BOISE - John Meyers, HUD's Field Office Director in Idaho, and his Field Policy & Management colleagues Brian Dale and Jerry Royster spend a lot of time behind the wheel of a car, driving to and from Community Reviews hosted by the Idaho Rural Partnership in small towns like Athol and Lost River, Driggs and Soda Springs, Heyburn and Buhl.
You know, the places most of us have never heard of, been to and, most likely, ever will. But places that matter to the people who call them home.
"Most Americans," John observes, "think of HUD as an agency that's focused exclusively on our nation's biggest cities. But our programs and resources are scalable and adaptable to communities of all shapes and sizes. HUD, proportionally, can have as as consequential an impact on a small town as on any of our nation's biggest cities. Big or small," he notes, "our job is to serve them all."
And they do. Over the years, the Idaho Rural Partnership has hosted almost 40 community reviews. John, Brian or Jerry has attended most of them. Just last April, Brian hit the road for a Community Review in Kimberly, a town of 3,200 people 135 miles southeast of HUD's office in Boise. Come September they'll head 345 miles north to Plummer, population 1,000, the biggest "city" on the Coeur d'Alene reservation.
The Community Reviews last for two days and, the Partnership explains, are designed to "efficiently and effectively provide the host community with objective information from external community development professionals" - including the Association of Idaho Cities, Idaho Department of Commerce, HUD, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Idaho Housing and Finance Association and the University of Idaho.
The visiting experts talk, of course, but are there mostly to listen, to have face-to-face conversations with local civic leaders, business people and citizens about the challenges they face and the dreams they have for their community and to help them develop "action plans" to execute locally and meet the community development priorities they identify.
"The flexibility that's been built into most of our programs makes HUD a leader among Federal agencies in the place-based approach to delivering resources and programs," John says. "There's no better way to fit what HUD can do to what communities want done than to sit down in those communities and listen directly to residents on their turf in Community Reviews like these."
The "pay-back" isn't immediate, John points out. "In most small communities, like any other Federal agencies, HUD is a mumbo-jumbo of acronyms and dollar signs. We help them cut through and make sense of all that." The community reviews "put a face on who we are, what we do and how we can assist them."
"I'm always pleased to hear a few months later that one of the small towns we've visited is using our resources to upgrade water and sewer lines finance new housing or build a community center through a HUD program administered by the Idaho Department of Commerce or the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, our balance-of-state partners. It makes all the miles we drive worth it."