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.

September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

 
August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

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 on the foundation's website.

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 AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.