Bruce Katz believes the Erie region could potentially see billions of dollars in federal aid and other funding over the next several years, intended for broadband Internet expansion; housing improvements; roads, bridges and other infrastructure; and other uses.
Katz wants to make sure local officials have a rollout strategy for this funding that includes clear and specific priority projects – and he’s working on plans to develop that strategy.
Katz is an urban policy expert and author who is also co-founder and inaugural director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab, based at Drexel University in Philadelphia, which helps municipalities strategize for growth and find innovative ways to fund community development.
He is helping officials in the Erie region develop a “game guide” for researching various public funds, both from existing government aid programs and grants that are expected to be available in the coming years.
Katz said this would likely include funding for the $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill currently being debated by Congress.
Much of the strategy will focus on the city of Erie. The plan will also identify local priorities for this funding.
The Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority, Erie Insurance, and the Erie Community Foundation pay $ 150,000 for Katz’s work.
“We have to be prepared with our priorities and our plans, so that we can react immediately and try to get those extra dollars,” said Renee Lamis, chief of staff to Erie Mayor Joe Schember.
Lamis said part of the city of Erie’s roughly $ 76 million American rescue plan the funding will likely be used to leverage future dollars as part of Katz’s plan for the region.
Funding from the city of Erie:Erie officials, with an allocation of $ 76 million, still working on a plan to spend COVID relief funds
The Erie Times-News recently spoke with Katz about her work and what it could mean for Erie.
Explain the genesis of this effort and how did you get involved?
We are right now when the federal government is investing unprecedented levels of funding in a wide range of activities in cities and counties. But federal government investments are very fragmented. You have literally hundreds of programs at dozens of agencies. So basically, the effort we’re working on in Erie with Erie Insurance, ECGRA and the Community Foundation is to create a unified and integrated investment plan, with a particular focus on the greater downtown area, the neighborhoods of Bayfront, east and west, and the trade corridor along 12th Street, so that we can channel these federal investments in such a way that they truly serve Erie’s priorities and needs and have a transformative impact.
Why do you focus so much on these particular areas of the city?
Because we felt that, like in many other cities, there has been a market momentum downtown and across the bay, over the past 10 years. Due to things that the Port Authority (Erie-Western Pennsylvania) and Convention Center Authority (Erie County) have already done and due to the new push of Erie Downtown Development Corp. near Perry Square. You want to take advantage of the market momentum, expand it as far as possible, but make it work for the largest segment of the population possible. Have equitable and inclusive results. Jobs, wealth creation, growth of black and brown (owned) businesses.
Much of the significant funding we’re talking about hasn’t even been finalized yet. The Infrastructure Bill, the Innovation Act, even larger bills before Congress. The US bailout that funds the city and county is just the start. This is only the first wave. Erie could literally receive billions of dollars over the next five years. The key is to prepare and organize for it. Many communities are not prepared, and places that are prepared will do very well.
So, this is why detailed planning is important to Erie?
You have to develop a master plan, and it has to be multisectoral and multijurisdictional. Because federal funding tends to flow through different entities – sometimes through municipal or county governments, sometimes through public authorities, many times through universities, hospitals, or non-profit organizations. The distribution channels are varied and the forms are varied, because sometimes they are grants, sometimes they are fiscal incentives, sometimes they are loans. You have to put your arms around it. At the local level, you have to (navigate) all that capital for it to really work to your advantage.
How do Erie’s leaders think the money should be allocated?
First, I hear a level of confidence that Erie has the potential to achieve great things. People are connected to the place. And whether we talk to people downtown, the waterfront, the private sector or nonprofits or with neighborhood groups, we get a sense of how all of these issues relate to each other. others. What happens in the city center, for example, is essential to what happens elsewhere in the city.
People want to spread success to the community in such a way that we equip workers with the skills they need, increase incomes, give people homeownership opportunities, give people the spirit business. We hear similar priorities from very different sectors of the community. You are still a place that does things, for example. But you still have these huge (vacant) factories and buildings that need to be demolished and the pollution cleaned up.
Do you see clear priority areas?
I think Erie needs substantial funding for environmental remediation, demolition, and reuse of some of your old industrial properties. You need housing affordability financing, especially for single family homes and home repairs. You need a real estate investment adapted to your real estate portfolio. You need an investment in entrepreneurship focused on businesses owned by people of color and new Americans.
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What other things are examined?
We are still at the beginning of the process. What we do is tease ideas and evaluate them. So if you have a home repair program, for example, or a lease-to-own program in the east and west bays, what is the cost of that initiative? How much is public money and how much is private? Who deploys it? It is not an abstract plan. This is going to be an investment playbook and we are really trying to allow the community to maximize both the level of federal funding received and its effectiveness and equitable impact.
There is also a capacity issue that needs to be addressed here. You’re going to have to increase the capacity. Most cities are not prepared for this upcoming level of federal funding because their staff is small, their nonprofits are small. But it’s doable in a city like Erie because of its size. You can get the people you need around the same table.