A perusal of the dictionary today revealed this meaning for the term “collaboration”:
“The action of working with someone to produce or create something.”
At MEDA, we think that definition falls short. True collaboration should translate to:
“The action of working with someone to produce or create something greater than the sum of its parts.”
Such is the case for a collaboration of formal and informal partnerships among Latino-focused, community-based organizations in the southeastern quadrant of San Francisco: MEDA; Faith in Action; Good Samaritan Family Resource Center; Excelsior Works!; Instituto Familiar de la Raza; La Raza Community Resource Center; Mission Neighborhood Centers, and Mission Neighborhood Health Center.
The goal? To foster education around below-market-rate (BMR) apartment options and, ultimately, increase the number of Latinos successfully obtaining such units so that fair representation of this community exists in this realm.
Navigating the BMR process can be daunting for anyone, especially for recent immigrants, those with language barriers and the self-employed. Figuring out income requirements, based on household size, can be confusing. Understanding how the lottery system works can be perplexing. And what happens if you are lucky enough to win the lottery?
The community needs help understanding prospective pitfalls of the BMR-lottery process. This means high-touch assistance.
That’s why last October 1 the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) awarded MEDA a nine-month-long, $100,000 grant to turn the curve on the trend of Latinos not being fairly represented in applying for BMRs in San Francisco.
A successful collaboration and strategy
Since last fall, MEDA has been serving as a backbone organization, sharing City funding and building capacity at the cadre of nonprofits enlisted to close the gap on Latinos getting into BMR apartments. This is especially important now that there are finally many more such units in the City’s pipeline.
MEDA began by providing train-the-trainer workshops for the partners organizations, the latter then leading their own workshops and assisting community residents in applying for BMRs.
Most of the organizations are counting on Promotoras, who serve as community outreach workers seen everywhere from iglesias, schools to lavanderias to community events. These dedicated Promotoras have already garnered more than 1,500 online applications by using DAHLIA, the City of San Francisco’s online BMR application platform.
In addition MEDA is hosting Friday meetings in leadership development around affordable housing that includes tenants rights, appeal processes for disqualification letters, public speaking and presentation skills, among others.
The overall strategy expands the web of direct-service delivery in the community so that more community members can be reached in more places. There is an ongoing compilation of best practices and frequently-asked questions, with much already learned by trial and error.
The strategy also includes MEDA using a database to track and follow up on BMR lottery winners, ensuring nobody falls through the cracks of the BMR process.
Numbers to date
It’s no surprise that there is high demand for affordable housing for Latinos in San Francisco.
The exciting news is that the collaborative has already far surpassed its June 30 goals. By the end of April, these were the numbers:
- 50+ workshops held as a collaborative
- 500 community members served and applications filled out (400 percent of goal)
- 4 BMR applications average per community member
- 12 community members have moved into a BMR apartment (5 in April alone)
- 20 community members are in the pipeline to move into a BMR apartment
One BMR success story is that of Olivia (photo), a single mom of two and self-employed nanny. The collaborative worked with this family that was displaced via a no-fault eviction, helping Olivia navigate the entire BMR process. Eight applications were submitted, with language translation provided for the Guatemalan immigrant.
A relieved and elated Olivia just received keys to her two-bedroom BMR apartment at Potrero Launch in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood.
Over the last seven months, the collaborative has understood the importance of educating the Latino community in San Francisco on the link between finances and the City’s affordable-housing opportunities. That means getting one’s personal finances in order so that there are no glitches when the lottery is won.
MOHCD has renewed this grant through another the fiscal year, but we expect to see only increased demand for services as word spreads throughout the community. We must be continuously creative on how to leverage resources to meet this demand around BMR applications, filing taxes, increasing savings, establishing and bettering credit, and more.
The collaborative is pooling its resources to increase access and resources for Latino families to have information, technology and language support, application assistance, financial coaching and connections to other family services, with the goal that families have affordable and stable housing.