In July, Funders Together members were joined by three housing justice leaders for a Q&A to discuss the current state of housing and homeless service federal investments in response to COVID-19. Ann Oliva, Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Sarah Saadian, Vice President of Public Policy at the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and Susan Thomas, President of Melville Charitable Trust, joined Brittani Manzo, a consultant and advisor to Funders Together, in conversation to share insights and recommendations.
The four discussed how philanthropic partners can center housing justice in their support for their communities, particularly as they plan and expend significant recent federal investments in housing and homeless services. The recording of that event is accessible for full members here.
Later in the month, Funders Together hosted an information session about the Partnership for Equitable and Resilient Communities and opportunities for philanthropic partners to invest and support the transformational initiative. To learn more about the Partnership, view the recording here or reach out to the team at Melville to request an information session.
Below are key takeaways from the discussions:
Urgent Priorities to Expedite Housing Stability and Prevent Homelessness
Revolutionizing access to housing, assistance, and homelessness services: Communities are receiving unprecedented federal resources for emergency rental assistance and housing vouchers for people experiencing homelessness. Advocates in the National Coalition for Housing Justice have been very successful in working with the Biden Administration to ensure these resources are as flexible as possible. However, many communities are still leaning on time-consuming documentation requirements and application processes that fail to meet the urgency of the moment.
The 2020 Point-in-Time count showed that, for the first time since the count started, there are more people experiencing homelessness who are living unsheltered than sheltered. With these increases in unsheltered homelessness, we also see communities increasingly criminalizing homelessness, putting individuals and families further at risk of trauma, and elongating their period of housing instability.
We must revolutionize access to services and supports to ensure that this relief is used to re-house or support people in regaining housing stability and connecting to supportive services as quickly as possible. Eviction diversion programs need to be stood up in every state and community to support people before they become homeless. We need to increase access, increase affordability, and increase the supply of affordable housing.
“I would invite your state partners to the table. States have mental health and human services and/or mental health services that flow locally to counties. Local contracts for outreach and services are funded by states, so there are opportunities to blend and braid that or even repurpose state dollars.” -- Susan Thomas, Melville Charitable Trust
Equity-based decision-making: This increase in resources offers the opportunity for communities to pivot away from hierarchical and patriarchal white dominant cultural norms of operation. Instead, we should move toward equity-based decision-making processes that advance racial equity and eliminate racial inequality in our communities and homeless service systems. We should be reorienting our systems so that people experiencing homelessness are driving decision-making about priorities, programs, design, and strategy.
Innovative outreach to immigrant households: Immigrant households, especially those who do not have a documented immigration status or have members of the family with different documentation status, are highly vulnerable to homelessness and housing instability. Due to our history of aggressive and harmful immigration policies, families can be justifiably wary of receiving government assistance despite their needs.
It is critical for community members to work together to develop innovative strategies to reach these households and ensure that folks know when they are eligible, how to access assistance, and what protections they do and do not have locally. Translation services, social media and media engagement, and partnering with advocacy groups are all approaches to help increase visibility and accessibility.
How Philanthropy Can Address Community Challenges and Needs
Supporting Authentic Partnerships with the Federal Administration: Philanthropy has a role to play, but it can’t do it alone. On our second call, Susan spoke about a new opportunity for philanthropy to engage with our federal partners and support communities leverage federal resources. The Partnership for Equitable and Resilient Communities is a new and transformational public-private partnership between the Federal government and philanthropic partners.
The Partnership, anchored by Melville Charitable Trust, aims to help states and localities target recent unprecedented federal funds to work towards restructuring systems and supporting the equitable advancement of Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander communities who have been marginalized. To learn more about the Partnership, view the recording here or reach out to the team at Melville to request an information session.
Transforming strategic planning and partnerships to avoid perpetuating racial inequity: Conducting business as usual and with urgency in our homeless service systems will perpetuate racial inequity. Communities and their partners can encourage each other to shift to equity-based decision-making processes with urgency and commitment to prevent exacerbating racial injustice in our public service systems. Historically marginalized communities and people experiencing homelessness should be positioned as decision makers in system design, service design, and strategy setting.
“When there’s not a lot of capacity and we’re pushing really hard on speed, the thing that gets thrown out the door is equity-based decision-making and bringing people to the table who have lived expertise.” -- Ann Oliva, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Communities are in need of strategic planning support that centers racial equity and housing justice. Funding is coming through a number of different and historically disconnected funding streams (fiscal relief funds, supportive service funding, emergency rental assistance, housing vouchers, HOME investments, and Emergency Solutions Grant programs). Philanthropic partners are well-positioned to support communities with strategic planning capacity, by convening stakeholders across funding streams (including and especially supportive services), and helping facilitate or create inclusive, comprehensive strategic planning processes.
Moving from risk aversion to bravery: Some communities are perpetuating policies and procedures that were designed through a scarcity lens despite the abundance of resources that have been allocated during the pandemic. Communities and state administrators must find ways to revolutionize access to rental assistance so that these dollars can be used to secure housing for people experiencing homelessness as soon as possible. Philanthropy can help government partners by offering public and political support and encouragement for bold and equity-driven policies and new approaches to program design that remove roadblocks to effective assistance, as well as strengthening connections to supportive service funders and providers.
“We are deeply concerned about the slow pace at which those funds are being spent...Only $1.5B of the full $46B [in emergency rental assistance] has been spent as of the end of May. There’s reason to think that spending quickened in June, but even then it’s nowhere near where it needs to be in most jurisdictions as a result of program design.” -- Sarah Saadian, National Low Income Housing Coalition