“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.”
Regina and her four kids’ lives changed rapidly with the onset of company layoffs, a serious illness, divorce, and loss of their home. Previously, she had built a stable career in military and corporate life. “Don’t ever think that you can’t ever be sitting in the bottom,” she shares.
Regina first met JV, her CEF Advocate, while she was saying at Families Moving Forward, an emergency shelter for families in Durham. Each meeting, she worked on new goals, from building savings and credit to pursuing housing stability and professional growth. “While I connected with CEF, I was also able to take time not only letting my body heal, but letting my family heal. And through that, I gained a career that I love to death — or love to life!”
Now, 1.5 years after joining CEF, Regina has rebuilt a professional life that is driven by passion. After earning certifications in wellness and recovery, she is now an independent recovery coach. She regularly connects her clients with CEF. “I’m a huge advocate! It’s like family … [And] a good connection for whatever you want to grow and be in life.”
Having found stability, Regina is finding ways to weave her success with that of her community’s, by creating job opportunities and leading community change. She founded a successful cleaning business that is dedicated to hiring single parents and people with conviction histories and substance abuse histories. “We’re fighting the same fight,” she shares of the company’s 4 employees.
She also serves on the Board of Recovery Communities of Durham, volunteers as a youth mentor, and advocates for mental health policy and equitable wages. “It’s good to be a part of that change.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
In their home in Chapel Hill, Mussasa and Denise share pictures of family members and loved ones, many of whom are strewn across the globe by war. Their son Joshua looks over his mother’s shoulder at the pictures, saying, “This is sad. Oh my gosh, I miss it.”
Mussasa and Denise are both from Congo, and met in Burundi while both were fleeing war in their home country. It was 1996 and they were in their early twenties. As war continued, they moved to South Africa as refugees, where they were married and lived for 14 years. For a long time, they held out hope that they would be able to return to the Congo.
Across borders and amidst isolating, uprooting experiences of leaving family and home, Denise and Mussasa have restarted their lives again and again in the pursuit of a safe, stable home for their family. Denise has begun and built a number of careers, including law in Congo, business management in Burundi, and adult education in South Africa. Mussasa is an incredibly skilled welder, working in welding in every country they have lived, even teaching welding and skilled trades to unemployed youth in Capetown.
In 2016, after 20 years away from their homes and feeling that there was little chance they would ever be able to move back to the Congo, they made the bold decision to move to Durham, North Carolina.
Denise shares, “When we got here we didn’t know where to start, and transportation was a big problem.” With their busy schedules juggling work, school, and family, relying on public transit was significantly limiting their opportunities.
They heard about CEF from a friend and started saving in CEF’s matched savings accounts for a vehicle while working with Advocates to find better-paying jobs.
Denise reflects on what it means that they trust CEF with their personal savings, sharing that, “Being Congolese, it’s a bit difficult because… In 1994, they changed the currency in Congo and the banks just decided to say, ‘Well, you don’t have any money anymore!’ So all we had worked for, just gone back then.”
Despite these experiences with banks abroad, they trusted CEF because of the testimonies of friends, and because of the “emotional connection.” Denise says, “For example, when we got here, everything was too much, and then you get someone to have your hand and say, ‘we can work on goals that you have. We can address certain concerns that you have. Let’s do this one, then the next one, and the next one.’ There’s an emotional connection.”
After saving for several months and working with Advocates to get insurance and licenses, they reached their goal and were preparing to buy a car. Right at that moment, one of CEF’s campus partners surprised the family with a donated vehicle! Professor Jim Kitchen’s entrepreneurship class at Kenan-Flagler raised thousands of dollars through their own micro-enterprises in order to purchase a vehicle for the family.
“And when you get a car, it changes your life,” Denise shares. “Suddenly, [Mussasa] could come back home early, and could plan around getting the children from school on time… That is not just a car. It’s that kind of a connection that you’ve got with a place or a person.”
Meanwhile, both Denise and Mussasa have made incredible progress towards better jobs. Denise is now working as a C.N.A. and studying nursing to build a new career here, while Mussasa is working overnight as a welder at AKG and attending English classes during the day.
Here in the U.S., sadly they have still had to worry for the safety of their family. One of their sons struggled with bullying at his first school, which prompted Denise and Mussasa to work with their Advocates to find a new place to live in a different school district. Their son is much happier in this school, and they are hoping to “settle down” now.
Looking forward, their big goal is to own a home. Denise says, “I believe it’s better to work toward your own house than renting someone else’s house.” Because of their refugee status, “That is something we could not do in South Africa,” which will make this achievement even more monumental for their family.
“It’s like it was meant to be, ya know,” says Fred. After living in a tent for six years, he was just about “ready to lose [his] faith in the human spirit”, when someone at the IFC kitchen said he should “go check out CEF!” There he met his Advocate Val and began getting connected to a wide range of healthcare, housing, and income services. Together, Fred and Val have found community at CEF.
“CEF man—I’ve got a lot of things accomplished there. I got my retirement in three weeks. I was in the tent. I done picked up my mail at CEF and I had a stack of it and I didn’t read it till the next morning when it got light and I could see inside the tent. I got to the last letter and I open it and it says ‘Congratulations! You have been awarded such and such amount of money for your retirement.’ I ran out the front door of that tent and ‘Tarzan-called’ right through the woods. It was a godsend!”
“You know, it’s just kept ballooning from there, escalating and everything, right? I got all my ID I had lost along the way. I got all that back! Where did we go from there?CEF got me hooked up with the VA and that was the first time I had a physical in 44 years and they convinced me to quit smoking. I haven’t smoked a cigarette in 19 months now and I had smoked for 52 years!”
“I’m starting to feel the human spirit again,” shares Fred. This fall, having secured a housing voucher and found a place that he could afford, Fred moved out of his tent and into his new home, and he’s feeling inspired. He shared his story with a crowd of over 200 people at the Piggy Bank Bash this October; at the CEF Holiday Party he volunteered for over 8 hours preparing and serving the food; and just last week he showed up at CEF’s office to present an Advocate with a bicycle that he had spent months building and refinishing! We are humbled to be in community with Fred. “Just seeing the teamwork of people in the community, you know what I mean? And I want to give back part of it like everybody else gives.”
We hope that you’ll join Fred in sharing your support for this community by making a year-end gift to CEF. Your gift is matched, (every dollar up to $30,000!) thanks to the generous support of CEF donors! As 2018 comes to a close, we’re abundantly thankful for the amazing humans who make up the CEF community. Together, we thank you for your support!
MARCH 1-3, 2019
Last year, students at Brown University hosted the inaugural Summit on Homelessness and Poverty in Providence, Rhode Island—bringing together a coalition of student organizations from across the country dedicated to dismantling systems that perpetuate hunger, homelessness, and poverty.
This year, CEF advocates at UNC and Duke are excited to welcome student organizers to North Carolina for the second Summit on Homelessness and Poverty. We see Duke and UNC as partners in addressing poverty and gentrification in the Triangle, and we hope that our two schools can be at the forefront of national student action to prevent homelessness. We are looking forward to continuing the conversations we started last year at Brown and to strengthening relationships with student organizers across the country.
Interested in learning more about the intersectional reality of poverty in the United States? Want to learn more about the anti-poverty work of other student organizations around the country?
Join us by:
More information at https://summitatcef.wixsite.com/abundance
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 .
Hurricane Florence and Matthew have deeply impacted the CEF community. Apartments and homes that are at risk of flooding are most-often the more ‘affordable’ units in our communities; and so CEF Members have been coming together to find resources, to relocate, and re-build together. Many have joined CEF as new Members, connecting for the first time to navigate these crises.
In the days leading up to hurricane Florence, CEF assembled and disseminated a Hurricane Resource Guide in English and Spanish, and our Chapel Hill office served as a distribution center the Thursday before the hurricane arrived. That day, over 60 folks dropped by and collected non-perishables, hygiene supplies. We contacted almost 100 people staying outdoors or in unstable housing, and connected them to emergency shelter for the storm! Some highlights from the day: Jon calling in orders of food and supplies to bring to Members on Franklin St., keeping our eyes peeled for and updating the resource document over 368 times, and generally creating a collaborative and supportive environment in the office!
“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 email@example.com!
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) ! This is a community-wide challenge and requires a community-wide solution! We got this!!