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.

January 22, 2020

NFG Member Spotlight: The Libra Foundation

Logo of The Libra FoundationThe Libra Foundation staff: Angie Chen (Senior Program Officer), Crystal Hayling (Executive Director), Ashley Clark (Knowledge & Grants Manager), Jennifer Agmi (Senior Program Officer)

(L-R): Angie Chen (Senior Program Officer), Crystal Hayling (Executive Director), Ashley Clark (Knowledge & Grants Manager), Jennifer Agmi (Senior Program Officer)

NFG's network is composed of 120+ members that work in every part of the nation, in both urban and rural settings, and includes private and public foundations, community foundations, family foundations, corporate foundations, faith-based funders, and other grantmaking institutions. 

We recently connected with Crystal Hayling and The Libra Foundation team about their growth and vision for 2020, which organizations are giving them inspiration in this moment, and why they continue to invest in NFG with their renewed and increased membership.

We love to connect with our members! Share your experiences as part of the NFG network by getting in touch with Lindsay Ryder, Senior Membership Manager, at lindsay@nfg.org.


 
  1. How do notions of people, power, and place fit in with Libra’s grantmaking approach?

The organizations Libra supports are building a world where low-income communities of color have the power to determine their own freedom, define safety, and thrive in healthy environments. Families that are separated by mass incarceration, communities whose voting rights are suppressed, and neighborhoods suffering from contamination are among the many ways people, power, and place are at the foundation of structural oppression, and, therefore, the heart of Libra’s grantmaking approach. We are centering organizations building power through grassroots community organizing, deep network and coalition building, and progressive advocacy for lasting solutions that work for all.
 

  1. Libra has gone through a bit of a transformation over the past few years, including a new ED and larger staff, a larger public profile, and a refined grantmaking strategy. How has being a part of NFG’s network informed or served Libra along the way?

Transformation is a daily practice - a collection of intentions and ideals - with no clear point of arrival. I knew when I joined Libra as Executive Director I wanted to help guide a team of passionate, heart-driven individuals who are committed to doing philanthropy differently and moving resources to frontline communities. We are so grateful to the NFG network for guiding and supporting the changes we continue to undergo. NFG’s community of funders and activists have a rigorous and thorough analysis that not only informs our community’s understanding and actions, but pushes us all to do better. The network brings together social movement leaders and funders that drive our field to be accountable and unified in our vision for justice.
 

  1. Libra recently renewed its membership with NFG, opting to increase its membership level for 2020. As we enter NFG’s 40th Anniversary year, what are your hopes and plans for engaging with the NFG network?

We are intentionally investing more in NFG because of our shared belief in organizing institutional funders to mobilize more resources for grassroots power building. Too often in philanthropy we are siloed by issue areas. Meanwhile, the same folks who are most impacted by criminal justice are disproportionately affected by gender and environmental justice as well. Although it’s vital to develop and focus on expertise in each of these areas, it’s critical that we as funders take an intersectional approach that recognizes these truths. NFG is leading in this regard, especially in its prioritization of people of color, and Libra aims to do the same.

Our team is planning to engage more in Funders for Justice this year. Lorraine Ramirez helped orient us to all the avenues for collaboration, and we’re excited to learn more from the field advisors and members. And we are really looking forward to this summer’s national convening! A lot has happened since the NFG community got together last in 2018 and we’re hoping that the entire Libra staff will be in attendance.
 

  1. Of NFG’s 125 member organizations, are there any funders you would like to give a shout out to for inspiring or partnering with Libra?

What an inspiring group! We are motivated and encouraged by so many of our peer members at NFG. We are fortunate to be in community with lots of NFG members and look forward to deepening relationships. 

To name a few that are a part of the Libra grantee community, Groundswell Fund is doing incredible work in the reproductive justice field protecting women, nonbinary, and trans folks of color across the country. Proteus Fund houses essential donor collaborative funds (like Rise Together Fund) and fiscally sponsors many of Libra’s grantees. And of course Common Counsel, which among many other philanthropic services houses Native Voices Rising, a fund that supports Native-led community driven projects across Turtle Island.

When we began refining our strategies here at Libra, we leaned on many of our friends in the NFG network. Specifically in environmental and climate justice, we are learning from close colleagues like Mertz Gilmore Foundation and Surdna Foundation that have shifted their strategies to uplift frontline leadership and people centered solutions to the climate crisis. And we continue to be inspired by colleagues that have led the charge to do philanthropy differently, like Marguerite Casey Foundation and Chorus Foundation (among many others!).

  1. And most importantly, are there any community leaders or organizations that you’ve been connected to through NFG’s network that Libra is supporting or that you are inspired by?

Specifically in 2019, members of our program team attended the Funders for a Just Economy Racial Capitalism convening. We were blown away by presentations from Trans United, which supports visionary trans leadership, and ACRE Institute, which organizes campaigns working at the intersection of racial justice and Wall Street accountability. Following that convening and based on recommendations from partners in the field, Libra funded both in our latest docket.

 

January 15, 2020

Racial Capitalism, Power & Resistance: Keynote Videos & Highlights for 2020

In October 2019, NFG's Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) held a breakthrough Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening, an unprecedented conversation with more than 70 funder participants on the racial and gendered inequality defining US and global capitalism — and the role of philanthropy within these structures. FJE is moving this conversation into action in 2020. Towards that goal, we are recapping the convening and providing video from the seminal keynote talks by Dr. Ananya Roy and Dr. Barbara Ransby that grounded our meeting.  

Nine speakers who were at the convening.

Top (L-R): Dr. Barbara Ransby, Mónica Ramírez, Dr. Ananya Roy
Middle (L-R): Cindy Weisner, Alicia Garza, Aaron Tanaka
Bottom (L-R): Dimple Abichandani, Farhad Ebrahimi, Pamela Shifman

FJE’s Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening was about asking hard questions and opening a conversation about the underlying history of the US economy and the origins of philanthropy as a way to ground us in how to support powerful resistance movements. Through this piece, we wanted to bring you some of the critical questions that stuck with us — and ways to move forward the themes and ideas generously offered by our activist-academic, movement, and philanthropic speakers and participants.

Who are we in alliance with? And how does that shape the real choices funders make?

Dr. Ananya Roy started off our conversation with a powerful question: Can we decolonize philanthropy in a real way? She also offered a proposition: We can’t do so without facing the way foundations are based in “twice-stolen wealth” — profit extracted via exploitative racialized capitalist means and through evading public taxation. [1]

Dr. Roy offered the example of her work with the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA, working to “turn the university inside out” through co-creation of knowledge alongside movement leaders; simplifying funding opportunities for community organizations; and paid, unfettered residency programs for activists. She pushed us to reflect on “what additional work we create for communities” through our grantmaking practices and the “difficult choices we must make on who we are in alliance with” — including standing up when foundations undermine community-led liberation movements.

You can hear Dr. Roy's keynote, Decolonizing Philanthropy? A View from The Public University, in the video below.

How do we define and confront the deep histories of racialized capitalism?

FJE presented a portion of the Action Center on Race & the Economy and Grassroots Collaborative’s popular education workshop on racial capitalism. The material examined how core institutions of US capitalism — like banking — built wealth directly off the slave economy and indigenous genocide. Grappling with the inextricable connection between racism, patriarchy, and capitalism raised the fact that Black women and other people of color also face these traumas every day in philanthropy. How can funders collectively support healing among philanthropic staff as they find ways to fund movements genuinely addressing the genocidal histories of greed?

“What happens when we put life [and sustaining it] at the center of our work?” — Cindy Wiesner

To bring us into how contemporary movements are confronting racial and gendered capitalism, Alicia Garza of the Black Futures Lab led a conversation with Mónica Ramírez of Justice for Migrant Women, Aaron Tanaka of the Center for Economic Democracy and Cindy Wiesner of Grassroots Global Justice. These leaders shared that grassroots, collaborative, feminist, and anti-capitalist social justice movements serve as “kryptonite” (in Cindy Wiesner’s words) to racial capitalism and neo-fascism. These movements range from organizing for a Green New Deal to local democratic investment structures, to migrant women-led sexual harassment activism. Speakers challenged funders to work alongside communities to resource experimentation and “freedom dreaming” — and to understand the solutions won’t come quickly or easily. They also asked foundations to use their own power — as investors and public figures — to take on racial capitalism.

What power do we have in our institutions? And how do we shift power with communities?

Pamela Shifman, formerly of Novo Foundation; Dimple Abichandani of General Service Foundation; and Farhad Ebrahimi of Chorus Foundation shared how as Executive Directors and alumni of NFG's Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship, they recognized and acted on their power to shift their institutions and the sector. As Dimple Abichandani noted, “These rules and practices that we work in come out of racial capitalism and corporate compliance frameworks. We can decide to change those.”

The speakers raised the fact that while education programs are plenty, actively organizing foundations towards collective goals through leadership development — like Philanthropy Forward — is rarer but necessary. Foundation staff also rarely hold other funders publicly accountable – perhaps because feel that they cannot tell others what to do with their money. Yet recent campaigns to discourage the Gates Foundation in awarding the fascist, Hindu-nationalist aligned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggest insurgent philanthropy is percolating.

What are the projects we fund to undo racial capitalism, and what logics are the projects based on?

On Day 2 of the Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance Convening, Dr. Barbara Ransby offered three key elements to understand racial capitalism today: First, the irreconcilable relationship between capitalism's “infinite growth model on a finite planet;” second, financialization and the global “ponzi scheme;” and third, automation’s influence on worker's lives and consumption. She urged us to hold these contemporary capitalist crises with their roots in slavery and empire.

Dr. Ransby offered that dealing with this past and present means actively confronting white supremacy and nationalism; “building as we undo” through solidarity economies and other alternatives; and thoughtfully advancing abolition and reparations. Such ongoing processes require reckoning with anti-Blackness and asking: “How do you relinquish some of the power [that you have over organizations] and see yourself with a greater sense of humility?”

You can watch Dr. Ransby's keynote, Racial Capitalism, Power and Black Radical Tradition, in the video below.

“How do we show up, use our collective assets, and stand behind our grantees?” — Marjona Jones

Marjona Jones of the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, José García of the Ford Foundation, Emma Oppenhiem of Open Society Foundations, and Shona Chakravartty of the Hill-Snowdon Foundation, in conversation with Anna Quinn of NoVo Foundation, brought the meeting home with a dialogue on how we could take tangible action, including through the Funders for a Just Economy.

Participants then honed in on key work areas to follow-up on after the event including: building accountability mechanisms in philanthropy; transforming partnerships with our grantees; healing and strategizing together as co-conspirators; remaking tax structures and philanthropic asset management.

Stay tuned for more from FJE as we work together to provide the space and tools for philanthropy to take these ideas into action into 2020 — and into a more just tomorrow.

 

[1] Roy was quoting Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2009). “In the Shadow of the Shadow State” in The Revolution Will Not be Funded (edited by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. Boston: South End Press, 2009). http://sfonline.barnard.edu/navigating-neoliberalism-in-the-academy-nonp...