Lack of access to capital remains a top reason that neighborhoods in historically marginalized communities are often excluded from equitable benefits of green infrastructure projects. In 2022, the GI Leadership Exchange, through its Collaborative Grant Program, funded a project entitled, Overcoming Barriers to Equitable GSI Implementation. The primary goal of this project was to overcome financial barriers associated with an existing reimbursement grant program by developing a financing structure model that can be applied to any similarly structured utility rebate program.
Since 2014, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s (NEORSD) Green Infrastructure Grants (GIG) Program has awarded $13M to fund 62 GSI projects that have resulted in an estimated annual reduction of 36 million gallons of stormwater runoff to the combined sewer system. Despite the program’s success and popularity, its current reimbursement payment structure is a significant obstacle for many potential applicants that cannot incur design & construction costs in advance of a grant award.
Recognizing that community development corporations (CDCs) could play a key role in resolving this issue, NEORSD collaborated with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP), the only local community development funding intermediary in the region, who has thirty years of experience investing in community revitalization work in Greater Cleveland. CNP’s strategic focus areas include CDC advancement and resilience, equitable neighborhood revitalization, and access to capital, the latter of which is made available by Village Capital Corporation (VCC), a Community Development Financial Institution, who served as the consultant on this project.
In keeping with their objective of providing financing for catalytic real estate projects that strengthen and revitalize communities, VCC was tasked with facilitating the development of an innovative financing approach (i.e., loan product), that will be made available to non-profit organizations and the local CDCs representing private property owners. The new loan product will allow targeted organizations within historically disinvested neighborhoods to acquire the initial capital they need to design and construct GSI projects via the GIG Program.
Upon development of the new loan product, the project partners initiated a three-part Green Infrastructure Capacity Building Workshop series (scheduled to be completed in Spring 2023) specifically targeted towards CDCs. Overall, these workshops are designed to increase access to NEORSD’s reimbursable GI Grants Program. The topics to be covered include, 1) an introduction to the grant program and the new bridge loan; 2) how to develop a successful grant application; and 3) a deeper dive into the eligibility, operation and maintenance of a bridge loan.
Upon researching funding opportunities that would help to advance the project team’s primary goal of identifying the ways and means to bridge the funding gap for potential grant applicants, the GI Leadership Exchange’s Collaborative Grants Program was a perfect fit. By eliminating the financial barrier caused by the reimbursement payment structure of the grant, a larger pool of applicants from historically disinvested neighborhoods can now invest in GSI by using this innovative funding mechanism. Furthermore, any similarly structured utility rebate program or reimbursement grant can replicate this initiative. In turn this can help serve to address historic injustices, thereby ensuring a more equitable distribution of GSI investments.
Upon completion of the capacity-building workshops and the finalization of the new loan product’s terms and conditions, the project team will continue to seek additional means by which the financial burden of making a grant application; another identified barrier to overcome. Furthermore, the project team is gearing up to embark upon a more significant neighborhood GI investment planning. Strategic and coordinated investments in green infrastructure help make vulnerable communities more equitable, livable, and resilient to the effects of climate change. However, to be truly impactful, investments must be made on a scale that encompasses entire neighborhoods. The Trust for Public Land’s Climate-Smart Cities Program is a tool designed to partner with community leaders and residents to design, fund, and build climate-smart green spaces where they will have the most impact. Our plan is to deliver this tool to multiple strategically identified neighborhoods. Intense stakeholder involvement and purposeful coordination with applicable community development corporations will result in the identification of priority areas for green infrastructure investments, landowners with the capability of participating, and sources of funding to implement real change.
– Chris Hartman, Stormwater Technical Specialist at Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District