2021 All-America City Finalist - Fort Lauderdale, FL

Ten years ago, in 2011, the City of Fort Lauderdale celebrated its centennial. The historic milestone offered an opportunity for both reflection on the past and visioning of the future. Fort Lauderdale embarked on a comprehensive community outreach campaign in 2012 that utilized a variety of avenues to gather community-wide opinions about the quality of life. The outcome yielded collective aspirations for 2035, which were used as a guide for the development of Fort Lauderdale’s featured projects.

Community Court – the Neighborhood Focused Court

In November 2018, the average jail population in Broward County was approximately 3,500. To reduce that number and address quality-of-life issues in downtown Fort Lauderdale, the National Community Court Program, a partnership between the Center for Court Innovation and the U.S. Department of Justice Assistance, awarded Broward’s 17th Judicial Circuit Court a $200,000 grant to implement a “community court” within the City of Fort Lauderdale.

The community court model gives the court problem solving orientation, provides a mechanism for community input and connects individuals to social services, without the restrictions associated with a formal court setting.  The program affords a proportionate and constructive response to penalties and incarceration for municipal code violations and less serious offenses while helping with the struggles that motivate criminal behavior, substance abuse, mental health issues and homelessness.  The court responds creatively by seeking sentences that are restorative to the victim, defendant, and community.

Collaborative efforts from government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and other entities planned and implemented the community court model to be reflective of the diverse resources available in the City of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County.

In 2019, 122 Community Court cases were documented by the Broward County Clerk of Courts and 1,000 individual walk-ins received services through the program. Goods and services, such as hygiene kits, showers, haircuts, meals, clothing, and housing placements are also provided to Community Court clients and walk-ins through donations from community partners and residents.

Community Emergency Response Teams and Fire Explorers

The location of the City of Fort Lauderdale makes it especially vulnerable to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tropical storms, and flooding.

The Fort Lauderdale CERT Team is a diverse group of approximately 400 volunteers who assist Police and Fire Rescue with Domestic Preparedness and Emergency Management. CERT volunteers work closely with emergency personnel and other CERT members, serving and educating residents in their own neighborhoods.

The community outreach focusses on sharing information and providing practical training at homeowner association meetings, neighborhood meetings, schools, church groups, public workshops, and special events. The topics of the education and involvement vary depending on circumstances, the needs, and the season. In May, June, and July the training is typically focused on hurricane awareness and preparation, while at other times it includes hands on CPR, search and rescue, traffic control, situational awareness, and fire prevention.

The purpose of the education and outreach is to spread the knowledge about what to do before, during, and after an incident. The more people know about disaster preparation, readiness, and recovery, the better and faster the response will be within the neighborhoods in case of an emergency.

CERT Team volunteers can assist in case of any causalities or disasters and work a variety of community events, including giving medical attention, if needed.

CERT team volunteers participate in approximately 100-125 events annually, amounting to approximately 4,300 volunteer hours.

Additionally, the Fire Explorer program is a learning-for life career education program open to youth, ages 13-21, that is organized by the Fire Department’s Emergency Management Team. It is a community-based program that serves as an expansion of disaster preparedness and recovery, but also aims to increase job readiness and create more civic capacity.

Affordable Housing within a Sustainable and Resilient Framework

Like many areas across the United States, affordable housing has become a growing concern for the City of Fort Lauderdale. A 2018 assessment identified Broward County among the most unaffordable places to live in the U.S., predominantly due to housing and rental costs increasing at a faster rate than wages and the slower growth of high paying job creation.

The issue was a top priority of the city commission in 2019 and 2020, and the city explored multiple options to increase the availability of affordable housing options by revising policies to better incentivize affordable housing development.

Rather than focusing on a singular contributing cause, the city implemented multiple mitigation strategies to increase housing affordability. The plan included decreasing housing and transportation costs, increasing the inventory of available affordable housing, and fostering the growth of high paying jobs and industries operating within the city to comprehensively address root causes of the housing affordability gap.

The first step was to identify citywide affordable housing locations that were in proximity to primary corridors and mass transit to decrease transportation costs. Following public outreach and collaboration with stakeholders, new affordable housing policy regulations were crafted and are slated for the city commission’s review in the coming months.

Through a mix of incentives, public and private partnerships, and the utilization of community development funds to support affordable housing construction within residential and mixed-use development areas, there have been over 1,900 housing units that have been built, approved, or engaged in the review approval process.

Next, the city drew on its partnerships with the Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance to support and retain businesses and make gradual progress in becoming the center of a Technology Gateway. The city took advantage of state incentive programs to diversify the local economy and target businesses from industries committed to creating new high-wage jobs to increase income. By the end of 2019, 399 new jobs were created through the Qualified Target Industry Program, resulting in higher paying wages for community members.

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