Start Where Communities Are: How Local Infrastructure Hub Cohorts Build Local Capacity to Access Federal Funding

by Anita M. Tillman, AMCorp International

Navigating the complex landscape of infrastructure needs and federal funding opportunities can often feel like you're lost in an intricate maze without a map. You understand the corners and contours of your community, you're attuned to its challenges and potential, and yet, transforming those needs into actionable projects feels like an uphill battle.

Imagine a hometown community center that serves as a hub for learning, wellbeing, and connecting neighbors. Yet, it's plagued by inefficient lighting, outdated HVAC systems, and lacks essential accessibility features. Our towns and cities are dotted with such spaces—lacking modern amenities and often failing to meet basic community needs. We know we can do better.

Statistics underline the struggle. A whopping $2.59 trillion is the estimated cost of addressing America’s infrastructure needs, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. However, the struggle to meet these vast needs is not just about money. It's about the capacity to navigate the complex and time-consuming world of federal funding.

The Challenge: Navigating Federal Funding with Limited Resources

Local government staff, already stretched thin maintaining day-to-day operations, are the leaders in their communities who implement these needed infrastructure upgrades, yet they are often overwhelmed by the daunting process of applying for federal grants. Just imagine trying to solve a Rubik's Cube while balancing on a tightrope—that’s the federal funding process in a nutshell. It’s especially hard for marginalized communities and community-based organizations (CBOs), who usually don’t have the luxury of dedicated grant-writing staff.

Although the federal government has unlocked historic levels of funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), accessing and then utilizing these resources effectively can be a colossal task.

A Beacon of Support: The Local Infrastructure Hub Cohorts

Understanding precisely where communities are is the first step to meaningful change. Enter the Local Infrastructure Hub Cohorts (LIH), launched with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Waverly Street Foundation and Ford Foundation, to ensure that all communities can access federal infrastructure funding to drive local recovery, improve communities, and deliver results for residents. With the ambitious goal of bridging funding gaps across 12 Southeastern states (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, and VA), LIH, driven by the Southeast Sustainability Directors Network (SSDN), offers not just direct support but also technical assistance to local governments and their partners. SSDN is working closely with partner organization, Elevate Energy, who is leading the effort in the Midwest.  The focus is on equitable climate projects and initiatives that promise a transformative impact.

Since its launch in July 2023, SSDN’s LIH program has already received applications from cities and CBOs for support in obtaining federal funding for projects that promise to serve as lighthouses of resilience and empowerment. Imagine an Energy Services "Concierge" that serves as a navigator for residents, guiding them through the maze of weatherization, energy efficiency, and renewable options. Visualize a statewide, cross-city energy project that manifests the collective power of communities pooling resources for a common sustainable future.

Envision energy efficient homes, supported by revamped infrastructure, fair and just zoning rules, and comprehensive affordable housing strategies. Consider Resilience Hubs, strategically situated in existing community centers, embodying the very spirit and resilience of the communities they serve.

And the reach extends further: from localized workforce training in emerging green industries to the reclamation of brownfields; from making affordable housing accessible to all, to laying down a network of low-income solar programming across states. Even local landfills are not mere waste dumps but potential sites for solar arrays, turning them into powerhouses of renewable energy.

Your Key to Building Federal Funding Capacity

Now let's talk about you—the local governments and community-based organizations who can shape the next set of innovative projects that level the playing field for vulnerable communities. By applying to the LIH program, you are not just seeking funding. You are seeking a partnership aimed at realizing your community’s full potential to address climate impacts and build racial wealth equity.

SSDN’s LIH program can offer 1:1 technical assistance with:

  • Grant Strategy: Identifying and aligning your community needs with federal funding opportunities.
  • Engagement: Ensuring community and stakeholder ownership in proposal planning.
  • Technical Exploration: Offering expertise on specific topics like energy efficiency.
  • Federal Proposal Development: Supporting drafting and submitting a proposal.

The program also offers the option of a one-time capacity building award designated to a private partner or to a local, regional, or national non-profit to assist a team in developing a federal proposal.  LIH offers a similar award to support a federal grant application for opportunities right now and into the future.

Flexible options are available for support, ranging from technical assistance to direct funding awards that help build long-term community capacity. Applications are being accepted through mid-2024 and can be found, along with more information about LIH, on SSDN's website here.

Navigating the intricate maze of federal funding can be an exhausting ordeal, a challenge that can make even the most determined leaders feel as though they're balancing on a tightrope. That's precisely why starting where communities are—understanding their unique struggles and aspirations—is essential. The Local Infrastructure Hub Cohorts (LIH) build local capacity, offering not only the map to this complex maze but also the compass—direct assistance and technical know-how—that empowers communities to journey further than they ever thought possible.

For more information, contact Nick Deffley at