By Mercedeh Mortazavi and Caitlin McCarthy
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As communities across the country continue to wrestle with a global pandemic and a national reckoning on racial injustice, philanthropy faces a critical moment of its own. How can funders best support community leaders as they respond to today’s crises with solutions that address the immediate and long-term needs of Black, Latinx and other residents of color? What’s clear: today’s crises require broad-based collaboration across organizations and sectors to address persistent systemic inequities.
Part of JPMorgan Chase’s $500 million, five-year initiative to drive inclusive growth and create greater economic opportunity in communities, the AdvancingCities Challenge has provided the firm with a unique lens on the immense challenges facing communities in 2020. Among the 150 applications received this year, leaders in cities across the United States reported how they are responding to persistent barriers to economic opportunity and what’s working to help lay the groundwork for an inclusive recovery in communities. All applicants demonstrated a consistent theme – strong cross-sector collaboration is the linchpin to sustainably addressing the barriers communities face today.
From access to affordable lending and housing, expanding minority-owned small business credit and capital, and helping more people build the skills they need to be successful, these systemic problems require systemic solutions that cannot be achieved by one actor or one sector. When businesses, employers, nonprofits and civic leaders work together we create better and more sustainable solutions to expand economic opportunity for all.
Take the issue of housing. Today, there is a scarcity of public funding for affordable housing across the country as city and state governments cope with the economic fallout of COVID -19. In response, communities are testing creative financing solutions to increase the housing supply. Among the leaders in this work is HousingNOLA, which has united philanthropy, local government and business behind a 10-year strategy to end housing insecurity in New Orleans.
Many small landlords in New Orleans are holding properties that can be turned into quality affordable housing but lack the capital to make the necessary upgrades. To address this gap, HousingNOLA is working with developers to rehabilitate small properties quickly for occupancy by low-to-moderate-income renters. By offering quick loans for rehab projects, the collaborative is making it possible for small-scale landlords and developers to increase production of affordable units in a timely matter.
Yet another persistent problem is the expanding digital divide that disproportionately affects people of color, making it harder to access vital services and advance their education and careers at a time when everything has gone virtual. The San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has long been focused on connecting residents in low-income communities to high-demand jobs. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the cross-sector collaborative developed new and creative approaches to service delivery, repurposing transportation stipends to help clients meet in-home technology needs. EDC also transitioned all internships and apprenticeships to remote or virtual settings.
Even as local collaboratives seek to close critical gaps in resources for communities of color, they are boldly planning and testing longer-term solutions to social and economic inequity. This includes a focus on wealth building strategies that help communities of color grow assets and develop long-term economic security. In Minneapolis, Family Housing Fund and its public and private partners are working to help longtime community members — particularly Black, Latinx, indigenous and immigrant residents — become first-time homebuyers and landlords of small, multi-family buildings. In a city with some of the nation’s largest racial disparities in homeownership and wealth, the plan will enable more individuals and families to build wealth through home equity and rental income.
Another longer-term focus is advancing an equitable development agenda in communities. In Boston, the Boston Medical Center is teaming up with a diverse group of hospitals and nonprofits to expand access to healthcare jobs. The partners are also pooling their resources to deploy below-market rate capital to housing preservation and new development in predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhoods in the city.
What’s clear from the work happening across the country: the United States is not lacking in the good ideas and the collaborative spirit needed to respond to the current crises and build more equitable communities for the long haul. Funders can provide critical support to help communities create and sustain the partnerships that will make those ideas real.
For more information about AdvancingCities, please click here.
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