How Inland Groups Plan to Use SCAG Grant for Affordable Housing Efforts

Apr 20, 2021

Last week, KVCR-News reported on a series of grants awarded by the Southern California Association of Governments to non-profits working toward affordable housing solutions with a racial equity lens. Now, the five Inland Empire non-profits who received a combined $425,000, are sharing more about their affordable housing projects and what they hope to acheive.

Neighborhood Housing Services of the Inland Empire is using their grant for a broader initiative throughout San Bernardino and Riverside County, to build out an accessory dwelling unit with their partner the Pueblo Unido Community Development Corp. The next step is to identify the optimal census tracts for the project that will be community driven with an equity lens. The goal is to provide housing for people of color and low-and-middle-income households says Executive Director and CEO Felicia Brown-Smith. She explains that during the pandemic cash buyers and investors have been flocking to the Inland Empire and they are pushing these families out of the housing market.

“Home prices are sky rocketing and the competition is stiff," said Brown-Smith. "And considering that there are a number of residents, particularly those in communities of color and low-to-moderate-income communities that are really being sidelined and not able to embrace and pursue their goal of home ownership because there is an affordability crisis at every level, but particularly at the home ownership levels.”

The Just San Bernardino Collaborative will be using their grant to deepen their work on the People’s Plan for Economic Inclusion. The collaborative made up of nine community-based organizations is working to engage the community in an accessible way and get their input for this plan. The plan will provide city leaders with an equitable development and growth strategy for San Bernardino and the surrounding communities. The goal is to support the conditions that people need to be able to thrive and work in the region where they live says Felicia Jones, a member of the Just San Bernardino Collective and Associate Director of Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement.

“Black and brown communities and low-income communities, those communities are always imposed on," said Jones. "They’re not invited, and in fact they may be excluded actually from building the communities that they want. You don’t see that dynamic in an affluent community.”

Neighborhood Partnership Housing Services and the Inland SoCal Housing Collective, another grant recipient, also works as a collective. They connect local organizations under the same goals of improving housing for renters, home buyers, and those who are homeless through local resources and advocacy. Co-Chair Melanie Steele says their membership has grown over the past year and they will be using the grant money to hire a new employee that will focus on building up their education and policy advocacy work.

“There’s a lot of really cool affordable housing initiatives that [are] happening across the IE, and they are working in silo," said Steele. "But since this we’ve been able to facilitate regional convenings to bring them all together to share ‘Hey what are you working on? Let’s talk about land trusts let’s talk about community trusts, let’s talk about fundraising’. To kind of share best practices and for them to share how they’re moving the dial in their local community and what creative solutions they are using.”

In Jurupa Valley, the Inland Equity Community Land Trust is using their grant to work with the city to research a community land trust model. Executive Director Maribel Nunez says their mission is to take the for profit out of housing and instead create permanent affordable housing. Their short-term goal is to research the ways these trusts were used in San Diego and Orange Counties and then build their own community land trust model for the Inland Empire says Nunez.

“In our years of organizing we identified health and housing as the two primary drivers of poverty, and so we felt that the community land trust was one of the ways to get us to build that pathway to community wealth,” Nunez.

In the Coachella Valley, Lift to Rise is tackling a twofold solution. They recognize the need to both lower the cost of building homes by using accessory dwelling units and manufactured homes, and promote wages that support home ownership. The collaboration is using the grant to fund a study to examine the factors driving up housing costs. They have a ten-year goal of rapidly increasing the supply of affordable housing in the area, reducing rent burden and increasing economic mobility says CEO Heather Vaikona.

“When we look at what it’s going to require for folks to have healthy and stable futures and the opportunity to really thrive, we have to radically increase the supply of affordable housing and con-currently and simultaneously aggressively work to increase economic mobility to increase wages. Just increasing the supply of housing isn’t going to fix stuff,” said Vaikona.

Affordable housing or the lack thereof is one of the biggest challenges facing California’s communities.  And after a year of a pandemic the importance of stable housing as a determinant of success and health is even more clear than before says Vaikona.