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.