted to better support local businesses. In recent months we have taken significant steps to strengthen our goals related to Minority and Women Owned Business procurement, enacting the highest standards of any municipality in New York. As part of the City Accelerator process, we will explore how we can further leverage our purchasing power and regulatory authority to ensure that local businesses owned by people of color and women are supported and able to thrive.
We are very excited to work alongside the other cohort members to build a more inclusive local economy here in Rochester. The time has come for us to make sure that Rochester is a safe, vibrant, and prosperous city that works for all, and not just some.
Last week I had the pleasure of judging the Ms. Wheelchair America 2019 pageant in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ms. Wheelchair America is an advocacy and leadership pageant that strives to build leaders within the disability community. The national Titleholder uses her reign to speak on a variety of topics that impact this community and is positioned to be a role model for young women with disabilities.
I’m sure you’re thinking, what does a pageant have to do with innovation?
First, Grand Rapids is a city similar to Rochester. The city is split by the Grand River and boasts a fully accessible riverway with access bridges that are easy to navigate and create connectivity in their downtown. One pedestrian bridge opens up to a small park that then leads to museums, restaurants, and more. Upon my return to Rochester, I excitedly shared photos and video to our planning director to give ideas and inspiration as we break ground on the Roc the Riverway Project. Currently, as a disabled person, our riverway does not connect me to downtown except at certain areas. I look forward to seeing how this project will not only be a benefit to the beautification of our city, but also to wheelchair users who require equitable access.
Secondly, many of the women who participated spoke of common themes: increasing wages and supports for caregivers like home health aides, improving employment opportunities for disabled, and making society inclusive for all. This dovetailed with our wage disparities report where we identified that 44% of home health aides are not self-sufficient. Furthermore, home health aides and their families make up 5% of those who are not self-sufficient, which translates to around 10,000 people. Currently, I am working on strategies that would help this portion of our population. Furthermore, by impacting the caregivers, we impact those for whom they care. As one woman so poignantly stated on being told to get a divorce in order to have her husband be her caregiver “this disease has taken so much for me, it will not take my husband, too”
As for employment opportunities for the disabled, I am writing a white paper in conjunction with the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative as well as the Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). This paper explores the barriers to employment and how poverty is still disproportionately high for this population in Rochester. Median earnings for disabled individuals are $14,450 whereas median earnings are $25,116 for nondisabled persons in Rochester. With these low earnings, one would accurately expect the poverty rate to also be disproportionately high: 42% for the disabled, comprising 22% of those in poverty. These facts, and more, will be the focus of a summit with former Senator Tom Harkin on October 4th, 2018. It will culminate in an action plan for Rochester moving forward.
Rochester is leading the charge for inclusion for disabled individuals. Mayor Warren’s Administration has focused on championing the disability community and the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative has been committed to supporting the City’s efforts to move the needle on poverty in the disabled community. Rochester has a ways to go, but grand ideas are in play and a vision of the future is becoming our present.
The Office of Innovation is creating a series of interactive web-based reports analyzing the city's financially distressed populations in order to assist the Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI) in targeting its strategies. These reports use Microsoft Power BI software and leverage Census American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) files. PUMS offers unique capabilities that typical census estimates cannot. Typical census estimates are presented for a limited number of variables, in limited combinations, and are pre-aggregated for geographies. Instead, PUMS provides a full 5% population sample of anonymized responses with over 100 variables. The PUMS data contains responses from approximately 10,500 individual Rochesterians, with variables including earnings from employment, race, public benefits status, disability status, employment status, and lots more. Using proper weighting fields, researchers can compute custom estimates as is done by Census staff for the official published estimates. Power Bi is a powerful software that streamlines basic processing and visualization of data. Feeding PUMS data into PowerBi allows the Office of Innovation to create powerful, interactive data features such as the below report, and users can explore on their own and slice and dice according to their needs.
I just returned from a two week long backpacking trip through Colombia. I love to travel to get fresh perspectives and meet people different from me. As Colombia is a developing country, I had many assumptions about what I would encounter while there. Some of what I discovered there was not too surprising: incredibly kind and hospitable people, great food, and beautiful mountainous and Caribbean cities. However, I was also impressed by the many advancements this rapidly evolving country is making, especially in the realm of transportation and accessibility.
Most striking to me was the expansive multimodal and innovative web of transportation throughout Medellin, Colombia's second largest city. With a metro population of 4 million people, Medellin is situated in a valley of verdant mountains rendering many of its 271 neighborhoods pitched on steep and difficult to access hillsides. In 2012, the city was recognized as one of the most innovative cities in the world by the Urban Land Institute. Over the past fifteen years, Medellin’s proactive stance on increasing accessibility through strategic transportation and community initiatives has made it more interconnected and safe. The public transit system today includes a network of low-cost metro lines, buses, and cable cars connecting the mountains to the valleys and a series of free outdoor escalators on the mountainside of one of the city’s most isolated and impoverished neighborhoods.
Infamous in the early 1990s as the most dangerous city in the world (in 1991, there were 6,500 murders at a rate of 381 per 100,000 people), Medellin was the backdrop to Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel and the country's drug wars. I was fortunate to tour Comuna 13, the former home of Pablo Escobar and the epicenter of his cartel’s operations. This neighborhood is situated high on a hillside with significant barriers to access for its 12,000 residents: there is more than a 1,200 foot vertical ascent to reach it from its next closest neighborhood and metro station. For generations, the only way to access Comuna 13 was through a system of 350 steep stairs etched into the mountainside. Its isolation made it a perfect setting for Escobar to operate the cartel free from meaningful government intervention.
In 1998, Colombia approved a constitutional law that all municipalities must develop and implement master plans created with input from the community. This spurred organized action around inclusion, innovation, and community growth throughout the country. The Comuna 13 neighborhood embraced this directive and is now widely recognized as a model for reinvention, thanks to this focus on resident inclusion and access. Besides the colorful street art curated by neighborhood residents, the most significant catalyst for change was the intensive focus on improving residents’ mobility, both economic and physical, through public transportation.
In 2011, Medellin launched the Comuna 13 neighborhood’s $7 million public Urban Escalator Project, shortening its residents’ 30 minute, 30 story climb to their neighborhood to a 5 minute ride on the series of 6 escalators. As lively music plays, paid attendees and vibrant art welcomes residents, and now, visitors, alike to the neighborhood. The hillside, once defined by stairs, is transformed, much like the neighborhood, by escalators.
While riding the escalators and then taking in the view of the city from the a high vantage point, I was reminded that there is always room to think bigger, reimagine what is possible, and push boundaries. The combination of public engagement, policy shifts, and focus on social urbanism provided the framework for residents in Comuna 13 to reclaim their neighborhood.
Here in Rochester, it is exciting to see stakeholders, residents, and the government alike engaging in parallel actions: people are coming together to discuss big ideas and make plans for a more dynamic and connected city. There are so many initiatives in Rochester that are changing the way in which residents are connected to and engaged with the city. In just the past year, Rochester has experienced a surge in bike ridership, with the launch of the Pace bike share program. The Rochester Transit Service is in the process of redesigning the bus system to better connect residents and to reflect the changing needs of our residents through the Reimagine RTS project. ROC the Riverway is leveraging investment to transform our city’s use of and access to the Genesee River. The City of Rochester is writing the city’s new comprehensive plan, Rochester 2034, to develop a vision and strategy for its future economic, social, and physical development. The inner loop project is transforming neighborhoods defined by the highway into prime retail, residential, and recreation corridors. These collective actions are shaping the future of our city, today.
For new perspectives and ideas, I highly recommend a visit to Colombia to get inspired and see change in motion.
Are you interested in learning new ways to visualize your data and share your insights? Curious about how to build dashboards or automate reports? We’ve got a class for that!
This past Thursday, the Office of Innovation held the City’s first class on data visualization with Microsoft Power BI. The full-day course trained 14 City analysts in the business intelligence tool that can take in data from many difference sources to create interactive dashboards and reports that are easy to use and share. Most of the course is hands-on, showing staff how to use Power BI to build a handful of sample dashboards using real government data. We also cover best practices in data visualization, so analysts can learn what types of charts and graphs will be best for the data they’re using.
Power BI is currently used in the City to power the Mayor’s Dashboard, as well as other departmental analyses including an in-depth dive into workforce diversity and retirement eligibility for the Department of Human Resources. The Office of Innovation also uses the tool internally to keep track of Kiva program statistics on borrowers and delinquency rates, as well as to visualize community data, such as Census statistics.
When we manage data better, we can provide more efficient, streamlined processes and improved information sharing. Visualizing data allows us to convey our thoughts easily across Departments and can help break down communication barriers and improve customer service.
As Cities have moved towards data-driven decision making, demand for employees with the ability to manipulate and display data in a clear and informative way has surged. Even basic skills in Power BI provides you with a tool that will make you an asset to your team.
If you’re interested in taking the course or learning more, please email Kate May to get signed up for a future date in summer/fall.
We hope to see you in class!
Hello! My name is Angela Rollins and I am the AmeriCorps VISTA / Assistant Program Coordinator for Kiva Rochester. Kiva Rochester is a program that works to connect local entrepreneurs to small business loans at 0% interest. Kiva’s mission is to eradicate financial exclusion, so our underwriting process looks at more than just an applicant’s financials. Instead, Kiva also looks at the applicant’s social credit – how much does their community support them and their business? What does their business contribute to the economy?
Since its launch in August 2016, Kiva has provided over $250,000 of small business loans to over 50 business owners. Fifty percent of Kiva Rochester loan recipients have been women, and over 70% have been minority owned businesses. Kiva loans are 0% interest and have no fees, meaning every Kiva loan saves the recipient an average of $1,000 in interest and fees. The goal of Kiva Rochester is to build wealth in the small business economy of Rochester and make starting your dream business achievable.
The Kiva program is operated out of the Office of Innovation and is administered by my AmeriCorps program supervisor, Amy Ventura, and two AmeriCorps members who serve as assistant program coordinators, myself and Elizabeth Ingham. AmeriCorps is a national program that places its volunteers in various anti-poverty or wealth building initiatives. My AmeriCorps program, Rochester Youth Year, uses a cohort model so that each member has great social support, and also provides many professional development opportunities. AmeriCorps is a one year commitment, and during my year I am working on succession planning so the next AmeriCorps member is well equipped to start where I leave off.
The Kiva Rochester team is partnered with over 30 local organizations working in the entrepreneurial space. We help entrepreneur’s polish up their applications and successfully fundraise for their loans. We also hold workshops and information events with our partner organization to get the word out about Kiva.
Since we are invested in the success, not just the funding, of our borrowers, we also maintain our relationships with entrepreneurs after they have received their Kiva loan. We invite Kiva Rochester borrowers to networking events, to be panelists, or to get featured in newsletters and other marketing opportunities. As borrowers near full repayment of their loan, we also connect them to other lending resources such as the City’s Business Development team, non-profit financial institutions, and commercial financial institutions.
As an AmeriCorps VISTA member I focus on making the Kiva Rochester program at City Hall sustainable and building its capacity. For example, I implement checklists and training materials to standardize our daily operations and I do outreach in the community to raise awareness about the Kiva program. I also manage our community partner relationships, our borrower data, and develop materials and processes to make the Kiva program more efficient.
In future blog posts Amy, Elizabeth, and I will begin to elaborate on the story of Kiva Rochester and highlight the businesses and people that make our work so worthwhile. We invite you to think about how you can help fight financial exclusion, whether it is through helping to crowdfund for one of our borrowers or working to expand Kiva to your city!
If you’re interested in learning more about Kiva Rochester’s 0% interest small business loans, email us at KivaRochester@CityofRochester.gov. We are always looking for new entrepreneurs interested in our loans, or community members that want to get involved!
The Office of Innovation had the pleasure of participating in the first Upstate Data Summit on June 6th at Syracuse University. The event, sponsored by Syracuse’s iSchool, the City of Syracuse, and the Center for Technology in Government, brought together more than 70 attendees from state and local government, non-profits, software companies, and management consulting firms to discuss how government can use data and technology in innovative ways to engage and inform citizens, save money, and provide a better customer experience to residents and visitors.
I gave the first presentation of the day, outlining the data strategy for the City and how we plan to overcome the challenges of decentralized data management in the coming fiscal year by developing a comprehensive City data strategy. The strategy will address issues outlined by the University of Chicago’s data and tech readiness scorecard.
By developing a comprehensive City data strategy that addresses issues such as security and classification, storage and ETL strategies, public release (i.e., an open data policy), and analytical capacity, we hope to understand where each department currently sits along the data maturity framework and create individual and citywide plans to increase the quality of data collection, storage, extraction, analysis, and communication citywide. The ultimate mission is to harness the information we already collect to better understand our customers’ needs and use our limited budget as efficiently as possible. We strive to more fully engage and inform citizens by increasing our transparency and sharing spatial and statistical analyses about the Rochester community.
Following my presentation was Kirk Mclean, Buffalo’s Director of Open Data, with his own presentation on Buffalo’s Civic Innovation Challenge hackathon, which took place between March 1st and April 22nd this year. The event tasked upstate web developers with using data from Buffalo’s Open Data Portal, combined with other public data sets, to create a useful solution to alleviate problems for Buffalo residents. The winning app, Good Neighbor, acts as a “civic directory,” helping new residents, specifically new Americans, find and use City, County, and State services and resources, such as their nearest police station, firehouse, and polling location. Buffalo can use this technology to make its community more welcoming to and inclusive of those who are far too often left out or left behind.
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh provided the keynote speech in which he described the vision of how his administration has and will continue to use data to drive decision-making focused on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of government services while staying focused on providing the best possible customer service to citizens. Other presentations included a session by Syracuse Chief Data Officer Sam Edelstein who outlined Syracuse’s partnership with Data for Social Good to predict breaks in their water mains, as well as a presentation by Megan Sutherland of the Center for Technology in Government and John Coluccio from the City of Schenectady on their collaboration on the creation of regional database capturing information about vacant properties, other issues of blight, and an overall better tracking of property ownership around the Albany region.
The Upstate Data Summit is a valuable resource for all upstate cities to learn and share the ways we can better deliver our services to our citizens. The closing panel discussion highlighted the shared challenges all participating jurisdictions face but the common drive to use data to better understand our communities. Thanks to all the organizers and facilitators who made this event possible.