The Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities (EZ/EC) program was designed by the Federal Government to encourage comprehensive planning and investment aimed at the economic, physical and social development of the neediest urban and rural areas in the United States. Under the initial round of funding announced in December 1994, 71 urban sites received EZ/EC designation. The major share of the federal funding went to the six sites designated as Empowerment Zones (EZs) and the remaining funds went to Enterprise Communities (ECs). Although considerable latitude has been afforded to these sites regarding the selection of specific strategies and activities to pursue, each funded community's efforts at zone transformation were expected to reflect four key principles:
- Economic opportunity
- Community-based partnerships
- Sustainable community development, and
- A strategic vision for change.
In 1996, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development selected a team led by Abt Associates to conduct an Interim Assessment of the first round of urban EZ/EC sites. The assessment examined the activities of these EZ/EC sites and the progress that they achieved after the first five years of program operations. As its name implies, the Interim Assessment was not intended to provide a definitive evaluation of the extent to which EZ/EC program activities contributed to outcomes reported. That task is expected to be the focus of a separate study conducted after 10 years of program operations. Nonetheless, the data reported in the Interim Assessment provide some preliminary insights into how the EZ/EC activities may be contributing to the transformation of the targeted neighborhoods.