The Grants-For-Blocks program has had a marked impact on organized community life and beautification in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The program was started in 1993 when the city received a $20,000 grant from the Ford Foundation.

Henry Moore, Assistant City Manager, decided to ask Savannah citizens what they thought could be done with the money and the current program is the result. Grants of up to $500 are awarded to neighborhood groups with improvement plans for their neighborhoods.

Applications have grown from 89 the first year to more than 300, and is now funded with a yearly allocation of $70,000 from the general fund and CDBG monies.

As the applicant pool started to grow, a residents reviewing committee was formed, with two representatives from each neighborhood that submits a proposal. The representatives do not review applications from their own neighborhoods and the names, amounts requested, and neighborhoods are blocked out on each application when read.

This committee led to the creation of other steering committees, which meet to discuss aspects of community development, to the pleasure of Moore, who was aiming to foster a “citizen-driven government.”

The projects funded by Grants-For-Blocks have shifted focus in the five years since it was started. While proposals are still submitted for beautification efforts, more applications are now received for developing programs. Taffanye Young, Savannah’s Director of Community Services, notes that locally-run programs enjoy unheard-of support. For example, attempts by the community services department to hold tutoring and literacy workshops often fail, but similar programs initiated by residents are extremely popular.

Charlotte Caplan, the administrator of the CDBG program, says that the participants understand that “the real benefit is not just in the projects themselves, it is in the collaboration they inspire. People get to know their neighbors, they get involved in their neighborhood associations and come to city meetings. They have been given a voice.”

See the related Urban Parks Institute Success Story: Small Grants Reap Large Rewards