Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2120 Thu, 19 Oct 2017 07:34:08 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Nonprofit Linked To NYCHA Creates Crowdfunding Portal For Sustainability Projects http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7211:nonprofit-linked-to-nycha-creates-crowdfunding-portal-for-sustainability-projects http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7211:nonprofit-linked-to-nycha-creates-crowdfunding-portal-for-sustainability-projects c v8skqvyaacyk1.jpg large

Rasmia Kirmani-Frye (photo:@Fund4PH)


The Fund for Public Housing, a nonprofit established last year to supplement the New York City Housing Authority’s finances and services, launched an online platform this week in conjunction with ioby, a crowdfunding website, to enable NYCHA residents and community-based organizations to source funds for local sustainability initiatives like rooftop gardens and water conservation.

The online portal, called Ideas Marketplace, acts not only as crowdfunding tool, but as a means to connect community organizations and “generate excitement” for local projects across the five boroughs, explained Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, the founding president of the Fund for Public Housing, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “This is the first time in NYCHA’s history that we’ve launched something like this,” she said.

The new platform reflects an overarching goal of the Fund for Public Housing to cut through bureaucratic red tape and speedily implement programs for the more than 400,000 residents living in NYCHA developments. It is a “bread and butter” example of the Fund’s role as “an innovation escape hatch,” or laboratory for potential NYCHA programs, Kirmani-Frye said.

Rumblings about the creation of Ideas Marketplace began last April after the addition of a sustainability agenda to NextGen NYCHA, the city’s comprehensive 10-year plan to fortify public housing. The agenda called for the establishment of a website that “would provide resident- and community-led programs a platform to raise individual donations, seek volunteers, and find like-minded partners in other NYCHA communities to jointly raise philanthropic support.”

NYCHA soon began conversations with ioby, a nonprofit, crowdfunding website that supports neighborhood sustainability initiatives. The oldest and largest platform of its kind, ioby had previously partnered with other municipal agencies on similar ventures, including a campaign with the New York City Department of Transportation to transform space near the elevated railway along Livonia Avenue in Brownsville.

Praising ioby’s nonprofit work and specialization in community-based fundraising, Kirmani-Frye said it “is the perfect, both tech platform and crowdsourcing partner, because they get it and are authentic and genuine.”

ioby expressed mutual appreciation. “We’ve been looking to partner with NYCHA for years, so it’s good it got off the ground,” said Katie Lorah, ioby’s director of Communications, in a brief phone interview. She went on to explain that ioby will personally help with NYCHA projects, whether that includes “one-on-one budgeting” or providing participants a “network of people to talk to.”

Following their partnership with ioby, NYCHA approached community partners and organizations to gauge their interest and solicit proposals for local, community-sourced projects. “I went door to door… and met with over 20 organizations, where now we have over 10 or 11 organizations that are proposing projects,” said Vlada Kenniff, director of sustainability programs at NYCHA. “We were really hands on with approaching CBOs [community-based organizations] and residents.”

The collective efforts of NYCHA, the Fund, and ioby paid off when Ideas Marketplace went live this week. Although the website has yet to become the vibrant showcase of community-based projects as envisioned, it has already attracted attention. Rockaway Youth Task Force, a youth advocacy group, was the first to launch a project, raising over $9,000 so far for community gardens in Far Rockaway.

In partnership with the Fund and NYCHA, ioby also recently hosted a workshop to introduce the platform to community-based organizations from across the city. The the nascent crowdfunding platform was “well-received,” according to Erycka de Jesus, a NYCHA resident and outreach coordinator for NYC Compost Project, who attended the presentation. “In public housing, we don’t want to lose momentum to green up and to help promote a greener, more sustainable way of thinking,” she said.

While the launch of Ideas Marketplace meets a small target of NextGen NYCHA’s sustainability agenda, Kirmani-Frye does not see the crowdfunding platform’s efforts limited to sustainability initiatives. “You gotta start somewhere. This was written into the sustainability plan and that’s a publicly released document that the Authority is then accountable to,” she said. “But if this is a model and a process that is successful, there is no reason to keep it limited to sustainability.”

Kennif agreed. “I think the vision could become something greater,” she said.

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by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

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Nonprofit Linked To NYCHA Creates Crowdfunding Portal For Sustainability Projects Thu, 21 Sep 2017 21:31:56 +0000
Nonprofit Supporting NYCHA Adds to Early Fundraising & Programs http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7160:nonprofit-supporting-nycha-adds-to-early-fundraising-programs http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7160:nonprofit-supporting-nycha-adds-to-early-fundraising-programs NYCHA Fund for Public Housing

Rasmia Krimani-Frye, center, at the farm at Bayview Houses


More than a year-and-a-half after the Fund for Public Housing officially began soliciting donors, the nonprofit has raised approximately $1.5 million, according to New York City Housing Authority Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye.

Appearing recently on the “What’s the [Data] Point?” podcast with Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget commission, Olatoye explained that the 501(c)3, established to support NYCHA operations and community programming, is showing encouraging growth.

In a subsequent interview with Gotham Gazette, Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, the founding president of the Fund for Public Housing, said the nonprofit has begun to establish “a body of work” that now includes partnerships with tech startups, plans for the construction of new playgrounds, efforts to create a “leadership academy” for residents, and more.

Launched in the model of public-private partnerships that supplement city services, like the Fund for Public Health and the Fund for Public Education, the Fund for Public Housing seeks philanthropic donations targeted to benefit NYCHA residents and acts as a fast track for potential NYCHA programs. “It is really hard sometimes in government to try new things and iterate quickly,” Kirmani-Frye explained.

While NYCHA has recently corrected operating deficits, showing one sign of better fiscal footing, and has a comprehensive -- and somewhat controversial -- plan in place, Next Generation NYCHA, the country’s largest public housing system is facing a $17 billion capital budget gap and anticipates future cuts in federal funding.

Because the authority’s massive infrastructure need is, as Olatoye says, “a public sector and private sector capital intensive assignment,” the Fund exists to complement the larger NextGen NYCHA plan through community development, resources for public housing residents, improvements to quality of life and access to opportunity. These are causes donors and organizations are more inclined to give towards than the mold removal, new roofs, and boiler replacements that make up large chunks of the authority’s capital need.

Accepting its first donations in January 2016, the Fund had amassed $900,000 as of last October. It managed a number of small projects, which included growing the Virtual Vita initiative, a free tax preparation program for low-income New Yorkers, as well as updating design guidelines for NYCHA buildings (Citi Community Development and Deutsche Bank contributed funding to these two projects, respectively).

Almost a year later, the Fund’s current war chest of $1.5 million is a few drops in the bucket towards its initial goal of $200 million. However, Kirmani-Frye explained that the goal “really was just a number that we came up with to get people’s attention. Honestly, this is what it would take to transform and invest in public housing in a different way. Then, we quickly moved to what we could do in a year…It was a big flag.”

Emphasizing that her organization is still a “baby,” Kirmani-Frye added that she and her partners have spent their first year trying to “get an audience.” In addition to highlighting its coverage in The New York Times, she pointed to their recent selection as one of Fast Company’s top 10 most innovative non-profits of 2017.

The Fund has also held a number of fundraising events, including a “salon dinner” hosted by board member Liz Neumark, founder and CEO of a New York City-based catering and creative events company, as well as a happy hour hosted by the Fund’s 30-person advisory board.

Most notably, the Fund is leveraging NYCHA “alumni” as donors and spokespeople. These are people “that have grown up in public housing who have gone to do both extraordinary and ordinary things,” Olatoye explained. While former residents Lloyd C. Blankfein, Jay-Z, and Howard Schultz have yet to contribute to the nonprofit, recent successes include actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg and the current New York City Department of Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary Travis Bassett.

Other than raising public awareness for the necessity of public housing, the Fund has added new projects to its portfolio that, Olatoye says, sustain its focus on improving residents’ “well-being through the investment in people, place, and work.”

In June of this year, it hosted a tech panel in conjunction with MetaProp and Urban Tech Hub. With approximately 80 people in attendance, 10 startups came to pitch ideas to improve NYCHA’s buildings and the lives of its residents. Companies like Radiator Labs and ThinkEco proposed solutions to minimize the cost of heating and cooling in NYCHA buildings. Others like hOM suggested on-demand amenities, including fitness classes and monthly social events. Kirmani-Frye did not specify, but said seven of the 10 were “selected to pilot their product/idea at NYCHA.”

The Fund has also partnered with KaBOOM!, a nonprofit that constructs eco-friendly playgrounds, to secure funding for the creation of one in both 2017 and 2018. As of August 11th, Olatoye said they had raised $75,000 for the future “play spaces” and wanted to raise another $75,000 by the end of that week.

In addition to improving physical space offerings on NYCHA properties, a pending program supported by current City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in partnership with the City University of New York aims to form a “leadership academy” that offers NYCHA residents a suite of free, for-credit classes on topics like community organizing and public policy. Another, inspired by NYCHA’s Food Pathways program, is led by aforementioned board member Liz Neumark. This “food working group” aims to help residents find jobs not only as entrepreneurs, but as members more broadly in the food, beverage, and hospitality industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these jobs will soon outnumber those in manufacturing.

Kirmani-Frye said the “crux of all this work is developing relationships” and that “people and investors and companies and whoever are welcome to come and talk about how they to want invest and contribute to public housing.”

Olatoye said similarly and noted that the Fund for Public Housing is hoping to find a game-changing donor soon. “We absolutely are seeking some additional, significant—I like to say—earth-moving investments,” Olatoye said on the podcast. “We have some good leads out there.”

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by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

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Nonprofit Supporting NYCHA Adds to Early Fundraising & Programs Mon, 28 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Nascent Fund for Public Housing Begins Building NYCHA War Chest http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6638:nascent-fund-for-public-housing-begins-building-nycha-war-chest http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6638:nascent-fund-for-public-housing-begins-building-nycha-war-chest nycha tree-planting

Tree-planting at NYCHA (photo via NYCHA on flickr)


Five months after the announcement of NextGeneration NYCHA, the comprehensive overhaul plan for New York City’s troubled public housing system, the Fund for Public Housing accepted its first donation. Shola Olatoye, NYCHA Chair and CEO, and Rasmia Kirmani Frye, the founding president of the Fund, welcomed the support for the new public-private partnership that aims to “improve social service delivery and access to economic opportunity for residents.”

In January, the Fund, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, officially began reaching out to donors, and, according to Kirmani-Frye, raised almost $900,000 as of late October. It is an effort to supplement the cash-strapped public housing authority by tapping private donors, attempting to lure philanthropists to NYCHA, where about half-a-million people live.

Public-private partnerships are not new to New York City; former Mayor Rudy Giuliani created the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the Fund for Public Schools and the Fund for Public Health. The public-private funds serve to help fill different needs in the city: the Mayor’s Fund is currently focused on youth employment, mental health, and immigration; the Fund for Public Schools helps raise money for banner de Blasio administration programs like Computer Science for All and Pre-K for all; the Fund for Public Health implements targeted programs aimed at reducing asthma in low-income homes or preventing teen pregnancy in the South Bronx.

The Fund for Public Housing, which, according to the NextGen NYCHA goals, aims to raise $200 million in its first three years, will take a modest approach to addressing some of the most pressing needs at the public housing authority, which includes 328 developments and 178,000 units across the five boroughs.

According to Kirmani-Frye, a former director of the Brownsville Partnership, the “three lenses or buckets that we see and fulfill that mission are through people, place, and work.” The Fund could create programs that reach NYCHA residents faster than government initiatives might. NYCHA’s $17 billion capital budget gap is not something that the Fund will address directly, Kirmani-Frye said, indicating the Fund is focused more on programs and policies than physical building needs, as great as they may be.

Some of the largest donations to the Fund have thus far come from major international banks. Deutsche Bank donated $100,000 to update NYCHA design guidelines in order to improve resident quality of life, enhance sustainability, and reduce operating costs. Citi Community Development, a charitable offshoot of Citibank, contributed $250,000 to the Fund to support earned income tax credit access for NYCHA residents through the expansion of the Virtual Vita initiative, a tax preparation program for low-income New Yorkers. Capital One provided $25,000 to establish youth councils in NYCHA.

But beyond the large companies and foundations, the Fund is also looking to drum up support from past NYCHA residents. Olatoye, the NYCHA CEO, said, “the Lloyd Blankfein's and the Jay-Z's of the world” are the types of successful former NYCHA residents who could be especially helpful to their former communities. The Fund is also looking to find donors in “the ordinary folks who are doing great things...who but for public housing, their families' trajectory and their lives would be drastically different,” Olatoye said.

Jeff Levine, the chair of Douglaston Development, Levine Builders, and Clinton Management, sees himself as one of those people. Levine lived in Brooklyn’s Linden Houses from four- to ten-years-old, and recently donated $100,000 to provide scholarships for NYCHA residents attending the CUNY School of Architecture. Levine, whose businesses are behind major development projects in New York City, said of NYCHA, “I'm very grateful having had the opportunity to have lived there for a period of my life, and I appreciate that my education is completely public education.”

Appealing to donors like Levine may be crucial if The Fund for Public Housing wants to reach the $200 million goal. According to Kirmani-Frye, “New Yorkers really recognize the value of other systems with the word public in front of it: public transportation, public education, but not as much public housing.” But Kirmani-Frye points out the people who live in public housing make many other public systems run. She says a “big goal of the Fund is to change the narrative and challenge the assumption that people have about public housing.”

At the New York Times City Visions conference, Kirmani-Frye echoed this sentiment, pointing out that the top three employers of NYCHA residents are the NYPD, the city Department of Education, and NYCHA itself.

The average NYCHA resident makes $23,300 annually. As of January 2015, 11% of all families received welfare assistance, and 46.9% of families had one or more members who were employed. Programs like Opportunity NYCHA help residents find employment and enroll in adult education classes about entrepreneurship. The Fund for Public Housing is part of a set of programs and strategies aimed at improving economic opportunity and outcomes for NYCHA residents.

With her typical optimism, Olatoye recalled that she was “at a conference on innovation and government, and the gentleman next to [Kirmani-Frye] leaned over and said ‘Hey I grew up in the Bland Houses in Queens, I live in Minnesota now, and want to help you.’”

“The reality is philanthropy is very self-connected, so to speak,” Levine said. But he thinks the work the Fund is doing to get the word out is vital. “My children, as a result of their awareness in my involvement in public housing are themselves involved in these efforts, so it can expand. It takes awareness.”

The Fund’s board may show the different channels the Fund can tap into; it includes figures in tech, social work, and health care, as well as residents of NYCHA. Scott Anderson is a board member and a co-Founder of Intersection, the company behind Link-NYC, the public wi-fi kiosks popping up all over the city. Anderson is interested in seeing expanded internet access to NYCHA residencies, something that has been a priority for Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration.

In an email, Anderson said “Public access to the internet at home will help all boats rise. We will actively be looking at additional sources of funding for Wi-Fi and other digital initiatives.” NYCHA has invested $10 million to provide free internet to five of its developments, but according to Olatoye, only half of NYCHA residents have internet, paid or free, in their homes.

Diallo Powell, a board member and a co-founder of the healthcare start-up Zipari joined the fund after meeting Kirmani-Frye through a mutual acquaintance. One of the biggest questions for Powell was whether the Fund could help start “initiatives that can actually be sustainable. And return not only value but revenue.”

Right now, Powell sees his role on the board as a middleman, making connections between the board and potential donors. “I think just overall partnerships are the most important thing because at the end of the day it's not Ras and Shola doing this, it's finding groups of people, finding the right groups to make connections with who have a track record.”

That track record may start with NYCHA, which has several programs that the Fund is interested in scaling to include more residents. Olatoye thinks that the Food Business Pathways program is one of such initiatives. Olatoye explains the rationale behind the program: “Essentially, we have all these emerging entrepreneurs in our developments. They cook for the church event, or they cater the cupcakes for the local birthday parties. A couple years ago folks realized that there was a number of them, and they were actually like small businesses. So why don't we actually create a pathway to actually create real businesses for these people?”

The Food Pathways Program has, according to Olatoye, already trained 300 people to join the city’s food industry, and 50% of those people have gone on to create cash-flowing catering businesses. Still, 300 people is a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of NYCHA residents.

Going forward, the Fund for Public Housing faces some persistent challenges, like convincing people that public housing -- and the people who live there -- are worth investing in. At this point, the donors to the Fund have endowed mostly small-scale projects: updating design guidelines or creating scholarships. By comparison, other public-private city nonprofits like the Fund for Public Schools help create much larger projects.

Olatoye thinks the Fund for Public Housing could eventually tackle large- and small-scale projects simultaneously: “I imagine a world, where we can hold both concepts in our head. Where we can have large-scale numerically impactful programs that are putting large numbers of public housing residents to meaningful work, while having the space to nurture our focus on bringing public art into the housing authority. And I think there is a base of donors and philanthropic partners who are interested in both.”

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by Elena Burger, Gotham Gazette

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Nascent Fund for Public Housing Begins Building NYCHA War Chest Sun, 27 Nov 2016 05:00:00 +0000