August 14, 2019

Local Housing Solutions: Tackling a national problem on a local scale

A growing number of places are grappling with housing affordability. As the problem spreads from famously high-cost areas like New York and San Francisco, it is becoming a more pressing concern for middle-income households. These trends have pushed housing affordability onto the national stage in an unprecedented way, with several presidential candidates releasing detailed policy plans, and speaking about housing frequently on the campaign trail. Yet despite its national prominence, housing remains an issue where local governments play an enormous role.

As Neighborhood Funders Group's Democratizing Development Program (DDP) has shown, new public and private investments in cities have triggered changes in property value, speculation, and development in neighborhoods—particularly those that suffer from long-term urban disinvestment. These neighborhoods experience rapid development, housing prices increase dramatically, and longtime residents can find themselves priced out with nowhere to go. As a result, low and moderate income households are driven away from urban centers, leaving many unable to access employment, education, or nutritious foods—exposing them to crime and other health hazards.

Although gentrification and displacement are felt most acutely by low-income individuals and communities of color, they affect more than just low-income renters. Essential professionals such as teachers, nurses, and first responders are being forced to commute by car from extreme distances, increasing carbon emissions. All the while, an increasing number of households live in areas suffering from persistent poverty and decline. The critical role that local governments need to play to collectively tackle the housing crisis is why DDP engages funders to invest in community organizing, advocacy, and powerbuilding strategies—all with the goal of catalyzing policy change.  

DDP's approach to these issues is starting to show results, as state and local governments are responding more aggressively to these challenges through policy levers including more inclusive zoning and land-use, strategic tax incentives, and stronger rent regulations. But given the complexity of housing markets and community revitalization, as well as the dual but distinct challenges of gentrification and neighborhood decline which often co-exist within a city, these local governments need help developing and refining housing strategies that can successfully address housing affordability.

The critical importance of local housing policy is why Local Housing Solutions (LHS) was created. LHS is a comprehensive online tool generously funded by two Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) members, the Ford Foundation and MacArthur Foundation, and built in partnership by the NYU Furman Center and Abt Associates. It offers an array of resources to help cities, counties, and towns develop comprehensive and balanced local strategies to meet their individual housing goals.

NFG partnered with the Ford Foundation, NYU Furman Center, and Abt Associates to host "Empowering Localities to Address Their Affordable Housing Challenges," a thought-provoking event held at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice to highlight the Local Housing Solutions platform. Recordings of the event's inspiring discussions with leading practitioners, elected officials, and experts in the field are available below. The entire event is also available to watch.


   

Panel #1: The Crucial Role of Cities in Addressing Local Housing Affordability Challenges

Panelists:
  • Lourdes Castro Ramirez, Chair of the San Antonio Housing Policy Task Force

  • The Honorable Karen Freeman-Wilson, Mayor of Gary, Indiana; President of the National League of Cities

  • Terri Lee, Chief Housing Officer of the City of Atlanta
  • Vicki Been (moderator), New York City Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development and former Faculty Director at NYU Furman Center;

   

Panel #2: The Focus of the National Community of Practice on Local Housing Solutions

Panelists include:
  • Sheila Dillon, Chief of Housing and Director of Neighborhood Development for the City of Boston
  • Robin Kneich, Denver City Councilmember and Board Member of Local Progress
  • Sheryl Whitney, Partner at Whitney Jennings Consulting
  • Jeffrey Lubell (moderator), Director of Housing and Community Initiatives at Abt Associates

 

Key takeaways:

  • Shape your housing objectives around the needs expressed by your community. Don’t start the policy-making process by bringing in an outside housing expert. Invite citizens to share their experiences and suggestions, and integrate that information into your formal plan.

  • Communicating your policies and efforts with the community is essential throughout the entire process. In addition to promoting your good work, a strong communications strategy keeps the public informed, helps to set reasonable expectations, and may facilitate helpful feedback from residents.

  • Proper leadership is key. The responsibilities surrounding housing are often shared among numerous community agencies, and coordinating these agencies to execute a comprehensive affordable housing solution is tricky. The role of a leader to promote the vision and manage the execution is essential.
  • Citizens care about implementation. It’s easy to get caught in “analysis paralysis” and writing perfect policies, but it’s better to start with small actions and secure early wins to show your constituents. Even better, set an implementation timeline, and work towards achieving those objectives in a timely manner.
  • Keep detailed metrics throughout the entire process, and make that data available to the public. Not only will this assist you in tracking the results of your policies, but making the data public holds you accountable to your community. And, of course, public data helps other communities help to shape their own housing policies!
  • Creating affordable housing policy that affects an entire region (like a city and its surround suburbs) is challenging – but it can be done. The increased geographic reach requires an increased understanding of the demographic, economic, and lifestyle differences of each sub-community. Keep in mind, people chose to live in certain areas for a reason – and those reasons must be respected!
  • Collaboration is key! While it is true that no two communities are alike, learn from the successes and mistakes of other communities who are implementing their own creative policy solutions.

The event concluded with a detailed overview of the Local Housing Solutions website. LHS is a powerful learning and teaching tool for urban planning and policy to assist community leaders in addressing many of the issues we discussed above. Its framework organizes a library of 81 housing policies and 19 policy objectives under four pillars:

  • Create and preserve dedicated affordable housing units
  • Promote affordability by reducing barriers to new supply
  • Help households access and afford private-market homes
  • Protect against displacement and poor housing conditions

Resources on the site are designed to serve a wide audience, with content ranging from housing explainer videos for those new to the field to in-depth policy topics for more seasoned practitioners. In addition, LocalHousingSolutions.org offers guidance on how to evaluate housing strategy outcomes and make refinements accordingly. We encourage all NFG members to consider the importance of housing policy in their funding strategies and goals, and to contact us to further discuss the role of funders in supporting inclusive, comprehensive local housing strategies.

Thank you to all of the panelists who shared their knowledge and expertise! We are thrilled to have been able to play such a vital role in this event, as well as in developing the Local Housing Solutions platform.

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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