by Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood Richard Raya

My great-grandparents were indigenous Yaquis compelled to head north to the Bay Area a century back after waging battle in the Mexican Revolution. My parents toiled as farmworkers in the fields of Northern California and came of age during the Chicano Movement. And my tribute to the experience of those who came before me was to leverage their hard work and determination into earning my master’s from the University of California, Berkeley. The truth is, all of their names should have also been listed on my diploma.

I never forget my roots. That’s why I consistently bring a racial equity lens to my work as Director of the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN), which is a place-based initiative in San Francisco’s Mission District, long a welcoming immigrant hub. The Mission was also a historically redlined community and, more recently, the neighborhood’s working-class Latino residents have faced federal anti-immigrant policies coupled with displacement pressures caused by income inequality and the high cost of housing. 

Inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone, MPN worked to combat these discriminatory legacies by partnering with 20 long-entrenched neighborhood organizations to provide wraparound services to families along the cradle-to-career continuum. One goal was to reverse the trend of gentrification and its subsequent displacement of a community of color by six-figure-earning tech workers, drawn to the urban experience the Mission offers. This staggering fact tells the story: Over 9,000 Latinos are now gone from their neighborhood of choice. This amounts to nearly one in three Latinos.

Meeting these challenges head on, MPN has been making great strides to create equity in the neighborhood, ensuring everyone still has a place at the table. Our success is due in large part to having schools serve as community hubs, which are vital to any thriving city. After all, a city is simply a patchwork of neighborhoods — and the whole must be greater than the sum of its parts. That’s why MPN places Family Success Coaches (FSCs) at eight schools, plus several early learning and care centers. These FSCs act as a connector to the neighborhood’s culturally relevant services, with a goal of family economic success that translates to student academic achievement.

To activate community members so they could make their voices heard, MPN also began a parent leadership program and a policy arm. Partly as a result of our community’s advocacy, we began to preserve existing rent-controlled units and even build new 100% affordable housing developments in a neighborhood that had been seeing nothing but market-rate gleaming towers constructed for a decade.

This work has always been about power-building and systems change. In addition to working with the City to create a fund for affordable housing development, we partnered with the San Francisco Unified School District to pass the Latinx Resolution, which mandates that the district work with the community to develop strategies to reduce academic disparities for Latino students. 

The aforementioned fostered the beginning of the stabilization of the Mission, and a promise kept to our kids via a dramatic increase in kinder-readiness and graduation rates. 

Then in March 2020 the pandemic hit. 

Latinos are only 15% of San Francisco’s population, but since the start of the crisis they have at times comprised 50% of the positive COVID-19 cases in the city. Systemic inequities created the perfect storm for this disproportionate effect on the Latino and immigrant community, with frontline essential workers living in overcrowded conditions that afforded little opportunity to isolate. Sadly, many were compelled to choose their livelihoods over their lives, the immediacy of putting food on the table tonight and paying next month’s rent paramount to the possibility of falling ill to the virus.

The good news is that MPN was built for this moment: The community infrastructure that we built to respond to historical inequities was primed to respond to this new inequity. Our FSCs were able to immediately reach out to the nearly 1,000 families on their caseloads and connect them to emergency income relief funds, affordable housing, eviction-moratorium applications and small business loans. The City, school district and philanthropy tapped us to distribute new emergency benefits because of that community infrastructure we already had in place, including the trust of our most vulnerable residents. We also worked with our partners to use anecdotal and data-driven evidence to convince Mayor Breed to identify $28.5 million in urgent COVID-response funding for our community, since we saw first hand the on-the-ground, unmet need.

We must work together to institutionalize place-based investments, such as Promise Neighborhoods, not only as part of a long-term equitable recovery solution, but also as a way to begin reversing the negative legacies of redlining and other discriminatory policies.

Let’s all have this honest discussion. Now is the time to create thriving cities replete with equity of opportunity.

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Co-authored by:
Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood Richard Raya
Associate Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood Liz Cortez
Family Support Manager, Mission Promise Neighborhood Celina Castro-Saelao

The name says it all: A Promise Neighborhood is, indeed, a promise to a neighborhood. A promise to strengthen families. A promise to create equity in early learning. A promise to our kids that they will have opportunity.

And it’s a promise we should all make.

That’s why the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) was created seven years ago in San Francisco’s Mission District. It’s also why MPN has been invited to the 10th Annual Promise Neighborhoods National Network Conference, presenting our lessons learned over the years and, specifically, around our recent COVID-19 response, affordable-housing work and use of Results-Based Accountability (RBA) to measure our impact.

Some background: MPN is launched
Based on the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, then-President Obama launched around a dozen Promise Neighborhoods across the land. Thankfully, one was created in San Francisco’s Mission District in December 2012. MPN is a partnership of 15+ community agencies annually providing cradle-to-career, wraparound supports to more than 5,000 community members. The Mission District has long been a welcoming hub for Latino immigrants, with a need for culturally relevant services offered to help these newcomers create the life they seek in their new community. When the neighborhood became popular with six-figure-earners, fueled by a booming tech industry, rapid gentrification led to displacement of 8,000 Latinos from the Mission in just a decade — that’s over 25% of our community.

The genesis of MPN quickly showcased the need to define it as a community anti-poverty education initiative. The data showed that a household earning under $75,000 a year could no longer stay in their neighborhood of choice. The data also showed that our families were making a median of just $30,000 a year per household.

To create equity, the MPN team and its partners rolled up their sleeves and collectively got to work to turn the curve on displacement of our families: A two-generation approach was employed to strengthen families so students succeeded academically. That translated to every year from 2013 to 2019 showcasing phenomenal results, running the gamut from increased kinder-readiness to improved high school graduation rates.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 then descended upon the neighborhood.

Pivoting, with housing a priority
When San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order commenced in mid-March, MPN partners immediately started hearing a collective tale of woe from community members. For our families, there was no working from home. No computer for distance learning. No money for next month’s rent and, far too often, to even put food on the table that night. The Latino and immigrant community of the Mission was being disproportionately affected: While just 15% of the city’s population, Latinos were accounting for 50% of positive COVID-19 tests. One of the reasons was that these were still our frontline essential workers (think food delivery), out in public for their livelihoods while potentially risking their lives. Additionally, many families were residing in overcrowded conditions, meaning self-quarantine was impossible if one contracted the virus.

This challenge led to MPN, as a direct connection between families and elected officials, being part of a push to inform the City’s emergency-funding decisions to meet urgent needs in the community. Food pantries appeared overnight, relief funds were structured and small-business assistance was delivered. The success of this movement for equitable resources was made possible because MPN could leverage its seven years spent building relationships and earning the community’s trust. This was complemented by schools and early care and learning centers already being community hubs. MPN Family Success Coaches (FSCs) had long been serving thousands of families each year at nine Mission schools, with other FSCs based at early care and learning centers dotting the community. These FSCs acted as connectors to free resources available from the bevy of MPN partners, from legal services and financial coaching to job training and health care. When the shelter-in-place order was implemented, these FSCs pivoted in their work and joined newly formed action teams at MEDA, the lead agency of MPN. Two of these buckets of work are: Income, with 1,553 family income-relief applications processed; and  Small Businesses, with 86 loans disbursed. 

The third bucket of work centered around housing, as affordable and stable housing remained a priority, despite San Francisco’s eviction moratorium that had been implemented. That’s why a “Housing Action Team” was cobbled together with FSCs, promotora community outreach workers and MEDA staff. This tireless team has assisted thousands of families with everything from garnering housing subsidies to submitting below-market-rate apartment applications. The latter was vital, as there were finally 100% affordable-housing developments in the Mission after a decade of no such units being built. Two of the properties — 2060 Folsom and 1990 Folsom, a block apart — were built by MEDA itself. Time was of the essence, as the City had stringent guidelines for submitting the initial application, conducting a lottery and, eventually, getting needed financial paperwork to verify eligibility. The good news is that 2,448 below-market-rate (BMR) applications were completed for entry into City lotteries.

The “Housing Action Team” strategy included the early adoption of every means possible to stay in contact with families to assess their immediate needs — meeting these community members where they are at. Some communications methods are tried and true, such as a phone call, email or text; conversely, new communications strategies include WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Facebook Lives, the latter to disseminate expert information on housing matters to a wide audience in one fell swoop.

RBA ASAP .. and for the long term
An essential part of MPN’s success is due to the collective adoption of the Results-Based Accountability (RBA) model. RBA tools help to improve the lives of children, families

and communities by setting the collective intention around community-level conditions of well-being, plus it aims to improve programs that contribute to those population-level results. How so? RBA augments collaboration and consensus by: quickly moving from talk to action; creating an easily digestible process; offering the space to challenge long-held assumptions and breaking down obstacles to innovation; and using data and transparency to ensure accountability.

Having RBA as part of the culture of MPN means this model is currently being used by partners to adapt to the current conditions under COVID-19. RBA is also helping us answer important equity-focused questions, such as:

“How do we collectively determine a family has been given the necessary wraparound supports to best weather this crisis?”

“What does a true, immediate recovery from COVID-19 look like on a population level for the Latino and immigrant community of San Francisco’s Mission District?”

“How do we measure the eradication of the systemic inequities that led to San Francisco’s Mission District Latino and immigrant community being disproportionately affected by a crisis?”

It must be acknowledged that communities of color will suffer more-adverse effects of any crisis (e.g., an earthquake or the climate crisis). The power of RBA must be harnessed so that we can properly measure that equity has been achieved.

While turning the calendar to 2021 is something we all look forward to doing in a month, we must keep in mind lessons learned and best practices. Promise Neighborhoods are a model for creating multi-generational equity of opportunity in communities of color. MPN successfully combatting issues in the epicenter of gentrification in the nation means this model can — and should — be replicated in other cities experiencing such issues. This must be done during the ongoing pandemic, and long thereafter as we collectively define what an equitable recovery should look like.

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by Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood Richard Raya

The new school year school begins this week in San Francisco, and remote learning makes for unusual times for all of us. But the extensive groundwork we laid over the summer ensures that Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) is ready to support our students, families and school district.

Throughout the summer, MPN used its infrastructure and community trust to respond quickly and comprehensively to the COVID-related needs of low-income neighborhood families. This work was done in partnership with community agencies, and in alignment with city and school district priorities. 

Service delivery
Since the shelter-in-place order was implemented March 16, 10 MPN family success coaches have helped 745 unique clients and more than 1,000 children with COVID-related income relief, eviction moratorium letters, below-market-rate rental (BMR) applications, distance learning, food resources and more. MPN coaches have also helped distribute nearly $6 million in COVID-related small-business relief loans and grants, including to family child care providers. 

Here are a few specifics:

Collaboration and systems alignment

  • Worked with the City of San Francisco and San Francisco Foundation to become a lead agency for SF Family Relief Fund; will distribute $850,ooo in family relief funds to San Francisco families.
  • Worked with the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development to become the lead agency for the San Francisco Latino Parity and Equity Coalition (20 Latino-serving CBOs).
  • Hosted several town halls with School Board members and SFUSD administrators to obtain parent input on return-to-school planning, and shared anonymous MEDA client data on family needs with SFUSD to help it plan return-to-school programming.
  • Worked with school principals and MPN school teams (academic enrichment and mental health providers) to plan coordinated service delivery to students and families at schools for the fall semester.
  • Worked with SFUSD and the Latino Task Force to distribute early-learning materials to incoming kindergarteners and to create and share online videos regarding these learning materials; worked with partner agencies to also deliver parent leadership programming (Abriendo Puertas) online.
  • Network of 15 partners continued to provide wraparound services to our community, as described in our last blog. We will go into more detail on some of this work in upcoming blogs.

 National voice

  • MPN is honored to be leading a session at the annual StriveTogether Cradle to Career Convening, titled “The Role of Housing from Cradle to Career.”  We will share how we integrate bold solutions for housing and cradle-to-career achievement by: creating access to affordable housing for public school families; preserving existing affordable neighborhood housing; and building new multi-family housing with educational achievement programs integrated on site. Together, these strategies are preventing displacement of low- and moderate-income Latino and immigrant families, and anchoring San Francisco’s Mission District community. Find out more about the conference here
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by Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood Richard Raya

Like other Promise Neighborhoods, our work has escalated due to COVID-19, but we’ve built the community infrastructure to meet this moment.

The challenge and the pivot
Latinos make up 80% of COVID-19 hospitalizations at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, and 25% of all cases in San Francisco, despite being 15% of the population. The Mission District is the hardest-hit neighborhood in the city. Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) is not only connecting many Mission families to testing and health care during this crisis, but also to relief funds, emergency tenants’ rights, food security, distance learning and mental health services.

MPN comprises 15 agencies working together to tackle challenges that no single organization can solve on its own. We’ve seen kinder-readiness and graduation rates go up in the Mission District since our work started. When the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order began, our Family Success Coaches (FSCs) reached out to their clients to assess their needs. Their caseload consists of more than 1,000 families at nine Mission schools, three early learning centers and 11 family child care providers (FCCs). This outreach happened via text message, WhatsApp and phone calls.

Because of our networked approach and pre-existing referral process, we were able to nimbly provide wraparound services for 343 unique families, as documented in our Salesforce database. (The true number is probably much higher, as we are still catching up on data entry given the high volume of clients.)

Many families in the Mission District work as back-of-house restaurant workers, housecleaners or day laborers. Sadly, they were among the first to lose their jobs when the shelter-in-place order began, and many didn’t qualify for unemployment and federal stimulus benefits. In a city as expensive as San Francisco, this could have disastrous consequences. Thanks to a $100,000 philanthropic donation, we were able to use our database to quickly identify 100 families to receive $1,000 checks; these families were otherwise unable to access emergency unemployment and stimulus grant benefits because of their status. We helped even more families complete other income-relief applications such as federal unemployment, Undocufund and the Mission Asset Fund Relief Fund. We connected community members to food distribution sites and helped them submit eviction moratorium letters to their landlords, and assisted school principals with distance-learning support. We also provided information to families on how to participate in the UCSF/Latino Task Force COVID-testing initiative in a 16-block census tract of the Mission District.

FSCs continued working in teams with school-site partners such as Instituto Familiar de la Raza, Jamestown and Mission Graduates; our K-12 Program Manager, Efrain Barrera, co-facilitated San Francisco Unified School District’s Partner Community Forum, where more than 250 participants worked on aligning our collective strategy for providing emergency-related services to families.

Here are a few ways that other MPN partners responded to ameliorate the challenges of COVID-19:

  • Mission Neighborhood Health Center (MNHC) provided testing and healthcare to the MPN community.
  • Abriendo Puertas parent leadership workgroup began planning a way to continue implementing its curriculum via distance learning.
  • Tandem, Partners in Early Learning, moved to online read-alouds.
  • Felton Family Developmental Center provided food-security services by running a weekly farmers’ market where families can pick up food and also basic necessities such such as diapers, formula and toiletries.
  • Good Samaritan Family Resource Center connected with community members through its Family Resource Center and Child Development Center. Preschool teachers made wellness calls and prepared activity packets for children, while Family Advocates made connections to emergency services and resources.
  • Homeless Prenatal Program virtually continued programs, and was identified as a community food-security location and a diaper-distribution center.
  • Support for Families remotely provided developmental assessments for children, and moved their programs online.
  • La Raza Centro Legal is conducting interviews via telephone and continuing to file immigration cases and workers’ rights claims.

Donations made to the network
Many supporters came through for MPN to combat the COVID-19 crisis.

Highlights include:

  • The Warriors Community Foundation made a donation to MNHC to support COVID-19 testing.
  • Local business EAT Club donated ten boxes of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) gloves to MNHC.
  • StriveTogether sent a $100,000 grant to support our parent advocacy work, which was instrumental in passing the San Francisco School Board’s Latinx Resolution as well as promoting the Promise Neighborhood model with legislators in the state capitol.

Moving forward
Promise Neighborhoods are supposed to create population-level change within five years. Heat maps show that the low-income communities in San Francisco most impacted by COVID-19 closely align with old redlining maps; in other words, the root causes of current inequities go back much further than five years.

Community development and public health are deeply linked. I join the chorus of voices saying that we cannot go back to normal: Normal is what got us here. It’s time for big, bold, new ideas. Promise Neighborhoods have always been big and bold — believing that we can change the trajectory of an entire community by working together across sectors, and along the cradle-to-career continuum. The large-scale progress that we have made in our communities — and the vision of which this progress is a part — is more important now than ever before.

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