Best Practices

Mayor Larry R. Stobbs

St. Joseph Neighborhood Services Program

In an attempt to reconnect with citizens, many cities have begun implementing neighborhood initiative programs. These programs attempt to provide an opportunity for citizens to once again actively participate in local government by addressing concerns and providing services based on input from the individual neighborhoods. After all, different neighborhoods have individualized characteristics and, accordingly, individualized needs. With all this in mind, the St. Joseph City Council created the initiative in St. Joseph which came to be known as the Neighborhood Services Program.

The Office of Neighborhood Services is a division of the City Manager's office. The two-person staff is assisted and supported by the Neighborhood Action Team which is made up of representatives from other departments of city government including Public Works, Code Enforcement, Community Services, Health, Finance, Fire, and Police. The most important function of the office is to serve as a contact to the various neighborhood groups and associations in St. Joseph. This includes attending group meetings in order to learn what the needs and concerns of the neighborhoods are.

The office staff assists neighborhoods with various projects that they want to pursue and with problem resolution by coordinating appropriate city services, encouraging participation in established neighborhood groups or associations, and assisting in formation of new groups.

We believe that we can provide city services to our residents in a more efficient and effective manner by being cognizant to the needs and desires of the neighborhoods. Simply stated, to learn what is best for a neighborhood, we must ask those living in that neighborhood. The fact that the members of a neighborhood have taken the initiative to organize themselves is evidence that they believe that they have something to contribute to their neighborhoods. By combining those resources with the city's, we will be able to accomplish the goals and objectives that we set with the neighborhoods. That partnership is the heart of the program. Written neighborhood plans will be drafted and agreed upon by city and neighborhood leaders. These plans may include anything from regularly scheduled neighborhood cleanups to larger infrastructure projects.

To succeed, the attitudes at City Hall must first change to coincide with the change in the method of service delivery. Training is being developed that will concentrate on customer service skills with specialization toward provision of services on a neighborhood basis. Accomplishing all of these goals and objectives is heavily dependent on citizen involvement. Citizen involvement is the backbone of the program and we can only be successful through open and honest communication with the citizens of St. Joseph.

As we work with neighborhoods and find other ways to resolve issues, we will implement those in the program along with the team approach. Programs of this nature have been very successful in other cities throughout the country. We can draw from those programs in the development and implementation of our program here in St. Joseph as well as from what we learn in working in the neighborhoods. We feel that we all have a chance to work together to greatly improve the quality of life by beginning at the core of St. Joseph -- in our neighborhoods!


St. Joseph Neighborhood Partnership

St. Joseph has formed a partnership, consisting of a diverse membership with one common goal, to focus their collective resources with their expertise and energies on revitalizing older neighborhoods. This partnership effort was born out of a report compiled by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The focus of the report was to build an environment that supported the consensus and collaboration for neighborhood revitalization and historic preservation. The defined area the partnership identified is a neighborhood rich in significant historic architectural resources, yet is one of the most distressed areas of the city. When complete, the defined area will be a thriving neighborhood with rehabilitated homes, a mixture of residential, commercial and museum uses. There will be period lighting, street trees and landscaping. The area will be unified with a comprehensive streetscape plan that will include a theme and standards for design. The project will have a positive image and impact, and will serve as a prototype for revitalizing other neighborhoods in the city.

The diversity of the partners involved greatly enhances the viability of the project. The Office of Neighborhood Services (a newly initiated department of the City of St. Joseph) will be responsible for organizing residents in the area, soliciting input from the neighborhood, and identifying service needs. The Housing Authority will be involved with infill housing projects, while Neighborhood Housing Services will be involved with home ownership initiatives and rehabilitation and Preservation, Inc. with historic preservation projects. The city has dedicated an employee to serve full time as Project Manager. Other partners included in the project are churches, the school district, museums, private businesses and residents of the neighborhood.

The project will promote diversity with a mix of affordable and market rate rehabilitation in historic properties and carefully designed infill housing; a carrot-and-stick approach for existing owners to improve their property; and commercial development with existing businesses and the identification and encouragement of tourist-related services. Financing will be provided by Community Development Block Grant funds, HOME funds, private sector investment, and possibly other sources of federal and state funding. Financial assistance for those who wish to rehabilitate their property will be identified and marketed. Homeowners will be empowered with accessible funds from lenders. The goal is to create an environment that will stimulate private investment in the area to reverse the trend of disinvestment. Information will be disseminated to owners regarding tax credits and other financial benefits and tools that are available to them.

It is a goal of the partnership to improve the quality of life for people in the area and to sustain them long after the project has been completed with programs that assist with the maintenance of the neighborhood. Other goals of the partnership are the revitalization of the project, promotion of home ownership, enhanced appearance of the area, stabilization of the residential area and property values, and to create a sense of neighborhood.

Contact: Office of the Mayor, (816) 271-4640

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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