County Exec. announces new changes, enhancements to TNI program
Initiative to expand into Forestville, Silver Hill and Woodlawn/Lanham areas
More than 100 community leaders, officials and residents gathered at the Palmer Park Community Center on June 22 in Landover to hear Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker (D) announce the next phase of the county’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI).
Launched in 2012, TNI is an effort by the county to focus on uplifting six neighborhoods that face significant economic, health, public safety and educational challenges. The program has received national recognition, funding and awards for its innovative approach to local governance and community engagement, according to the Prince George’s County portal.
Because TNI was designed to be fluid, flexible and driven by data analysis, the Baker administration always planned to adjust and refocus it on the communities that need it the most while leaving established infrastructures in the locations that would eventually be turned over to the community, a press release from Baker’s office noted.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re communicating with the public on all the options,” Baker said in an interview. “It’s a good time. You look at the four years that we’ve done the program. We have enough data in now to make a decision. We couldn’t have done that in year one [because] there wasn’t enough information. Four years gave us the data to look at where we are in each one of these TNI areas and where we should go for the next phase of TNI.”
In terms of the next phase, Baker announced that the three TNI areas transitioning to community management by Jan. 1, 2017, include East Riverdale/Bladensburg, Glassmanor/Oxon Hill and Langley Park. Each of those areas has shown tremendous improvement in the approach to local governance and community engagement, according to a press release.
“Langley Park and the work that’s been done up there has graduated not just in terms of public safety, but health indicators [and] education,” he said. “East Riverdale/Bladensburg is now one of our hot areas for economic development and the same thing for Oxon Hill/Glassmanor. We’re seeing these improvements so we’re moving to the next phase.”
When it comes to helping communities thrive, Baker said TNI has enabled community leaders and residents at-large to communicate directly with government officials. Having a quick turnaround and knowing that concerns will be heard and handled immediately is the most powerful thing, he said.
“One of my favorite examples of
how this works and how we tie together is in East Riverdale/Bladensburg. The big issue over there for us when we went in was really looking at crime and truancy,” said Baker. “But when I went to the community meeting, what they wanted to talk to me about was for 15 years, they were trying to get a fence at William Wirt Middle School to stop kids from leaving the campus but also to stop people from coming to the apartments. The TNI got together with the school and we put a fence there. It was a big change in their attitude on how government could help.”
Although they show signs of improvement, the three original TNI areas that will remain include Hillcrest Heights/Marlow Heights, Kentland/Palmer Park and Suitland/Coral Hills.
“People are moving into those areas now and the quality of life is going up,” Baker said.
The quality of life will now go up for residents in Forestville, Silver Hill and Woodlawn/Lanham, which are the three new additions Baker announced to the TNI program.
“Unfortunately, our county has seen an increase in crime in some areas in recent months and I believe the county executive is focused on new locations to diffuse any future increases in crime,” Board of Education Member K. Alexander Wallace (D-District 7) said in an email. “However, what I particularly am excited to see is the increased focus on economic development and education services for the Forestville and Silver Hill TNI areas. … Education and economic development are tied together — one does not succeed without the other.”
Health, Human Services and Education Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Betty H. Francis — a former TNI team leader for Langley Park who will become a member of the new TNI advisory board — said the program has been a tremendous success overall.
“Government, non-profit and the community are all working together and so now we can move, we can graduate those communities so that other communities that have challenges and need special attention can be brought in the program,” said Francis. “Langley Park is one of the areas that’s being transitioned back to the community. When we went there four years ago, Langley Park had very, very few services. It’s a huge immigrant community and sometimes it’s the first stop for immigrants coming into the United States. A lot of them did not even know about government services that were available. But now we have a multi-service center [which opened in April 2014] so people can just walk up to University Boulevard and get all sorts of government services, health department and social services and workforce services for jobs. … We’re just proud, especially to be working together so closely with the community.”
“Language is such a big barrier,” said Mercedes Lemos, a coordinator at the Langley Park Multi-Service Center. “If you’re not a legal resident, it’s very hard to get the benefits that you’re entitled to so you just have to do without, especially like work. … But now that we’re a part of TNI, I think the residents will love it.”
As the newly appointed TNI manager who will direct resources where they are most needed and allow for programs to be duplicated in multiple areas, Linda M. Turner said she is excited and ready to move forward.
“We have done a lot of work behind the scenes to try to structure the program and make it more consistent across all areas,” Turner said. “TNI was never meant to stay in one area indefinitely. We’ve worked with the six original areas since 2012 and we’ve really forged great relationships and networks and helped empower the community members so they know how to navigate government services and how to access them. Now it’s time to move into three new areas and work with them to empower and teach them.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker (D) announced new changes and enhancements to his administration’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative during a public hearing on June 22 at the Palmer Park Community in Landover. Launched in 2012,...