The Ecosystem to Cultivate Latino Generational Wealth and Power Building

Co-authored by:
Director of Asset Building Programs Lucy Arellano
Integrated Services Manager Ernesto Martinez
Business Development Program Manager Edwin Rodriguez
Associate Director of Community Real Estate Johnny Oliver
Community Real Estate Project Assistant Juan Diego Castro

With hundreds traveling from across the country to convene in San Antonio for the National Association of Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB) National Training starting October 1, MEDA is honored to have four staff invited as guest speakers. The goal is to exchange best practices in leveraging the strengths of low- and moderate-income Latino immigrant communities, as a means to building generational wealth and power.

The ecosystem in place is quickly changing the national narrative from one based on need to one focused on the community’s long-term, inherent strengths — strengths that are being leveraged every day to move the U.S.’s fastest-growing community forward.

MEDA’s three topics at the NALCAB training revolve around creating innovative programs to stem residential and small-business displacement in urban neighborhoods experiencing widening income gaps, starting or expanding small businesses and using metric to ensure clients are reaching their generational financial milestones. This trio of presentations, which at first glance may seem disparate, are all aligned as vital parts of the ecosystem.

Explains NALCAB Director of Resource Development and Strategic Communications Irene Chavez of MEDA’s invite as presenters at this national convening: “MEDA is a wonderful partner who continues to be innovative in the space of equitable neighborhood development. Their compassionate, experienced staff who understand the complex needs of neighborhoods make them an ideal presenter for our National Training. We believe the sessions will provide attendees the tools they need to impact their community.”

MEDA’s tools are put to work primarily in San Francisco’s Mission District — experiencing complex issues, as a long-welcoming home for Latino immigrants is now popular with six-figure earners of the tech world — but that work is reflected in the organization’s citywide and Bay Area regional work,. This work is all as part of a nationwide ecosystem generating collective impact for generations to come.

Wealth = power. Power = wealth.
MEDA has already been sharing its financial-integration model with neighborhood partners, on a statewide level and in other U.S. cities. At these trainings, staff learn how to coach clients to ensure that they are strengthening their own family while understanding that they are part of a bigger picture of Latino generational wealth and power building. Staff learn about the various strategies to move communities from survival to wealth and power building, such as individual income generation and advocacy. Specifically, staff learn how to support families to be better off by measuring Adelante Metrics — key financial milestones that increase opportunities to wealth and power building.

A question that is especially pertinent to Latinos and immigrants is:
What are your life goals, and your goals for your children?  

While a question that is germane to first-generation Latinos is:
What is your legacy for your family, and how do you honor the generation that sacrificed so much to emigrate from their homeland?

Once these questions are answered thoughtfully by clients, a personalized financial action plan can be made with their coach. Coaches support community members to dream big, engage with the necessary resources and focus on their action plans to continuously move adelante.

Affordable Housing
As the biggest cost for most families, finding affordable and stable housing is vital to creating generational assets. MEDA’s Community Real Estate team is working in many ways to help stabilize clients’ shelter costs, with 1,159 affordable-housing units already preserved or in the pipeline to be produced. MEDA’s $52 million real estate portfolio to date includes: five refurbished HUD Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) public housing developments; five new affordable-housing constructions in the works; and 22 Small Sites Program apartment buildings comprising 178 units already purchased. All in just four years.

The Small Sites program allows community-based organizations to purchase four- to 25-unit buildings that are home to rent-controlled residents vulnerable to no-fault eviction by speculators taking those units off the rental market. Ditto for family-serving businesses that can be displaced once their lease is up: There is no commercial rent control in San Francisco, so small ventures’ business model may no longer work once an exorbitant current market-rate rent is charged each month.

An essential piece of the ecosystem is tenant engagement. Prior to purchase, MEDA asks its prospective tenants to organize other residents in contacting the current landlord and asking that the building be sold to MEDA. As far as the bigger picture goes, once the property is under the aegis of MEDA, tenants are also asked to contact members of the Board of Supervisors, and other City leaders, to ask that more monies be put in the Small Sites Program coffers so that other San Franciscans can also achieve long-term affordable housing. A recent purchase of a 27-unit building in the Excelsior — a neighborhood with a significant Latino population and neighboring the Mission — is an example of the scaling that is possible.

With Small Sites Program funding tight — ironically, because of its success — MEDA is looking to leverage monies from its own Fondo Adelante Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) to cover the gap. Based on this bold expansion of Fondo Adelante’s work, the CDFI is aggressively pursuing a campaign to build a $100 million fund by the end of 2020.

Complementing the Community Real Estate team’s work is that of MEDA’s Housing Opportunities staff, the latter using a two-pronged strategy to create affordable housing for clients. The first strategy is getting clients “rental ready” (low debt, increased savings, good credit) and educating them on how to apply for San Francisco below-market-rate (BMR) rental units. The second strategy is offering bilingual First-Time Homebuyers workshops each month, with one-on-one coaching then available. It is important that Latinos eventually control their financial destiny via the ownership of real estate, which equates to long-term wealth.

A key piece of the strategy beyond affordable real estate development and preservation is MEDA ensuring that residents have access and engagement to the wealth and power-building ecosystem.

Small Businesses
With two-thirds of MEDA clients immigrants, an impactful way to start the building of generational assets is via the starting of a small business — a financial plan the organization has fostered for 45 years. This history and experience has given MEDA a deep understanding of the Latino community and how to ensure a client’s business success. Wealth is an all-encompassing term that includes financial independence, so MEDA is supporting the community to build wealth through planning, launching, operating and growing their businesses, as an alternative to traditional entry-level jobs for immigrants.

Many MEDA constituents had a business in their homeland and are looking to replicate that model in the U.S.; however, their adopted homeland’s rules of money and small business must be learned. That is why MEDA leads ten-session business development trainings. Included in the culturally relevant curriculum is how to better one’s personal finances. Upon graduation, the client begins the implementation of their business pan with the technical assistance of a bilingual coach. This partnership leads to overcoming personal and systemic barriers to success for budding Latino entrepreneurs.

The thriving of a small business generally has a long-range plan of creating jobs in the community, paying forward generational asset building. That is why MEDA is working along the Mission Street commercial corridor, meeting with businesses to assess need and availing owners of free technical assistance as a means to stem displacement due to demographic shifts in the Mission.

MEDA’s services include assisting clients to prepare and be ready for loan applications, for example, making sure good credit has been built. Knowing that access to capital at traditional lenders can also be an obstacle, MEDA’s own Fondo Adelante in just three years has disbursed 70 loans totaling $2.2 million, all as a way to start or strengthen family-serving businesses.

MEDA is proud to leverage the Latino and immigrant communities’ entrepreneurial spirit and drive.

Adelante Metrics
The awarding of a December 2012 Mission Promise Neighborhood education initiative grant was the catalyst for MEDA launching work it had never before undertaken — work it knew was vital to the building equity, wealth and power for the Latino community, starting on a local level and scaling to national influence.

The multi-faceted strategy started with the implementation of a citywide collective-impact network to close the opportunity gap so every Mission child could succeed academically and, eventually, head off to college. The next step was to make sure that families have affordable and stable housing. Then comes the building of generational assets.

To gauge — and ensure — impacts specific to the Latino community, MEDA started a journey to the creation of Adelante Metrics by adopting the Results-Based Accountability (RBA) model pioneered by Mark Friedman. Adelante Metrics represent a shift from traditional metrics that capture only if there was a positive movement. MEDA’s Adelante Metrics measure the deeper impact that predicts a comprehensive financial narrative for a client … and a community.

The questions that must always be answered are:
How do we have the comunidad consistently in mind when we are developing the ecosystem?
How do we ensure the comunidad is better off?
How do we ensure the comunidad is fighting for equity and building power?

Adelante Metrics provide the answers to such crucial questions.

Following the RBA framework, Adelante Metrics place overall population change as the desired result, individual indicators as proxies for the result being reached and performance measures as metrics for how well those indicators are being reached. Adelante Metrics comprise multiple better-off metrics, based on measures that focus on an individual’s ability to reach an asset-building goal. Metrics must be customized, based on the programs, bureaucracies, and markets in various cities and regions.

An example of Adelante Metrics is showcased by MEDA’s work in getting clients “rental ready,” defined as being able to apply for, win and pass the review process for a BMR rental apartment. A rental-ready client will meet all the criteria to pass the City’s review process and, ultimately, obtain keys to their new affordable home, such as client Ana Acosta and her daughter recently did (story). Specific metrics refer to minimum income, credit score, income documents and amount of savings. Clients who reach these metrics, with the support of MEDA staff,  have a significantly increased chance of reaching the result of obtaining a BMR rental.

MEDA is using data — quantitative and qualitative — to inform the goals of programs and track impact. Adelante Metrics are a key way to ensure that our gente are moving adelante.

For generations to come.

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