This month, NeighborWorks America hosted the symposium "Advancing Equity for People of Color: Local Solutions for Housing Stability." The event was the first in a series of three symposia, all built around examining equity in the wake of a pandemic that has hit people of color especially hard. Nearly 250 housing and community development professionals attended virtually to hear leaders and practitioners address barriers to stable housing — and share potential solutions. My takeaways from the sessions:
- Even before the pandemic, underlying racial inequities were evident in the patterns of housing instability. But these inequities were deeply exacerbated as a result of the pandemic, too.
- According to the National Equity Atlas' Rent Debt Dashboard, more than $5 million households are behind on rent.
- Yet 66% have not applied for assistance or are waiting for a response.
- Data is critical to understanding impact and identifying disparities, but it's equally important that we champion community voices and recognize lived experience as expertise that informs decision making. Resident voices are key to mobilizing needed public resources, so community engagement is critical, adds Malcolm Yeung of San Francisco's Chinatown CDC.
- Leveraging technology to achieve efficient service delivery at scale is important and when done intentionally, can promote equity rather than creating a barrier.
- Tailoring solutions to local community needs is key to advancing equity. As the panelists highlighted, effective solutions are the ones that fit best in the local context and population and use available resources. What works in one community may not work in another.
- Building trust with community residents is paramount. People trust other people. If we want to deliver solutions that are accessible and impactful, invest in local nonprofits – such as NeighborWorks network organizations – that understand and can adapt solutions to meet their individual communities' needs.
- Partnerships are critical to achieve the greatest impact.
- Philadelphia's eviction diversion program and the partnerships established between the courts and organizations in the community, like New Kensington CDC, work. Many of the examples demonstrated that strengthening the local ecosystems can respond to community needs in an efficient, equitable and scaled approach.
- Local nonprofit organizations can also think about how to position themselves as key partners to local governments by showing up with a solution that is good for all and addresses a critical need or capacity gap.
- The pandemic may be diminishing, but housing instability continues to be a serious challenge that needs effective resourcing and policies at the federal, state and local levels. Applying the lessons learned in deploying pandemic solutions around housing stability can help the deployment of future programs and resources equitably and flexibly optimize impact.
Housing took on a central role during the pandemic, because it became the place where people not only lived, but worked, received healthcare, education and more. Finding ways to remove barriers to safe housing is a challenge that NeighborWorks America will continue to put front and center, together with network organizations who are able to "meet the moment."
As CHN Housing Partners'
Kevin Nowak summed up during a symposium Solutions Lounge: "We meet people where they are and get them where they want to be."