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.

July 20, 2021

Transformative change, rooted in place: NFG's July 2021 Newsletter

Can you imagine what New York would look like if private equity funds weren’t evicting low-income renters? What about, if in the Washington, DC area, historically Black neighborhoods were not being gentrified by wealthy white people and behemoth-tech corporations like Amazon? What if, in Southern California, essential workers had the power to set policies that limit the environmental and health & safety impacts of warehousing?

These aren’t just dreams — Black, Indigenous, and people of color-led movements in New York, the DC area, Southern California, and beyond have imbued these visions for racial, gender, economic, and climate justice in their work towards transformative change. And in each place, local grassroots organizers are leading the way to ensure that our communities can thrive — with homes that working families can afford, jobs with livable wages, neighborhoods with clean air and access to water, and genuinely democratic systems.

We at NFG know that in order to achieve transformative and lasting social change, philanthropy must mobilize resources to Black, Indigenous, people of color, and migrant-led movements that are rooted in place. And funders at the national, regional, and local levels all have a role to play. There are no federal, state, Southern, or Midwestern strategies without supporting local action.

Learn and strategize alongside NFG about how your grantmaking can help build power in place:

Keep reading for full descriptions of these events and more resources from your community of co-conspirators at NFG.

Onwards,
The NFG team

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June 24, 2021

Reflections after my first year as NFG President: NFG's June 2021 Newsletter

I didn't choose my first leadership role — it chose me. As a child who emigrated from Mexico to Detroit with my family, I became my family’s language broker. I learned English the fastest, un-learned my accent the quickest as a survival mechanism, and learned how to navigate the systems for my family. I took this role with pride, resentment, and ambivalence. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I began to understand and unpack this role, to see it as a leadership role that many immigrant children have.

As I’ve navigated my career, it has felt different to choose a leadership role consciously and with agency. In 2019, I chose (after some encouragement from my mentors) to apply for the position of NFG’s leader. I was ready to lead, not follow — the words from my long-time friend and mentor Denice Williams. After three years as NFG’s Vice President of Programs and nine months as interim co-director, May Day 2020 marked my first day as NFG’s President. I was ready to build upon the legacy of this team that had been led by Dennis Quirin for six years, and share my vision for NFG’s next iteration.

My first year as NFG’s leader was a rollercoaster: emotional, isolating, exhausting, a privilege, a gift, a chosen challenge. [For all my other BIPOC first-time Executive Directors and Presidents: I see you, I am with you. You got this. And when you feel like you don’t (or find yourself asking, ‘why did I want this?’), reach out to me. As one of my favorite leaders, Joanne Smith, from Girls for Gender Equity says: “we got us!”]

When I reflect on my first year in this role that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice uprisings, and navigating work & life in wholly new ways, the power of support and the power of space and spaciousness stand out as key lessons.

The power of support and asking for support:
 I have had what should be a nonprofit standard and unfortunately isn’t: a supportive Board of Directors and co-chairs who stayed present as they managed their own work and lives, and who didn’t scale down their involvement after the executive search and transition were completed. I had a board committee that worked with me during my first three months on my 90 day goals, professional development, and support needs. When I was managing a harder process that I felt needed more board support, I asked for it and got it. I also had my leadership coach and a peer coaching circle that kept me grounded and was witness to what I needed.

Launching NFG’s Senior Management Team with Sarita Ahuja, our Vice President of Operations, and Faron McLurkin, our Vice President of Programs, has provided me and NFG with the leadership team that best fits this organization. I have felt the support of NFG’s staff and our network of members by my side. These multiple layers of support got me through the hardest moments, steadied me when I felt out on a limb, encouraged me when I felt imposter syndrome creep in — and have filled what has been an ‘unconventional’ first year as NFG’s President with connection, camaraderie, and community.

The space to practice, think, be: As leaders, our time is in demand. Being a people-pleaser, and someone that was used to managing (and controlling) my own calendar, had me at times over the past year in 7-8 zoom meetings a day. I had little time to think, reflect, or follow up on the action items I named as next steps, let alone eat at regular times.

These pitfalls of being a new leader are all too common. When sharing this with my coach, she challenged me to reflect on what I would need to do to create radical spaciousness. Initially, this felt impossible. But with her challenge (I am an Aries, afterall), I felt an unlock: I hired a virtual assistant and she helped to protect my mornings and time to eat lunch; I found one day a month to have a meeting-free day for reflection and journaling; I began more fiercely resisting urgency and the white supremacist & capitalist notions that keeps us reacting & responding versus thinking & reflecting.

From the technical fixes to the larger adaptive challenges, I continue to commit myself and NFG to practice spaciousness. This spaciousness has helped think, write, and get clear on my priorities — and to become more rooted in the role of President. My body and my son urge me not to rush back to be on the road for 50 percent of my work/life, and to continue to lead with impact and spaciousness. This practice will inform a thoughtful approach for how and when to travel to reconnect with NFG’s staff and members at in-person meetings and convenings. And we at NFG have seen that we can be impactful, experimental, and creative virtually — all while moving money to movements.

The space to dream and reimagine: In our most recent Philanthropy Forward session, which brings together CEOs of foundations in a leadership cohort, we talked about what we would do if we were 10x bolder. I love this question and call as a leader to consider what the world and philanthropy would be like if we were more bold and our wildest dreams came true.

Last week, NFG received the gift of a $3 million unrestricted grant from MacKenzie Scott. This grant allows us to dream and reimagine what it looks like for NFG to be 10x bolder in holding philanthropy accountable to move more money and shift power to Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities, low-income communities and workers, rural communities, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people, women, and immigrants. What a difference this makes to our work and the spaciousness; what a signal of support to our work and our staff, board, and member leadership.

As I embark on my second year as NFG’s leader, I carry my lessons on support and spaciousness — and I welcome your ideas for a 10x bolder NFG.

NFG is a place for philanthropy to strategize new and more ways to show up for our communities now and in the long-term; a place to move more money to racial, gender, economic, and climate justice; and a place that provides space to find your co-conspirators, draw strength, be nourished, reflect upon and celebrate the wins and work that has been accomplished so far.

What comes to mind when you imagine what it looks like for NFG to be 10x bolder in holding philanthropy accountable? Send me a note, reach out to the NFG team, join a Member Connection Call (the next one is June 29 and then we’ll take a break until September), learn alongside us and share your ideas at our events.

I look forward to continuing to be in community and solidarity with you.

Un abrazote!
Adriana Rocha
President

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