July 12, 2019

Catalyzing a Movement for Health and Housing

By Lindsay Ryder, Neighborhood Funders Group; Alexandra Desautels, The California Endowment; Michael Brown, Seattle Foundations; and Chris Kabel, The Kresge Foundation.

Lindsay Ryder, Alexandra Desautels, Michael Brown, and Chris Kabel

In June 2019, Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) gathered nearly 90 funders at Grantmakers in Health’s national conference in Seattle for a panel discussion on how philanthropy can invest in community housing solutions. Despite the large number of concurrent sessions, funders filled the room to dig deep into the urgent issue of equitable housing — and what role health funders can play in addressing this critical health determinant.

The goals of the session, which was organized by NFG’s Democratizing Development Program, were to mobilize health funders to invest in housing solutions and to get more funders to support community readiness and community-centered strategies. The session featured three leaders pushing philanthropy to take action and to expand equity via healthy, affordable housing:

  • Alexandra Desautels, Program Manager, The California Endowment and partner in the Fund for an Inclusive California

  • Michael Brown, Civic Architect, Civic Commons, Seattle Foundation and recipient of the GIH 2018 Terrance Keenan Leadership Award

  • Chris Kabel, Senior Fellow, The Kresge Foundation and National Steering Committee member of NFG’s Amplify Fund

Two people riding green bikes in front of a large colorful mural on the side of a building.

Photo by Taylor Vick on Unsplash

Why Health and Housing?

The session kicked off with several funders in the room sharing why they, as health funders, care about housing. One table of grantmakers representing Indiana, Los Angeles, and Oregon acknowledged both the critical role housing plays in the health of individuals and communities, and how the complexity of addressing housing requires health funders to partner outside of their foundations to get it right and make an impact. Another table of funders from Ohio and Texas identified the intersection of safe housing and healthy birth outcomes as the driving force behind their interest in housing. One needs to look no further than the 2019 Annual Message released by the President of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, titled “Our Homes Are Key to Our Health,” to see how housing impacts health equity. Ultimately, as Alex Desautels of The California Endowment put it, “If you can’t get housing right, there’s not much else you can layer on to get communities healthy.”

Philanthropic models for supporting Health and Housing

Acknowledging the complexities surrounding health funders and housing, the session presenters shared their foundations’ approach to this issue. 

Michael Brown of the Seattle Foundation discussed the concentration of poverty, lack of services, increased isolation, and limited cultural/community centers that result from market-driven housing displacement. Using an approach of people, place, policy, and power, Seattle Foundation partnered with local government on a data-driven approach to identify communities in the greatest need of support. Working in South Seattle, the Foundation engaged with community members and advocates to create an investment strategy designed to build capacity for coalition work and community power, positioning these communities to engage at a policy- and systems change-level for sustained impact.

Meanwhile, The California Endowment found itself grappling with how to move capital to communities when it launched its Building Healthy Communities initiative in 2009 in the middle of the foreclosure crisis. Fast forward to the current day, and the Endowment is now also tackling compounding issues of supporting communities facing gentrification and displacement. Taking a similar power-building approach as the Seattle Foundation, the Endowment has focused is focusing on building capacity of community-based organizations via a place-based approach, recognizing that the history of segregation in this country has led to limited opportunities for people of color to live in communities where they can be healthy and that “place-based initiatives are designed to address that legacy,” as described by the Endowment’s Alex Desautels. 

Chris Kabel shared The Kresge Foundation’s complementary approach: funder collaboratives. Kresge’s mission is to expand opportunity for people with low incomes in America’s cities, a mission to which housing is fundamental. Kresge has been able to lean into housing by partnering with funder collaboratives such as Funders for Housing Opportunity, SPARCC, and NFG’s own Amplify Fund. Not only does this approach enable the foundation to pool and leverage other funders’ grants, it also allows them to fund place-based work in a way that’s fair and equitable — a common challenge for national foundations seeking to invest at the community level. In addition to participating in funder collaboratives, the Kresge Health program has made two rounds of grants to place-based practitioners through a national call for proposals titled Advancing Health Equity through Housing

What about the other 90 funders in the room?

There is no single model for health funders seeking to invest in housing. Nor are the approaches taken by Seattle Foundation, The California Endowment, or The Kresge Foundation — all of which are relatively large, well-resourced funding institutions — necessarily realistic for other funders. So, what other options are there? The individual contexts and experiences of the nearly 90 funders in the room was tapped to generate some collective wisdom:

  1. Whether through funder collaboratives or less formalized partnerships, team up with other funders, including individual donors in your region.

  2. Embrace the public sector as a key player. While philanthropy has historically shied away from housing with the underlying belief that it was “government’s responsibility,” private philanthropy has a critical role to play, regardless of what extent local/state/federal government is stepping up. Invest in the capacity of communities to build coalitions and yield power in decision-making that affects how and where they are able to live — and therefore how healthy they are able to be.

  3. Explore impact investing as a complement to grantmaking. Some of the most well-developed mission related investing work has been built around housing — whether it be investing directly to organizations to develop affordable housing units or by participating in larger funds managed by CDFIs that leverage additional public and private resources for housing. .

  4. Help shift the narrative around equitable housing. The dominant narrative of housing as a commodity has sidelined efforts around other models of affordable, safe, healthy housing that is not based on individual ownership. Similarly, the pejorative narrative around “trailer parks” has restricted an otherwise highly viable effort to utilize manufactured homes to get people into safe and healthy housing.

  5. Finally, don’t await crisis before acting! Funders should face the housing crisis head on as early as possible, bringing community representation to the table with public sector as well as private (market-based developers) at the earliest stage as possible to lay the groundwork for shared power and equitable solutions.

The role of Neighborhood Funders Group, and what next?

The work of NFG’s Democratizing Development Program (DDP) is at the core of NFG’s nearly 40-year history of organizing philanthropy to support equitable, community-based change. Recognizing the history of segregation in this country, and centering communities of color and low-income communities, NFG works with funders at a national scale to develop and actualize effective funding strategies. As was acknowledged at several points throughout the session, no one foundation can do this alone. By helping funders come together to develop relationships, identify successful models, and actually move resources — NFG is moving philanthropy’s needle in finding solutions to equitable housing and community development. For example, over the past couple of years, NFG’s Democratizing Development Program was instrumental in the initial planning, staffing, and convening of funders in the development of the Amplify Fund and the Fund for Inclusive California

This 60-minute session at the GIH conference was only the tip of the iceberg for funders to further share, learn, and strategize with their peers on how to be effective grantmakers working on the intersections of health and housing. Building on this session discussion and other previous offerings, the Democratizing Development Program will continue to organize, partner, and host programming, and work towards convening funders to further the conversation around building a movement for health and housing. If you are interested in how your foundation can get involved, contact DDP’s Senior Program Manager, Nile Malloy, at nile@nfg.org

July 20, 2021

Transformative change, rooted in place: NFG's July 2021 Newsletter

Can you imagine what New York would look like if private equity funds weren’t evicting low-income renters? What about, if in the Washington, DC area, historically Black neighborhoods were not being gentrified by wealthy white people and behemoth-tech corporations like Amazon? What if, in Southern California, essential workers had the power to set policies that limit the environmental and health & safety impacts of warehousing?

These aren’t just dreams — Black, Indigenous, and people of color-led movements in New York, the DC area, Southern California, and beyond have imbued these visions for racial, gender, economic, and climate justice in their work towards transformative change. And in each place, local grassroots organizers are leading the way to ensure that our communities can thrive — with homes that working families can afford, jobs with livable wages, neighborhoods with clean air and access to water, and genuinely democratic systems.

We at NFG know that in order to achieve transformative and lasting social change, philanthropy must mobilize resources to Black, Indigenous, people of color, and migrant-led movements that are rooted in place. And funders at the national, regional, and local levels all have a role to play. There are no federal, state, Southern, or Midwestern strategies without supporting local action.

Learn and strategize alongside NFG about how your grantmaking can help build power in place:

Keep reading for full descriptions of these events and more resources from your community of co-conspirators at NFG.

Onwards,
The NFG team

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June 24, 2021

Reflections after my first year as NFG President: NFG's June 2021 Newsletter

I didn't choose my first leadership role — it chose me. As a child who emigrated from Mexico to Detroit with my family, I became my family’s language broker. I learned English the fastest, un-learned my accent the quickest as a survival mechanism, and learned how to navigate the systems for my family. I took this role with pride, resentment, and ambivalence. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I began to understand and unpack this role, to see it as a leadership role that many immigrant children have.

As I’ve navigated my career, it has felt different to choose a leadership role consciously and with agency. In 2019, I chose (after some encouragement from my mentors) to apply for the position of NFG’s leader. I was ready to lead, not follow — the words from my long-time friend and mentor Denice Williams. After three years as NFG’s Vice President of Programs and nine months as interim co-director, May Day 2020 marked my first day as NFG’s President. I was ready to build upon the legacy of this team that had been led by Dennis Quirin for six years, and share my vision for NFG’s next iteration.

My first year as NFG’s leader was a rollercoaster: emotional, isolating, exhausting, a privilege, a gift, a chosen challenge. [For all my other BIPOC first-time Executive Directors and Presidents: I see you, I am with you. You got this. And when you feel like you don’t (or find yourself asking, ‘why did I want this?’), reach out to me. As one of my favorite leaders, Joanne Smith, from Girls for Gender Equity says: “we got us!”]

When I reflect on my first year in this role that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice uprisings, and navigating work & life in wholly new ways, the power of support and the power of space and spaciousness stand out as key lessons.

The power of support and asking for support:
 I have had what should be a nonprofit standard and unfortunately isn’t: a supportive Board of Directors and co-chairs who stayed present as they managed their own work and lives, and who didn’t scale down their involvement after the executive search and transition were completed. I had a board committee that worked with me during my first three months on my 90 day goals, professional development, and support needs. When I was managing a harder process that I felt needed more board support, I asked for it and got it. I also had my leadership coach and a peer coaching circle that kept me grounded and was witness to what I needed.

Launching NFG’s Senior Management Team with Sarita Ahuja, our Vice President of Operations, and Faron McLurkin, our Vice President of Programs, has provided me and NFG with the leadership team that best fits this organization. I have felt the support of NFG’s staff and our network of members by my side. These multiple layers of support got me through the hardest moments, steadied me when I felt out on a limb, encouraged me when I felt imposter syndrome creep in — and have filled what has been an ‘unconventional’ first year as NFG’s President with connection, camaraderie, and community.

The space to practice, think, be: As leaders, our time is in demand. Being a people-pleaser, and someone that was used to managing (and controlling) my own calendar, had me at times over the past year in 7-8 zoom meetings a day. I had little time to think, reflect, or follow up on the action items I named as next steps, let alone eat at regular times.

These pitfalls of being a new leader are all too common. When sharing this with my coach, she challenged me to reflect on what I would need to do to create radical spaciousness. Initially, this felt impossible. But with her challenge (I am an Aries, afterall), I felt an unlock: I hired a virtual assistant and she helped to protect my mornings and time to eat lunch; I found one day a month to have a meeting-free day for reflection and journaling; I began more fiercely resisting urgency and the white supremacist & capitalist notions that keeps us reacting & responding versus thinking & reflecting.

From the technical fixes to the larger adaptive challenges, I continue to commit myself and NFG to practice spaciousness. This spaciousness has helped think, write, and get clear on my priorities — and to become more rooted in the role of President. My body and my son urge me not to rush back to be on the road for 50 percent of my work/life, and to continue to lead with impact and spaciousness. This practice will inform a thoughtful approach for how and when to travel to reconnect with NFG’s staff and members at in-person meetings and convenings. And we at NFG have seen that we can be impactful, experimental, and creative virtually — all while moving money to movements.

The space to dream and reimagine: In our most recent Philanthropy Forward session, which brings together CEOs of foundations in a leadership cohort, we talked about what we would do if we were 10x bolder. I love this question and call as a leader to consider what the world and philanthropy would be like if we were more bold and our wildest dreams came true.

Last week, NFG received the gift of a $3 million unrestricted grant from MacKenzie Scott. This grant allows us to dream and reimagine what it looks like for NFG to be 10x bolder in holding philanthropy accountable to move more money and shift power to Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities, low-income communities and workers, rural communities, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people, women, and immigrants. What a difference this makes to our work and the spaciousness; what a signal of support to our work and our staff, board, and member leadership.

As I embark on my second year as NFG’s leader, I carry my lessons on support and spaciousness — and I welcome your ideas for a 10x bolder NFG.

NFG is a place for philanthropy to strategize new and more ways to show up for our communities now and in the long-term; a place to move more money to racial, gender, economic, and climate justice; and a place that provides space to find your co-conspirators, draw strength, be nourished, reflect upon and celebrate the wins and work that has been accomplished so far.

What comes to mind when you imagine what it looks like for NFG to be 10x bolder in holding philanthropy accountable? Send me a note, reach out to the NFG team, join a Member Connection Call (the next one is June 29 and then we’ll take a break until September), learn alongside us and share your ideas at our events.

I look forward to continuing to be in community and solidarity with you.

Un abrazote!
Adriana Rocha
President

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