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2019 Community Focus Report Identifies Housing, Voter, and Poverty Issues

Joshua Conaway

Every other year, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks releases a Community Focus Report identifying things Springfield and Greene County are doing well or that they need to work on.    The report uses blue ribbons to note positive developments and red flags to point out challenges.  This year's Community Focus Report was shared with the public Thursday morning at a press conference at the Springfield Art Museum.

Among the red flags found in this year's report is that the population growth rate of Springfield has slowed down in the last few years. The report said that this could affect long-term economic development in the area.

Another area of concern is the county's high poverty rate and how it intersects with housing, education and overall opportunity.  Although the unemployment rate remains below the national average, in Greene County the poverty rate has risen since Community Focus Reports began in 2004.

This comes as housing costs continue to go up.  More than half of renters here and nearly a third of homeowners spend more than 30% of their income on housing, the report found.

Dr. Jonathan Groves was the facilitator of this year's Community Focus Report.  He said this area still has serious gaps when it comes to achievement in education.

“Significant achievement gaps exist between white students and students of color," Groves said. There is also an achievement gap when it comes to income, a critical issue since more than half of Springfield students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.”

Paul Williams, chief of the Springfield Police Department, stressed the need for the community to tackle issues surrounding theft, violence, and the increased use of opioids and methamphetamine.

“Blue ribbon:  our crime rate is down. Red flag: the drug issue is going to continue to be an issue. It’s been an issue since the first year of this report. It hasn’t changed a lot, that it still is an issue that we’re going to have to work on as a community,” Williams urged.

Community involvement was a theme for several speakers. 

Daniel Ogunyemi, a volunteer for the Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, encouraged leaders to foster diversity by reaching out to different people daily.

“And I want you to repeat after me as I say it: Have. A. Conversation. Build. Relationships,” he instructed the audience.

Speakers also highlighted positive developments in the community. 

The report gave the Springfield community a blue ribbon for passing Proposition S, which will allocate $168 million to Springfield Public Schools over five years.  Ribbons were also given for developing areas like Commercial Street and Galloway Village.  The report also recognized the area's vibrant community of artists and entrepreneurs who have generated tens of millions in annual revenue for the city, and an investment in the environment, which has revitalized parks and reduced emissions.

The 2019 report can be found here.