Dubuque’s new Office of Shared Prosperity laying groundwork

Three months after the director of Dubuque’s new Office of Shared Prosperity started, the office’s staff still is laying the groundwork for its fight against poverty.

The office was created in July as part of an effort to reduce poverty in the community, and it currently has two employees, including Director Anderson Sainci. So far, staffers have made progress to establish the office’s role in connecting with local nonprofits while also gathering community input.

“We want to make sure we are aligning our indicators with what is already existing in the community,” Sainci said.

Sainci became the office’s director on Aug. 22. He said staff have met with several local nonprofits to coordinate what metrics will be used to determine the effectiveness of poverty-reduction efforts, such as increasing homeownership.

Office staff also attended meetings for neighborhood organizations to establish a community presence and gather input on areas in which the city should focus its efforts.

“We are attending meetings to understand their perspectives,” Sainci said.

He said those meetings led to the new office and neighborhood organizations holding multiple community events, including a neighborhood cleanup event in the North End in early November.

The Office of Shared Prosperity was formed as part of the city’s Equitable Poverty Reduction and Prevention Plan to carry out proposals to reduce overall poverty levels. Dubuque’s federal poverty rate currently sits at 15.9% and has been rising since 2010.

City Council members voted to fund the creation of the plan in 2019 for $74,750. In fiscal year 2022, Sainci was budgeted to receive a salary of $85,640. Council members also approved spending $102,355 on the new office in fiscal year 2022 to hire the extra employees it needed.

Since Sainci took over about three months ago, the office still is determining what measurements it will use to determine the success of future endeavors.

He said staff continue to work with Public Works LLC — which helped create the city’s poverty reduction plan — to identify metrics by which the city can track the success of its efforts. Those metrics eventually will be presented to City Council members, though no timeline has been established for when.

Eventually, Sainci said, the office will coordinate with and help guide the efforts of local nonprofits to more effectively meet community goals.

The office also has taken over leading city programs focused on increasing civic engagement, particularly among minority residents, by inviting residents to tour city offices and learn about the roles that residents can play in city government.

“We’re working with Black and Brown residents and exposing them to local government,” Sainci said. “We’re showing the role they can play in shaping local policy.”

While the office’s efforts so far haven’t led to any local reductions in poverty, Sainci stressed that these early efforts will help the city better work with nonprofits and community organizations to more effectively address poverty in the future.

“Our goal moving forward is to establish clear plans and goals,” Sainci said.

The Office of Shared Prosperity is anticipated to grow. City officials envisioned data analysis as a major component of the office as a way to measure several poverty-related metrics in the city, such as homeownership, in order to gain a better perspective on what might be causing it.

Plans for the office include hiring a data analyst to facilitate those efforts. However, the position has not been filled, and a full job description still is being developed, Sainci said.

He said the office also will hire an administrative assistant, a position for which he is conducting interviews.

“After we get that position filled, we’ll focus on hiring the data analyst,” he said.

Moving forward, Sainci said he is focused on using the office to lead community efforts in reducing poverty.

“It’s going to take an entire community,” Sainci said. “We want people being involved and engaged to help move our community forward.”

Reached by the Telegraph Herald, City Council members expressed their approval of the office’s progress so far.

Council Member and Mayor-elect Brad Cavanagh said he approves of the work underway, calling it an essential first step in tackling poverty in the community.

“We need to strengthen the partnerships that we have to create a strong foundation,” he said. “Poverty is an issue that cannot be solved by one entity alone. It needs to be a community effort.”

Council Member Danny Sprank said he believes Sainci’s efforts to establish relationships with local neighborhood associations will take time but ultimately will pay off.

“We need to know what our community members are getting help on and what they need,” he said.