A conversation on housing and employment systems

Housing stability is inextricably linked with other systems of care – health care, criminal justice, child welfare and education, to name a few. We were intrigued to see a proposal in 2017 from a collaborative working at the intersection of affordable housing and workforce development. Worksystems, Inc. was leading a collaborative effort to link employment and housing services for formerly homeless families in Portland, giving low-income residents community-based career coaching and supports to achieve family-supporting employment.

We saw the project as an opportunity for systems to coordinate in intentional, equity-informed ways that could produce better outcomes for both employment and housing stability. Now, over a year into the work, we are following up with Stacey Triplett, community programs manager at Worksystems, to hear more about the collaborative’s progress.


Theresa: How is Worksystems’ project aligning with the homeless services system?

Stacey: The Worksystems’ Aligned Partners Network (APN) is a flexible set of community-based employment service providers who are experienced in a customer-centered approach. This network approach creates success in making relevant services available in our community for folks experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

Today, APN career coaches are a vital part of homeless services, working one on one with customers getting jobs, getting scholarships for occupational training and getting better jobs, all of which serves to stabilize their housing. High-demand, family-wage careers are open to those with a need for housing support if, and only if, they are able to set career goals and layer supports that are needed. Supports are timed to make progress possible; customers both gain skills and access employment opportunities.

The model for systems alignment is a “housing hub” approach where dedicated rent assistance coordinators bring housing market knowledge to customers in need of rapid rehousing or eviction prevention services alongside the work of the employment service providers of the APN. The same customers are shared across systems. The new normal is for career coaches to engage with their customers before, during and after they receive rent assistance in a manner that demonstrates that both housing AND employment stability are goals around which they engage their customers. This was a result of career coaches coordinating closely with and experiencing great support from the housing hub and its specialty knowledge to address short-term rent assistance needs.

Theresa: Can you share an example of a household that has benefitted from your work?

Stacey: Sure. Khalid had a master’s degree in electrical engineering and eight years of experience before he arrived in Portland as a refugee. To be recognized as a professional engineer in this country, his career coach helped with his resume and requesting the recommendations he needed in order to get approval to take the engineer licensing exam. He also had to take an English exam to qualify for the test.

At first, Khalid stayed with friends, and it was very crowded and noisy. He had difficulty studying for the English exam, but with only $300 a month in refugee assistance, landlords would not approve him for a unit. His career coach referred Khalid for rent assistance, and he was able to secure a unit quickly. His new home provides a safe and quiet space to study in order to pass the English exams and the professional engineering exam that he will be required to take in order to regain his certifications.

Once he had his own place, Khalid said, “I was able to focus on getting a job.” He found work as an electrical engineer at a construction firm and is working full time. Khalid has been approved to take the professional engineering exam in October and continues to study for it. His career coach will use support service funds to pay the costs and fees associated with taking the exam. At the same time, Khalid is already giving back to the community by helping others learn English and translating for them.

Theresa: Impressive work by Khalid and the team! How long have you been doing this collaborative work?

Stacey: This has been a journey of over five years. Meyer Memorial Trust supported work that brought all the relevant organizations together in these efforts. Human Solutions, as the housing hub, learned to share customers with IRCO, SE Works, Oregon Tradeswomen, Constructing Hope, Central City Concern and Human Solution’s own employment department. In more recent years, the network has grown to include Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, Latino Network, the Urban League of Portland and Black Parent Initiative. Our project also prioritized production of data on how efforts that career coaches and rent assistance coordinators make on behalf of their shared customers increase their success by orders of magnitude compared to prior disconnected approaches. Specifically, in 2017 we measured greater income increases (almost double the rate of increase) for customers in the shared approach compared to those who were not. And they were also 53% more likely to leave the program employed.

Theresa: What special role do the collaborative partners play in the project?

Stacey: They are the absolute champions of this effort. All the day-to-day changes to accommodate this new model have been made in a very consensus-oriented manner with good participation and communication amongst and between career coaches and rent assistance coordinators.

Theresa: What kind of challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?

Stacey: We’ve found that systems alignment challenges can best be overcome with frequent and clear communications. With our system alignment work with the housing system, understanding each other’s performance metrics can be difficult, but the deeper we dig the more that we understand the intricacies of each other’s work with participants and how our decisions impact participant lives and performance outcomes for both systems.

Theresa: What do you hope happens going forward?

Stacey: I hope how career coaches and rent assistance coordinators work together will be sustained by the benefits that both colleagues create for customers’ outcomes. It took time for each area to learn one another’s strengths, procedures and how to best stabilize customers experiencing housing instability while pursuing employment goals. Now there’s a natural alliance where housing and employment are “everyone’s business.”

There are many ways the network has embraced the customer-centered teaming that happens when career coaches appreciate the intricacies of operating the housing hub and rent assistance coordinators take cues from training timeframes and employment activities to make sure customers can achieve their goals.

Theresa: Are you able to share the results of your work to a broader audience?

Stacey: There has been interest in this work by many national bodies. Currently, Portland is featured in the 2018 Systems Work Better Together: Strengthening Public Workforce & Homeless Service Systems Collaboration report by the Heartland Alliance. Also, this work has been featured to inspire states outside Oregon to consider utilizing public resources such as are utilized here to fund “SNAP to Skills” efforts that the USDA supports nationwide. An Oregon Housing and Community Services webinar was held with participation from housing professionals, workforce development staff and local funders around the country.

Theresa: Congratulations! Anything else you would like us to know?

Stacey: This goal of systems aligning for customer benefit is that everyone comes to see the connections as the most logical, natural and smooth way of working and doubts that it was ever any other way.

Theresa: That’s a great ending thought. Thank you so much, Stacey, for sharing the progress on this collaborative work to align systems.

Economic Opportunity Rent Assistance Program participants share experiences of using the EOP program at the A Home for Everyone coordinating board meeting in April 2019.

Economic Opportunity Rent Assistance Program participants share experiences of using the EOP program at the A Home for Everyone coordinating board meeting in April 2019.

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Oregon’s housing advocates aim high

When it comes to affordable housing issues, the legislative session that just wrapped up in Salem was one of the most momentous ever. Advocates won major victories around additional state funding, tenant protections, preservation, attention to manufactured housing and more flexible zoning that will help create more housing choice in desirable neighborhoods across the state. So much important work happened we can barely keep track of it, but our friends at the Oregon Housing Alliance have put together a handy summary here.

It may have been tempting in the past for philanthropic funders to shy away from advocacy, worrying that involvement in “political” work could compromise their moral authority or broader influence in the community somehow. More and more, we all realize that that kind of hesitation marks a huge missed opportunity. Meyer’s housing work has become increasingly engaged in the past few years with supporting advocacy, simply because that’s the path to real impact on the housing issues facing Oregonians. If we want to make a real difference in affordable housing (or the other core issues that define Meyer’s agenda and mission), we need to help build a broader constituency and inform public discussions and decisions that shape how cities, counties and the state address those issues. A Meyer grant may be important to the success of a particular housing project or service program supporting housing, but addressing the issues we care about at scale requires shifting public investments and public policy.

We can’t take credit for the big wins in Salem (or in city halls and county offices around the state), but we’re proud to support grassroots advocates, nonprofit leaders, policy experts and journalists who are building momentum, mobilizing people and crafting effective messaging around affordable housing.

This spring, we released our fourth Request for Proposals specifically to support housing advocacy work, inviting proposals for up to two years, with eligibility broadly defined to include projects that expand the number and diversity of voices engaged in housing advocacy and promote concrete policy and systems changes at both the local and statewide levels. Reflecting the high level of interest and activity around the state, we received 40 proposals — more than any previous housing-focused RFP! We are excited to share the results: 11 new grants totaling $1 million over the next two years:

Better Housing Together $80,000 (Lane County)

For a two year initiative to enlarge and increase the effectiveness of BHT’s growing cross-sector coalition to advocate for stronger pro-affordable housing policies and resources in Eugene, Springfield and the rest of Lane County.

Farmworker Housing Development Corporation $73,448 (Linn, Marion and Polk counties)

To support the Rural Development Housing Advocacy and Communications (RDHAC) initiative over two years, educating community leaders about the need for and contribution of affordable housing in the mid-Willamette Valley, building a stronger and more durable constituency to support more affordable housing development.

Business for a Better Portland $76,750 (Portland Metro)

To activate business voices to support housing diversity, mobilizing and amplifying the voices of progressive business owners around affordable housing issues in and around Portland.

Human Solutions $134,800 (Portland Metro)

For a two year collaborative, in partnership with Northwest Housing Alternatives and REACH CDC, mobilizing and supporting tenants of publicly subsidized affordable housing in East Portland to advocate for themselves and for affordable housing broadly. This work will complement and support a broader statewide effort led by the Housing Alliance to engage affordable housing residents.

Oregon Center for Public Policy $150,000 (Statewide)

To support equitable reform of Oregon’s biggest housing subsidy over two years for policy analysis and education concerning the state’s tax deduction for mortgage interest. OCPP will lead an experienced and savvy coalition of advocates to continue a focused, strategic plan for reform that could redirect unprecedented resources to affordable housing in Oregon.

OPAL $80,000 (Portland Metro)

To advance the movement for housing justice and develop leaders in low-income communities of color in East Portland and East Multnomah County and to expand OPAL’s housing justice work in Clackamas and Washington counties.

Q Housing Project $80,000 (Portland Metro)

To launch a two year initiative engaging the LGBTQ+ community in the Portland Metro area around specific unmet housing needs and development of a clear vision and action plan around LGBTQ+ friendly housing for youth, elders and families.

Street Roots $80,000 (Statewide)

To support Housing: The Next Generation, a news series reporting in-depth statistics and information related to the daunting housing situations confronting younger people in Oregon, utilizing a strong equity lens specifically calling attention to homeless youth, Native American youth, youth aging out of foster care and youth trapped in cycles of generational poverty.

Unite Oregon $85,000 (Washington County)

To support Washington County Equitable Housing Coalition, a partnership including HomePlate Youth Services (HPYS) and Community Housing Fund (CHF), to advance an equitable housing agenda that amplifies and incorporates the voices of immigrants, refugees, communities of color and youth into key housing policy discussions taking place over the next two years in Washington County.

Urban League of Portland $80,000 (Statewide)

To lead a statewide campaign to bring tenant screening policies into compliance with Fair Housing law to enable greater access to rental housing for African Americans and people of color living in Oregon.

Welcome Home Coalition Housing First Public Advocacy (Portland Metro)

$80,000 over two years to inform and influence the region’s push to reduce homelessness and expand the availability of permanent supportive housing (PSH), by centering the experience of people with lived experience in PSH.

We hope you’re as excited about this list as we are! And as impressive as that list is, it doesn’t show ongoing Meyer support for other key partners like the Oregon Housing Alliance, Community Alliance of Tenants, and Housing Oregon.

Hopefully too this reassures anyone who wondered about how the transition that essentially folded Meyer’s Affordable Housing Initiative into the Housing Opportunities portfolio would affect Meyer’s commitment to support systems-level change and grassroots mobilization around housing issues. We see housing advocacy as a high priority and already look forward to the next million dollars worth of grants.

Michael

Katrina Holland, executive director of Community Alliance of Tenants, speaks at a 2016 rally for tenants’ rights. Behind her, from left to right, are Jeri Jimenez, D. Pei Wu, Pastor Mark Knutson and Justin Buri.

Katrina Holland, executive director of Community Alliance of Tenants, speaks at a 2016 rally for tenants’ rights. Behind her, from left to right, are Jeri Jimenez, D. Pei Wu, Pastor Mark Knutson and Justin Buri.

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Resources from Meyer’s Equity Housing Summit: A follow-up on equitable practices

In August, Meyer’s Housing Opportunities portfolio invited grantees that are keenly focused on housing or providing services to people experiencing homelessness to a daylong summit aimed at increasing equitable practices, policies and outcomes within the housing sector.

For nearly half a decade, Meyer has supported the efforts of many housing organizations in the development of their equity lens and work. The Equity Housing Summit was the culmination of those efforts. At Portland State University, Meyer’s Equity Housing Summit — Strategies to Advance the Fields, brought together more than 200 people to learn, connect and share insights and ideas as well as mark an important day for Meyer and the housing sector in Oregon.

During the event, plenary sessions grounded attendees with an equity framework for the day. An inspiring keynote from Meyer President and CEO Michelle J. DePass provided an honest reflection on our foundation’s equity journey and commitment to the work. Our special guest Glenn Harris, president and CEO of Race Forward, facilitated two enlightening plenary sessions focused on the “Racial Equity Imperative” and “Creating Racial Equity” and a breakout session about “Creating a Culture for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”

During the breakouts, more than 40 different housing-focused organizations, from across Oregon, shared insights about the strengths and challenges they face in building equity into their work. With an emphasis on peer learning, the sessions offered a wide variety of presentations, such as Transforming Organizational Culture, Community Voice: Centering Lived Experience, and the History of Housing Discrimination in Oregon.

The summit was inspiring. People walked away with deepened commitments to equity and expanded connections with others in the sector who can strengthen and support their work.

Because equity work is always evolving, we hope that attendees continue to learn, connect and build stronger relationships with each other far beyond the summit. We also invite our partners and community members outside the Housing Opportunities portfolio to have access and learn from the information that was presented at the summit. To that end, we have created a new page on Meyer’s website dedicated to the Equity Housing Summit and sharing those resources. You can explore the new page here.

We hope our efforts keep the conversation going and keep us all learning. As Michelle J. DePass stated at the summit, “We have learned, and we keep learning, that is the only way we can inch forward.”

— co-authored by Lauren Waudé and Elisa Harrigan

2019 equity housing summit
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ICYMI: Housing and Health Care Under One Roof

Central City Concern is building a six-story, $52 million development, the Blackburn Center, to increase stock and access to health care integrated housing in Portland.

Affordable Housing Finance recently published an article about the new building that will include a 40,000-square-foot integrated health care clinic and 165 units of respite care, transitional and permanent housing units:

“This is our 40th anniversary as an organization, but this is the first time where everything we do and offer will be available under one roof. That’s really the exciting part here,” says Central City Concern chief housing and strategy officer Sean Hubert. “For us as an organization, it gives us the opportunity to pilot a new way of doing business, and I think it gives us an opportunity to put the client at the center of our work and to align and build the services around the client.”

Click here to learn more about CCC's new campus of integrated housing.

A rendering of Central City Concern's Blackburn Center | Courtesy Ankrom Moisan Architecture

A rendering of Central City Concern's Blackburn Center, courtesy of Ankrom Moisan Architecture

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ICYMI: Will “opportunity zones” help or hurt low-income neighborhoods? The jury is out

The Opportunity Zone program — a federal strategy that provides preferential tax treatment to investors, allowing them to sell a good that has increased in value, such as stock or real estate, but delay paying taxes on capital gains if they immediately reinvest in a building or business that is located in a recognized site — has selected the Rockwood neighborhood as a new opportunity zone in Oregon.

Rockwood, between the borders of Portland and Gresham, has historically been a disinvested neighborhood in the Portland area. Zoning the region as an opportunity zone will make it a tempting investment opportunity for private investors and real estate developers.

The Oregonian reports on the selection of Rockwood as an opportunity zone:

Rockwood, just inside Gresham’s borders, stretches from roughly 162nd to 202nd avenues, along East Burnside Street and the MAX Blue Line. A high percentage of residents live below the poverty line, and many are members of racial or ethnic minorities. It’s long suffered under a reputation for high crime, though its crime rate is similar to other neighborhoods considering its population.

“There are a lot of complex reasons why a neighborhood like Rockwood gets overlooked, but the systems have really failed our neighbors, and getting unstuck has been a really complicated problem,” said Brad Ketch, founder of the nonprofit Rockwood Community Development Corp.

Read the full story here.

The Rockwood Rising site, owned by the city of Gresham, was the site of a Fred Meyer that closed in 2003. The city plans a major redevelopment it hopes will spur more development in the neighborhood. Photo credit Elliot Njus at the Oregonian

The Rockwood Rising site, owned by the city of Gresham, was the site of a Fred Meyer that closed in 2003. The city plans a major redevelopment it hopes will spur more development in the neighborhood. | Photo credit Elliot Njus at the Oregonian

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Capitalizing on housing momentum

As our portfolio name suggests, it is indeed a time of Housing Opportunities across the state. Sizeable new funding resources, innovative public-private partnerships and passage of statewide tenant protection legislation are evidence of the impressive energy and creativity responding to housing challenges across the state. In this moment of great potential, Meyer’s Housing Opportunities portfolio is pleased to open its doors for our 2019 Annual Funding Opportunity.

This is the fourth Annual Funding Opportunity cycle since restructuring our grantmaking program. We continue to refine and (we hope!) clarify the process. The list below highlights those elements that are the same this year, followed by those that have changed.

What’s the same in the Annual Funding Opportunity?

1. Our overarching housing goals are essentially the same:

• Preserve and increase the number of affordable housing rental units for priority populations

• Support the housing stability and success of priority populations

• Foster stronger, more equitable and more effective affordable housing systems and strategies

We’ve tweaked the goal language here to reflect a focus on priority populations — the people who experience the impacts of historical and current racist and discriminatory housing practices. These impacts are widely felt by people of color, Indigenous communities and Tribes, as well as people with disabilities and other marginalized communities. To achieve our vision that every Oregonian has a stable, safe and affordable place to call home, we strive to focus on those who face the disproportionate impacts of housing discrimination and instability. More on that below.

2. Grant-funded work should connect to and advance the outcomes we’ve identified under the three goal areas. In addition to the nine outcomes offered last year, we have added three more. This chart provides a snapshot of the funding goals, outcomes, funding ranges and grant types to help you assess the best fit. The grant types and ranges are the same as last year. Don’t forget to take a look at the shorter list of what doesn’t fit well within the portfolio.

3. Applicants must demonstrate a commitment to ongoing growth through the integration of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) principles into both their external programming or services and internal structures and operations. We seek organizations that share our values and are making progress toward DEI integration.

As part of those DEI values, Meyer believes people experiencing housing challenges are experts on their own situations and key stakeholders in housing solutions. We seek to support work centering the lived experience and expertise of people benefitting from programs and also building the capacity of impacted communities that have faced systemic housing disparities to define and implement their own solutions to housing needs. (This ties to a new outcome around Community Influence.) We are more likely to fund projects that demonstrate meaningful involvement by the people with lived experience in defining the issues and solutions proposed.

4. General operating support grants face a high bar. As noted in our funding guidelines, we have heightened expectations from organizations that are awarded unrestricted operating support. First and foremost, they should be housing organizations (do a majority of their work in affordable housing) and strongly advance the core funding goals in our Housing Opportunities portfolio. Additionally, they should play a unique and/or important role in the field and have wider impact for the sector (e.g., as an intermediary, seen as a field leader in Oregon or nationally); demonstrate leadership for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the context of the communities where they work; and have DEI strategies as a meaningful part of their work plan for the grant period. Reach out if you have questions about whether to apply for this funding type.

5. The Annual Funding Opportunity continues to be a competitive process, with limited funding. In the past two funding cycles, the Housing Opportunities portfolio has funded about half of the proposals we received. This means we’ve had to turn down many solid proposals. We also expect the 2019 Annual Funding Opportunity to have robust demand, due in part to the fact that the Housing Opportunities portfolio will not be offering other Requests for Proposals (RFPs) this year. Moreover, our funding amount for 2019 is smaller ($3.5 million, compared with $3.9 million last year).

What has changed in the Annual Funding Opportunity?

  1. The application process will be open for four weeks instead of five. The application period opens Monday, April 15, this year and will stay open for a month, closing at 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, 2019.
  2. In lieu of multiple information sessions around the state, the Housing Opportunities portfolio is offering an on-demand webinar on our website. Potential applicants are encouraged to watch the webinar and review the online resources. Those with specific questions can then email questions [at] mmt.org to sign up for a 20-minute phone consultation with a member of the housing team. We want to spend more time giving personalized and concentrated feedback to applicants and less time in big, general sessions or travel.
  3. We’re trying a one-step application process this year. We heard from many of you that the initial application in our two-step application was much more intense than a typical “letter of inquiry.” This year, we’re going to try a one-step application that looks fairly similar to the questions asked last year. By combining the inquiry application and the full application, we hope for less duplication of content. By early July, we will notify applicants who are invited to move forward in our process. For selected organizations, due diligence will look pretty similar to our previous process with one exception: We will prioritize in-person site visits for newer organizations or complex projects. Applicants who have had recent site visits may only receive a follow up via phone conference.
  4. Income of people served will be a factor but not the most prominent factor in our analysis. In the past three years, we have asked all housing projects if they intend to serve people living with low-incomes (at or below 60% AMI). This year, the emphasis is on serving the priority populations who have experienced historical and current housing discrimination. Applicants should understand historical and current racist and discriminatory housing practices that have created disparities and focus their work to eliminate those disparities.

Time and again, we have seen that having a “one size fits all” approach to solving housing instability tends to be less successful than projects that use strategies designed with community input, tailored to the needs of a specific group of people. Foremost, we want to know how your project is designed to serve the needs of priority populations. The language of our goals was revised to connect all of the outcomes to the priority populations. More information on the priority populations can be found in our webinar.

Additional resources
Want more information about what we look for? We’ve gathered a set of Applicant Resources, with everything from building a budget to understanding our definition of collaborations and learning more about diversity, equity and inclusion. You are encouraged to review those resources as you prepare your proposal.

Final thoughts
Your work inspires us every day. Your efforts to serve the person in front of you, while keeping an eye on the larger systems-level changes needed to address housing discrimination and disparities. You push for new tools and resources to bring housing stability to more Oregonians and then figure out how to align resources and efforts for maximum impact. We hope to be the thought-partners and funders that you need to bolster your efforts.

Yours in partnership,

—Theresa

Photo caption: The exterior of Carolyn Gardens

The exterior of Carolyn Gardens in Southeast Portland. Photo source: Human Solutions

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Four nonprofits respond to Meyer’s “1 Million Months Challenge”

Is there a better way to create more affordable housing in Oregon? We intend to find out over the next few years, as four dynamic teams test, improve and iterate on very different innovative ideas.

Last year, Meyer laid down an unusual and ambitious invitation, which we called the “1 Million Months Challenge,” to encourage innovation around affordable housing design, finance and construction. The basic intent was to empower people who think mainstream affordable development isn’t concerned enough with cost, and those who claim there are less costly ways to help people attain housing that’s affordable, but also meets some basic threshold of quality, dignity and comfort (while still attending to long-term costs of operating and maintaining housing).

A Caveat - This is Harder than it Looks!

Full disclosure: After nearly five years of engaging with experts on these issues, we are not entirely certain there’s a path that can deliver dramatic cost reductions. Too often, people who criticize the (admittedly eye-wateringly high) cost of delivering new housing do so without much experience with the thicket of constraints and cross-cutting pressures that define a typical government-subsidized multifamily development. And too often, critics suggest cutting corners without thinking through the tradeoffs of throwing out (for instance) prevailing wage requirements or building to a high standard for energy-efficiency.

As we outlined in our 2015 report, the basic math involved in building high-quality buildings makes it essentially impossible to aim for rents affordable to people earning a modest wage (or far less), and that necessarily means that public funding will be an important part of most affordable development. Factor in a white-hot construction market, expensive land, the string of expectations that follow public dollars, and the risk mitigation requirements of a dozen or more funding partners, and affordable housing seems far from affordable.

Still, that’s not an excuse for complacency, and as the 2015-16 round of grantees pursuing innovative cost efficient strategies demonstrated, there are some important ways to trim costs at the margin in design and construction, as well as some finance and design strategies that haven’t been fully tested that deserve to be further developed.


The 1 Million Months Challenge
As we reflected on what we learned from the 2015-16 RFP focused on innovation, we wanted to open the doors even wider to innovative ideas and approaches and to focus more clearly on the end goal: creating as much access as possible to affordable housing for as little public subsidy as possible. This led us to last year’s 1 Million Months Challenge, a moonshot-style competition, focusing creativity and energy around a specific, lofty goal: Bring us your best ideas for guaranteeing 1 million months of affordability, using as little public subsidy as possible.

We framed the challenge this way to emphasize flexibility and focus on the big-picture outcome: This is less about developing "projects" than creating a viable new model or path that could potentially help our partners house large numbers of people for an extended period of time.

Proposals were invited under three broad categories: Rural Workforce, Extremely Low-Income/Hard to House (i.e. those with additional challenges to housing stability like mental illness, etc.), and an Open category serving any low-income population.

Meyer received 18 proposals from across Oregon, and after an extensive vetting process, awarded grants to four projects:

BRIDGE Housing Corporation: Creating Equitable Opportunity through Opportunity Zone Investments (Statewide/Open)

BRIDGE will explore utilizing the new Opportunity Zones to promote the creation of affordable housing in Oregon without relying on scarce and competitive federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits. The recent federal tax cut package created tax incentives for investing in economically distressed communities (“Opportunity Zones”) defined by the state. BRIDGE will partner with Novogradac & Associates (a national tax and real estate development consultant) to develop a model for creating housing with the help of new investors expected to be drawn to the Opportunity Zones. Many in the affordable housing world are wondering whether Opportunity Zones could be an effective tool for developing affordable housing, and BRIDGE is well-positioned to be an “early-mover” here and to share what they learn with the field.

Housing Development Center: Zero Energy Modular for Rural Workforce Homeownership (Statewide/Rural Workforce)

Housing Development Center (HDC) will partner with Vermont Energy Investment Corp. to bring VEIC’s interesting zero-energy modular housing model to scale in Oregon, combined with a land trust model to assure long-term affordability. HDC is a leading nonprofit consulting firm focused on affordable housing finance and development across the state and a partner with Meyer on several recent important projects. This proposal takes on several key unresolved issues in affordable housing in Oregon: how to scale up modular design and construction beyond its very small current market share, how to jump-start affordable housing production in rural Oregon, and how to leverage highly energy-efficient new construction for long-term affordability.

SquareOne Villages: Affordable Together: scaling a community-based approach to housing (Lane County/Open)

SquareOne Villages was a grantee in the first round of Cost Efficiency grants in 2015-16, developing and documenting best practices around creating new tiny home villages for extremely low-income people (typically those leaving homelessness) in Lane County. In its next phase of work, it will explore combining limited equity cooperative ownership with a community land trust structure to create a new affordable homeownership model. Since it began experimenting with very low-cost housing options, SquareOne has progressively stepped up its ability to improve the quality and design of tiny homes, and if this hybrid ownership structure is successful, it could benefit a range of similar efforts across the state.

In addition to those three projects, a fourth organization was awarded a grant under Meyer’s 2018 RFP to improve access to private market housing and was invited to join the 1 Million Months cohort because its work aligns well with the goals and intent of the 1MM RFP:

Hacienda CDC: Community-based affordable ADU rentals to increase the supply of private market units and stabilize low-income homeowners at risk of displacement. (Portland/Open)

Hacienda has been a leading partner in the Living Cully collaborative (along with Verde, NAYA and Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East), which has been engaged in robust neighborhood-focused work on affordable housing and community development since 2010.

This project will fund the design, planning and implementation of affordable accessory dwelling units to be rented to low-income tenants and people of color in Cully, Lents and Inner North/Northeast Portland. The project will not only create new affordable units, but also help insulate low-income homeowners from displacement pressures by supplying them with supplemental income from the rentals.

What Comes Next

The four grantees are just beginning their work now and are committed to sharing what they discover over the next two years. Meyer plans to provide a series of opportunities for stakeholders and other interested parties to engage with the cohort and learn from their work to build out replicable and scalable new approaches. Stay tuned for more!

— Michael

1 Mill months challenge progress update: New projects will test financing, design and construction ideas for affordable housing
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Merging ahead

In the road of Meyer’s housing work, we are seeing a “Merge Ahead” sign. Our Affordable Housing Initiative, a five-year plan to explore innovation, support systems change and leverage resources to meet the housing needs of Oregonians is coming to its official end. That isn’t to say that our work will stop. Rather, it will be blended in with the Housing Opportunities portfolio and not labelled as a separate initiative.

In the foundation world, an initiative is a focused effort to support change. It implies that the foundation is taking the initiative to set aside specific goals and strategies for a particular effort. At the time the Meyer’s Affordable Housing Initiative was established, the foundation was a traditional responsive grantmaker. Applicants could submit proposals on the topic of their choice, which allowed grantseekers to have maximum flexibility but made it difficult to move a body of work toward a specific end.

The Affordable Housing Initiative was one of Meyer’s first two initiative experiments, the other being the Willamette River Initiative. From the time they launched in 2008, both became incubators for new ways of working as a foundation. Through the Affordable Housing Initiative we:

  • Engaged with our partners in deeper collaborative work, starting with an advisory committee that helped identify the eight targeted strategies of the Affordable Housing Initiative;
  • Sought grant proposals that advanced our specific strategies, using new funding mechanisms like Requests for Proposals (we’ve completed 15 RFPs, awarding more than 125 grants) and Meyer-directed grants;
  • Launched an early prototype of an equity lens, specifically prioritizing under-resourced communities, including communities of color, culturally specific organizations and underserved rural communities. For the first time, our applications asked for disaggregated data on who was being served by a project, as well as the board and staff makeup of an organization;
  • Hired program officers Elisa Harrigan and Michael Parkhurst for their specific experience and leadership in the affordable housing sector;
  • Began to regularly incorporate new tools beyond grantmaking: convening to foster sharing and peer-learning, research, assessments and third-party evaluations, advocacy and education, along with strategic communications;
  • Used smaller grants to support the technical assistance needs of our partners, along with field-building grants to support broad conferences and other learning opportunities;
  • Established collaborative funding efforts with other funders, including Oregon Housing and Community Services; and
  • Developed stronger ties with the investments side of the house at Meyer. This has allowed us to better connect our work and support some innovative work by the investment team.

In these ways, the Affordable Housing Initiative ran as a parallel path to Meyer’s core grantmaking work. Successes and stumbles learned from this incubator helped inform the restructure of Meyer’s programs in 2015, when we created four portfolios to help move us toward a flourishing and equitable Oregon. Forming the Housing Opportunities portfolio provided us the space to add more dedicated housing staff and roll out a more responsive funding opportunity to complement the targeted strategies we had been doing through the AHI.

When the parallel roads merge this month, you are not likely to see much difference. We’ll have the same staff, the same use of RFPs to advance specific strategies as well as an annual funding opportunity and the same attention to policy- and systems-level change. We’ll have a clear focus to center people experiencing housing discrimination and work to reduce the disproportionate impacts of racist and discriminatory housing policy on Indigenous communities, people of color, people with disabilities and other priority populations.

Through five intense years of the Affordable Housing Initiative, Meyer’s housing staff have reflected on our work and corrected our course based on market fluctuations, policy changes and a sharpened equity mission. Later this year, we’ll complete a more holistic assessment of the impact of the AHI on our partners and the larger housing landscape in Oregon. If you are interested in participating in a focus group for the evaluation, let us know on this form.

The Affordable Housing Initiative helped Meyer deepen and transform its work, and we are confident its lessons will continue to influence our work and the wider housing field in Oregon.

The road ahead is full of promise.

— Theresa

Photo caption: A merge ahead sign atop a sky background.
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Apply Soon: Housing Advocacy RFP

Today, Meyer's Housing Opportunities portfolio released a new Request for Proposals to support housing advocacy efforts around the state.

We think of "advocacy" pretty broadly, including community organizing and mobilization, policy analysis and research, focused communications and education around housing issues, as well as targeted approaches to achieve specific policy goals. Proposals under this RFP can address local, regional and/or statewide issues but must have a strong connection to affordable housing.

This RFP will focus on two tracks: Campaign Leaders, for work that is focused on a clear policy or systems change goal and is led by a strong coalition of partners, and Advocacy Mobilizers, which may be more broad and less focused on one specific issue or for the early stages in mobilizing support for more affordable housing opportunities.

For either track, strong proposals will reflect a strong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion; a clear sense of the issues to be addressed and obstacles to be overcome; and some track record doing the kind of work proposed. We strongly encourage proposals that bring in voices and collaborators that may not have been part of affordable housing advocacy in the past.

Those awarded grants under this RFP will be invited to participate in one or more convenings and will have a chance to network with and learn from other grantees in the cohort.

An application under this RFP does not preclude organizations from submitting proposals for other Meyer funding opportunities and grantseekers may apply to this RFP regardless of any other active Meyer grants.

Two information sessions are scheduled to explain the RFP in detail and answer questions. Register to attend a session at 10 a.m. on Jan. 29 or 3 p.m. on Feb. 5. Register online here.

Proposals will be accepted online (via grantis.mmt.org) until Feb. 26, 2019. Funding decisions are expected in late spring, with grant payments going out shortly thereafter. Make sure you're signed up for our Housing newsletter to stay current on this and other funding opportunities!

— Michael

Preview this RFP

Housing Opportunities: 2019 Advocacy RFP details
  1. Information sessions

Funds will be awarded in two tracks: 

  • Campaign Leaders: grants intended for focused and targeted efforts with a clear policy or systems change goal led by a strong coalition of partners with a credible plan to succeed. Maximum of $75,000 available per year, for a total of $150,000 over two years.

  • Advocacy Mobilizers: for organizing efforts that may be more broad-based and less focused on one issue, or in an earlier stage of mobilizing support for more affordable housing opportunities. Maximum of $40,000 available per year, for total of $80,000 over two years.

Final award decisions are expected in May 2019, with first-year payments released in June 2019.

Meyer staff will present an overview of the RFP and be available to answer questions at two information sessions:

  • Tuesday, Jan. 29, from 10:00-11:30 a.m.
  • Tuesday, Feb. 5, from 3:00-4:30 p.m.

Both information sessions will be held virtually. Visit our official event page to RSVP.
 

Housing advocacy grantees at the Oregon capital
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Personal reflections from my visit to Minidoka

As most folks packed up their belongings and headed home after the Philanthropy Northwest annual conference, I boarded a bus with several other PNW members and staff and headed to Jerome, Idaho to visit the Minidoka National Historic Site and view what’s left of the former incarceration camp that held my family, along with 13,000 other people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

As you step onto the ashy soil of the high desert plain, it’s hard not to notice how little of the camp is left and the expansive scale that it once occupied. Originally 33,000 acres, the camp became the seventh largest city in Idaho at the time. I try to imagine what life would’ve been like behind these barbed wires and underneath the ever-present gaze from the guard tower. I think about how terrified my grandmother must have been, younger than I am now with two young children and pregnant with a third, having just lost everything and now forced to live in a shabby barrack with several other families and no idea about what will happen next. Everything unknown.

I grew up with stories of my family just trying to maintain as much a sense of community as possible, and I can feel that when walking along the baseball field or stepping into the fire stations at Minidoka. Scanning photos of the makeshift holiday celebrations and the community gardens, knowing how my family had to completely rebuild their lives after leaving the camps, the resiliency of the Japanese American community is not lost on me. I feel the strength of my relatives under the face of oppression in the core of my being and in my motivation for supporting communities of color in this work.

My grandmother was vocal about sharing her experience at Minidoka so that it would never happen again. As a yonsei, fourth generation Japanese American, I also know that the trauma of this experience lasts for generations. As I continue to grow within the field of philanthropy, I carry my family’s strength and experience with me and I move towards the ways that philanthropy can play an active role in fighting the oppression of communities of color by centering them in our work, following their lead, elevating their voices and supporting their work. Because “never again” is right now.

— Lauren


This article was originally published by Philanthropy Northwest.

A stone monument near the entrance of Minidoka Relocation Center, reminding visitors of “what can happen when other factors supersede the constitutional rights guaranteed to all citizens and aliens living in this country.”

A stone monument near the entrance of Minidoka Relocation Center, reminding visitors of “what can happen when other factors supersede the constitutional rights guaranteed to all citizens and aliens living in this country.”

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