August 8, 2019

Community Ownership and Land Trusts: Power-building Solutions for America’s Housing Crisis

In June 2019, Neighborhood Funders Group's Democratizing Development Program joined grantmakers and community leaders from across the country for a three-day convening in Santa Fe, NM, at the “Nuestro Corazón” People’s Assembly, hosted by Chainbreaker Collective and Right to the City.

As part of the convening, a funder track brought together key allies in philanthropy interested in taking a deeper dive on alternative land and community ownership housing models. The funder track was an impactful opportunity to engage colleagues, hear from community leaders, and discuss concrete opportunities to support the movement for community control of land and housing.

Community Visioning for Health, Housing, and Local Community Land Trust

The convening kicked off with Tomas Rivera, Executive Director of Chainbreaker Collective, providing local context for Santa Fe. He shared that Chainbreaker's local organizing strategy initially focused on transportation, climate change, economic justice, and voter engagement. As they saw how much transportation costs affected their members' ability to afford housing, the organization evolved to address local housing protections.

In one of the communities Chainbreaker organizes in, Hopewell-Mann, residents face the greatest risk in the city of being gentrified out of their neighborhood. Residents in nearby communities also lack key resource investments to support health, well-being, and sustainability. Chainbreaker, in collaboration with Human Impact Partners and the Santa Fe Community Foundation's Health Equity Partnership, researched demographics and public resource allocations in Hopewell-Mann compared to other neighborhoods. The resulting report, Equitable Development and Risk of Displacement, found that Hopewell-Mann is the poorest neighborhood in the city, with a median income of $21,000 and historic disinvestment; there are virtually no parks or open spaces in the neighborhood despite its large youth population. Recent upscale private development indicate the neighborhood, with its majority Latinx population and high rate of housing cost-burdened residents, is in danger of gentrification and displacement.

A circle of people stand outside around a campus map of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

Community residents and leaders are seeking to change things. Adjacent to Hopewell-Mann is a vacant 64-acre property owned by the City of Santa Fe. The site has been an underused community eyesore since 2009, when the Santa Fe University of Art and Design broke their lease. Keeping in mind that the lot is 1.1% of the total land in Santa Fe, neighborhood residents asked themselves in community meetings, “What would we do if we could control the land? What would we do if we could control the narrative?" Their goal is to work with the City of Santa Fe and turn the site into a community-controlled land trust.

Given how the community land trust model is an appealing mechanism for maintaining and expanding the stock of affordable housing, the People's Assembly convening funder track created more space with funders to galvanize support and resources for community organizing, planning, and technical assistance for land trusts. Community leaders also plan to leverage this financial commitment to get support from the City of Santa Fe.

Perspectives from the Field

The rest of the convening also featured a powerful slate of speakers from community groups around the country working to organize support from local and national philanthropic institutions. The organizers spoke to how coordinating with funders to invest in local housing solutions takes time, relationship building, networking, and trust. They described how it also takes deep meaningful alignment, savvy funder organizing, and proactive alignment strategy to move resources to community partners. Unfortunately, gentrification and displacement are happening faster than foundations can come together to co-invest in campaigns, strategies, and local solutions.

  • Shoshana Krieger, Project Director of Building and Strengthening Tenant Action (BASTA), works on securing tenants rights in Austin, TX, where low-income communities and communities of color have higher percentages of renters, similar to most cities that have over 50% renters. Shoshana spoke about the lack of funding in the South for tenant organizing among residents who are harrassed, bullied, and neglected by apartment management. Despite little funding and limited eviction protections, BASTA has built a strong base working with regional partners in twelve cities and nine states.
  • Breonne DeDecker, Program Manager at Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative (JPNSI) in New Orleans, LA, shared a compelling story about the systemic impacts of the permanent displacement of 100,000 Black residents from the city after Hurricane Katrina. In response to growing housing needs, JPNSI has focused on developing community land trusts and permanent affordable housing to create sustainable, democratic, and economically just neighborhoods and communities in New Orleans. According to Breonne, JPNI has struggled to attract funding as foundations saw affordable housing as the government's responsibility and did not see enough return on their investment.
  • Jennifer Arnold is the Director of Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia (United Renters for Justice, or IX), a new organization founded to build community power to change the local housing system in Minneapolis, MN. She explained how their class action lawsuit against a negligent landlord won $18 million for his tenants in June 2019. Now that the landlord is beginning to sell off his properties, IX is trying to secure funding and a purchase agreement to buy the properities and set up a housing cooperative.
  • Nola Miguel, Director of Globeville Elyria-Swansea Coalition and associated with the Colorado Homes for All chapter in Denver, CO, highlighted something we always ask: “Housing is accessible, but for whom?” The city is planning a large redevelopment project in Nola's community, setting it up for real estate speculation, gentrification, and increased housing costs. While the Globeville Elyria-Swansea Coalition secured a $2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation to develop a member-led community land trust project, Nola noted that it is still not enough to truly address the city's housing crisis.
  • Cynthia Strathmann, Executive Director of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) in Los Angeles, CA, shared that tenant protections are not actually easier in blue states. With California being such an expensive place to live, land acquisition is very difficult. In response, SAJE worked with their members and coalition partners to develop The People’s Plan: A Community-Centered Approach to City Planning. The plan calls for city leaders to create policies that would protect South LA residents and ensure they have equitable access to healthy opportunities.

A group of people stand outside a three-story apartment complex.Right to the City's Malcolm Torrejón Chu highlighted the differences and similarities between these stories around organizing, tenant protections, and housing solutions from across the country. Malcolm said of the Right to the City (RTTC) Homes for All campaign, ”We were tired of fighting one house at a time, so we are building a trans-local movement infrastructure to create the transformation we want to make.” The coalition's power was evident when SAJE and BASTA joined RTTC and Chainbreaker in Santa Fe to canvass 10,000 households, totalling 80,000 people. RTTC’s vision is to build a national federation of groups to reclaim and take control of 1 million acres of land and move millions of dollars to community-driven and community-led investment to ensure that everyone has a safe, dignified, and affordable home.

Mantra or Motto: “Moving Resources to Support Our Organizing”

The People's Assembly convening was an extension of years of funder organizing work to move more resources in support of local housing justice solutions and tenant protection efforts. Working with place-based and national funders on housing justice is critically important for leaders sharing strategies, lessons learned, funding gaps, and the benefits of investing in community organizing.

One of the main gaps highlighted at the convening was the need to figure out how to better leverage the investment side of philanthropy for housing solutions. Philanthropy has limited impact investing for housing at scale because the sector is working from a different set of assumptions of risk tolerance. How might funders invest in supporting a local land trust through impact investing? How can national funders be useful in a local context, and how can our networks be useful to advance investments in local projects?

Nwamaka Agbo shared her Restorative Economics framework and raised other important questions for the sector, including, “How do we move money in ways that allow those at grassroots level to have power and authority?” Philanthropy should consider investing deeper into community stewardship projects that could result in self-determination, community sovereignty, and building power. Building political power to defend the right to housing takes shifting the conversation from charity to wealth-building.

People stand and talk under a tree by an empty plot of land.

Philanthropy not only needs to listen to and take the lead from grassroots communities to reshape their grantmaking practices for their 5% tax deductible giving, but also immediately divest its endowment from investments that continue to exacerbate harm to marginalized communities.

We can no longer have foundations that claim a commitment to social and racial justice values give grants to criminal justice organizations with their right hand while investing in private prisons with their left hand. We cannot have philanthropic partners that support environmental and environmental justice organizations but invest in "clean" coal and fracking.

The call to action for philanthropy in this political moment is to move resources into the democratic control of local communities at a scale commiserate to addressing the systemic harm and economic impacts of policies and practices that have extracted from and exploited low-income, immigrant, black, brown, trans, and indigenous communities.

In short, it's time to #MoveTheMoney.

September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

 
August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.