Empowering Resident Leaders: Lessons from NeighborWorks’ Community Leadership Institute

Margaret Haltom

Since 1993, NeighborWorks America has convened over 15,000 lower-income resident leaders at the Community Leadership Institute (CLI). Resident attendees come from across NeighborWorks’ network of affordable housing organizations, including more than 240 non-profits that house and support lower-income residents. In teams representing their neighborhood associations and other civic organizations, they attend capacity building workshops, share experiences with fellow residents, and receive a $4,000 grant to put towards an initiative for their community.

From nearly three decades of large-scale resident support, the CLI stands out as the nation’s largest effort to amplify resident voices, but no research has explored the CLI’s outcomes, or sought to understand what the resident experience is like, what community initiatives have resulted following the CLI, or how resident leadership has been sustained. As a 2019 Gramlich Fellow in Community and Economic Development, Margaret Haltom addressed this gap. This paper offers the first review of the CLI, informed by conversations with more than 70 resident participants, qualitative and quantitative data from 493 participant questionnaires, and case studies of two affordable housing providers—Aeon in Minneapolis, MN and Lawrence CommunityWorks in Lawrence, MA—that have sent several teams of resident leaders to the CLI. Resident leaders’ stories—along with stories told by staff from affordable housing organizations with effective channels of resident decision making—suggest that a more equitable model of low-income housing is not an unattainable, nebulous goal for the future, but a reality that resident leaders and affordable housing providers are already undertaking.