Archive | CEF Advocacy

CEF Advocacy Choir: “This song is for you!”

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.

choir

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 yvettem@communityef.org
to get involved and be notified about upcoming rehearsals and performances!

0

A Decade Ago, Yvette Mathews Was Unemployed and Struggling. Now She’s a Key Advocate for Affordable Housing in Chapel Hill.

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.”

Read the article here: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/a-decade-ago-yvette-matthews-was-unemployed-and-struggling-now-shes-a-key-advocate-for-affordable-housing-in-chapel-hill

0

Introducing the CEF Housing Justice Fellowship!

We are launching a new one-year fellowship program focused on local housing access and advocacy! Beginning in July 2018, two Housing Justice Fellows (each with four years of Advocate and volunteer leadership experience at CEF) will begin working in our offices to launch new initiatives that directly meet the felt needs and opportunities in our Durham and Orange County communities.

What is the vision for each Housing Justice Fellow?

Liz Brown, 2018 Durham Fellow

In Durham

to develop CEF Members’ capabilities to lead in local affordable housing and anti-poverty advocacy

  • Supporting Member engagement in policy-making and advocacy to build political power in decision-making
  • Deepening relationships with local advocacy partners
  • Developing creative pathways for Member ownership and leadership within CEF
  • Cultivating leadership within CEF to sustain this work for coming years

This fellowship will drive participation of Members in local policy and systems leadership, whose personal stories and wisdom have a transformative impact on policy-making and political dialogue.

Leah Whitehead, 2018 Chapel Hill Fellow

In Chapel Hill

to develop and pilot an initiative with partners to collaboratively increase housing opportunities

  • Recruiting and growing relationships with landlord partners
  • Working together with Members, Advocates, and collaborative programs to successfully secure stable housing for Members
  • Engaging in housing advocacy & Member organizing initiatives in Orange County
  • Crafting infrastructure and securing support to sustain this work for coming years

This fellowship will act as a force multiplier, collaborating with staff from 5+ housing programs across Orange County to jointly support sustained landlord relationships and successfully house program participants.

Who are the inaugural Housing Justice Fellows?

The two Fellowship positions have been crafted both with the felt needs of our two communities at heart, and the distinct gifts of two of our graduating Advocates in mind. Liz Brown and Leah Whitehead both have four years of experience as volunteer leaders with CEF, and will be able to hit the ground running on these catalytic initiatives.

Why Housing Justice?

Housing is one of the most complex pieces of the puzzle in the array of services that CEF helps Members to navigate. Rental housing costs have risen dramatically in Orange and Durham Counties over recent years, causing large-scale displacement of lower-income households and increased challenges in housing placement for individuals transitioning out of homelessness. In Orange County, 90% of renter households who earn less than $35,000 are cost-burdened, ie. spending an unaffordable proportion (more than 30%) of their income on housing. In Durham, for every 100 extremely low-income renter households, only 38 rental units are affordable to them. We know that systemic change is necessary and that we must take a long-view approach to opening up opportunities for CEF Members.

CEF has been an active leader in local systems advocacy and service coordination to address the mounting housing crisis, including everything from pursuing cultural organizing through our locally-famous Advocacy Choir, to anchoring a public-private city-wide initiative to increase housing opportunities for voucher-holders. CEF is strategically situated to effect community-level change alongside our direct efforts for change with individual Members. We have collaboratively built momentum and partnerships in affordable housing advocacy over recent years, and have an opportunity to lean into deeper, impactful responses to community needs through the work of these two Fellows.

0

CEF Advocacy Choir Performs at UNC Memorial Hall

The CEF Advocacy Choir had the amazing experience of performing at Memorial Hall to close out the first half of a show by the UNC Loreleis this past weekend! Yvette Mathews is a part of CEF’s Staff team in Orange County, and the director of the Advocacy Choir. She has re-written the lyrics to many popular tunes to sing about issues faced by CEF Members – especially about affordable housing.

If you missed this performance, come check out he CEF Advocacy Choir at the CEF Art Show on April 21st or the Chapel Hill Spring Graduation Party on April 28th!

Sing with Us!

Call Yvette at 919-200-0233 or reach out via email at yvettem@communityef.org to get involved and be notified about upcoming rehearsals and performances!

0

Unlocking Doors for Affordable Housing

 “I’m sorry, we don’t accept vouchers”—this is what CEF Members and Advocates often hear when they call landlords searching for an affordable place to live.

 

Over the past two years, in Durham’s rapidly-changing housing market, CEF has been working strategically to find ways to bring together the voices of voucher-holders and landlords to listen, understand, and work towards systemic change. In 2016, in partnership with Durham Mayor Bill Bell, we began organizing a series of Landlord Roundtables. This created the Unlocking Doors Initiative, a coordinated system of support for both landlords and tenants that includes crisis intervention, assistance with inspections, a dedicated phone line, as well as a risk mitigation fund.

We are proud to share just a few of the things that came out of the 2017 Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable, which was attended by over 165 people (over 50 landlords and 90 community organizations):

  • Restored Access to New Vouchers: As a result of the event, Durham Housing Authority un-froze a referral pipeline prioritizing people who are ending their homelessness. We set a community goal of leasing up 30 households using Housing Choice Vouchers.
  • Prioritized Housing Issues for Mayoral Candidates: All four Mayoral Candidates attended the event and worked with us to articulate and publish platforms specific homelessness and affordable housing.
  • Public and Community Awareness: News coverage in Indy Week, WUNC, and The Durham Herald Sun has increased chatter and public understanding of housing vouchers and affordable housing issues. The video at the top of this page was produced by CEF and has been watched by over 1000 people!
  • Aligning the Durham Housing Authority with Community Needs: More than ever, the Durham Housing Authority has been engaged in community conversations, and landlords have been engaged in mission-driven affordable housing conversations.
  • Drawing Attention to a New Tenant Protection Initiative: The event was a platform for Legal Aid of NC to make a high-impact announcement of their new eviction diversion initiative.
  • Encouragement to Keep Going: The most resonant piece of feedback we heard from the 2017 Roundtable was the affirmation of continued open, honest conversation.

We are committed to continuing to bring a collaborative, relational approach to local advocacy conversations, that create real system changes to preserve and expand housing access for CEF Members.

Media Coverage

  • INDY Week, July 12, 2017 — SECTION 8 VOUCHER HOLDERS ARE HAVING A HARD TIME FINDING HOUSING IN DURHAM
    • “Since last year’s roundtable, landlords have given feedback on the issues they’ve had with the housing voucher program or reasons why they don’t participate. They said it took too long for tenants to move in after vouchers were accepted, that the waiting period for inspections was too long, and that communication was poor with the DHA.
      In response, the DHA has reduced the time it takes to conduct an inspection of a Section 8 property to one week, down from three. Additionally, the Unlocking Doors Initiative has set up a phone line for questions about the program. The program is also starting a Risk Mitigation Fund to help landlords fix damage caused by tenants that will cover up to $2,000 in damage beyond a tenant’s security deposit.”
  • WUNC 91.5,  July 17, 2017 — THE SEARCH FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN DURHAM
    • “So we had about 200-300 available vouchers we actually could lease out, and we had 6,500 people apply,” said Scott. The Durham waitlist for those 200-to-300 available vouchers was whittled down to 1,500 applicants. But landlords have to want to rent to low-income Section 8 tenants.”
  • The Durham Herald Sun, July 12th, 2017 CITY TO DURHAM LANDLORDS: HELP US HELP THE VULNERABLE
    • “‘It’s heartbreaking when I take them place to place to find a home,’ said Tucker, a peer support specialist at Carolina Community Support Services Inc., which helps families struggling with mental health and other issues. ‘Working with them and seeing the hurt on their face.’ The challenges, she said, include finding a landlord who will accept the voucher. Some charge too much. Some fear their property will be torn up.” “The [Durham Housing] authority recently started holding quarterly landlord sessions, Scott said. Later this year, the Unlocking Doors Initiatives will launch a fund that will cover up to $2,000 in property damage beyond the security deposit. The Housing Authority also created new landlord orientation and materials, and the initiative is offering support for tenants before and after the get housing. “

Special thanks to:

Mayor Bill Bell
Anthony Scott and Denita Johnson (Durham Housing Authority)
Grace Mok (Community Empowerment Fund)
Terry Allebaugh (NC Coalition to End Homelessness)
Nigel Brown (Housing for New Hope)

Sally Wilson (Project Access of Durham County)
Steve Schewel (City Councilperson, Mayoral candidate)
Ryan Fehrman (Families Moving Forward)
Self-Help Credit Union and the Center for Responsible Lending
Valaria Brown (Alliance Behavioral Health Care)
CEF Volunteers

3

Unlocking Doors Video

Produced by CEF for the Unlocking Doors Initiative and the 2017 Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable.

The Unlocking Doors Initiative is a partnership between landlords, non-profits, the City and the Durham Housing Authority. With visionary new leadership at the DHA and a groundswell of community support, we are at a crucial juncture in Durham. Mayor Bill Bell has issued a challenge for us to lease up individuals and families, including veterans, to permanently end their homelessness. Landlords and non-profits, will you consider joining us as a Key Partner?

Learn more at unlockingdoorsdurham.org

0

Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable 2017

Contact: Janet Xiao
Tel: 919-797-9233
Email: janetx@communityef.org

Contact: Grace Mok
Tel: 516-499-0393
Email: gracem@communityef.org

MAYOR BILL BELL TO HOST THE 2017 MAYOR’S LANDLORD ROUNDTABLE

A community gathering regarding housing vouchers and affordable housing

Mayor Bill Bell will convene the 2017 Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable—the second annual gathering of landlords, Durham Housing Authority (DHA) leadership, non-profits and community members—to continue a discussion about housing vouchers and affordable housing in Durham.

The Roundtable will take place on July 11 from 10:00am to 11:30am at the Temple Building in downtown Durham. The event is organized by the Unlocking Doors Initiative—a partnership working toward affordable housing in Durham—and will be open to the public. An RSVP is preferred but not required. Over 130 people attended last year, including 48 landlords and property management companies and representatives from over 50 organizations.

A roundtable conversation with landlords and property managers on how the private sector can engage in affordable housing efforts will be the focal point of the event. After a short welcome from Mayor Bell, the Durham Housing Authority CEO Anthony Scott will provide an update on their progress since the 2016 Roundtable. The Unlocking Doors Initiative will also provide opportunities for landlords to create affordable housing partnerships with area nonprofit organizations.

The event will also be an opportunity for community members to learn about and show support for Housing Choice Vouchers. Previously known as Section 8 Vouchers, the program is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD describes the program as “the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.” Vouchers are considered a tool to end homelessness and increase affordable housing opportunities.

The Roundtable takes place as Bell enters the end of his tenure as Durham’s mayor. It also takes place soon after the City awarded a $4 million grant to DHA to repurchase Fayette Place and after the Durham City Council approved an increase to the City’s dedicated housing fund. City Council and the four mayoral candidates Farad Ali, Pierce Freelon, Kershemia “Shea” Ramirez and Steve Schewel have received personal invitations to the event.

About the Unlocking Doors Initiative

The Unlocking Doors Initiative is a partnership initiative between local landlords and property managers, the Durham Housing Authority, and area non-profits. A main goal of the initiative is to increase landlord partnerships with tenants who are returning to permanent housing after a period of homelessness, using housing vouchers as a tool.
To learn more, visit www.unlockingdoorsdurham.org or email us at info@unlockingdoorsdurham.org.

Photographs from the 2016 Landlord Roundtable

0

CEF Receives GSK Impact Award!

The Triangle Community Foundation and GSK honored CEF and 9 other amazing Triangle nonprofits at the GSK Impact Awards last week! The CEF Advocacy Choir performed “Smile” to open the ceremonies and CEF Staff Member, Yvette Matthews, received the award on behalf of all of CEF.
The award comes with $40,000 to deepen CEF’s work in Orange and Durham Counties, working together with communities to transform financial and housing opportunities!  CEF was recognized for our innovative work in “making homes and neighborhoods safer, connecting families to support services, and preparing people of all ages for successful careers – all important factors to improve health outcomes in underserved neighborhoods.”
0
CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

Chapel Hill: 919-200-0233 Durham: 919-797-9233

cef