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.

April 21, 2022

(Re)Sharing NFG's National Convening update + more events: NFG's April 2022 Newsletter

Neighborhood Funders Group is re-sharing the announcement about our National Convening that we made earlier this month.  

We are shifting the timing of our National Convening in Wilmington, North Carolina from June 2022 to Spring 2023.

Convening is NFG’s ‘superpower,’ and the most frequently named reason for why we are many funders’ political home in philanthropy. Many of us are feeling more open to in-person connection with funder colleagues and grantee partners; excitement about the post-session hallway scheming that happens at NFG convenings; and ready for the impromptu fun that comes from in-person time together, including late night (Covid-safe!) karaoke sessions with both new and long-time friends and colleagues. And, we're continuing to be mindful that we have not been at a moment like this ever before in our lifetimes.

The decision to shift our convening to 2023 was informed by ongoing, thoughtful conversations with NFG’s staff & board of directors, our convening co-chairs who are grantmakers in the region, our Amplify Fund grantee partners that are building power in Eastern North Carolina, and our event planners (Girl Friday Events) about Covid considerations and how & when we want to intentionally regather in-person.

How we regather and build community as safely and accessibly as possible during an ongoing pandemic — where there are no known/clear solutions — requires all of us to think as adaptive leaders. How we come back together as a community requires more conversations, time, and co-created paths forward.

Over the next months, we will continue our convening program planning. When we come back together for this National Convening in 2023, we’re committed to creating a convening space that is rooted in joy, camaraderie, care, and fun; showcases how groups in Eastern North Carolina are building power locally; and moves money to BIPOC communities. Our first convening back together in-person after more than two years will be nothing short of a spectacular reunion. 

Stay tuned for more convening announcements to come! And keep reading for our robust list of upcoming events hosted by NFG and our partners, including:

In community,
The NFG Team

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March 24, 2022

Sharing NFG's refreshed theory of change: NFG's March 2022 Newsletter

Neighborhood Funders Group has shared snippets of our new theory of change in each of our newsletters so far this year. 

In January, we unveiled our long-term outcome: Philanthropic assets are liberated so that BIPOC communities and low-income communities have power to self-determine. In February, we applied this outcome to NFG’s Funders for a Just Economy program — which organizes funders committed to supporting economic justice and worker power to rebuild an economy and democracy that works for all, ensures good quality jobs, and promotes prosperity and health. 

Now, we’re excited to share our full theory of change! This process started in 2021 when we revisited our initial strategic framework that was developed three years prior. A board and staff committee came together for this work. We spoke to co-chairs of NFG programs. And we worked with the phenomenal Luminare Group who also partnered with us in 2018 on our initial strategic framework.

We began by affirming what we still held as true and core in our strategic framework while also naming our curiosities. What we found (and still find) unique and powerful in the process of developing our theory of change are the conversations and connections, the clarity named, and the commitments made. Over the course of 2021, we affirmed and refined these elements of our theory of change: the problem we seek to address, our guiding principles and values, assumptions, context, strategies and our outcomes. We also identified the evidence (empirical and experiential) that informs us. We did this so that we can be clear on our commitments, push ourselves and our work, learn from what we try on, and be accountable to you and each other.

As I shared in my January message: We know that this is a critical time for philanthropy. More people are amassing wealth, leading to more billionaires entering philanthropy and the creation of more DAFs and private foundations. There continues to be wealth hoarding among individual and foundation donors. Many foundations persist in adhering to a minimum 5% payout while endowments continue to grow. And we are seeing some positive shifts with foundations spending down the assets they’ve been holding and shifting their investment practices. Many more funders are centering trust, community power building, and decentralized decision-making in their grantmaking.

Given this context, we named key assumptions to inform our work going forward:

  • Philanthropy is at a choice point. The sector has an opportunity to shift and transform, and some grantmakers are making that choice. Others continue to pull back and maintain the status quo. 

  • Different practices are possible in philanthropy when guided by an analysis that centers root causes and intersectional analysis.

  • It will take examples and stories of how to increase spend out, transform investments, and change philanthropic practices to show the way.

  • Progress toward our theory of change outcomes will take a broad base of funders: those interested in racial, gender, economic, disability, and climate justice beginning their journey and those leading the way who are funder organizers and leaders.

  • All of us in philanthropy — Black, Indigenous, people of color, and white people — can transform our understanding to be greater leaders for justice. Even though all of us are implicated, who leads matters! Who is leading will shape how and what we fund.  

Our refreshed theory of change document is a commitment, an aspiration, and a blueprint for how NFG wants to be in our work and in our relationships with our community.

This theory of change will move us toward the following outcomes:

  • Philanthropy is led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color leaders who have experience in building community power 

  • Philanthropic practices shift power to BIPOC communities and are grounded in trust 

  • Racial, gender, economic, disability, and climate justice is funded with all philanthropic assets 

And it will guide how we partner, plan programming, and co-conspire with our community of grantmakers to liberate philanthropic assets so that BIPOC and low-income communities have power to self-determine.

We look forward to being in community with you to make this transformation together. 
 

Onwards,
Adriana

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