Summer Internship Spotlight | Amit Khanduri and Purpose Built Communities
by Gabrielle Murphy
Making it Local
Discourse around politics and policy is frequently limited to the federal level. But the local level is often where policymakers can affect the most change. Local government officials and local organizations have more direct contact with city residents and know the specific challenges facing cities face. These local policymakers operate many daily details touching our lives. They often know each nook and cranny of a city, from where the potholes are to which bus routes fall behind during rush hour.
Local government and local organizations are often well-suited to handle the policy issues facing cities, like housing and education. These policy areas have astounding impacts on the economic mobility and wellbeing of residents. Amit Khanduri recognizes the important role local policymaking plays in these key areas.
Before coming to Sanford, Amit worked in local government, with a focus on economic mobility strategies. He noticed how misalignment among critical policy areas – namely housing, transit, education and economic development – created obstacles preventing Atlanta’s most vulnerable from attaining sustainable employment. This misalignment was a driving factor in Amit’s pursuit of an MPP. While at Sanford, he has expanded his interest in local government to include understanding why some offices and organizations struggle to uplift the residents they work with more than others. Armed with the tools and skills of his first year at Sanford, Amit spent his summer interning with Purpose Built Communities in Atlanta, GA.
Purpose Built Communities addresses multiple components of the poverty cycle by taking a holistic approach to community revitalization and development. In the 1990s the organization undertook its first project in the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta. They developed mixed-income housing and a charter school that emphasized “cradle-to-college” education. Additionally, they worked to improve ‘community wellness’ by providing facilities, programs, and services like job training, libraries, and childcare.
As a result of these developments, home values and school quality in the East Lake Neighborhood rose. In fact, in 2017, the first class to spend all K-12 years in this charter school graduated, and all students were accepted to college. The community wellness programs also showed tangible benefits—residents engaged in a variety of health and wellness programs, and violent crime decreased by 97 percent.
Purpose Built Communities now consults with community organizations, local governments, and other local leaders to replicate the East Lake Neighborhood’s success in other cities like Birmingham, Charlotte, Houston, New Orleans, Omaha, Raleigh, and Orlando. Their model includes:
Identifying a key neighborhood that can benefit from infrastructure development and transformative programs
Pinpointing a “community quarterback” (usually a non-profit and often a community-based organization) to lead to the revitalization efforts with support from Purpose Built
Building high-quality mixed-income housing with safe walkways, streets, and amenities
Supporting student achievement by establishing the groundwork for “cradle-to-college” education
Developing community wellness by providing community-specific facilities, programs, and services
Amit specifically worked on how Purpose Built can build on this model by enlisting the support of higher education institutions. Higher education institutions fuel economic growth, but are often located in towns with high levels of inequality. There exists much potential for these institutions to support community revitalization efforts. From university endowments, student volunteering for non-profits, support for local businesses, local school partnerships, to local hiring universities can leverage their resources and invest in their communities. Amit spent his summer reviewing the literature on how other university-led neighborhood revitalization efforts impacted communities He spoke with individuals in community development organizations and universities about what mutually beneficial community revitalization efforts might look like. These insights helped him build onto Purpose Built Communities’ model with strategies for engaging higher education institutions. Amit found that higher ed. institutions drive neighborhood transformation through real estate projects and corridor enhancements. Their neighborhood revitalization efforts are often piecemeal and exacerbate "town-gown" tensions. Amit proposed that Purpose Built offer its services as a university's community action arm, leveraging its holistic revitalization model and the university's significant assets.
Amit’s favorite part of the summer was working with other people who were focused on local policymaking. His coworkers were on similar career paths, and he enjoyed learning how they engage and think about this type of policy work. Specifically, Amit gained knowledge about the community development model used by Purpose Built Communities and how this can be replicated to uplift communities across the country. These community facilities, programs, and services not only support low-income families who may need extra help to break the cycle of poverty, but also tie neighborhoods together to create a sense of community. Amit will continue to focus on local government after graduating and will pursue how cities can best address the economic mobility of residents.