How should community leaders manage the opportunity to spend trillions of dollars of federal funding on economic recovery in ways that begin to realize the promise of racial justice? In a July 9 roundtable of CCI staff and fellows, one answer to this question rose above all the others: ask the right questions.
From once-in-a-century climate events to a global pandemic, it is clear that those of us who fight for equity and justice will be responding to these once-in-a-lifetime events with unprecedented and exhausting frequency. These crises are occurring because of the way that systems of power have historically treated people and our planet. Knowing that capital flows to the easiest and most profitable opportunities, even (or perhaps especially) in moments of crisis, and that moments of crisis are our new normal, it is essential that we shift our framing of this recovery funding. Instead of branding this as a fleeting and scarce resource, it must be seen as an opportunity to place a down payment on a new way of investing in communities.
One of CCI’s values is to “recognize the urgency of our task and the need for deep, specific results to accomplish it.” For instance, it is urgent that as families continue to struggle to make ends meet, community leaders with access to recovery funding do whatever they can to keep them housed. But the deep, specific results necessary to achieve racial and economic justice in housing require different questions. During the roundtable, Fulcrum Fellow alumna Sarida Scott questioned what it means to offer rental assistance to tenants. Drawing from her experience working in community development in Detroit, where many of the tenants she supported were living in unsafe affordable housing units, she worried that “getting dollars doesn’t take away from the fact that we have so many homes in disrepair.”
It is urgent that residents of disinvested communities are at the table for discussions about where recovery funding will have the greatest impact. But attempts to quickly push out dollars have made it clear that without strong pre-existing relationships with community leaders, institutions will fall short when directly asking communities what they need. Even as they are pressured to move fast, leaders must use this moment to go deep–or else these conversations will fail and critical opportunities to change systems and communities will be missed. As city manager of Spartanburg, South Carolina, Fulcrum alumna Chris Story has “changed how [he uses] his time to try to build relationships with emerging neighborhood leaders.”
Regardless of once-in-a-lifetime events, leaders must find alignment with communities about their shared priorities and explore and address needed changes to their enabling environments. We must do this because we can expect to live the rest of our lives in constant crisis. We must do this because even those of us who are working to address the root causes of these crises need to make sure that we are actually doing something differently than those who came before us.
Despite the urgency in the air around us, this is the right moment to not just to figure out how much money we can spend right now, but to do the legwork to ensure that what money we do spend goes towards systemic change. This is the question we must ask if we are to continue this work when the crisis is over, as well as when the next unprecedented event comes around.
The Federal Stimulus Strategic Huddle on July 9, 2021 was hosted by CCI staff Alex Castilla, Robin Hacke, Kate Dykgraaf, and makayla lorick. It was attended by CCI Field Catalysts and Fulcrum Fellows Chris Story, Donald Rencher, Donovan Duncan, Saneta deVuono-Powell, and Sarida Scott. The thinking in this piece was made possible by every person in the room and captured in a transcription by makayla lorick.