2021 Q2 Grants Support Policy and Systems Change, Community Engagement

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As the Trust pursues its moonshot goal of closing the region’s racial and ethnic wealth gap, it is clear that discriminatory policies and systems helped create this disparity–and, therefore, reforms will be necessary to solve for it.

“We like to say that we can’t program our way out of inequity,” said Peggy Davis, the Trust’s vice president of community impact. “Underlying each of our strategies are systems and policy solutions that will help drive the work.”

That’s why the foundation developed its own policy and advocacy agenda for the first time in 2020. The Trust’s agenda is designed to comprehensively address the long-term goal of closing the region’s wealth gap, while setting near-term, high-impact priorities, such as ensuring an equitable economic recovery.

This approach led the Trust to join in advocacy with the Making Earned-Income Credit Work Coalition in 2021, led by Economic Security for Illinois. The coalition consists of more than 30 advocacy and community-based organizations working together to pass state legislation that would make more Illinoisans eligible for an important tax credit that boosts income for low-wage workers to meet household needs, pay off debt, and build wealth. The Trust also granted $30,000 to the University of Chicago Inclusive Economy Lab this quarter for a research effort analyzing how safety net and public assistance programs can be improved to better help people be economically stable and generate savings.

In addition to grounding policy reforms in research, inclusive community engagement is also critical to informing the Trust’s policy and advocacy work. Through a second quarter grant, a New America fellow, who has been helping to inform and implement the Trust’s policy priorities, expanded her work to help lead community engagement sessions for We Rise Together. The Trust also provided a $75,000 grant to Change Illinois for “We Draw the Lines.” This “mapping drive” is establishing an empowered and independent commission of Chicagoans who will influence the upcoming remap of federal, state, and local political districts.

“It’s important to the Trust that our policy work is grounded in evidence, and the lived experience and expertise of Chicago region’s residents so that public policy is designed, advanced, and implemented in ways that meet community needs,” said Ianna Kachoris, senior director of policy and advocacy for the Trust.

Read on for an overview of 38 additional grants worth $3.5 million that we made in the second quarter to advance regional policy, advocacy, and community engagement across our four key strategic priorities. Overall, in the second quarter, the Trust made 69 grants totaling $11 million.

Addressing Critical Needs

The Trust’s Addressing Critical Needs grants typically support human services such as stable housing, access to healthy food, public health programs, and safety from violence and abuse. In the second quarter, the Trust provided $2 million to essential service organizations working on policy and systems changes that will enhance the quality and scale of these services in our region. The end game: more people whose overall well-being enables them to fully participate in and contribute to economic prosperity.

For example, a number of grants are supporting coalition efforts in Chicago and the suburbs that are working across systems to improve housing opportunities. Homelessness and housing insecurity are deeply intertwined with key individual and family outcomes such as access to education, jobs, and preventative healthcare. By helping groups that address homelessness on the ground connect with policymakers who can pull levers to create more affordable housing opportunities, the Trust is granting holistic support for more stable housing for everyone in our region.

Catalyzing Neighborhood Investment

Through the “Change Systems” strand of this strategy, the Trust made seven grants totaling nearly $650,000 to efforts that are revitalizing disinvested Black and Latinx communities. Most of the grants were from the Trust’s new Pre-Development Fund, a first-of-its-kind program that provides Black and Latinx developers with make-or-break funding during predevelopment–a phase of activities banks don’t finance, but which are necessary to lay the groundwork for a new development. Well-established developers typically pay for predevelopment activities out of pocket. However, community-based, predominantly Black and Latinx developers, often do not have that accumulated capital.

“The fund is really leveling the playing field to allow developers of color to get in the game, and to make deals work in communities of color,” said Davis. “We are helping to create an ecosystem in which equitable development can thrive.”

In addition to the fund, Community Desk Chicago is an initiative of the Trust, Boston Consulting Group’s Center for Illinois’ Future, and JPMorgan Chase Foundation, which provides developers and communities with access to resources and relationships that will strengthen projects and create more development success stories in communities of color.

The Trust also provided a general operating grant to the Southland Development Authority, which is helping to create backbone infrastructure to support more development opportunities in the region’s south suburbs.

Building Collective Power

In the second quarter, the Trust awarded nearly $600,000 in grants to organizations that are helping Black and Latinx communities shape policy change through inclusive community engagement and leadership development.

For example, the Trust is providing a grant to Thrive Chicago to support implementation of the city’s My Brother’s Keeper Action Plan. The plan includes opportunities for individual Chicagoans, community-based organizations, and institutions to act around the needs of boys and young men of color.

Growing Household Wealth

Finally, in the second quarter, the Trust provided two policy-related grants to advance its Growing Household Wealth strategy, which is intended to increase the share in economic prosperity for Black and Latinx individuals and families.

A $175,000 grant went to the Southland Development Authority’s Fund for Equitable Business Growth to support small businesses in the region’s south suburbs.

And a $50,000 grant is supporting the City of Chicago’s Office of Equity and Racial Justice to advance a Community Wealth Building initiative.