Archive | Housing

Mussasa and Denise

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.

This story about Mussasa and Denise was featured in CEF’s 2017 Annual Report!

0

Fred is Home

“CEF is using all of its strength to push the community together. There's so much joy and so much talent and everyone has ideas and something to contribute.” - Val

“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!

0

CEF Hosting 2019 Summit On Housing & Homelessness

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:

  1. Registering: Click Here
  2. Purchasing Tickets: Click Here

More information at  https://summitatcef.wixsite.com/abundance

0

2018 Orange County Affordable Housing Summit Report

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 .

0

CEF: Hurricane Response

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!

0

Annual Report 2017 : We Are Interwoven

“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.”

0

Meet Liz and Leah: CEF Housing Justice Fellows

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 lizb@communityef.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 (leahw@communityef.org) ! This is a community-wide challenge and requires a community-wide solution! We got this!!

0

Mayor’s Landlord Roundtable 2018

“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:

0

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
CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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

cef