A Call for Housing Justice

Earlier this year, Funding Exchange launched political education programming for our stakeholders. Our first conference call, in February, brought together housing activists, donors and people in philanthropy to talk about bright spots in the struggle against foreclosure in our country right now.

The call, our work leading up to it, and the connections we’ve made since then have shown us that there’s a strong movement for housing justice on many fronts, and this movement needs support from people who want to get to the root causes of the housing crisis.

This Spring: the donor political education call

The speakers on the conference call included Rob Robinson, with Take Back the Land (TBTL); Katrina Gamble with Leadership Center for the Common Good; and Bill Lipton with Campaign for a Fair Settlement (CFFS).

FEX donors and other callers ‘eavesdropped’ while the speakers shared their analyses of the crisis, their work and how they define success towards racial and economic justice. Much of the discussion centered on two themes:

  • The higher level of cooperation that we’ve seen in this housing justice movement, and the successes of these collaborations; and
  • The different strategies we’re seeing people employ in response to the housing crisis.

Cooperation at work

The speakers shared their observations about the increased level of cooperation – more than we’ve seen in years – that this crisis has created among grassroots groups. After the call this sentiment was echoed often when we spoke to activists and other colleagues in philanthropy. Some great examples:

  • D6 – Occupy our Homes: The December 6, 2011 national day of action was a success, especially in New York City. This collaboration demonstrated a powerful, first-time collaboration between Occupiers and community members, organized by grassroots groups like Take Back the Land and Picture the Homeless, across lines of race and privilege.
  • Campaign for a Fair Settlement: This coalition, made up of the Leadership Center for the Common Good, New Bottom Line, MoveOn and others, led the fight for 2012’s national “loan servicing” settlement by focusing on Attorneys General and targeting the Obama administration. They were successful in opening up banks to be investigated and in securing state funds for principal reduction and counseling for homeowners.
  • Boston Community Capital & City Life’s Vida Urbana Program: In Boston, a unique partnership has formed between people and banks to keep folks in their homes. Vida Urbana counsels homeowners with underwater mortgages and helps them approach the banks that hold their mortgages; when those banks won’t compromise, Boston Community Capital buys the underwater mortgages from them, and then sells the homes back to the families.
  • O4O – Organize for Occupation: Formed before the 2008 economic crises, O4O is comprised of groups like Housing Is a Human Right, Common Law, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, and others. This unique collaboration of lawyers, artists, homeowners, renters, and academics address the housing crisis through anti-eviction campaigns and by occupying vacant properties.

Community coalitions in cities like Raleigh, Detroit, Portland, Miami and Madison are also making progress. For this movement, cooperation is the name of the game.

Different strategies attract different levels of support

When we look deeper at the differences in strategy, we see that some have more “funding appeal” than others. Even in this period of mass collaboration, progressive funding remains concentrated in traditional relief work, not in policy or cultural change. There is a lack of funding for work focused on the root cause of the housing crisis and in non-traditional, community-based solutions for understanding and addressing the problem. One activist I spoke with described “a hole in funding for groups doing radical housing work.”

We used the February conference call as a catalyst for movement building – not just having guests talk at FEX’s community stakeholders but bringing people together to discuss how they might find common ground in their work. Good things have emerged since the call:

Campaign for a Fair Settlement has partnered with the Home Defenders League to bring an organizing component (organizing underwater homeowners) to the Campaign’s “inside baseball” tactics.

Take Back the Land has begun pursuing deeper relationships with funders and individual donors, realizing the historic role philanthropy can play in creating long-term social change, especially when non-violent direct action and community organizing is needed to get there.

As always, there’s a need for funding deeper change

These past few months we’ve been making connections in the community, learning about housing justice efforts and exploring what role FEX could play in this area. It’s clear that there is a high demand for radical funding for housing justice work.

Becky RafterWe have begun organizing donors who are interested in creating a Housing Justice fund. Let me know if you want to be part of this effort! Give me a call at 212-529-5300 ext 315 or email me at brafter@fex.org.

If you want to get timely invitations to our political education calls, email is the best way to stay in touch. Give us an email address and we’ll make sure you can be on the next conversation!