We Can’t Win a Right To The City Unless #Black Lives Matter

Right to the City Alliance - March 2015

Wall Street, the financial center of the most powerful city in the world, was built and maintained  through slave labor. The massive profiteering of big banks and private equity firms that prevails, rides on the backs of black and brown families. Movements across America confronting the crisis of foreclosure, gentrification and displacement, need to have black leaders who help define the vision for our right to the city.

Here in the United States, the recent momentum built in the fight against state violence and for a world where #blacklivesmatter has given new spark to all of us.  We have been energized by this opportunity to deepen the level of dialogue amongst our base, supporters and larger movement family about history, strategy, structural inequality and how to strengthen the connections between struggles for social, economic, environmental, and racial justice. The spirit of openness and honesty that this historic moment provides allows us to stretch and make connections beyond our immediate needs and interests.  That’s how strong movements are built.   We’re seeing this kind of stretching happen all around us as we witness this movement of black and brown youth rising up to articulate issues of racial inequity.

Working to win a right to the city for all puts us in direct opposition with the process of urban restructuring (popularly known as gentrification)  that the free market enforces on our communities.  It’s a process that is heavily reliant on the policing of working class, black and brown communities to impose destabilization and displacement.  Police violence – and the threat of it – is an intimate part of our daily lives.

Making amends for the systematic historical violence – physical, economic, social and psychological – inflicted on black communities requires no less (but plenty more) than a complete transformation of our economic and political structures.

According to the Nation magazine’s piece, “We’ll Need an Economic Program to Make Black Lives Matter”, “In 1966, along with A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and other organizers and scholars, Martin Luther King Jr. released the now all-but-forgotten Freedom Budget for All Americans, which included full employment, universal healthcare and good housing for all. “The Freedom Budget is essential if the Negro people are to make further progress,” he wrote. “It is essential if we are to maintain social peace. It is a political necessity.”

Ta-Nahisi Coates’ recent article in The Atlantic brilliantly articulates his Case for Reparations by illustrating the racist history of housing policy in the Unites States.

Having been enslaved for 250 years, black people were not left to their own devices. They were terrorized. In the Deep South, a second slavery ruled. In the North, legislatures, mayors, civic associations, banks, and citizens all colluded to pin black people into ghettos, where they were overcrowded, overcharged, and undereducated. Businesses discriminated against them, awarding them the worst jobs and the worst wages. Police brutalized them in the streets. And the notion that black lives, black bodies, and black wealth were rightful targets remained deeply rooted in the broader society. Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, “Never again.” But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.

In a place like Ferguson, we can see how the impact of the relationship between predatory lending, the foreclosure crisis, criminalization of youth of color, and a general upsurge in racial profiling by the police force can cause widespread feelings of disinvestment and futility in the current system and it’s function in protecting and serving them. As stated in a Bill Moyers’ special, “Nationally, 17 percent of homeowners are underwater — they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are actually worth. In Ferguson, that figure sits at 50 percent. Because so many homeowners are struggling, the town is ripe for institutional investors.”

As we see a growing rise of renters and struggling homeowners across America, we know that black and brown families are suffering with rising rents and falling wages the most. We know that they are at the highest risk in losing their stake in the American dream and the right to the city.

Organizations in the right to the city network and beyond, all over the country, have been embracing the idea that #blacklivesmatter. Right to the City (RTC) emerged in 2007 as a unified response to gentrification and a call to halt the displacement of low-income people, people of color, marginalized LGBTQ communities, and youth of color from their historic urban neighborhoods. This may seem only  like a fight for land and housing for black and brown communities, but it is a fight to make sure that we are aligned with a mission that says we need our memories, our culture, our neighborhoods, our art,  because black lives matter.

Former RTC Steering Committee Chairperson and co-creator of #blacklivesmatter Alicia Garza discussed the emancipatory impact of black liberation in her Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement:

When Black people get free, everybody gets free. ” #BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole.

As an alliance, Right To The City exists to amplify the voices of people who are most-impacted by structural inequality, expressed in the call to Reclaim, Remain, Rebuild our cities to ensure Homes For All.  This is about both strategy (people with the most investment in changing things will take the strongest leadership in doing so) as well as values.

Expressing love, support and solidarity with Ferguson or NYC protesters (or sisters and brothers in struggles for justice anywhere) is about fighting white supremacy and capitalism, and bringing power into our hands and communities collectively.  It isn’t about hating or discriminating against white people, or spreading our already-limited capacities thinner, by taking on issues not directly related to expanding truly affordable housing.

This is about actively addressing our country’s history of structural racism, specifically anti- black racism and expanding the way we think about state violence to include how our current economy is and has historically been violent towards black lives. This is connected to housing, democracy and all the other foundations of a true right to the city. And above all, it’s about honoring a new generation of young people seeking to find solidarity, support and resilience through our movement.

In this time, there needs to be a clear sense of equality in how we care for and empathize with each other.  As scholar Orisanmi Burton put it,

You see, the brilliance of the “blacklivesmatter” rallying cry is that it is addressed, not to the perpetrators of state violence, nor to their supporters, but to the movement itself.  It is addressed to black people and to non-black allies who recognize that their destinies are linked by a common fate.  Those who stand arm-in-arm, blocking traffic, are saying, “black lives matter to us.”  That black lives have no value to the state is as clear as (Officer) Darren Wilson’s conscience.

We know that to build a society in which black lives truly do matter, communities need democratic control over the resources needed to produce safe, equitable, nourishing, livelihoods.   This is an inextricable part of our collective cry for a right to the city.

 

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July 12, 2019

Catalyzing a Movement for Health and Housing

By Lindsay Ryder, Neighborhood Funders Group; Alexandra Desautels, The California Endowment; Michael Brown, Seattle Foundations; and Chris Kabel, The Kresge Foundation.

Lindsay Ryder, Alexandra Desautels, Michael Brown, and Chris Kabel

In June 2019, Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) gathered nearly 90 funders at Grantmakers in Health’s national conference in Seattle for a panel discussion on how philanthropy can invest in community housing solutions. Despite the large number of concurrent sessions, funders filled the room to dig deep into the urgent issue of equitable housing — and what role health funders can play in addressing this critical health determinant.

The goals of the session, which was organized by NFG’s Democratizing Development Program, were to mobilize health funders to invest in housing solutions and to get more funders to support community readiness and community-centered strategies. The session featured three leaders pushing philanthropy to take action andto expand equity via healthy, affordable housing:

  • Alexandra Desautels, Program Manager, The California Endowment and partner in the Fund for an Inclusive California

  • Michael Brown, Civic Architect, Civic Commons, Seattle Foundation and recipient of the GIH 2018 Terrance Keenan Leadership Award

  • Chris Kabel, Senior Fellow, The Kresge Foundation and National Steering Committee member of NFG’s Amplify Fund

Two people riding green bikes in front of a large colorful mural on the side of a building.

Photo by Taylor Vick on Unsplash

Why Health and Housing?

The session kicked off with several funders in the room sharing why they, as health funders, care about housing. One table of grantmakers representing Indiana, Los Angeles, and Oregon acknowledged both the critical role housing plays in the health of individuals and communities, and how the complexity of addressing housing requires health funders to partner outside of their foundations to get it right and make an impact. Another table of funders from Ohio and Texas identified the intersection of safe housing and healthy birth outcomes as the driving force behind their interest in housing. One needs to look no further than the 2019 Annual Message released by the President of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, titled “Our Homes Are Key to Our Health,” to see how housing impacts health equity. Ultimately, as Alex Desautels of The California Endowment put it, “If you can’t get housing right, there’s not much else you can layer on to get communities healthy.”

Philanthropic models for supporting Health and Housing

Acknowledging the complexities surrounding health funders and housing, the session presenters shared their foundations’ approach to this issue. 

Michael Brown of the Seattle Foundation discussed the concentration of poverty, lack of services, increased isolation, and limited cultural/community centers that result from market-driven housing displacement. Using an approach of people, place, policy, and power, Seattle Foundation partnered with local government on a data-driven approach to identify communities in the greatest need of support. Working in South Seattle, the Foundation engaged with community members and advocates to create an investment strategy designed to build capacity for coalition work and community power, positioning these communities to engage at a policy- and systems change-level for sustained impact.

Meanwhile, The California Endowment found itself grappling with how to move capital to communities when it launched its Building Healthy Communities initiative in 2009 in the middle of the foreclosure crisis. Fast forward to the current day, and the Endowment is now also tackling compounding issues of supporting communities facing gentrification and displacement. Taking a similar power-building approach as the Seattle Foundation, the Endowment has focused is focusing on building capacity of community-based organizations via a place-based approach, recognizing that the history of segregation in this country has led to limited opportunities for people of color to live in communities where they can be healthy and that “place-based initiatives are designed to address that legacy,” as described by the Endowment’s Alex Desautels. 

Chris Kabel shared The Kresge Foundation’s complementary approach: funder collaboratives. Kresge’s mission is to expand opportunity for people with low incomes in America’s cities, a mission to which housing is fundamental. Kresge has been able to lean into housing by partnering with funder collaboratives such as Funders for Housing Opportunity, SPARCC, and NFG’s own Amplify Fund. Not only does this approach enable the foundation to pool and leverage other funders’ grants, it also allows them to fund place-based work in a way that’s fair and equitable — a common challenge for national foundations seeking to invest at the community level. In addition to participating in funder collaboratives, the Kresge Health program has made two rounds of grants to place-based practitioners through a national call for proposals titled Advancing Health Equity through Housing

What about the other 90 funders in the room?

There is no single model for health funders seeking to invest in housing. Nor are the approaches taken by Seattle Foundation, The California Endowment, or The Kresge Foundation — all of which are relatively large, well-resourced funding institutions — necessarily realistic for other funders. So, what other options are there? The individual contexts and experiences of the nearly 90 funders in the room was tapped to generate some collective wisdom:

  1. Whether through funder collaboratives or less formalized partnerships, team up with other funders, including individual donors in your region.

  2. Embrace the public sector as a key player. While philanthropy has historically shied away from housing with the underlying belief that it was “government’s responsibility,” private philanthropy has a critical role to play, regardless of what extent local/state/federal government is stepping up. Invest in the capacity of communities to build coalitions and yield power in decision-making that affects how and where they are able to live — and therefore how healthy they are able to be.

  3. Explore impact investing as a complement to grantmaking. Some of the most well-developed mission related investing work has been built around housing — whether it be investing directly to organizations to develop affordable housing units or by participating in larger funds managed by CDFIs that leverage additional public and private resources for housing. .

  4. Help shift the narrative around equitable housing. The dominant narrative of housing as a commodity has sidelined efforts around other models of affordable, safe, healthy housing that is not based on individual ownership. Similarly, the pejorative narrative around “trailer parks” has restricted an otherwise highly viable effort to utilize manufactured homes to get people into safe and healthy housing.

  5. Finally, don’t await crisis before acting! Funders should face the housing crisis head on as early as possible, bringing community representation to the table with public sector as well as private (market-based developers) at the earliest stage as possible to lay the groundwork for shared power and equitable solutions.

The role of Neighborhood Funders Group, and what next?

The work of NFG’s Democratizing Development Program is at the core of NFG’s nearly 40-year history of organizing philanthropy to support equitable, community-based change. Recognizing the history of segregation in this country, and centering communities of color and low-income communities, NFG works with funders at a national scale to develop and actualize effective funding strategies. As was acknowledged at several points throughout the session, no one foundation can do this alone. By helping funders come together to develop relationships, identify successful models, and actually move resources — NFG is moving philanthropy’s needle in finding solutions to equitable housing and community development. For example, over the past couple of years, NFG’s Democratizing Development Program was instrumental in the initial planning, staffing, and convening of funders in the development of the Amplify Fund and the Fund for Inclusive California

This 60-minute session at the GIH conference was only the tip of the iceberg for funders to further share, learn, and strategize with their peers on how to be effective grantmakers working on the intersections of health and housing. Building on this session discussion and other previous offerings, the Democratizing Development Program will continue to organize, partner, and host programming, and work towards convening funders to further the conversation around building a movement for health and housing. If you are interested in how your foundation can get involved, contact DDP’s Senior Program Manager, Nile Malloy, at nile@nfg.org

June 12, 2019

NFG Announces Transition of President Dennis Quirin

For Immediate Release
June 12, 2019

OAKLAND, CA — On July 19, Dennis Quirin will step down as President of Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) to accept a new position as Executive Director of the Raikes Foundation in September. NFG’s Vice President of Programs, Adriana Rocha, and Vice President of Operations, Sarita Ahuja, will serve as Interim Co-Directors to shepherd the organization through the executive transition. A search for NFG’s next President will begin in late 2019.

“The courageous and bold leadership that Dennis exhibits is exactly what this moment requires. Today, NFG stands strong and in solidarity with the movements we are all in service of advancing. It has been an honor to work with someone who aligns their values with their actions as consistently as Dennis does. On behalf of the board, I am excited to welcome the next leader who will carry on NFG’s mission supporting grassroots power building so that communities of color and low-income communities thrive,” said Alison Corwin, Chair of the NFG board.

In his six-year tenure as President, Dennis has overseen tremendous expansion in NFG’s membership, operations, and programming. NFG's institutional membership has more than doubled, with now over 115 foundations around the country participating as members in programs focused on shifting power and money in philanthropy towards justice. NFG’s team has also grown to 15 staff members located in six states across the US. Dennis has launched the Amplify Fund, a multimillion-dollar collaborative fund for equitable development, and Philanthropy Forward, a foundation CEO fellowship. He has also fostered new directions in programming addressing issues such as gentrification and displacement, racial justice and police accountability, just transition to a new economy, rural organizing, and the changing landscape of workers’ rights.

“It has been a great privilege to lead this organization as it activates philanthropy to support social justice and power building,” said Dennis. “Nearing its 40th year, NFG is now in the strongest position it has ever been, and will no doubt continue to grow and build upon what we have accomplished together during my time here. I am excited to take what I’ve learned and apply these lessons in my new role at the Raikes Foundation.” 

“Dennis’s visionary leadership over the past six years has strengthened NFG as a community where funders gain relationships and tools to move more resources to organizing and powerbuilding,” said Sarita. “We are grateful to Dennis for building NFG into the thriving organization it is today,” added Adriana, “and look forward to welcoming a new leader in 2020.”

NFG’s executive search will be announced later in 2019 and will be open nationally to candidates. More immediate questions about the search can be sent to Shannon Lin, Communications Manager, at shannon@nfg.org

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Read more: "A New Chapter — for Me and for NFG"

 

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