Instead of Toys, These Organizers Want You to Give Rent Money

A pile of presents wrapped in red and green paper with bows, beneath a Christmas tree.
Photo by Flickr user Alan Cleaver, CC BY 2.0

Rent for Moms is a fundraising campaign looking to help 50 single Black moms in select cities retain or obtain housing by Christmas. Under the tagline, “because everyone deserves to be home for the holidays,” organizers encouraged donors to move beyond toy drives and give housing security and stability—and more choice for moms about how to celebrate the holidays.

Shelterforce’s Miriam Axel-Lute spoke with Didi Delgado, who organized the Rent for Moms campaign. Below is an excerpted version of their conversation.

[Editor’s Note: the 2022 campaign raised a little over $103,000.]

Miriam Axel-Lute: Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and your organization?

DiDi Delgado

My name is DiDi Delgado. I am a Black non-man. I am the CEO of the DiDi Delgado Experience, and also the CEO and founder of Done for DiDi, a nonprofit designed to make sure that MaGes [marginalized genders] feel supported financially by asking white people who say that they’re committed to anti-racism work to put their money where their [mouth is].

Our mission is to bridge the gaps between the intersection of race, class, gender, sexual identity, and orientation, while practicing radical philanthropy through art, advocacy, and direct-giving models that center Black women and Black non-men.

Talk a little bit about the difference between direct giving and what we normally hear about at this time of year in terms of charity.

White people and non-Black people are so used to giving charitably that when a person that’s actually affected by the circumstances in which they’re given charity speaks up, it’s looked as dissent or it’s looked at as “nothing is ever good enough for you people.” That’s unfortunate because when the COVID pandemic hit, everyone got involved with mutual aid. You’ve never seen the magnitude of giving that people have given during 2020, 2021, and even now.

What does it look like to ensure that the most marginalized are getting the help that they need? They’re writing to us directly and without criteria other than just believing Black women, believing Black non-men, we are giving to them.

Why a campaign that’s focused on rent particularly?

We talk about social determinants of health … I’m someone who’s chronically ill. I do feel like a lot of times that’s related to my lack of housing security. I’m very much privileged—I have, I have the ability to access resources and funds if I need to. But what if I wasn’t who I am and I still wore the intersections that I am? I’m fat, I’m Black, I’m queer, and I’m disabled, and I’m a femme-identified person.

What if I didn’t have the ability to advocate for myself? What if I didn’t have the platform I do? Would I be able to call on people to help me become a co-signer? Would I be able to call on people to help me fundraise for first, last, and security?

Black women and Black non-men are seriously on the hook all the time for supporting entire families because of the United States carceral system. And because of systemic racism, families are broken; also because of anti-trans-antagonism, homophobia—the idea of a family being one woman, one man, and children. It’s not seen as normative to actually have a village the way that we used to. I feel like that’s very problematic.

I’m in a two-year lease. I’m looking to buy a home, but in order to get my credit together, I have to do extraordinary things just to pay down debt. I can’t imagine what happens if I have to stop doing the advocacy work I do because it’s where my passion is. I have to put that aside so I can make sure I’m doing enough ride-sharing apps or working at a part-time job while I’m still mothering my 6-year-old. Housing insecurity doesn’t leave you once you get a modicum of income because a lot of times Black women and Black non-men are literally the buoy for many other people and their families and inner circles.

You touched on a point that you brought up last time we spoke, which is that many of the people who are actually doing advocacy and activist work, and even doing this work in the housing field, are also the very same people who are experiencing housing insecurity. Expand a little bit on that.

I feel like a lot of times, God forbid, someone loses their child to cancer, what is probably one of the things that they’re going to do? They’re going to establish some advocating fund for other children not to go through that. We have this in-depth understanding that firsthand experience is often the best experience. You want to give to people who’ve actually been through the things.

But a lot of the housing initiatives that I see that are community-based aren’t given as much credence as housing initiatives that are white-led. That is from my personal experience living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I do recall there was a time that I [said], “Oh, hey, we’re both working towards housing justice. We are focused on anti-racism in housing. Y’all are working on legislation. How do we work together?” It became a competition. We don’t have time for competition.

I’m a marginalized person. At 39 years old and 26,000 followers, I still deal with housing insecurity. I don’t know what’s going to happen once February 2024 [comes]. Unless I fix my credit exponentially, I’m going to have to pay $2,595 a month for the next two years again. That’s like $120,000 I’ve paid into someone else’s equity. I still don’t have anything for myself. I can say I have a home, but it doesn’t belong to me.

That’s why I decided to launch the campaign Rent for Moms.

Tell us how Rent for Moms works.

In July 2020, I made this Facebook post that was like, “Hey, we should cancel Toys for Tots and instead launch Rent for Moms because the rent is why moms can’t afford the fucking toys in the first place.” That post went out of there. I was shocked that so many people agreed with me.

My mother was a recipient of Toys for Tots, Salvation Army, things like that. While those charities are commendable, I think that there is room for an evaluation of what it means when you take the dignity away from mothers, away from the people who are caretaking for the children.

You take autonomy away from children and say, “Hey, are you a boy? Are you a girl? Is this your age group? OK, great.” Then you get a toy that might be appropriate for you and might not. What does that mean? That the mom has to be grateful for whatever that they get? That’s the wildest thing to me.

When I was in Albany, New York, I worked for a nonprofit for three years. The CEO used to ask me for my advice about a lot of things. I was like, “Hey, you guys are looking for a new initiative?” I said I don’t even have to have my name on anything. Your ego has to go out the window. I don’t think that they were able to let go of that, [and they declined to take on the idea.]

I decided to do it on my own. I said since I’m being told no in all these places that should be saying yes, I’m just going to launch it myself.

In 2020 in the mid-pandemic, I asked Simone Gordon, The Black Fairy Godmother, I was like, “Hey, let’s do Rent for Moms. Why don’t we try to raise like $25,000 and pay the rent for like 10 to 20 moms depending on what their rent is?”

We didn’t know what we were doing. We were just like, we know that there’s a need. If I’m paying upwards of $1,600 a month in rent, in utilities, and someone cleared that for me, imagine what I could do for my children. Imagine how much food I could put in my house, imagine what I could do to fix up my home, imagine that God forbid if my tire pops in winter or I hit a pothole, I can cover that bill no problem.

You are allowing the space for mothers to be autonomous instead of telling them, “Hey, you get what you get, and you don’t get upset,” like my child’s kindergarten teacher says to her.

That first year, how did it go?

We hit the goal. We hit actually $36,000. We were able to help over 20 moms. We also paid all the organizers because we already know most folks who are organizing grassroots are themselves also marginalized. It was just a beautiful thing. We didn’t do it in 2021 because I had some health problems and unfortunately I had to move. [In 2022,] I was like, “What does it look like to organize with not just [with] Simone Gordon, but with other organizers from across the United States?

We’ve got nine other organizers besides myself. I’m primarily based in Boston, New England, and even upstate New York, but we asked folks from Binghamton, New York; Washington D.C.; Detroit Michigan; Sacramento, California; Oklahoma City; Portland, Oregon; [Fort Lee, New Jersey; Houston, Dallas, and Forth Worth, Texas], and also Richmond, Virginia, to get together and say, “Hey, we all commit to raising $10,000 each so that way we can distribute this money to as many moms as we could.”

How do you select the moms?

What we’ve done [is] to make it as easy as possible. I don’t want anyone having to feel like they have to provide us trauma porn so we can keep this program going. I think that that’s gross. I think that that’s unnecessary.

We’ve decided as organizers that we are going to be in tandem with our community. It’ll be the organization or organizer that’s working for that city, and they will be having a community conversation and selecting the participants, sort of like participatory budgeting.

Rent, utilities, food, some of these things are the things that we have the least flexibility about, the least help with, and they matter the most. Yet until yours, I’ve never seen a charitable giving campaign that focused around helping people with rent.

There’s this thing that goes around from time to time, “Oh, if Black people would stop spending $200 a month on sneakers, they’d have the down payment for a house.” That shit irks my soul because you’re not taking into account credit scores, you’re not taking into account debt-to-income ratio, and let’s say you were just taking into account the monetary resource of a down payment.

If I spend $200 a month on Jordans or Nike, whatever, that’s $2,400 a year. That’s not even 3 percent of the down payment for a family of four. Let’s not play with each other. People love to be reductive. It’s not helpful at all.

Absolutely. If there were an organization that wasn’t competitive, what could you envision in terms of a good partnership? There are things out there, policies and other campaigns, that can protect tenants from eviction or make it easier to raise your credit scores, or other things like that.

I feel like I would want just this idea of community agreement: “Hey, this is how we agree that we treat folks we’re in service to” and not just that, [also] “This is how we agree to treat each other. Let’s use your platform, let’s use my platform, let’s work together.”

Everyone’s in silos. I hate silos, because I feel like so much more can get done with many hands. My mother used to always use that phrase, “many hands make light work.” A rising tide lifts all ships. What does it look like when we actually work together for the greater good?

You can still be your separate entity, and I can still be my separate entity, but I feel like, a lot of times, I reach out to folks, and they think, “Oh, you’re too radical,” or, “I didn’t like when you said the X, Y, and Z,” or “It’s going to be problematic…” OK, problems are coming. White people are upset about whatever they’re going to be upset about, especially if they’re conservative. OK, and…? Is the work being done?

As you’re hearing these stories, are there other things that you’re hearing them face besides the need for rent?

Yes. I got an inbox from an individual who is not a Black woman but might be considered a Black marginalized gender. They signed an agreement, not a lease, but an agreement with a predatory landlord and the landlord was telling them, since it’s California, they’ve got two days to get out. These stories come up often.

[RELATED ARTICLE: Out of Homelessness, a Mom Turns Advocate]

I think about situations I’ve been in where landlords have been like, “We’ll use violence to get you out.” It’s just your word against mine. It’s really unfortunate. I read these applications and my heart breaks. We need rent relief.

We need rent relief in the form of mutual aid the same way we needed mutual aid in the face of COVID-19. Rent relief is a governmental bailout that should happen, [but] the government didn’t bail us out during the pandemic and we felt like, “Damn, we need to help each other.” Why are we not helping each other during this housing crisis?

Is there anything else that you want to highlight?

We have over 400 applications for rental assistance so far. That’s over $500,000 in rent. That’s wild to me. The average rent of all these applications is $1,300. Many of the people that are applying are at imminent risk of eviction.

We’re not trained as social workers. We’re not licensed as such. All we can do is help the need. If social workers want to work with us, I’m all for it. If housing, community organizations want to work with us, I’m all for it. Let’s figure out a way to do this in ways that are tangible [and] manageable.

Thank you.

Miriam Axel-Lute is CEO/editor-in-chief of Shelterforce. She lives in Albany, New York, and is a proud small-city aficionado.

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