Government role in the community development process is often an uncertainty as each community has its own opinion on the matter. The inclusion of government, on whatever level, is always a possibility with community development and it's a viable option for those going through the process.
This article will explore the role that government plays in community development and the circumstances that prompt its involvement. Topics will also include government resources and programs that are available during community development and the role that politics plays. Also included will be the advantages and disadvantages communities are faced with when they involve the government in the community development process.
Is Government Involvement Necessary?
Whether or not any level of government involvement is necessary in community development is going to depend on the community itself. Local governments prompt and manage community development in their own jurisdictions all the time; it's a part of their responsibilities to ensure a level of quality for residents. Many restrictions that exist in today's society are in place through laws created and enforced by the government. For some communities, this is the only involvement that government has in their community development process and it's not necessarily going to be a negative issue.
The factors present in a community will often dictate if government involvement is required. Serious issues with infrastructure, for example, can only be fixed with official approval from government officials-who are often the ones responsible for maintaining and monitoring aspects of infrastructure like roadways to begin with. The larger a community is geographically and structurally-which can make the process rather complicated-the more likely that some degree of government involvement will be needed during community development. More adventurous community development goals may also require some level of government involvement depending on the factors involved.
Seeking government involvement in the first place-whether it's for community development or something else-isn't always something that community members want to do. There has been quite a bit of aversion to government involvement in communities in recent years, especially higher levels like the federal government.1 Part of this is due to past failures or problems that have occurred when the government was involved, or cases where the government should have intervened and didn't. For years, there were expectations that government officials were instrumental in developing and improving different areas of society and they failed to live up to the hype.2 As a result, some communities will avoid including any levels of government in their community development plans unless it's absolutely necessary or they have no choice but to do so (e.g. permits).
On the other hand, some communities are more than comfortable with the government getting involved in their plans for community development for the resources they can provide. They recognize that it may be a necessity for their efforts and can offer benefits that they might not otherwise gain without it. The private sector, while it may have a lot to offer, isn't going to have everything a community needs to improve itself; government programs tend to be available to fill those gaps. Resources sponsored by government offices are going to appeal to communities that desperately need the programs and funding they provide in order to make improvements. Local government involvement is often welcomed the most because it can act as a support system for communities who may be dealing with less than stellar circumstances, even if it's just encouragement from officials.3 Again, it's all dependent on the situation and the factors present in a community during the community development process.
A community might not want or require government involvement in their community development plans, but they may still consider it. There are certain advantages that come with seeking assistance from the local, state, and federal governments that might appeal to community leaders. Even if it's not a necessity needed to accomplish their objectives, government resources can still give them a boost and make the process easier. Some advantages to government involvement in community development include:
- Funding-Access to money and other resources are definitely going to make government involvement in the community development process look attractive. It's a huge motivator and for many communities it may be an obstacle that is keeping them from reaching their goals. There are a variety of programs on the federal and state level-more on that later-that communities can apply for. Things like tax breaks that can ease some of the financial burdens for communities, especially if they are using the services of a CBO or a non-profit in the process. There's also project funding and loan guarantees available to those that meet the necessary requirements.4
- Lower Risks-When there is someone or something that has the knowledge and resources to do something, it's more likely that it's going to get done the way it should. Government involvement acts as both a guide and a buffer for community development, and can lower some of the risks that communities have when making improvements. The rules they put in place help keep things on track, which means it's a little harder to accidentally or intentionally skip steps. There are also contingencies attached to government programs and funding sources in the event of failure or issue; communities using those resources are not going to be at a complete disadvantage if something goes wrong.
- Protections-In addition to helping lower some of the risks that come with community development, government involvement can also provide economic and environmental protections.5 Protecting the things in their respective jurisdiction is a part of the government's job after all. Enforcement of the community's rights and regulations to prevent those rights from being abused or taken advantage off are going to be the most common protections. Community development actions cannot be carried out if they somehow harm the community as a result-repairs and improvements to public spaces need to follow government-induced safety protocols, for example.
- Experience-Community development and urban planning tend to be a part of the government's responsibilities, so officials often have some experience with the community development process. It's knowledge that can be a valuable resource, especially in young communities where leaders may not be entirely sure of their actions. Even some of the tasks that a community may need to complete in order to implement improvements may involve actions that members of the government do all the time in the course of their jobs.
For every advantage that something offers, there's a disadvantage. Communities that are hesitant to involve any government assistance will usually cite the disadvantages as a reason to go through the development process on their own. Even when the benefits are all but guaranteed, community leaders still need to understand what potential drawbacks may arise by seeking government assistance. Some may include:
- Restrictions-The same laws and rules that can help a community with their improvements can also restrict their actions. There's a lot of politics and bureaucracy with government involvement and it can be more trouble than it's worth at times. Some communities will actually avoid or give up on certain goals because of the amount of restrictions in place that are making it difficult to achieve them. Even if the restrictions do not create such problems, they can still be incredibly frustrating to navigate through.
- Loss of Control-Possibly more of a fear than an actually, government involvement can result in a loss of the community's control over the situation. Intervention is viewed as a means of taking or restricting personal freedom, and community members are not able to make the same decisions as easily without it.6 Such an imbalance of power can lead to other issues and even impede the community development process' success. For some, this is why government intervention is viewed more as a hostile takeover than a benevolent assistance.
- Corruption-Government officials or leaders of any kind may have agendas that are counteractive to the goals and objectives of the community, which may be viewed as corrupt. Lobbying has become such a major part of government that many people are concerned about the intentions behind their government leader's actions.7 What motivations are there and where are they coming from? Who's actually going to benefit from this relationship and who's going to end up with the short end of the stick? Many of the communities who choose to go through the community development process are already at a disadvantage in society, which can make them a prime target of abuse from anywhere-including corrupt members of the government.
The Role Of Politics
When discussing government involvement in anything, politics are sure to be a factor. Everything as of late seems to have a political side to it so it's not surprising that politics plays a role in community development. Politics tend to be tied to people's motivations and actions, so many of the goals a community has for improvement may have or be influenced by a political agenda. This can include what is being done, how it's being done, why it's being done, and who is involved.8 As a result, there is often a question regarding the involvement of government officials and leaders in the community-are they doing things out of a genuine desire to help or to further their own agenda? The drive and enthusiasm for community development around the world in recent years has often been cited as a byproduct of political agendas, especially when it reflects positively on certain groups.9 Those who enact improvements and lead the community development process usually obtain some degree of power and recognition for themselves within the community. It can help them personally and it can help whatever cause they are a part of; public support is going to go towards what or who has proven that they are a beneficial force.
The role of politics in community development can also be problematic when the government is involved. The community itself will have its own politics, and there's always the potential that they can clash with the politics of those helping them.10 Leaders in the process could reject any offers of assistance or resources from the government if their political beliefs counter one another. The refusal of any government assistance in and of itself can be political for communities that view federal or even state-level involvement is an overstepping of boundaries.
Available Government Programs
On a federal level, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is going to be the main sources of government-sponsored community development programs. They can come in the form of assistance for housing, health services, financial aid, disaster relief, and finances like loans.11 HUD also manages the Community Development Block Grant program or CDBG, which includes financial and educational resources for communities in the community development process.12 The department also oversees similar community development programs on the state levels and manages the regulations and procedures that those programs need to adhere to. Additional federal programs include:
- Community Economic Development (CED), a grant program offered through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Community Services.13
- TIGER or the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, which is specific to development projects related to transportation. It's offered through the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) as part of the Recovery Act.14
- The Sustainable Communities Partnership, which is a collaborative effort between HUD, the DOT, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The partnership maintains an active list of federally offered grants, programs, and assitance for communities.15
Non-federal government programs are going to be different for each state, county, and city in the country. Determining what's available in your area for community development and what the application process entails will require a bit of research. Most of that information will be publically available in places like government offices and websites. There may be local equivalents to government-sponsored programs that are higher up in the hierarchy, like the CDBG program. You can also contact your local representatives and government officials for more information.