This group aims to fill the biggest blind spot for government funding

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In 2014, a group of low-income residents living in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood began to organize to fight their neglectful landlords and slum-like housing conditions. After a successful campaign that led to the pursuit of an owner and the takeover of their properties by the city, the group wanted to do more to tackle the dangerous living conditions in their community and build resilience in the face of growing threats. climate change and gentrification. . They formed a non-profit association called Miami’s struggle for affordable and sustainable housing, or SMASH, and developed a plan to form a community land trust that would build affordable housing owned and operated by the community.

SMASH is exactly the type of organization that the Biden administration aims to support with its so-called Justice initiative. In a Executive Decree signed in January, Biden wrote that it was his administration’s policy to “ensure environmental justice and spur economic opportunities” for communities that have been “overburdened by pollution and underinvestment in housing, transport, water supply and sanitation infrastructure and health care “. He pledged to direct 40% of the profits from federal climate spending to underprivileged communities.

While SMASH is a prime candidate to leverage this engagement, it faces significant hurdles. The group has managed a few fundraisers and even bought some land, but at the moment they only have one real employee. Right now, it doesn’t have the bandwidth to navigate a complex network of government agencies and programs and fill out long grant applications.

This capacity gap has long been a blind spot for government programs, said Nathaniel Smith, founder and chief equity officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity, an Atlanta-based nonprofit. He described an “equality error” in funding opportunities that belies entrenched structural inequalities. Organizations that are already well resourced are better equipped to access government funding, while those that need it most lag even further. “Not everyone starts in the same place, and a lot of that has to do with the story,” he said.

The Partnership for Southern Equity is one of five nonprofits that recently joined together to form an initiative called the Justice40 Accelerator to address this issue. The program will support community-based organizations focused on environmental justice with funding, technical assistance, and guidance in navigating grant applications, so that they are better equipped to take advantage of federal justice spending. “At the end of the day, it’s a question of how to make these beneficiaries more competitive? Smith said Wednesday during a press call on the Justice40 accelerator.

Earlier this year, the Justice40 Accelerator issued a call for applications and received over 300 applications. Working with a team of seven external reviewers, the coalition sought out projects that would tackle the disproportionate impacts of climate change in disadvantaged communities and who could demonstrate that they truly represent the needs and wants of their respective communities. On Wednesday, the program announced its selection of a first cohort of 52 groups, all of whom will receive $ 25,000 in unrestricted funding to help fill the capacity gap. SMASH is one of the elect.

“The Justice40 Accelerator is needed and appreciated – it will help us build our capacity and facilitate access to Justice40 funding,” said Taylor Snider of SMASH in a press release.

Sekita Grant, vice president of programs at The Solutions Project, another nonprofit founder of Justice40 Accelerator, said that a third of successful applicants had never applied for government funding before. “This is a truly revolutionary initiative that disrupts the limits of large-scale government funding that has yet to reach the same communities in the past,” she said during the press appeal. . Grant told Grist that the reviewers initially identified just over 100 projects that they would feel comfortable recommending for the program, but the Justice40 Accelerator did not have enough funding to accept all of them.

The organizations selected vary widely, filling critical service gaps in housing, transport, energy and agriculture. A nonprofit called the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives plans to work with farmers to promote cover crops and native trees for their economic and environmental benefits. Honor The Earth, based in Minnesota, is an Indigenous-led organization that will work with the Anishinaabe Nations to implement local renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. In Chicago, a group called Blacks in Green, or BIG, is developing a “sustainable square mile” with affordable housing, regenerative gardens and renewable energy.

Participation in the program does not guarantee that a particular group or project will win a government grant. At present, many details of the federal Justice initiative40 are still unclear, such as how much money is included in the program and how “advantages” and “disadvantages” will be defined. In the meantime, the Justice40 accelerator is compile research on the federal programs it expects to include. Smith said the coalition was also doing work to analyze the government procurement and contracting process and was working to map “the strengthening of loops of injustice” in an attempt to mitigate them. One systemic problem he pointed out is the government’s concern with funding for “ready-to-go” projects – projects that are ready to begin construction quickly once they are funded – which has minimized the burden. possibility for what he called “shovel-ready” projects to receive government support.

“In the past, many of these large, large-scale projects like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or other huge opportunities funneled money into efforts that were not necessarily responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable. “, did he declare. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was President Barack Obama’s $ 800 billion stimulus package designed to revive the economy after the 2008 recession, and subsequent research showed it did not benefit black-owned businesses, entrepreneurs and workers.

But Smith pointed out to Grist that times have changed. “Historically, when big opportunities like this present themselves to change the paradigm, it’s usually white organizations that lead that conversation,” he said. “People of color, black people are actually leading this conversation, and it’s very different from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”


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