Philanthropy Moving Forward a Bolder Approach to America’s Housing Crisis
This blog was written by Nile Malloy, Director of NFG's Democratizing Development Program to urge philanthropy to propel a bold approach to the housing crisis.
Housing advocates and grassroots groups from across the country continue to organize elected officials at the local, state, and federal level for another eviction moratorium, rental assistance, and foreclosure delay relief to slow the rate of some families from being pushed towards the cliff of homelessness. National groups like Right to the City Housing is the Cure; People’s Action Home Guarantee, National Low-income Housing Coalition, and the recently launched New Deal for Housing Justice by Community Change all seek to influence the federal government to move forward a bolder housing agenda for low-income and communities of color most impacted by the triple pandemic: our economy, health, and the fight for racial justice.
Based on the U.S. Census, nearly one in five households are behind their rent or mortgage and according to the Aspen Institute, the US could be on the verge of “the most severe housing crisis in its history” , with an estimated 30 to 40 million people at risk of eviction. With the Biden-Harris administration on the verge of initiating America’s third jolt of resources to temporarily stem the bleeding of evictions which will extend the federal eviction moratorium through at least March 31. This may only delay the inevitable for renters who have fallen far behind on their payments and are still waiting for aid that’s been promised. Moratoriums and short-term relief are just like filling a pothole on the road to housing justice. It’s insufficient, problematic and systematically not enough. The pandemic has shown us that housing is intersectional and is just as important as work in the South and countless others winning democratic seats in Georgia. Housing is the backbone of our economy and families, as well as where we now teach our kids, work, pray, play and manage our mental health needs. The broader housing movement agrees that America needs a complete housing overhaul, and more philanthropic institutions are welcome to participate more in this critical moment. Philanthropy has to boldly align, partner and move resources to support the growing progressive and bold housing solutions at the local, state and federal levels.
Communities Can't Wait: Immediate Actions for Housing Solutions
Despite flawed eviction moratoriums and the growing pandemic, powerful housing actions continue to happen in cities across the country. Near the place where George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, multi-racial tenants organized by United Renters for Justice /Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia are working towards community ownership of five buildings for 40 families. With long-term support from the McKnight Foundation they were able to stabilize community organizing, build a tenant union and chart a vision of hope, joy and prosperity together.
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Housing Action engaged three homeless camps in Philly that announced the city has tentatively agreed to turn over 50 vacant city-owned homes that activists plan to convert into affordable low-income housing. In Oakland, California, Moms 4 Housing and ACCE were fighting against homelessness, gentrification and institutional poverty and reclaimed a vacant house that is now in a community land trust instead of speculators and profitters. One of the community organizers, Carrol Fife, Director of Oakland, ACCE chapter, won a seat on Oakland’s city council beating a two-term incumbent, overseeing the same district where she worked to occupy the property. In Asheville, North Carolina, community groups moved the City Council to pass a reparations resolution that seeks funding for Black people who have been denied housing through racist practices, including redlining, denial of mortgages and gentrification.
These above examples and countless others are the tips of the iceberg of how organizing seeds amazing brilliance to move resources for housing justice in the face of despair.
Philanthropy Grounding a Racial and Housing Justice Agenda
Philanthropy's unwavering support of groups working to demand that Congress, states, and city leadership respond and support housing needs — including rent moratoriums, canceling rent demands, local bans on evictions, public, and private rental assistance programs — is even more critical while people are still being evicted during eviction “moratoriums.” We believe funders must contribute to the housing, economic, and community needs sweeping the country by:
Investing deeper and longer towards grassroots and community-based organizing: The fight for our democracy in Georgia once again demonstrated the power of organizing. Housing advocates, tenant unions, community groups and grassroots leadership are at the frontlines of change demanding short-term relief strategies to keep their communities safe, healthy and housed. Philanthropy can continue to support these valiant organizing efforts, with general operating funds, grant increases, and wellness/COVID 19 grants.
Building leadership within your philanthropic institutions: Last fall, Lisa Owens, the Executive Director of City Life/Vida Urbana, and core partner of the Right to the City will head the Hyams Foundation. The Wieboldt Foundation announced that Jawanza Malone, former Executive Director at Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), one of the oldest Black-led grassroots membership-based community-organizing groups in Chicago will be the new Executive Director of the foundation. Described as one of the country’s most exciting “next generation” political leaders, Gloria Walton, former Executive Director of SCOPE in Los Angeles is committed to creating equitable climate solutions that center the people closest to the problem. Nwamaka Agbo, CEO of the Kataly Foundation and Managing Director of the Restorative Economies Fund. These examples and countless others demonstrate the power of hiring long-term racial justice, economic justice leaders in your institution to help pivot resources to build, repair, and win in this political moment.
Supporting housing and economic justice funder collaboratives: If your institution wants to manage risks or is newer to the housing justice space, fund directly or join a funder collaborative. The Neighborhood Funders Group Democratizing Development Program has been committed to supporting funders to move resources to community organizing, policy change, and powerbuilding efforts at the city, state, and federal level. Our members sparked the development of Fund for Inclusive California and NFG's Amplify Fund, which have moved millions of dollars to grassroots organizations supporting Black, Latino, and multi-racial organizing in eight states. Additional examples include the Neighborhood First Fund and Funders for Housing Opportunity.
Affirming that housing for all is intersectional: Before the pandemic, NFG held a powerful convening with over 120 participants focused on health and housing. Several health funders were already advancing health and housing strategies like The California Endowment, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Grantmakers In Health, Colorado Health Foundation, Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, Shelterforce, Northwest Health Foundation, New York Health Foundation, Missouri Foundation for Health, Kresge Foundation and others. Knowing that most foundations need to do another study with high-paid consultants, consider Dr. Manuel Pastor, Professor, Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity; Director, USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE); analysis of the power of organizing, health, and power building. He highlighted key health and organizing principles from the “How Community Organizing Promotes Health Equity, And How Health Equity Affects Organizing.” With a new administration and growing health and housing crisis, it’s even more critical for health funders to dive deeper into moving resources to support the ecosystem of housing, equitable development, multi-racial organizing and community power-building strategies.
Keeping an eye on federal housing policy & deepen resources in places: Several leading housing organizations are focused on the first 100-days and beyond for the Biden-Harris Administration to influence federal housing policy. As mentioned, groups like Right to the City Housing is the Cure; People’s Action Home Guarantee, National Low-income Housing Coalition, National Fair Housing Alliance, Policylink, Urban Institute, the recently launched New Deal for Housing Justice from Community Change, and countless others are moving a range of housing policies to benefit the lives of low-income and communities. Despite different approaches and tactics, the ongoing call from housing leaders for the national, community and placed-based foundations to partner better together is critical. In this political moment, investing in the ecosystem of strategies to address housing and community needs demands bolder intersectional strategies and reframing the “housing crisis” debate to a holistic response of linking education, immigration, abolition, systemic racism, housing discrimination, land theft, speculation and impacts of community disinvestment.