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.

March 17, 2021

How Philanthropy Can Move from Crisis to Transformation

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 by the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project.

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 AbichandaniIt was just a year ago, and yet it feels like a lifetime.

Last March, I was dreading a hectic month packed with too much work travel. Long before we had heard of Covid-19, many of us had been preparing for 2020 to be a consequential year, one in which our democracy was on the line.

My mother had generously traveled from Houston to help with childcare during my travels. Her two-week visit turned into three months, and our worlds as we knew them changed.

Covid happened.  

Then the racial justice uprisings happened.

The wildfires happened.

The election happened. 

And then an armed insurrection to overturn the democratic election results happened.

Every turn in this tumultuous year reaffirmed the reality that justice is a matter of life and death. 

Our democracy survived, though barely. But more than half a million Americans did not, and this unfathomable loss, borne disproportionately by communities of color, is still growing.

Across the philanthropic sector, funders stepped up to meet the moment. We saw payouts increase, the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy, and commitments to flexible support from not only public and private foundations but also individual philanthropists who gave unrestricted billions.

A year ago, we all faced a rapidly changing reality — one that it made it hard to know what the next month, or next year might hold.  Now, we have turned a corner in a most consequential time in American democracy, a time that has been defined by the leadership of Black women and grassroots movements for social justice that are building the power of people — and these movements are just getting started. There is momentum for change, leadership that is solidly poised to make that change, and broad-based support for the bold solutions that will move us towards a more just and equitable society.  We are in a dramatically different time that continues to call for a dramatically different kind of philanthropy.

As we look back on this year of crisis, and see the opportunities before us now more clearly, how are funders being called to contribute to the change we know is needed?  To answer these questions, I point to the truths that remained when everything else fell away.

We have the power to change the rules.

In the early days of the pandemic, close to 800 foundations came together and pledged to provide their grantees with flexible funding and to remove burdens and barriers that divert them from their work. Restrictions on funding were waived, and additional funds were released. These changes were not the result of years-long strategic planning; instead, this was a rare example of strategic action. These quick shifts allowed movement leaders to be responsive to rapidly shifting needs. Grantees were more free to act holistically, to mobilize collectively, make shared demands, and achieve staggering change.

Today, our grantees are coping with the exhaustion, burnout, and trauma from this last year, the last four years, and even the last four hundred years. Recently, many of us have begun to invest more intentionally in the healing, sustainability, and wellness of our grantees. Systemic injustice takes a toll on a very individual human level, and as funders, we can and should resource our grantees to thrive.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, has urged philanthropy to, “Fund us like you want us to win.” Last year, we learned that we are capable of doing just that — and doing it without delay. Let’s build on funding practices that center relationships and shift power to our grantees.

White supremacy got us into this mess; racial justice will get us out.

Racial justice went mainstream in 2020 as the multiple crises exposed deep inequities and injustices in our midst. In the months after the world witnessed a police officer brutally murder George Floyd, many funders responded with explicit new commitments to fund Black-led racial justice work. These standalone funding commitments have been hailed as a turning point in philanthropy — a recognition of the importance of resourcing racial justice movements.

As we move forward, we must ensure that these newly made commitments are durable and not just crisis-driven. Movements should not have to rely on heartbreaking headlines to drive the flow of future resources. We can build on new funding commitments by centering racial justice in all our grantmaking. As resources begin to flow, let’s ensure that our frameworks are intersectional and include a gender analysis. To demonstrate a true desire to repair, heal, and build a multiracial democracy, philanthropy must do meaningful work in our institutions so that, at all levels, there is an understanding of the root causes of inequality and the importance of investing in racial justice.  Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, captured the centrality of this when he said, “We don’t get racial justice out of a true democracy. We get a true democracy out of racial justice.”

We know how to be “all in” when it's important. In this next period, it’s important.

With crisis as the rationalization, many endowed foundations were inspired to suspend a practice that our sector has long taken for granted: the 5% minimum distribution rule. In the face of compounding threats to our lives and our democracy, 64 individuals and foundations pledged to increase spending to 10% of the value of their endowment in 2020. And for the first time in years, the philanthropic sector is giving meaningful attention to the topic of spending decisions and the problem of treating the payout floor as though it is the ceiling.

To take full advantage of this once-in-a-generation opening for transformation, funders must put all the tools in our toolbox behind our ambitious missions. Social justice philanthropy can build new spending models that are not only more responsive to the moment, but also set our institutions up to better fulfill our missions — today and in the long-term.

This past summer, 26 million people marched in the streets of their small and large cities to proclaim that Black lives matter. It was the largest mobilization in our country’s history. Last fall, despite numerous efforts to suppress voters, social justice organizers mobilized the largest voter turnout we’ve ever seen. Now, as a result, we are in a moment that holds immense possibility. 

In big and small ways, we are all changed by this year. 

Our sector and our practice of philanthropy has changed too.  Let’s claim the opportunity that is before us by reimagining our norms and adopting practices that will continue to catalyze transformation.  The old philanthropy has been exposed as unfit. The new philanthropy is ours to create.

March 25, 2021

Philanthropy must be accountable: NFG's March 2021 Newsletter

We need each other and all of us in the fight for racial, gender, economic, and climate justice. The latest incidents of hate against AAPI women, elders, and our communities have left us grieving, angry, tired, and steadfast in our commitment to make philanthropy more accountable to AAPI, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities and low-income communities. See our full statement calling on all of us to Stop Asian Hate.

As Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of General Service Foundation, said in Neighborhood Funders Group’s 40 Years Strong convening series, "We must create cultures of accountability. How are we meeting this moment? A lot of what we need to do could be called organizing, but I think of it as meaning making." It is our collective work to make meaning of systemic injustices and resource power-building led by AAPI, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities at the level that is necessary for all of us to thrive.

NFG is holding philanthropy accountable by urging funders to utilize all of their institution’s assets to pursue social justice, center worker justice movements and strategies, strengthen organizing infrastructure built by Black women to shift political and economic power, support reparations and drive wealth back to Black and Indigenous communities, and reimagine public safety and community care to ensure everyone has a place to call home.

In the next few weeks, we'll be announcing more opportunities to connect with the NFG community, sharing Funders for a Just Economy's next Building Power in Place report featuring organizers in Texas, and releasing a new report on rural organizing in New York state commissioned by Engage New York and NFG's Integrated Rural Strategies Group.


In solidarity,
The NFG team

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