How federal program builds neighborhoods
By R.E. Graswich
Tyrone Roderick Williams knows how to get money in Sacramento. He asks for it. So far, Williams has hauled in more than $175 million. His secret? Ask the right people.
Williams is director of development for the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency. As part of his job, he manages Sacramento Promise Zone. The zone is essential to Williams’ fundraising triumphs.
Promise Zone is a rare and coveted federal designation that connects Sacramento directly to federal agencies, along with state, corporate and nonprofit partners. Sacramento received the designation in 2015.
“There are only four communities in California with the federal Promise Zone designation,” Williams says. “There were many more who tried to get it. As a Promise Zone, we can get right through to the decision-makers at the highest levels of the federal government. I can get people on the phone who wouldn’t even return my calls before.”
The local Promise Zone is a physical place—22 square miles that include Downtown, most of South Sacramento between Franklin Boulevard and Stockton Boulevard, and much of North Sacramento.
The neighborhoods covered by the zone have some of the lowest incomes and education levels and highest unemployment rates in the region. About 128,000 people live in Sacramento Promise Zone.
Williams, who grew up in a small town near Houston and worked in Atlanta before arriving in Sacramento in 2014, loves his work, especially the collaboration part. He’s eager to explain how Promise Zones work. He focuses on the importance of bringing people together to solve timeless problems of poverty and disenfranchisement.
“Having a Promise Zone doesn’t mean we automatically get money,” he says. “It means we get access. We get the right people in the room and we leave our egos at the door.”
When development professionals such as Williams get together, the discussion typically involves funding. But a curious perspective must be acknowledged.
There is plenty of money floating among federal and state agencies and private and nonprofit funding sources. The trick is to divert the money to the right places. Everyone thinks they have unique needs. That’s where Williams’ collaborative skills become paramount.
In Sacramento, the Housing and Redevelopment Agency is primarily concerned with helping disadvantaged people obtain and maintain a roof over their heads. Promise Zones have grander ambitions.
The zone program works to create jobs, provide educational opportunities, improve the community’s health, and stimulate neighborhood revitalization and economic activity within its boundaries.
“There’s money out there, but a lot of neighborhoods have not seen the funding,” Williams says. “Our challenge is how do you look at the whole universe?”
The holistic vision explains how Sacramento has attracted $175 million for its Promise Zone in just four years. The money comes from Williams’ ability to leverage Promise Zone status at decision-making levels. As a result, government, private and nonprofit funds flow to Sacramento, including $32 million allocated in June.
Collaboration also explains how Williams has navigated a 2017 federal tax incentive and investment program called Opportunity Zones, which help attract dollars to low-income neighborhoods based on their census tracts.
“The programs are different, but we make sure they complement each other,” Williams says.
To build on his success, Williams wants to expand his roster of organizations that partner with Promise Zones.
The program has established collaborations with local school districts, a nursing college, and city and county governments. But Williams is looking for more alliances—businesses, corporations, philanthropic groups, nonprofits and public agencies.
Williams is eager to hear from any organization that touches the Promise Zone and wants to help improve the lives of 128,000 Sacramento residents. That’s his promise.