“We are overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to grow with the over 1,000 Members and 250 Advocates who show up every day to care for each other. It encourages us to learn from and lean on one another as we move forward together. Thank you for believing in this community of boundless support as we grow towards the abundant possibilities we have before us.”
Written by Joyce Yao and Connie Longmate
“Stay in school, stay in the Movement.”
— Reverend Liz Theoharis of the Poor People’s Campaign,
On the first weekend in March, CEF Advocates from UNC and Duke put aside their rivalries, to come together and co-host the 2nd annual Summit on Homelessness and Poverty! The three-day summit brought together over 100 students from 25 schools from across the country to share experiences, workshop ideas, and learn from longtime local community organizers. Their collective goal was to continue to grow a national coalition of student organizations dedicated to dismantling systems that perpetuate hunger, homelessness, and poverty.
“The cost of poverty, broadly, is so much higher than the cost of paying people fairly.”
—Jill Johnson, Mayor Pro Tem
Last year, students at Brown University held the inaugural Summit on Homelessness and Poverty that brought together a coalition of student organizations from across the country dedicated to dismantling systems that perpetuate homelessness and poverty. In the 8 months of planning, the summit vision truly came together when Megan Miller and Olivia Simpson proposed that the theme of the Summit be “Abundance,” with the idea that the communities we work within have an abundance of love, resilience, and (as CEF likes to say) people who are “creative resourceful and whole”— and therefore our work should be about uplifting and celebrating that abundance. Hosting this summit meant that we got to help to create a unique space for students to reflect on and share about the abundance in their own communities.
“Joy can be an act of revolution!”
—George Barrett, The Marian Cheek Jackson Center
The weekend was a tremendous labor of love. A true test of the commitment to the work we do, as well as of our ability to open ourselves up to new forms of the pursuit of social justice, which is important perspective when you find yourself debating seemingly trivial things like the number of coffee cups to order and the most fitting genre of music for the welcome reception. We succeeded in bringing together students from different regions of the country involved in all kinds of anti-poverty and homelessness work, effectively connecting one another to a network of students engaged in demanding work that requires the solidarity and accountability that community offers. I’m especially proud of the fundraising we chased extra hard with the goal of lowering financial barriers for folks to participate.
“If you don’t know you don’t know, but once you know, I’m going to hold you accountable.”
— Andrea Hudson, Community Bail Fund
We created sessions around Race Policing and Poverty, Vulnerable Populations, Public Health, Urban Renewal & Displacement (watch the video below), Social Service Gaps and How We Fill Them, Advocating for Policy Change to facilitate a space where students could share, learn, and grow from peers. Hosting the summit also gave us the opportunity to spotlight longtime community organizations and organizers who shared their brilliant wisdom and experiences of organizing in the South.
We are so grateful for our community partners and all of the students who are working alongside their communities to fight for justice through the celebration abundance. It was an honor to host the 2nd annual summit and we’re excited to continue to build the Student Coalition Against Homelessness & Poverty.
CEF Members, Advocates, and staff will be talking about the Expanding Housing Choice Initiative and much more at the monthly Time + Talents meeting on 4/16 at 5pm. Time + Talents meetings occur on the third Tuesday of each month in the CEF Durham office and are open to all. Contact email@example.com for more information.
a guest post by Durham architect and urban developer Scott Harmon
Reading time: 6 minutes
Land use policy is the blind spot in white progressive politics. Durham NC is debating a city-wide change in its zoning ordinance to address housing affordability. As larger cities like Minneapolis undertake radical rezonings to create more equitable housing, smaller progressive communities like ours are inspired to align its land use policies with our liberal world view. These initiatives will continue across the country and the blind spot will always appear in the same place: the back yards of powerful white progressive leaders.
In November, the Durham Planning Department presented its first vision of an initiative called Expanding Housing Choices. The recommendations were transformative and sensible, focusing on increased opportunities for accessory dwelling units, infill, duplexes, and smaller lots sizes. I would call them, indeed, progressive.
The version now before the Planning Commission, however, has been gutted by leaders in the white progressive neighborhoods that wield the most power in these land use debates. When faced with a choice between progressive policies and neighborhood protection, protection wins every time; power trumps policy. I urge my fellow progressives to pay close attention to some key historic and environmental context as we start this debate.
In The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein explains how zoning became the legal foundation of housing discrimination in our country. The first zoning ordinance appeared in 1908 in Los Angeles with the sensible goal of separating residential and industrial properties. In 1910 racial zoning laws sprung up throughout the country as communities used this new legal tool to protect their neighborhoods from blacks and immigrants. In 1917 the Supreme Court ruled that racial zoning is a violation of the 14th amendment, but in 1919 the city of St. Louis finessed the technicalities of that ruling and adopted the first “economic zoning” ordinance; what we call today “exclusionary zoning”. By excluding multi-family housing types from single-family neighborhoods (which most blacks and immigrants could not afford), St. Louis maintained the racial and economic primacy of its white communities. The racial motivations of these laws were obvious and were again challenged at the Supreme Court in 1926. But the court ruled that the 14th Amendment is not violated because the laws contain no explicitly racial language. Exclusionary zoning thereby became the established precedent for protecting our most advantaged neighborhoods from undesirable people by excluding undesirable housing. Add to this legal foundation the policies of the New Deal and the FHA, which required red-lining and racially restricted neighborhood covenants for its mortgage insurance programs. You now have, at the end of World War II, a complete system of local laws and Federal policies that explicitly exclude non-white people from the benefits of the largest housing and economic expansion in the world’s history. While the Federal policies finally met their demise with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, our local exclusionary zoning laws persist.
This history explains two things about today’s affordability crisis. First, it explains why certain people have enjoyed generations of wealth building and others have not. In other words, if more people could afford a home, the housing crisis would be less severe. Second, our zoning laws continue to treat certain kinds of housing (the more affordable kinds) as “undesirable”. This limits the supply of housing in general and limits affordable housing in particular, thereby making all housing more expensive.
The environmental context is easier to explain because the math is unavoidable. The population is growing, globally and locally. Should we house more people per acre of land, or fewer? Should we be more efficient with our land, or less efficient? Which choice protects our watersheds, natural areas, and farmland from outward expansion (aka sprawl)? Which choice supports better transit systems? Which choice promotes walkable, healthy lifestyles? Which choice assures that every roadway, pipe, wire, and infrastructure investment is used most efficiently? Which choice reduces the carbon footprint of each human?
Let’s be clear how “density” became a bad word. This country protected its neighborhoods from undesirable people by restricting density (see the history above). But many other nations enjoy thriving cities with density, beauty, desirability, and diversity. As our mayor Steve Schewel rightly points out: density is not the problem; it’s the solution.
Land use policy is the blind spot in progressive white politics. Our commitment to equity, inclusion, fairness, and affordability is hijacked by our instinct for comfort, power, and advantage. Most of us don’t see it. While we enthusiastically support the right causes with our time, talent, and money, our resistance to change in our neighborhoods is tenacious. Neighborhood protection is a deeply held tradition that, on the surface, looks like a gallant fight against developers, builders, slumlords, students, renters, and traffic. The origins of this tradition, however, are not so noble. Even when we’re not consciously excluding certain types of people, we’re still using a system with intentions and rules of engagement that were established a century ago. Our families and fortunes continue to benefit from that system.
So, here’s the “ask” of my fellow white progressives in Durham and other communities. Resist the temptation to resist change, because preserving the status quo is not progressive. Our white leaders live in the neighborhoods with the most power when it comes to land use debates. How will we use that power? Will we advance our progressive agenda for the benefit of everyone in the community, or will we ask everyone else to advance the agenda for us? Will we support our elected leaders as they navigate a precarious political transaction that may be uncomfortable for us personally, or will we lobby to maintain our privilege? If we’re not prepared to forgo our privilege, we can at least leverage it for the benefit of the entire community. But this can’t happen if we “protect” our own neighborhoods from the changes that the rest of the community desperately needs. Because that’s not progressive; that’s NIMBY.
“Acting in a way that prevents everyone else from living in your pretty little city because you already have a place that you like does not make you a progressive. It makes you greedy.” – Hamilton Nolan Scott
Scott Harmon is an architect and urban developer with Center Studio Architecture in Durham NC.
The Chapel Hill 10 million dollar housing bond passed with 72 percent of residents voting in favor of the referendum! Thanks to the incredible efforts of Chapel Hill residents and the collaboration of the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition that includes partners from Habitat for Humanity, Community Home Trust, IFC, DHIC, Inc., Empowerment, Inc., Justice United, The Jackson Center, Self-Help , UNC Partnerships in Aging Program, and the Weaver Community Housing Association!
CEF helped bring Advocates and Members together to vote at the Souls to the Polls Rally, designed the Bond Media Kit with help from the coalition, and got the word out with the CEF Advocacy Choir singing at events and church services around town!
Read details about the bond passing at: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article221033365.html
Learn More about the bond at: https://www.chapelhillaffordablehousing.org/bondinfo/
In February, over 175 community leaders showed up to the Orange County Affordable Housing Summit last to learn about the state of the affordable housing crisis! It was an amazing opportunity to build a shared understanding and collaborate in developing real solutions to increase housing access and affordability in this community!
This month, the official Summit Report was released by the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition. It’s an amazing resource that summarizes learning from the 2018 Summit, including the current state of affordable housing in Orange County, potential solutions to the affordable housing crisis, and information from community partners on affordable housing projects! Learn more at housingorange.org .
“When you are with CEF, you are a part of the thread that makes us all one community.” Chinita is a CEF graduate, and her poetic statement during a CEF celebration perfectly describes the palpable connectivity in this community.
Whether we’re weaving together programs and resources to form a holistic network of support, or connecting our Members and Advocates together in people-centered relationships, CEF is steadily crafting a beautiful, interconnected, and interwoven community.”
It’s been just over a month since Liz and Leah, CEF Housing Justice Fellows for 2018, started on-boarding at CEF and shaping vision into action! They’ve jumped in and are meeting with members from all over the community to carefully discern the best steps forward for their work. They were generous enough to share some reflections for their work this year in a Q&A!
Liz Brown, 2018 Durham Fellow
Leah Whitehead, 2018 Chapel Hill Fellow
What led you to this work?
I began working with CEF my freshmen year in an attempt to engage more intentionally with the Durham community, landing on CEF because of their relationship and systems-based approach towards anti-poverty work. I’ve never looked back! I was brought to the Housing Justice Fellowship role through various conversations with the Durham staff team regarding the enormous potential for change wrought by an organized Member base. The opportunity to deepen my relationship with CEF, grow in my organizing capabilities, and continue to do ‘the work’ is truly a dream come true.
I was first drawn to CEF because of their emphasis on relationships. CEF doesn’t generalize or oversimplify about how to show up for someone. CEF creates an opportunity for people to get to know each other and say, “hey, I see you, I hear you, and I got you.” This philosophy really resonated with me and I was drawn to this role because it felt like an opportunity to be a conduit for collaboration across sectors that could spread that same spirit of support. I mean, imagine a community where the primary message we are sending each other is “hey, I see you, I hear you, and I got you.” That’s what keeps me going when the coffee wears off!
How would you describe the work you will do in the CEF community through your role?
I’m working to support community, foster inclusion, and build power among and within the CEF Durham Member-base. In my role, I will act as a community organizer, convener, and advocate for the greater incorporation of CEF Member voices and experiences in CEF, Durham, and the systems that bind us. My goal can be summed up rather simply: create more Member-driven structures at CEF.
I’m piloting a Housing Locator position that will serve all of Orange County. We know that private landlords are key partners in housing justice; my job is to engage those landlords to understand the barriers they face in keeping units affordable and serving tenants who are regularly excluded from housing opportunities. Ultimately I will be a bridge between private, public and non-profit partners to come up with creative solutions that ensure affordable housing opportunities are accessible to those who need them and sustainable for the landlords and property managers who steward them.
What strengths, skills, and experience do you bring with you?
I bring with me 4 years of CEF experience! During my time as an undergraduate Advocate with CEF, I served as the Communications Coordinator and Advocate Engagement Co-Coordinator, working to incorporate Member stories into our internal communications and organize the Duke student body around economic justice and affordable housing. I also bring with me experience organizing with Durham CAN and the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, DC. I am a people person in the truest sense of the phrase, and I am ecstatic to bring my love of stories, the people that hold them, and the power they possess to the CEF team.
I’ve worn many hats at CEF since 2015, from Member Advocate Coordinator to Training Team member to Advocacy Choir participant! My degree in public policy gives me a socio-political and racial-equity lense to housing justice and a background in economics, both of which informed the last three years of direct experience liaising with landlords and working with Members on housing. Those experiences have been steeped in the importance of relationship-based support and driven by the greatest strength I could bring to this work, a wholehearted, deep-in-my-bones, core-of-my-soul kind of commitment to finding creative and collaborative ways to make this community a home for all people.
Where do you expect to find energy and renewal?
I expect to find my daily energy through the Durham staff team: Donna, JV, Jess, and Janet. I expect to seek inspiration from CEF Members fighting the fight day in and day out at both the individual and structural levels. I expect to find renewal in our victories, whether they come in the form of increased affordable housing stock or the precious moments when a Member stands up to power and is heard at last!
I expect to absorb energy and renewal from the resilience of each and every person who walks through CEF’s doors and from the interwoven community of folks who stand up for every person’s right to safe and affordable housing. But also the other day I literally “whoopee-ed!” because a landlord responded to my email, so it’s the small things too!
Where do you expect to find challenges and how do you hope to find the best way forward?
There is no hiding that this work can be challenging and emotionally taxing. I know there will be days when I am tired and beaten down, wanting to give up after a poorly-attended action or a run in with a persistent and seemingly immovable instance of injustice. These moments, I am sure, will not be uncommon, nor will they grow less painful to endure. The CEF ethos, however, in its dynamic understanding of trauma-informed care, healing centered engagement, and self-care offers a unique way forward. The guiding and life-giving question becomes not “What’s wrong?” but rather “What can be better?” With this framework at our backs, we move forward.
It is no doubt that the housing landscape in Orange County is challenging at best. I’m under no illusion that I will find the magic key to the affordable units that address the massive and growing needs of our neighbors and I’m aware of the unique challenges that come with working cross-sector in a system of scarce resources. I hope to find a way forward by seeking input from community partners to understand their needs and concerns, staying relationship-centered, and finding the areas where we can support each other in building a thriving community that serves all of our neighbors.
Anything else you’d like us to know?
I love CEF!!!! I’m so pumped for this year and all of its many challenges, hopes, dreams, moments of immense failure, moments of bitter success, laughs, stories, cries, shared meals, shared rides, actions, reactions, conversations, fights, and victories. I am so grateful for the Housing Justice Fellowship and hope it continues well beyond this year of exploration, growth, and hopeful progress. I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org!
I’m so grateful for this opportunity and to be a part of this important work! Not sure how or why you might have a stake in creating affordable housing opportunities in Orange County? Please reach out to me (email@example.com) ! This is a community-wide challenge and requires a community-wide solution! We got this!!
“Nothing we’re doing in Durham right now is more important than this.”
– Steve Schewel, Mayor of City of Durham, NC Government
These were the closing words at the third annual Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable, which took place on Monday at Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church. The Roundtable is an annual event dedicated to engaging private housing providers towards the goal of ending homelessness by creating access to affordable housing. Over 115 property owners and managers, tenants, community organizations, and housing advocates came together to share experiences, brainstorm solutions, and explore the opportunities and complexities of Durham’s private rental market.
We are so grateful and thankful for the host of collaborators who volunteered their time at the 2018 Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable! A special shoutout to the 13 table facilitators, Alliance Behavioral Healthcare for providing refreshments, childcare and photography volunteers, hands-on support from Housing for New Hope staff, and Trinity Ave Presbyterian Church for hosting the event. A huge shoutout to all of our speakers who opened up the conversation, including Mayor Steve Schewel, Anthony Scott and Denita Johnson ( Durham Housing Authority ), Terry Allebaugh ( North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness), Ryan Fehrman ( Families Moving Forward). Big ups also to Megan Noor and Gino Nuzzolillo for their phenomenal event coordination!
The Roundtable took place as part of the Unlocking Doors Initiative, a community collaborative coordinated by CEF. To learn more about this Initiative:
I dedicate this song to depression *yesss* recession *yesss* and unemployment. This song is for you.
Rooms go silent when they hear those first few words from Ms. Yvette, the director of the Advocacy Choir and a part of the Orange County’s staff team. What follows is the CEF Advocacy Choir’s signature cover of Smile. At this point, two years after the choir began, anyone who frequents CEF events knows the words by heart.
In an effort to pass a $5 million housing bond in November 2016, Maggie West, former Co-Director of CEF, and Yvette Matthews, Chapel Hill Advocate Program Associate, were searching for new ways to engage in advocacy in the Chapel Hill community.
“We had just moved into our new office,” says Maggie, “and as a part of our housewarming party, we organized a sing-along, and it was beautiful. So that spurred our thinking about how people like to sing together.”
Ms. Yvette says, “we sat round kind of brainstorming on what we could do and because I have directed choirs all my life and sang all my life, we came up with the idea of having a CEF Advocacy Choir.” They knew they could use that musical potential as an approach to cultural organizing, which Maggie defines as, “using culture as a tool for advocacy and organizing, because those tools are the things that change hearts and minds.”
So the first opportunity to try it was when we were trying to encourage voters to vote yes for the bond referendum on their ballots that election period. It just wasn’t super well-known.” The original group of CEF staff, Advocates, and Members that started the Advocacy Choir began covering ground on a daily basis to spread the word about the bond. They went to every church and community event in Chapel Hill that would let them sing, sometimes going to as many as three a day. In November 2016, the bond was passed.
Since then, the Advocacy Choir has endured. “We’ve still got a good eight people as the core group,” says Ms. Yvette, “so we continue to do it. Anytime we’re invited we go. If everybody can’t go I’ll go by myself, you know, and just represent.” In just the past several months, the choir has performed at the Loreleis Spring Concert in Memorial Hall, the CEF Art Show, the Northside Festival, the Maggie-We-Love-You-Party, and a few other smaller events. They perform in a variety of environments, from town council meetings to festivals, giving people a voice, uplifting crowds, spurring joyful dances all at once.
While one component of the choir is to encourage celebration and cohesion in the community, the choir, as seen in the housing bond campaign, is also a strong force for political activism and social justice. Ms. Yvette points out one aspect of the choir that makes it especially effective. “The CEF Advocacy Choir has the element of surprise because people don’t think that we can sing,” says Ms. Yvette, “but we get up there and we blow them away, it’s always good to have the element of surprise.”
It makes sense that people are surprised by the choir—it’s not your typical sort of activism. “In campaigns since [the housing bond] we’ve been super effective singing at town council meetings where in that context, it’s both invitational and disruptive in a powerful way,” says Maggie. “It sort of makes you take a step back. I think it just changes the space entirely and I think what I’ve noticed in that context is it’s also like a rallying moment for the Members and Advocates. It’s like, ‘All right, we’re owning this conversation.’ And seeing the effect it has on people’s pride is really powerful.”
David, a CEF Member and one of the original members of the choir, says that in the choir, “We love to sing because we are family. We’re just strong together because, you know, if anybody’s got any difference in the choir, it disappears when it’s time to sing, because everybody’s ready to go for it.”
As a co-founder, Maggie has seen CEF evolve from the organization’s very beginning. To her, the choir represents a resurgence of some of the values and culture it was founded upon. “CEF came out of another organization that was based really in storytelling and art,” Maggie explains, “what I’ve seen over the last couple of years is a resurgence of that in our community and in our space. The choir being part of it, as well as quilting, Talking Sidewalks, the art show—things that are about lifting up people’s own voices and creativity. That was our roots really, it was where we came from, and seeing it come back to that is really powerful. This is not just as a service organization, this is a place you belong. This is a vibrant place where we want you to bring all of your gifts.”
David says being a part of the choir and the CEF community is “an experience like, you know, somebody can bake a beautiful cake, and maybe you can taste the cinnamon in it, but the person over there might taste something else. But still, that’s a good darn cake.”
See the Choir!
Ms. Yvette is already writing songs and strategizing to have the greatest impact in the upcoming election season. Needless to say, there are many opportunities for new people to get involved, so reach out if you would like to join the choir!
Sing with Us!
Call Yvette at 919-200-0233 or reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
to get involved and be notified about upcoming rehearsals and performances!
Yvette Mathews is the captain of the ship in our Chapel Hill office! Today, the Indy Week featured her amazing work in our office daily, as well as her leadership in organizing to address the growing affordable housing crisis in Orange County — including through song! We are so grateful for her phenomenal daily presence and the gifts that she brings to CEF.
The Community Empowerment Fund’s small basement office in Chapel Hill bustles with activity as Yvette Matthews scurries in and out, racing to pick up an incessantly ringing phone between guiding those looking for help and sharing a joke with students passing through. She deftly switches from task to task, directing the flow of people into and out of the office like an air traffic controller.
While it looks like she’s moving one hundred miles per hour, this is more or less a normal Thursday for Matthews.
“I’m a pretty good multitasking kind of chick,” says Matthews, a sixty-year-old office manager with short, slightly graying hair and a narrow face that usually frames a smile. “So I can hear you talking here, hear them talking there, and still do what I need to do.”