NeighborScapes Innovation Houses 2017 Annual Report
Dear Friends, Funders, Supporters, and Partners of the Innovation Houses Initiative of NeighborScapes, NFP,
I am pleased to reach out to share NeighborScapes’ progress on the Innovation Houses Initiative through 2017. This is long, so in addition to pasting the text into the body of this email so you can read it on your phone on elevators or in taxis, I have included the full hyperlinked version as an attachment for you to print or share. Thanks for reading any of it that you do.
Innovation Houses are co-living spaces for people who will commit to serve the Englewood neighborhood. We convert formerly vacant houses as low-rent living for Community Building Fellows (CBFs). CBFs commit to serve the Englewood neighborhood and engage with its civics while living together and building community with one another. We believe that although the idea is labor- and capital-intensive and thus slow to get off the ground, the current participants and our Englewood partners provide an absolutely compelling model of neighborhood transformation that can change America.
It Takes a Village
We are deeply grateful for the recent support of several funders who have gotten us this far, including the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development; the Chicago Community Trust and Polk Bros. Foundation, who answered the City’s call for help to get us operating funding to fill the gap until our contract with the City could be signed; Strides for Peace, a nonprofit devoted to preventing gun violence in Chicago; and the Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF), which helped us with a cash flow loan until City funding could begin flowing and has become our financing partner on multiple projects.
Going back even further, we are indebted for the early support of the Field Foundation, which responded to an opportunity when the Chicago Tribune published an early Op-Ed column I co-wrote calling for Innovation Houses throughout Chicago and the Chicago Community Trust chose Innovation Houses as one of the key ideas to be discussed at its first On the Table anniversary event. Field’s support helped engage Devin Race as a New Sector Alliance AmeriCorps member with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (CLCCR), where I served as Executive Director for the years 2010-2015. Devin did the early work and relationship-building that convinced us to focus our efforts on the Englewood neighborhood. He is now a law student at Yale Law School, and CLCCR is benefiting from the able leadership of Bonnie Allen. I planned the transition from CLCCR 18 months prior to my departure in order to focus more specifically on geographic equity and neighborhood transformation, and the careful work of the board and staff at CLCCR during that period resulted in a fantastic outcome with Bonnie’s hiring. A cadre of incredible CLCCR interns joined us as “Team Transform” in summers 2014 and 2015, and we were blessed by their energy. The Field Foundation was followed by generous gifts from Ariel Capital Management and ComEd to support the hiring of two AmeriCorps members at CLCCR for 2014-15: Nina Thomas from Public Allies, and Omari Moore from New Sector Alliance. Nina and Omari became the first two people to live in the inaugural Englewood Innovation House, at 5719 South Ada Street in Ald. Toni Foulke’s 16th Ward.
With the support of Congr. Robin Kelly, Terry Mazany of the Chicago Community Trust, and Dr. Sokoni Karanja of Centers for New Horizons, I was chosen for the inaugural 2015 class of Presidential Leadership Scholars (PLS), a leadership initiative of the Presidential Libraries and Centers of George W. Bush, William J. Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Lyndon B. Johnson. During the amazing PLS program, I was one of 60 Scholars who worked on Personal Leadership Projects in public service and social change. Innovation Houses were the focus of my Project, and NeighborScapes continues to be blessed to be part of the PLS story about leadership and change in America.
Even further back than that, NeighborScapes is the successor in concept to Urban Solutions, a program that I co-founded in New Haven, Connecticut over 20 years ago. Current NeighborScapes Board Member Marty Carr was our general counsel in 1998 as a student in the Yale Law School Housing & Community Development Clinic, which helped Urban Solutions launch and obtain tax exemption. Current NeighborScapes Board Member David Lewicki was my co-founder at Urban Solutions, and together we were awarded a Global Fellowship on Social Entrepreneurship from the echoing green foundation. This past fall I was fortunate to attend the 30th anniversary alumni summit of echoing green, and we look forward to working with CEO Cheryl Dorsey to seek social venture funding, increase impact in Englewood and take NeighborScapes and Innovation Houses to scale.
Back to the present, NeighborScapes reached August 2017 with the help of Dayonna Tucker, a summer intern from the Haas Center for Public Service’s Undergraduate Fellowship Program at Stanford University, whose father lives in Englewood. She was the perfect colleague for Englewood native Brian Geiger, our program coordinator whose experience with Innovation Houses dated back to the very beginning, when he was an intern at CLCCR as an undergraduate in the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement (IPCE). Brian has served as the primary recruiter and program developer for the “Community Building Fellows” (CBFs) who live at Innovation Houses.
In October we were joined by Public Allies AmeriCorps member Bianca Fraise, a lifelong Englewood resident except for time away for College and a stint in India where she became conversational in Punjabi and Hindi. I am always moved by the dynamism and commitment of the CBFs when I meet with them. University of Chicago alumnus Omari Moore has now lived in the first Innovation House for two and a half years. He has worked with youth in Chicago Public Schools since earning his AmeriCorps stipend, and presently he works as a Teaching Assistant at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academy for Social Justice in Englewood. Ralph Jones has also lived in the first Innovation House since 2015, when he was a filmmaker tenant at the Englewood Accelerator. Ralph has founded his own nonprofit organization, Future Network, and coaches football at Bronzeville Academy. In 2016, we were joined by Chris Brown, a Public Allies alumnus and community activist who works as a freelance photographer and frequently displays his work in community art shows. Chris shares a unit at 5719 S. Ada with Michael Anderson, who coaches wrestling at Simeon Career Academy High School.
Some great individuals joined us in 2017 by moving into Innovation Houses. Englewood resident Kashawna Brantley came to us through City Year, where she was an AmeriCorps member. Englewood resident David Lofton was referred to us by his mentor Mary Bird, Public Interest coordinator at Loyola University Chicago Law School. Kashawna and David are both excellent visual artists. Travail Fowler found us through another mentor, prominent attorney Victor Henderson. And through activist networks, Paru Brown moved in. Paru is a UIC student and an officer in the Chicago Chapter of Black Youth Project 100.
NeighborScapes Board Member and Englewood native Damon Perry recently renovated a vacant second floor at 5602 South Ada, enabling the entire house to be converted to the second Innovation House at below-market rent. Travail and David moved into the first floor unit, and we are currently in the process of recruiting CBFs for the second floor. Damon, part of the only law office with its office in Englewood, also owns 5719, and is in the process of selling it to NeighborScapes on favorable terms. In 2016, Strides for Peace granted NeighborScapes funds for a new rear deck on the two-flat, bringing the property up to code. NeighborScapes holds a note from Mr. Perry, which will be converted to a down payment so NeighborScapes can become the fee owner of the first Innovation House. NeighborScapes has applied for financing from CCLF for the acquisition, and is in the process of structuring the transaction.
The NeighborScapes model for Community Building Fellows is based on engaging with neighborhood civic processes and committing to community service with Englewood-based organizations. Seeking to work with R.A.G.E. and the committees of the LISC Quality of Life Planning Process (QLP) for Englewood through Teamwork Englewood, we have presented at multiple community meetings and attended many more as participants. As a result of those meetings, we are preparing to propose a Community Benefits Agreement development process with Englewood community groups, responding to community input that we prioritize community wealth building, skill building for CBFs, accountability to neighborhood residents, and growing our Board to include more Englewood representation. It is in this spirit that we have placed such an emphasis on recruiting, hiring and contracting with Englewood residents and In addition to Brian, Bianca, Damon, the CBFs, Deon, and Reconstruction Technologies, we have recently engaged QLP champions Jimi Orange and Lannon Broughton as consultants to support project management and program development. Our Board member Glen Fulton, born and raised in Englewood and a current resident, has launched a new organization, Englewood Real Estate Development Corporation NFP. CBFs have been attending R.A.G.E. Village Meetings and QLP Task Forces, with Omari Moore and Brian Geiger both becoming QLP champions. We are moved by the richness of the engagement opportunities and the strength of the Englewood Rising campaign; the opportunity to work with the many great neighborhood leaders in Englewood has rewarded and furthered our motivations to get CBFs involved.
NeighborScapes is planning a public launch and reception at one of the Innovation Houses for late February or early March, and we hope you will be there. We have been invited by a social investing crowd-funding platform, www.smallchange.com, to submit a pro forma in order to raise funds that will capitalize additional rehab projects in Englewood. We will be in touch about the individual opportunity for the public to invest in our next round of Innovation Houses. The Community Benefits Agreement will be an important part of moving forward, so that among other things we can ensure that Innovation Houses either become homeownership opportunities for CBFs or community-beneficial housing uses for Englewood.
With the help of our board member Keeana Barber, who runs WDB Marketing and a community newspaper, we intend to step up our CBF recruiting efforts, including through an invitation to the Civic Engagement Fair at Kennedy-King College. We have always believed that AmeriCorps members are ideal as CBFs in Innovation Houses, and through our crowd-funding campaign we will seek to become the first housing choice for City Year Chicago members as they increase the cite of their Corps in 2018. We are also interested in pursuing discussions with the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Police Department about setting up specialized Innovation Houses for new teachers and community-based police recruits.
We are excited to move forward in a phase of growth and deeper community engagement, and we hope you will join us. The civic leaders of Englewood have made remarkable progress, and they deserve all of our support to make a statement about energy in neighborhoods in Chicago and across America. NeighborScapes is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, and donations will be put to work to further Innovation Houses in Englewood. Please feel free to forward this message to others who may be interested, and if you know anyone who would make a good Community Building Fellow, please put her or him in touch with Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also reach out to Brian if you would be willing to make a one-time commitment to speak to our residents at a weekly House Night.
Thank you for reading. Warm Regards,
President, NeighborScapes NFP