MEDA Scaling and Sharing: Replicable ¡Viva! Model Around Financial Integration and Affordable Housing will Strengthen Organizations Nationwide

Co-authored by:
Chief Strategy Officer Lucy Arellano Baglieri
Director of Community Real Estate Karoleen Feng
Associate Director of Community Real Estate Johnny Oliver

When MEDA pivoted its work seven years ago, it was definitely to meet a local need to respond to the hyper-displacement of 8,000 Latinos from San Francisco’s Mission District in the decade prior — over 25 percent of our community. Despite a strong legacy of providing direct services to build generational family wealth, it became clear that more was needed to leverage that foundation of support in the face of gentrification and its subsequent displacement. MEDA was compelled to be proactive to generate community ownership and political power. With our pivot, we have rapidly established and expanded into leading the Mission Promise Neighborhood community anti-poverty education initiative, building the Community Real Estate program, capitalizing the Fondo Adelante Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) loan arm that offers non-displacement capital and launching a Policy & Advocacy department to work toward systems change. 

This is the recipe for MEDA’s work building equity through Latino wealth, place and power.

As MEDA began showcasing impact in all of these arenas in this short time, organizations regionally, statewide and across the nation wanted to learn of this model of sustainable community development. With the Mission District’s income disparity and gentrification challenges being the most dire in the U.S., it was clear that the learnings and solutions could be replicated in other vulnerable communities of color facing gentrification, from the longtime Latino enclave of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles to the historically African American neighborhood of Roxbury in Boston. These communities self-identified that they could be availed of best practices for building internal capacity to tackle the same challenges — even if on a smaller scale — with the ultimate goal the genesis of a wealth, place and power-building movement across multiple geographies and races/ethnicities to combat the racial violence defined as the displacement of any community of color.

Bundling of the lessons learned
To best implement this sharing of the ¡Viva! model — and to have a dedicated ambassador for this vital work — MEDA recently promoted Lucy Arellano Baglieri to the newly formed position of Chief Strategy Officer (CSO). As CSO, she will be tasked with spearheading MEDA’s regional and national leadership. MEDA’s expanding ¡Viva! Model is a training, technical assistance and equitable funding program. (Read press release).

The plan is to bundle internal knowledge from MEDA and package it for other organizations as human-centered design “Strategic Initiatives” tools complemented by customized curricula and technical assistance by MEDA’s expert staff. MEDA is also sharing its Request for Proposal (RFP) guidelines, plus advising public and nonprofit partners on how to advance equity in grantmaking and commercial leasing. ¡Viva!’s impact spans from individuals to communities to systems change. 

The “Strategic Initiatives” are currently two-fold, from financial integration to the Small Sites Program for targeted affordable housing. MEDA intends to produce additional offerings in the upcoming years.

Arellano Baglieri has already been sharing MEDA’s !Viva! Model with 35 nonprofits across the country, around the integration of financial coaching into all direct services and how to drive population-level impact for Latino and immigrant communities. For example, an organization may be focused on small-business development for Latinas, yet those clients are best strengthened when they receive the personal fiscal education required to be a successful entrepreneur. By leveraging their strengths and wealth-building journeys, clients are more empowered to preserve and build place, and then to harness such community ownership for political power. Scaling this will change the position and trajectory of historically oppressed communities in the U.S. for future generations.

Building on this established capacity-building program — and the myriad of requests from other communities wanting to launch a Small Sites Program — MEDA is ready to formally announce that the real estate arm of sharing  its model has now been rolled into ¡Viva! Vivienda. 

Small Sites Program
Small Sites is a program from the City and County of San Francisco that allows nonprofits to purchase four- to 25-unit apartment buildings with residential and commercial tenants vulnerable to no-fault evictions and, ultimately, displacement not just from their neighborhood, but the city itself. We have previously written on what we learned in the last four years of rapidly launching this program. (Read blog.)

MEDA has been the leading developer of this program, having acquired 23 such buildings to date, with over 400 residents kept in place, mostly in the Mission/Bernal Heights. With the trend of displacement being turned and media telling of this success story, MEDA is currently sharing its Small Sites Program model at the request of district supervisors and communities responding to displacement in their neighborhoods. MEDA’s approach to grow this preservation work across the city is to create a sustainable business plan with community-based organizations and share the model for acquiring, developing and owning small properties with City of San Francisco funds. The training includes strategies for maneuvering through the labyrinthine systems of tenant organizing, funding, protocols and property rehabilitation to make such deals a reality. The model also assumes that buying small properties is not simply transactional; instead, it is imperative to build and leverage community political will for large-scale public and private investment for this type of programming, as well as legislation giving nonprofit organizations first right of purchase. To date, MEDA has worked locally with the San Francisco Community Land Trust (SFCLT) and the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation (SFHDC), the latter buying its first Small Sites Program building last May, at 520 Shrader St. in the Haight District. The comprehensive ¡Viva! joint partnership with  SFHDC would ensure they fully develop their capacity for small sites through the purchase and rehabilitation of four more apartment buildings.

For the next year, we are deepening our focus across San Francisco, while concurrently looking to share the model beyond these 49 square miles. 

There’s much traction in the arena of nonprofits buying real estate, but if there isn’t a local industry already buying small buildings off the private market, existing or new groups must be established to generate impact. The blueprint needed is ¡Viva! — an ecosystem of support based on lessons learned in the most highly competitive real estate market in the country. 

One question beyond the basic equation of nonprofit capacity to acquire and own is how to garner the liquid funds needed so that a community-based organization can acquire properties at the same pace as private-market buyers. That means 90-day closings, so bridge financing is needed to ameliorate the wait time for slower-moving government funding to be in place. The next question is developing alternative secondary financing, such as the City of San Francisco’s Small Sites Program, for the permanent financing of these properties. 

Combating such major issues is the aim of ¡Viva!, as MEDA has already successfully met such challenges head on. MEDA will locally continue its aggressive cultural placekeeping work, but our organization is equally focused on sharing resources and expertise with other communities experiencing similar challenges. MEDA is partnering with the National Association of Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), and is already providing initial consultation to other organizations seeking to launch similar initiatives (e.g., nonprofits in Denver, with a housing market that has been rapidly inflated by the influx of marijuana income.)

With the time ripe for the scaling and sharing of its ¡Viva! Model, MEDA has now put the resources in place to drive this work across the nation. MEDA’s goal is to leverage existing local and national networks — such as the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations (CCHO), NALCAB and UnidosUS — to break out of silos and support each other with best practices and resources exchange. With organizations harnessing the power of MEDA’s lessons learned and implementing the infrastructure needed, a streamlined national movement will be ensured. 

MEDA is focused on working in coalition with other historically low-income, immigrant and communities of color to proactively fight for equity through wealth, place and power-building. Displacement and gentrification are violent attacks on our communities — and can be deemed just as grave as the recent mass shooting attacks against us. 

This work is a resistance strategy, on which our lives depend.


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