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Partners For Change: Cities

Our nation cannot move forward until our cities become centers for expanding opportunity and engines of economic growth. Prosperous cities are the key to vital regional economies and to safe and healthy suburbs.

Prosperous cities are also vital for the growth of Israel's economy. Many "development towns" have become the home of immigrants and require particular attention from the government. Project Renewal has been Israel's successful program for the social, economic and physical rehabilitation of disadvantaged neighborhoods. Learning from some mistakes of earlier American revitalization programs, Project Renewal operates through local committees, made up of neighborhood residents and representatives of relevant municipal and government authorities, which develop practical solutions for longstanding problems, especially concerning housing, employment, education, health and community services. The experience Israel has gained from these projects can be returned to the United States.

Agreements may also be possible on a city-to-city basis. Since the late 1970s, 45 American cities have been "twinned" with an Israeli community through Project Renewal.

A letter of agreement was signed in 1990 between the Commissioner of the Department of Human Services in Philadelphia and the Director of the Department of Community and Family Services in Jerusalem. The agreement sets forth the two cities' priorities: to "prevent children from coming into emergency care through the strengthening of the family and the community."

Investing in Communities

Clinton and Gore called for the creation of "a nationwide network of community development banks to provide small loans to low-income entrepreneurs and homeowners in the inner cities." Israel has a model, which also has long been used in the American Jewish community, which helps people in a similar way without involving banks. It is called a free loan society in which the community establishes a nonprofit association that acts as a bank to provide loans for general household needs, emergencies, small businesses and students.

An association set up in 1990 to help new immigrants to Israel approves an average of 125 loans each month and now has more than $1 million circulating in interest-free loans. The default rate has been less than one percent and more than one-third of the new loans are financed by repaid loans. In the United States, such an association could assist low-income individuals and families as well as middle class families that may face crises that put them in the position of needing financial help to get through a difficult period.