Project Context

Last March, Covid-19 hit New York City disrupting every aspect of urban life and creating a health, economic, social, and housing crisis. New Yorkers’ needs were already significant before Covid-19. About 50 percent of all households had earnings way below the city’s median household income. Over 53 percent of all households were rent burdened which means that they were paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent. And, those with the lowest income were even spending more than 50 percent of their salary in rent. Furthermore, many low-income households were living in overcrowded homes, had underlying health conditions, and were already in need of social assistance. Thus, when the pandemic hit the city those already in need became particularly vulnerable.

Despite it has been widely acknowledged, with extensive coverage, that the virus has affected disproportionally low-income and immigrant New Yorkers, the damage it has caused to their communities and neighborhoods hasn’t been fully assessed. Unlike previous crises, this pandemic has interrupted all the ecologies in our city —health, food, housing, business, education, mobility —at once and revealed the malfunction of our economic, social, health, and political systems. Thus, massive resources, efforts, and time will be required to assess the local damage, develop recovery policies and programs, and distribute evenly resources for their implementation. Most importantly, the recovery efforts should not look back, like in previous crises. They should challenge the inequality that has characterized the development of cities and prioritize the needs, priorities, and visions of those who have been traditionally excluded in the production of the city by working closing with those communities. 

Like in previous crises, trusted community-based organizations, active grassroots groups, and rotted community leaders have been vital in Covid-19 rapid response efforts. They have shifted their activities to adapt to the emerging needs of their community members but, as the impact of the pandemic unfolds, they are facing unprecedented challenges to undertake planned and strategic recovery efforts. New approaches, methodologies, and tools will be needed bringing together local stakeholders, assessing the impact, and finding innovative ways to built capacity to pursue long-term recovery plans.

Project Scope

The MS Design and Urban Ecologies students will be partnering with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) this fall. LISC is one of the country’s largest social enterprises supporting projects and programs to revitalize communities and bringing greater economic opportunity to residents. LISC invests in affordable housing, growing businesses, safer streets, high-quality education, and programs that connect people with financial opportunities. This organization provides the capital, strategy, and know-how to local partners to get this done. LISC’s work has impacted the lives of millions of Americans in both rural areas and urban centers across the country for over 40 years. Over the last months, LISC has mobilized to support the people and communities hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic. As the virus moves and expands to new territories LISC is looking to support the capacity of small and large community-based organizations as they pursue innovative approaches, methodologies, and tools for their recovery efforts.
Our collaboration will involve envisioning and developing some of those approaches, methodologies, and tools. MS Design and Urban Ecologies students will contribute to the work of LISC’s Strategy and Innovation Office, which has compiled 40 years of community-planning across LISC’s offices into one comprehensive community-planning process, The Quality of Life Playbook (QOLP). The playbook seeks to convene residents, community leaders, subject matter experts, and civic organizations across cities to develop a vision for their neighborhoods and to translate that vision into achievable strategies. It is a valuable source with room for new organizing and planning tools, particularly during this time as community-based organizations start organizing recovery plans. Thus the collaboration will involve envisioning such tools to facilitate the assessment of the impact of Covid-19 in neighborhoods hit hard and to bring together community members, community-based organizations, and key stakeholders to identify needs and priorities to develop localized actionable strategies. The tools will become part of LISC’s community-planning process ensuring equity and inclusion which remains at the center of the organization’s planning and collective impact process.

Team members

Nicholas Arvanitis

Meera Chakravarthy

Irtiza Ahmed Chaudhry

Molly Graham

Tori Gruber

Mar Iglesias Salvador

Juliana Leite Neri

Vijay Palaparty

Drake Reed

Emily Sandstrom Nonoo

Natalya Senseman

Roberta Werthein


Gabriela Rendón, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and Community Development


Local Initiatives Support Corporation