Field & Funder Convening explores strategies to resource movement building, organizing and transformative solutions to the US Housing Crisis.

By Right To The City Alliance & Neighborhood Funders Group

Last month, from July 18th – July 20th, in Atlanta, Georgia the Neighborhood Funders Group and the Right To The City Alliance convened leaders from grassroots housing and land justice organizations and the philanthropic field for a Field & Funder Convening to deepen relationships, alignment and collaboration both within and between these sectors. Specifically, this important convening created critical space for funders and field leaders to develop shared assessment of what work each are moving around housing, development and community and to identify gaps and opportunities to more effectively connect movement building and grassroots organizing work and local to national resourcing strategies.

Participants included program officers and staff from the New York Foundation, Headwaters Foundation, Kendeda Fund, The Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Surdna Foundation, Solidago Foundation, Resist Inc., Hill Snowdon Foundation, Neighborhoods First Fund, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Family Housing Fund, McCune Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Common Stream, Ford Foundation, Hyams Foundation, Marguerite Casey Foundation, California Endowment Common Counsel and Neighborhood Funders Group as well as leaders from the Homes For All movement in Colorado, New Mexico, Missouri, Massachusetts, California, Georgia, Texas, Minnesota, Tennessee and New York.

#RenterPower2018 and the Homes For All National Assembly

The field and funder convening occured parallel to the historic #RenterPower2018 assembly organized by Homes For All and the Right to the City Alliance. The #RenterPower2018 assembly – the largest of its kind in over a generation – brought together more than 300 of Homes For All’s members, residents and organizers from HFA member and ally organizations across the country to deepen relationships, begin developing long-term 10-year strategy for the land & housing movement, train on shared organizing models to grow the movement to scale and develop new skills and capacities through trainings and workshops.

[Bertha Harden of Atlanta, opens the Assembly with “Victory Is Ours”. Credit: Mike Dennis]
“Victory Is Ours” – Opening Night

Participants of the convening joined the opening ceremony of the HFA member assembly on Wednesday night. Bertha Harden, a member of HFA member the Housing Justice League, opened the night with a stirring rendition of “Victory is Ours” that brought the assembly to its feet and set the tone for what would be a fiery, energetic and powerful week.

Lydia Lowe of the Chinatown Community Land Trust, Andrea Chiriboga-Flor of 9to5 Colorado and Trenise Bryant of Miami Workers Center opened up the assembly program in 3 languages – Mandarin, Spanish and English. The assembly was a trilingual event grounded in the belief that all participants must be able to participate in the language they feel most comfortable in – a core belief of HFA.

“Language Justice is about more than interpretation. It’s about us being able to win. If we’re going to win we need mass numbers of people in our movement. We need the people most affected by the issues we are fighting to transform to lead. Those people speak many languages – our movements must too.” – Andrea Chiriboga-Flor, HFA member and organizer with 9to5 in Denver colorado.

[Kellie Terry of Surdna (right) and Elizabeth Posey of Marguerite Casey (second from right) participate with HFA organizers during the Mapping our Movement section of the assembly. Credit: Mike Dennis]

Participants also took part in HFA’s movement mapping activities on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Members of the assembly mapped out key victories from the last 2 years on giant timelines and mapped active and future campaigns, targets, opportunities and threats on a blown up map of the US. Grounding in this shared assessment laid the common framework for diving into discussions about long term strategy.

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“We have to dream big and think about the 10 years out, not just next year or even 5 years out because the real estate industry, hedge funds that are buying up our buildings are thinking 10 years if not 20 years out. In 10 years we want to claim the narrative and change around tenants rights and housing justice.” – Andrea Shapiro, Met Council on Housing, New York City, HFA Member

“This assembly was much more than training and technical terms — it was about community. It was about building together, whether you’ve known that person for years or not at all; the common thread can be found in many places. Although I recognize that I have much more to learn, this experience has grown me beyond any expectation and when the fight comes, I will be willing to do what it takes to win because of what I have experienced here.” – Jewel Rodgers, We Are Vital, Lincoln NE, HFA Member

Alison Johnson of Housing Justice League. Credit: Mike Dennis

 

6 Generations of Displacement, 6 Generations of Resistance: Funder Tour with Housing Justice League

Alison leads local tour of housing justice struggles. Credit: Austin Sauerbrei

On Thursday afternoon funder participants of the convening travelled under the guidance of Alison Johnson – a 6th generation Atlanta native and organizer with the Housing Justice League. During a 2-hour tour through the historically black neighborhoods of Peoplestown, Summerhill and the Fourth Ward, Alison and other Housing Justice League members described the evolution of the fight in Peoplestown and the history of systemic displacement, segregation and now gentrification that has left families like hers struggling for permanent stability for generations.

The tour made a stop at old Fourth Ward park where tour guides shared about the #Beltline4All campaign – a multi-year effort to organize southeast Atlanta residents to build a people’s-led vision for equitable development and development without displacement. Specifically, the campaign is a response to massive luxury development and unaccountable city planning processes that are facilitating gentrification and displacement around the city’s green “beltline” corridor.  

When asked by a funder participant “What are the biggest challenges with base-building and what can philanthropy do?” Alison laid out that groups like HJL are “under-resourced and need a [more supportive] political and legal landscape. We have not have not had the support to backup the power we are building on the ground.”

Next up, participants visited Turner Field – the former Atlanta Braves field – where in 2017 Housing Justice League (HJL) held a 60-day long tent city as part of their campaign to demand a Community Benefits Agreement and development without displacement from the city and site developers Georgia State University and Carter, Oakwood Development.

Finally, the tour drove by Forest Cove Apartments where tenants their have launched a campaign against Millenia Companies – a national corporate landlord – who is threatening residents with eviction, refusing to maintain properties and subjecting tenants to illegal inspections and harassment. HJL is actively supporting the organizing of a tenant union at the 396-unit complex, and are coordinating with tenants in Palm Beach County, Florida to organize a cross-state campaign against Millenia.

While stopped, Austin Sauerbrei of Homes For All Nashville shared how Homes For All’s trans-local and regional organizing model has helped support organizing tenants on the ground in Nashville. In 2016 HJL – Atlanta members drove up and spent 3 days with HFA Nashville tenants, an experience that Austin described as powerful and incredibly impactful. Tim Franzen of HJL described interest in facilitating and leading more cross-city exchanges as a movement going forward.

[photo credit: Austin Sauerbrei]
Reflection on the Day: Field & Funder Reception

Following the tour, participants headed back to Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center for an evening of food, reflection, and relationship building. Observations on the importance of funders investing in local power building for larger impact, taking an intersectional approach, and committing to a long term strategy and vision towards transformation were shared by field leaders from the Right to the City Alliance, Chainbreaker, Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia, Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, City Life/Vida Urbana, Homes for All Nashville, Homes for All California, Homes for All South, 9to5/Homes for All Colorado, and Dutchtown South Community Corporation. Participants ended the day inspired about the emerging work and enthusiastic about what could be accomplished with additional resources.

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Grounding in our stories to move our collective work forward

On the final day of the convening, host committee members led the group through a round of introductions that asked participants to reflect on what ‘home’ means to them and why they are personally invested in work around housing justice. During an emotional and personal morning – funder and field participants alike shared stories of eviction and displacement, of seeing their neighborhoods and neighbors uprooted, of the health and social impacts of housing instability and of a shared vision of a world where all people have access to a fundamental human right of housing. One of the final comments dove deep into how housing and home – one of the basic foundations of our individual and collective ability to living thriving lives is an intersectional issue that cuts across sectors from health to gender justice and racial justice to economic equality.

“The Homes for All conference was an amazing opportunity to understand both the short- and long-term approaches to addressing our societal crisis of housing in a thoughtful and strategic way.  I appreciated the opportunity to talk to many individuals and organizations that are part of the movement.  I also appreciated the time with funders in collaboration with national and local organizations to begin to figure out how we can better work together.” – Deidre Swesnik, Open Society Foundation

Lisa Owens of City Life/Vida Urbana shared some highlights from the #RenterPower2018 assembly 10-year strategy sessions, which coalesced around a broad vision and program for growing the movement for land & housing to scale. She asked the group, “What can we win if we had 10 million renters organized into tenants unions and neighborhood formations? What could we win beyond housing? We believe with 10 million renters organized we could transform our health system, radically change our immigration system and shift labor conditions. Our movement is rested in the belief we need to build power of those directly impacted so that we can lead and transform the housing and land system and more.”

[Lisa Owens of City Life/Vida Urbana speaks during Field & Funder Convening. Credit: Malcolm Torrejon Chu]

“I was truly inspired by how individuals, organizations, and the Homes for All network blended a deep passion for justice, a clear-eyed analysis of the issues, and a bold, strategic vision for ensuring that marginalized peoples have the opportunity to define the future of their communities. As someone who works for a philanthropy, I also gained new insights into how funders can support grounded, meaningful, long-lasting change. ” – Giridhar Mallya, Senior Policy Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Shifting The Narrative, Changing The Story

In the closing session of the convening – participants were led in a workshop by Luisa Dantas of Jolu Productions and Amy Kenyon of Ford Foundation about investing in long-term narrative shift strategies. After grounding in key concepts such as source-narratives, sub-narratives and stories in our communities that are manifestations of these source-narratives. For instance, while “inequality is inevitable” is a prevailing dominant narrative, the manifestation of that narrative in story plays out in wide ranging ideas from “its only a matter of time before I get priced out, there is nothing I can do,” to “there’s only so much I [elected official] can do to mitigate the impacts of displacement.” Kenyon and Dantas presented Ford’s ‘Just Cities Narrative Cohort’ approach to convening cross-sector and multi-organizational groups of people to develop shared skills and develop shared narrative strategies over a multi-year effort as one model of investing in this critical work.

Jazmin Segura of Common Counsel Foundation shared reflections from her time in the immigrant rights movement of contending with foundation and government pressure to advance a ‘good immigrant’ narrative. Segura, who is a veteran of the movement, described how years of distinguishing between immigrants that were “worthy” of freedom from deportation and those who were not, has led to a world where deportation has scaled up to epidemic rates and away from a vision that people have the right to migrate freely and take care of their families.

Lastly, Malcolm Torrejón Chu of Homes For All shared HFA’s deep history in rooting their work in narrative strategy and interventions and their partnership with the Center for Story Based Strategy to build the capacity of local organizers to lead narrative strategy work since HFA’s founding in 2012. Reflecting on challenges and successes from this multi-year partnership, he and other Right To The City members urged participants to both fund existing narrative strategy work and to not let that replace funding for the organizing on the ground. “We can’t effectively move the narrative strategy work without organizing capacity on the ground,” he shared.  

About The Conveners – Neighborhood Funders Group, Right To The City and Homes For All.

Neighborhood Funders Group

Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) is a membership association of grantmaking institutions. Our mission is to build the capacity of philanthropy to advance social justice and community change. NFG organizes the field, develops leaders, and cultivates thought leadership among its national base of members and encourages the support of policies and practices that advance economic, racial, and social justice. Visit www.nfg.org for more information. 

Right To The City Alliance / Homes For All

Through collaborative national and regional infrastructure, the Right To The City Alliance works to build a national movement for urban justice, human rights, and democracy in our cities and elevate the local community organizing of our members to the level of national impact. More broadly, we seek to unite urban communities and allies around a common frame and theory of change that supports the rights of poor and working-class families of color to live and work with dignity in the city, benefit socially and economically from the city, participate actively and fully in decision-making about the city, and contribute actively and fully to, and enjoy the culture of, the city – in short to build the power of working-class and communities of color to win a right to the city. In 2012 RTC members launched the Homes For All campaign.

Homes For All is trans-local campaign to win affordable, dignified, and sustainable homes for all people, where residents have democratic control over their communities. HFA is made up of 72 grassroots organizations in 43 cities and 27 states across the country who together are building out infrastructure to develop shared strategy, organize cross city and cross state campaigns and amplify local power building to national impact through Homes For All’s trans-local organizing strategy.

Host Committee

Similar to the #RenterPower2018 assembly which was organized by a 22 person planning committee, the field and funder track was a collaborative project organized by a host committee made up of Jerry Maldonado and Amy Kenyon of Ford Foundation, Amy Morris and Nile Malloy of Neighborhood Funders Group, Jazmin Segura of Common Counsel, Elizabeth Posey of Marguerite Casey Foundation, Alex Desautels and Sandra Davis of The California Endowment,  and Maria Mulkeen of the Hyams Foundation.

“The conference was incredible opportunity to build relationships with movement leaders and like-minded colleagues in philanthropy. I really appreciated Neighborhood Funders Group’s intentional approach to build a culture of accountability and taking the lead from movement leaders which was beautifully woven throughout the entire convening. From informative workshops, dynamic speakers and illuminating site visits – I returned refreshed, reinvigorated and with a list of action items to integrate what I learned.” Elizabeth Posey, Marguerite Casey Foundation

Next Steps & Moving Forward

Leaving the convening, participants expressed broad and strong interest in continuing the conversation. NFG and RTC will be hosting a report-back webinar in August.

The webinar will include feedback and reflections from participants and a summary of participant evaluations that are still being collected. Funders who are interested in the webinar, learning more about the work happening on the ground, future funder conversations and activities and ways to connect to colleagues and institutions moving initiatives related to this work should contact:

  • Nile Malloy of Neighborhood Funders Group (Nile@nfg.org) and/or
  • Dawn Phillips of Right To The City Alliance (Dawn@RightToTheCity.org)