Deep in the Heart of South Texas: Client-Centered Design, Empowerment & Innovation

Earlier this month, Prosperity Now brought together state and local partners in South Texas for the Rio Grande Valley Regional Convening to share innovations in family financial health and to spark partnerships for greater impact. Groups gathered in Brownsville, TX, to share what tools and programs are successfully empowering families to thrive and to discuss why family financial security and capability are so critical in a community where DACA, broadband access and consumer protection rules are top of mind of residents. According to the 2017 Prosperity Now Scorecard, nearly 60% of residents in the Rio Grande Valley are currently living in liquid asset poverty—meaning three out of five do not have three months of savings to live at the federal poverty level in the case of an emergency, like a flood. According to University of Texas School of Public Health, around 60% do not have health insurance, 80% of adults are overweight or obese and one in three has been diagnosed with diabetes. While this data is alarming, it does nothing to capture the whole picture we saw in the Valley—this community is flourishing with resilience, culture, innovative ideas and a committed community advocates ready to tackle issues together.

Thanks to support from JPMorgan Chase, Prosperity Now worked with the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, RAISE Texas, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and United Way of Southern Cameron County to convene regional and national stakeholders for an important conversation around homeownership, healthcare, financial capability and workforce opportunities. The innovation in the Valley is blooming like wildflowers. We heard from groups like LUPE and ARISE, who are working alongside residents for services and skills their neighborhoods need and arming them with technical know-how to advocate on their own behalf for things like adequate drainage systems for colonias. The development of Texas colonias dates back to at least the 1950s when developers created unincorporated subdivisions in flood plains and other rural lands, put in little or no infrastructure, then sold them to low-income individuals seeking affordable housing. Other innovative products we learned about were the Rio Grande Valley Multibank’s Community Loan Center model, which works with employers to offer their employees an affordable payday loan alternative, is spreading quickly beyond the Valley to state-wide efforts in Texas, Maryland, Indiana and more. It’s quickly becoming a solution to a common issue of payday lenders that community-based organizations all over the country are trying to address. We also heard from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas about the journey to bring broadband access to colonias, so families can have access to online resources their families need, like search engines, banking options and school enrollment forms.


Client-centered design was also highlighted at the core of these programs and services. The day before the Convening, we had the opportunity to take a tour of a few colonias and speak with families who worked with the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, bcWorkshop, LUPE and ARISE to design their new homes or repair their homes after Hurricane Dolly through RAPIDO disaster recovery housing. Programs like RAPIDO help families prepare for the future and weather future storms so they can preserve their assets and have them to pass down to the next generation. These programs bring a custom design process to the affordable homeownership program for residents to shape the design of their own homes—which is bringing life to a process that had the same blueprint for twenty years. Working alongside Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, their RAPIDO program is growing in demand in other areas facing natural disasters, like Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

As a national intermediary, we’re often searching for ways we can help catalyze change and identify solutions to challenges our local partners are facing. Through this event, we saw the power of bringing resources to local communities to shine a light on their work and convene non-profits, universities, workforce boards, financial institutions and other community stakeholders for collaborative discussions, opportunities to listen to each other and networking opportunities to forge connections and ideas to leverage each other’s work to better meet people where they are.

If you’d like to learn more about the work of our Convening partners, check out their websites at:

The Rio Grande Valley Regional Convening was the first event in a series of six convenings we’ll be hosting in local communities throughout the country in 2017 and 2018—thanks to the support of JPMorgan Chase. The second event, the Midwest Asset Building Conference, is coming soon in Indianapolis, IN, on October 5-6. The third event will be the Southern Regional Prosperity Summit in New Orleans, LA, on November 9. Stay tuned to learn more about what is happening in these regions!

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