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.

Conclusion
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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byDirector, Mission Promise Neighborhood Richard Raya, 

What is a Promise Neighborhood? Well, it’s a term best understood by breaking it down.

It’s a PROMISE to our kids that they will have equity of opportunity in education and career.

It’s a NEIGHBORHOOD comprising community-based organizations collaboratively providing wraparound services so our families are strengthened and students succeed academically.

Promise Neighborhoods leverage the success of the ambitious social-policy experiment, the Harlem Children’s Zone. Started as a one-block pilot in New York City back in the 1990s, that national model for breaking the cycle of poverty has scaled to now focus on a 97-block area of central Harlem, with 12,509 children and 12,498 adults served.

After a decade of solid results in low-income communities  — from rural Mississippi to urban Los Angeles — now is the time to scale the Promise Neighborhood education model across the land, as we concurrently eradicate poverty and create educational equity.

San Francisco’s Mission Promise Neighborhood
In 2012, the Mission District of San Francisco featured a quartet of underperforming schools. When that December a five-year Promise Neighborhood grant was received from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), it was clear that things were about to change. This was the genesis of the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN). 

An expert MPN team was put together — featuring education professionals and leaders, plus a Family Success Coach for each school and at early learning centers — and a collaborative of 20+ partners was formed to provide wraparound services to strengthen our families so their kids could do better in school. That means affordable and stable housing, access to immigration and tenants’ rights, finding a medical home, getting a financial education … and so much more. We broke through silos and shared data along the way, holding  ourselves accountable to turning the curve on community indicators.

Our numbers speak for themselves: Over the initial six-plus years of our initiative, we used a shared case-management tool to connect 2,744 families with 5,590 different program referrals. MPN saw the following outcomes in our schools and with our partners:

  • Latino graduation rates increased from 63 percent to 88 percent.
  • African American graduation rates increased from 46 percent to 93 percent.
  • Ninety-four percent of elementary school families feel a sense belonging at their schools.
  • Rate at which students change schools mid-year decreased from 13.9 percent to 7.9 percent.
  • Eighty percent of all Latino 4-year-olds in the Mission are now enrolled in preschool.
  • Social-emotional development scores for 3-year-olds jumped from 24 percent to 82 percent.

A movement had been formed.

MPN 2.0
The challenging news was that despite the aforementioned results, 2018 could have been our final year.

Our grant from the Department of Education had sunsetted and MPN was operating on carryover funds. We did not know if we would be here in 2019, although we were sanguine, being among 12 Promise Neighborhoods across the country that were eligible for three available extension grants.

The exciting news is that our community was successful in winning a two-year, $6 million grant from the DOE, so we now have funding to take our initiative into 2020. Instead of downsizing, we doubled the number of schools and families with whom we are working in San Francisco’s Mission District and, on top of this, MPN lead agency MEDA is able to use this success to advocate for an increase in the number of Promise Neighborhoods in San Francisco … and across California.

MPN 2.0 has arrived. This iteration will create all-the-greater impact.

Scaling in California
Other Promise Neighborhoods across California have seen similar outcomes as MPN. Cognizant of the need to institutionalize this education initiative in federal, state and local governments, the five existing Promise Neighborhoods created the California Promise Neighborhood Network (CPNN).

In California, the results from the CPNN network informed the development of a statewide plan to end child poverty, with legislation (SB 686, the California Promise Neighborhoods Act of 2019) scheduled to be voted on this spring. This plan includes a recommendation for the investment by California into a total of 20 Promise Neighborhoods, at $5 million per neighborhood, complemented by increased spending on child care, CalWORKS and more. The plan estimates that the combination of these factors will result in annual benefits of more than $12 billion to state and local governments.  

The plan lays out the seven unique characteristics of Promise Neighborhoods:

  1. Cradle-to-college-to-career continuum to move families out of poverty.
  2. Place based to focus on high-need geographies.
  3. Collective impact: collaborate with partners to provide solutions at scale.
  4. Align funding streams to achieve shared outcomes.
  5. Results driven, with a focus on population-level results.
  6. Equity focused and explicit in addressing disparities.
  7. Community powered to address local needs and build on local strengths.

Data sharing, collaboration, accountable to results, good for the economy: Promise Neighborhoods are the embodiment of what we call “good government.”

One community is not waiting for the state to approve funding for Promise Neighborhoods; instead, it is taking the lead in using its current budget to create Promise Neighborhoods. San Diego County has approved $4 million for a pilot Promise Neighborhood based on the success of its existing Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood. If the pilot is also successful, the plan is to create even more Promise Neighborhoods throughout that county.

Closer to home — and based on the success of San Francisco’s Promise Neighborhood in the Mission District — we believe it is time for the City and County of San Francisco to begin asking itself if other local neighborhoods would benefit from a Promise Neighborhood, particularly during this time of widening income inequality and displacement of working-class families and people of color.

From School Board to Mayor, State Superintendent of Schools to Governor, all the way to the House of Representatives, we are seeing inspiring new leaders take the reins of government. As they highlight the need for a more just society, now is the time for bold equity initiatives based on proven models.

Let’s ensure that 2020 will put us on pace to finally end child poverty. Together.

 

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MONTHLY ARCHIVE

Contact

Email
info@missionpromise.org
 
Phone
(866) 379-7758
 
Address
2301 Mission Street, Suite 304
San Francisco, CA 94110

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