Shining Stars for Inclusive Recovery

October 3, 2022

The approval of federal pandemic recovery legislation meant trillions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds and other programs were going to be invested in communities at a level not seen since the New Deal.
Concerns about how this windfall would be allocated were the genesis for the North Star Coalition, which launched in November 2021. Comprised of leaders in local, state, and federal government, philanthropy, labor, community, and business — along with others interested in reimagining a new economic future for the region — this coalition is focused on ensuring that the money is deployed assertively to reverse decades of economic inequities.

“We want to be that voice behind the scenes when the county executive or the mayor or the school board or whoever is having a conversation about a new project and the new funds coming in … to ask, ‘Are we spending this in an equitable manner? Is this money getting into the hands of people who have been on the economic sidelines?’” said Paul Hypolite, founder and CEO of Leading With Our Values and a consultant who oversaw the launch of the coalition and its early activities.

The coalition kept the phrase “inclusive recovery” front and center on its website (northstarroc.com), in frequent e-newsletters, and in meetings with government leaders.

“There is no doubt that conversations that are being held right now at the city level, the county level, the regional level — everyone is talking about that,” said Hypolite. The goal is for those discussions to turn into action. Experts from Urban Institute and Brookings Institution have been retained to provide research, share grant opportunities as they arise, and help make funding applications the best they can be.

Hinge Neighbors is one group that approached the North Star Coalition for help creating a cohesive neighborhood, now separated by the Inner Loop, with input from residents and businesses.

“We also want to find ways to ensure that smaller Black and Brown developers are not excluded from bidding on Inner Loop North parcels in the future,” said Suzanne Mayer, an organizational change expert who is working with several others including artist Shawn Dunwoody, who grew up in the neighborhood.

Having access to national consultants for free has been immensely helpful. Urban Institute, for example, has provided Mayer and Dunwoody with its research and contacts, helped review grant proposals, and coached the group on where to go for help. “They are our unpaid best friend,” said Mayer.

Shawn Dunwoody and Suzanne Mayer. Photo by Erich Camping.

For the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, being part of the coalition and having access to the hired think tanks also has proved invaluable. RMAPI has been focused on one metric — reducing the poverty rate —and was looking for new, more effective measures. An Urban Institute article about boosting upward mobility “completely became the basis for our thinking and for how we might shift our community’s common agenda away from reducing poverty to boosting mobility,” said Aqua Porter, RMAPI’s executive director.

Urban Institute was able to share conclusions of the Gates Foundation-funded U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty and a playbook it developed for eight cities. With coaching, RMAPI is customizing that playbook for Rochester and will develop a common agenda with metrics that will be used to measure success here. The hope is to make an announcement in the Fall of 2022.


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