Developing successful partnerships, I believe, is the key to good community development. But the use of the term “public-private partnership” is often overused and misused. For years I followed the path that most state and federal agency employees do and mislabeled the projects that I funded as partnerships. But I realize now that this couldn't be farther from the truth.
In my opinion, and the opinion of others, partnerships require both parties to work in consort towards a common goal. Partners use each others skills in order to achieve their goals in a way that doesn’t burden one partner more than the other. In the process of financing affordable housing, or any community development project, there is typically a clear lack of “partnership” taking place.
I don’t want to minimize the role that government or private funders have in making affordable housing possible. But, I don’t see that the process of setting up rules and regulations, application and award procedures, then monitoring the successful building of housing by awardees as a partnership. I certainly don’t feel that I’m in a partnership with the plumber that I select to fix the leaking pipe under my house. I don’t feel that I’m in a partnership with the police officer that enforces speed limits in my neighborhood, though I’m happy he does. The point is that paying someone to do something, like build affordable housing, does not mean that you’re in a partnership with them.
To me, partnership means that you “do work” together and using your complementary skills to increase the likelihood of success. In housing that means I have to put some effort into the process and ensure that I fulfill the roles and responsibilities that I take on in order to make the project work. In our land banking program we work hard to screen properties and ensure that we’re not getting a project site that won’t work for my local partner. We use our skills in acquisition, property review, financing and sometimes fundraising to ensure that our partners can focus on their responsibilities.
While some might say that we also take on the role of monitoring and ensuring compliance like a state agency, I argue that the difference in a partnership is that both parties have agreed to ensure a common goal and affirmed this through our contracts. I do take on the role of reporting to our funders and financiers that we are being successful. I need the help of my partner to provide some information, but I collect, process and report that information back to our funders. Again, this is part of the partnership process, a process that I hope allows our partners to focus on building communities, which they are great at.
When it all comes together we get housing done. We allow our partners to focus on their strengths in building quality homes, helping families become homeowners and revitalizing neighborhoods. We share a common goal, we share responsibilities and we achieve more through good partnerships.