By Betsy MacLean and City Councilman Antonio Reynoso
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a youth development organization in Harlem, has provided emergency financial support, technology and nearly 100,000 meals to their community of Black and Latinx youth and their families.
Like most Community Based Organizations (CBOs), they are doing all this while facing a deeply uncertain fundraising landscape as a result of the economic fallout from the crisis. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Increasing rent is among the biggest challenges facing CBOs today. Close to 80% of CBOs in low-income communities expressed moderate to high concern about the cost of rent on their organization’s long-term financial sustainability.
CBOs buying and building their own community spaces is one of the most durable ways to combat the threat of displacement and ensure long-term sustainability.
A new report from Hester Street found that one of the city’s programs that is supposed to help these organizations leverage the benefits of ownership is failing to do so. In fact, the program adds time and expense to these kinds of nonprofit capital projects.
The NYC Capital Grants Program (CapGrants) was designed to provide city funding to improve properties that serve NYC communities. The program is meant to ensure CBOs can deliver programs to the city’s most vulnerable populations in stable physical sites located in the neighborhoods they serve.
These sites are crucial to the survival of CBOs that support and strengthen our neighborhoods. When the Brotherhood/Sister Sol completes their new community center in 2021, they will increase their program space by more than 75% at the same time ownership will protect them from rising rents due to gentrification.
This represents a clear win-win: the nonprofit secures a permanent place in their neighborhood, and the City invests more of its funds in community-based services, not rent.
However, CapGrants funding is extremely difficult for nonprofits to access. The City can improve the program by allocating funding immediately – not as a reimbursement, speeding up contract review, providing a clear list of requirements and ensuring those requirements are not overly onerous, and operating under a timeline to which they are held accountable.
We need CBOs – essential service providers – now, more than ever. The City must fix the CapGrants program if we are to leverage the promise of ownership for neighborhood strength and stability and keep these crucial organizations anchored in the communities they serve.
Betsy MacLean is Co-Executive Director of urban planning, design, and development nonprofit Hester Street. Antonio Reynoso is New York City Council Member for the 34th District, representing parts of Bushwick, Ridgewood, and Williamsburg.