VideoCommunity Development Field

Her Story, Her Power in Community Development: A Shelterforce Webinar

Five women from diverse backgrounds who span the country—Missouri, New Mexico, Hawaii, California, and Texas—got together with Shelterforce to talk about the community development field and their work in it.

Photo by Flickr user Dennis Jarvis, CC BY-SA 2.O Deed

As part of this year’s Women of Color on the Front Lines seriesShelterforce’s annual celebration of women in community development—we hosted “Her Story, Her Power in Community Development,” an unmoderated discussion between five women from diverse backgrounds. They shared their personal stories—what led them to their careers, what nourishes them in their work, the barriers they’ve faced and overcome—as well as their thoughts on community development: what the field should be focusing on and what success looks like for the communities they work with.

Shelterforce’s CEO and publisher Schlonn Hawkins welcomed the guest speakers:

  • Deletta Dean, regional vice president for NeighborWorks America Midwest Region.
  • Chelsie Evans Enos, executive director of Hawaiian Community Assets, Hawaii’s largest HUD-certified housing counseling agency.
  • Agnetha Jaime Gloshay, co-CEO of Native Women Lead, which directs efforts in capital strategies, program design, partnership development, and data sovereignty.
  • Maggie J. Parker, founder of Innovan Neighborhoods, which spearheads equitable real estate development that addresses residents’ holistic needs while preserving local culture.
  • Wendy Santamaria, a community organizer in Santa Barbara, and an assembly district delegate to the California Democratic Party.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Schlonn Hawkins: Thank you for joining us today. Every March, we profile women across the country who are doing amazing things in the community, specifically women of color: the movers and shakers at the forefront of change, transforming their communities.

[In] our series, Women of Color on the Front Lines, we profiled two women this year: Annette Miller, from Oakland, California, and Seila Mosquero-Bruno, housing commissioner in Connecticut.

I’m really excited about today because we get to have conversations with women that are doing the darn thing in their communities. I’m going to turn it over to these lovely women, let them have this conversation. What I like to say is we’re just having a little brunch. This is a brunch conversation with friends that are in this field.

Deletta Dean

Deletta Dean: My name is Deletta Dean. I’m the vice president of the Midwest Region for NeighborWorks America. NeighborWorks America is a congressionally chartered organization. We do training of community development and affordable housing practitioners. We also provide funding to organizations who provide affordable housing and community development across the nation. My region has 13 states and 58 organizations.

Wendy Santamaria: My name is Wendy Santamaria. I am an organizer based out of Santa Barbara, California. I do a lot of community organizing, primarily around housing and workers’ rights. My focus is primarily on the Latino Spanish-speaking community. We have been organizing in Santa Barbara for many, many years for stronger tenant protections, for building affordable housing, and preserving the remains of affordable housing that we have left.

Wendy Santamaria

We have, especially during the pandemic, seen an extreme uptick of housing insecurity in our communities. In my full-time job, I work as a labor organizer for the American Federation of State, Municipal, and County Employees, Local 3299. I work with our service workers who keep the University of California system running across the state.

A Shelterforce ad seeking donations from readers. On the left there's a photo of a person wearing a red shirt that reads "Because the Rent Can't Wait."

In my off time and my free time, I am an organizer with our Santa Barbara Tenants Union. We have been making sure that we are organizing folks and really breaking down those barriers, so we can create a movement that is very inclusive and able to move our goals forward.

Jaime Gloshay

Jaime Gloshay: I’m Jaime Gloshay. I’m Zooming in from Tiwa Territory, also known as Albuquerque, New Mexico. I am the managing director of impact investments at Common Future. We’re a national organization that supports communities … and organizations across the country to set up their own lending programs that are primarily community-led and community-informed and through decision-making as well.

On the other side of our wheelhouse and within the impact investments part, we also support emerging fund and fund managers so that folks can flow capital to their communities and support them to have the agency power, access, and affordability to capital so that they can do the amazing work that they’re doing.

Maggie Parker

Maggie Parker: My name is Maggie Parker. I am from Dallas, Texas, and have a company called Innovan Neighborhoods where we’re primarily doing real estate development on community-oriented projects. I work with some nonprofits and faith-based organizations on their real estate deals, as well as an initiative called the Community Developers Roundtable, working with developers of color who are already doing deals in this market, and [raising] capital in order to help them grow their existing businesses.

On the development side, mainly working in public-private partnerships with local governments, focusing on a mix of incomes in those developments. I’m just trying to move some great projects forward.

Chelsie Evans Enos

Chelsie Evans Enos: My name is Chelsie Evans Enos. I’m calling in from Honolulu, Hawaii. I have the background behind me that says, “Welcome to Makawao,” which is actually where I was born and raised. I like to have that in my Zoom meetings, so I feel like home in all my meetings.

I’m the executive director of Hawaiian Community Assets. We are the largest HUD-certified organization here in Hawaii. We utilize today’s practices of financial education, but we connect it with the historical context of money and finances with Hawaiians. We talk about the colonization of Hawaii and the type of relationship Hawaiians have with money so that we can get past some of those barriers and get people into homes.

Dean: I will get us started off. The first question is, what is top of mind for you today as it pertains to community development? What should the field be paying attention to?

Parker: A lot of things going on … that are top of mind for me. I’m usually thinking about housing. I’m usually thinking about how people are gaining access to equitable housing, but I had a conversation yesterday that I think for me switches … how we’re thinking about this affirmative action case that came out of the Supreme Court and how that’s actually trickling down—to a lot of conversations that we’re having around DEI, how that impacts communities that are typically underserved, and then the language that we’re putting around that.

While many of us didn’t necessarily say that we’re focused on DEI specifically in our work, it touches it. When we look at the funders, when we look at where major corporations are putting their time and efforts, when we look at the capacity of women in this space, specifically women of color in this space, and folks wanting to target that, we look at the lawsuit that’s coming around Fearless Fund, and people wanting to shut that down. I’m sure there’s other lawsuits … on the horizon.

I am curious from the group, how is everyone thinking about that in their work? To me, it’s a pressing conversation because whether we work on DEI or the implications of this affirmative action conversation in the short term, is it impacting how you are thinking about that either in your communities, or in the organizations that you’re working in?

Evans Enos: It’s definitely been an interesting time for sure. I know we often get asked, “What is your DEI statement or policy internally?” It’s been a difficult thing for our organization to answer because we literally were created due to the lack of accessibility for native Hawaiians to loans and programs. We actually don’t have a DEI statement. We’re literally like, “We are DEI. It’s why we’re here. It’s what we bring.” That’s been a harder conversation, actually, to even have with funders, of, “Well, we need to check that box.”

I feel like in the native Hawaiian sense, everything comes from our history—our Kūpuna, the people that came before us, the people who worked before us. I think the cultural piece of fitting into these boxes has been difficult for us. It does make me wonder if we’re in a better place because we haven’t necessarily put anything in writing that people can try to push back on, necessarily, it’s just who we are. It doesn’t fix the problem, but that’s been one thing we’ve been having heavy discussion on.

I think our work is just going to get harder, for sure. There’s going to be less and less resources, and ignoring the fact that people from various communities, indigenous communities, immigrants, the lack of services are just already—there’s such a huge gap. To have that fight, I feel like we do need to be innovative in our approaches moving forward. That was no answer…sorry!

[laughter]

Parker: No. I don’t think there’s an answer, but for me, that was top of mind. I think hearing from your perspective, especially where you’re saying, like, “That’s the core of our organization. Why do we need to defend who we are, and the reason that we are existing?” For me, that’s top of mind. I appreciate kind of the lens that you’re bringing from your perspective.

Gloshay: Thank you for this, Maggie. It’s incredibly top of mind for us too, not only the work that I get to do at Common Future but the communities I get to serve. Especially when you’re in racial, social, gender, economic justice work, and we’re sensing and seeing this intentional targeting. I’m really thinking about for community building and community, how do we insulate, protect, and continue to fight for justice? Being mindful of what you shared, Chelsie, [about] the fear around less resources because our communities have been in survival and scarcity, … we’re trying to get into the space of abundance.

I’m really thinking about how … we create spaces to cultivate radical imagination, healing, especially with all the injustice that has happened. As well as a space to be in an abundance of support and protection, while we’re still trying to do catalytic impact in our communities as folks that are leaning towards justice-oriented work. Thank you for that.

Santamaria: Jaime, I really wanted to jump off of what you mentioned, radical imagination of just a better world, I think has really been top of mind for me. I think back to what Maggie was mentioning, we see in our communities of color, the lack of investment, the lack of resources. We see all of that, and like you mentioned, Jaime, we’ve been in survival mode for so long that I think part of community development is really making sure [of], and doing our best to cultivate, a space where people don’t lose hope.

I think hope is a very underestimated thing, because it’s often when we are able to show that coming together and show that moving mountains really is possible with all of us actually joining forces. I think that has been one of the ways that we can tackle the attacks on our communities of color. I think when we end up focused only on the issues that we’re going through, and we’re in the survival mode, or we’re just reacting to what’s happening, sometimes it’s hard to see beyond that.

When we are able to cultivate a space where we say, “OK, we’re going to deal with the pressing issue here. We’re going to deal with rising rents, mass evictions happening, people being homeless out on the streets, we’re going to deal with that,” but we also want to reimagine a world where that is no longer an issue. How do we reimagine that so that there is diversity, equity, and inclusion in our work, so that the work that we do, and the services that we’re pushing for, are equitable, and really going to the communities that really, really need it?

Really getting to the root of the issue rather than just pushing for Band-Aid solutions. I think in community development, something that’s really top of mind is really integrating the community in decision-making, and really centering them and centering lived experiences in decision-making.

Dean: Absolutely.

Santamaria: I work a lot with local governments, and a lot of local politicians will not have this lived experience, and may have gone to school and got degrees and all of that, but at the end of the day, they don’t understand what it is to be living in a two-bedroom apartment with three families in there. This is just a very common thing that we see due to our housing crisis. A lot of local electeds don’t understand that because they’ve never been through it, and they’ve never really spoken to community that has been through it, so the decisions they make, the policies they pass, are not actually addressing the root of the issue.

They’re just Band-Aid solutions. When I think about community development, it’s a mix of, of course, everything that you have all mentioned, I think every single part of that is a piece of this web. We want to make sure that if we are not getting that funding or that prioritization from other foundations or other governments, that we make ourselves a priority, that we unite, and that we push for our lived experiences to be reflected in these decisions. That’s what comes to mind for me.

Dean: Yes, absolutely. I want to jump in here. You’re spot on, Wendy. Community development sustains affordable housing. It sustains the work of developers, so it’s very critical. It’s important. One of the things about NeighborWorks America that I really enjoy is that we understand [that in] many Black and Brown communities, there has been historical disinvestment. We understand that. NeighborWorks is very intentional about working with organizations in these areas. We are also intentional about building generational Black wealth.

When we talk about communities where there’s been disinvestment, of course, we know in many urban communities across the nation that we’ve experienced that. I grew up in one of those disinvested neighborhoods right here in Kansas City. Being very intentional about having individuals at the table as we shape those decisions [is] critical, but what’s top of mind for me is homeownership. In these communities, because of the rising interest rates, there’s a lack of supply and a lack of downpayment assistance, and we know that homeownership is a vehicle to building generational wealth.

We want to be able to make sure that we first teach financial capability to individuals to help them be able to achieve that dream that so many of us have not been able to achieve because of barriers that are created, that are beyond us systematic racism, and we can go on and on. We want to be able to make sure that we provide access to all individuals, equitable access—not equality, but we’re talking about things being equitable. There’s a big difference there.

Gloshay: Thank you so much everybody for sharing. I’m curious, just witnessing your activation of the work that you get to do … what is your “why”? What led you to a career in community development? How do you hope to make an impact in your community or leave a legacy in the space? My why is my children. I’m thinking about the world they’re going to inherit, the conditions in which they will have to live, and really thinking about their social, mental, psychological, physical well-being and safety.

I’m a mother of indigenous girls, and in this country, indigenous erasure is really huge because we represent less than 3 percent of the population. If you think of that from a gender perspective, [indigenous women are] less than 1.5 percent of the population. There’s a huge issue of missing and murdered indigenous women happening in this country here and in the globe as well. That’s my why. I’m thinking about the future they’re going to inherit, the safety, the well-being as well as what I can do in this moment in time to have an impact in my community. I would love to hear yours.

Parker: Growing up in Dallas, I lived on one side of town and went to school on another. I realized that where you lived had such an impact on the future that you thought you could have. I really became aware of cities, how people move, how neighborhoods change, how the decision-makers do X, Y, Z. As I got further into the work that I was doing, I saw that real estate was really at the core of all of the systematic inequalities that we discuss and see every day.

Where schools are located is a real estate decision. Where jobs are, where fresh food access is, where you can drive down the road, those are all real estate decisions. I wanted to be able to impact that and be influential in that space. I felt like being in the real estate space, specifically being a developer, was a way for me to have a say in what the long-term trajectory is.

Not just for my immediate community, but just the generations that come next because a lot of these decisions are 30- and 40-, 50-year decisions. Getting engaged in that work right now and on the real estate side of things is really my why. I grew up with a family where we were just caring for others around us, and wanted to see others thrive. I carry that with me. I want to carry my community in the work that I’m doing, and I think real estate is a tool to do that. That’s my why and my background. Wendy, did you have some thoughts from the work that you’re doing?

Santamaria: Yes, thank you. For me, my why is because I believe housing insecurity is the way that people are being kept distracted. I think it’s the way that people are being kept almost tied to just simply surviving and fighting to survive. We cannot focus on anything else. When I work with communities and different working families, their top-of-mind thing is always I need to pay bills, I need to get to work, my kids—the very basics.

To see the psychological trauma that mothers and families are going through, because they can’t pay rent, because they’re facing an eviction, because they’re about to be homeless with their children, you start to notice that all of the other issues going on in the community, whether it’s our environment’s being polluted or there is an abundance of investment in police instead of in community resources and preventative measures, you start to see all these things, but you can’t really find the mental space, the time—nothing—to actually fight against these things.

The phrase “cost of living”—I have a very particular distaste for it because it seems wild to me that no one asks to be born, and yet there is a price to be alive. There’s something about people having to pay their way to just be allowed to live, be allowed to exist. When we are kept with starvation wages, high rents, high costs of living, we are just stuck in that cycle of “make just enough money so that I’m not homeless, and then I can’t really focus on anything else.”

If we were to help solve the housing crisis, and we were able to provide housing stability for people, then we would be able to organize in communities in a much larger extent, and we would be able to really divert that focus from survival mode to really going into thriving mode for our communities. Because it’s really hard to ask people, “You should get involved and you should participate, and you should go speak at city council and do this.” They’re like, “I’m working. I have two to three jobs.” (Most people here are not just with one job.)

For me, my why is that I can’t stomach to see all of these families that are simply just trying to survive. Myself, I grew up in the Inland Empire in Southern California, and it’s a very, very heavily polluted area. It’s like Warehouse Central. I remember growing up thinking that getting asthma was just a rite of passage. Everybody was going to get asthma because pretty much everybody in my elementary school had it. I was just waiting for it to happen to me, and it fortunately never did.

I ended up moving to Santa Barbara for college and then worked out here, and then I just never left. There’s a big difference between Colton, San Bernardino, where I grew up, and Santa Barbara. There’s different investments. There’s all sorts of differences, but the inequality is still there. Everybody being stuck in survival mode, in this crisis mode, it’s still very much there; no matter how beautiful a city looks or no matter how touristy it seems. If anything, that is where some of the biggest inequality lies. I think for me, that’s my why. I really want to get to that root of the issue.

Evans Enos: My why’s a little long. I think it changes as—I would say I do what community asks for, that it’s the space of being able to give back. I also think that I’ve had personal things in my life that have not been easy to go through, but in a lot of ways, I look at learning experiences and being able to say, “Hey, this is what things are like when times are hard,” just like you were referring to, Wendy.

That gives me an opportunity to advocate for people who have less. I’ve worked in the nonprofit world since I was 18. I’ve worked at various communities, from sexual assault, domestic violence, orphaned and destitute children, native Hawaiians, just the whole gamut. Every single place I worked for, housing was an issue. We couldn’t deal with what they came to us for until the social determinants of health were handled, housing being one of the largest issues there.

I’ve been through a lot. I was a teen mom, went through DV myself quite a bit. Took me a while to get out of that relationship, and finally worked really hard to get stabilized. My daughter got really sick. She got this rare autoimmune disease that required us to move from Hawaii Island over to Oʻahu because in Hawaii, if you need serious medical care, there’s one island to go to for that and the doctor said, “You have to move.”

I moved there and attempted to hold my work. I had already had at least 10 years of nonprofit experience. I lost my job sitting at the bedside of her, trying to care for her. That was rough, dealing with the housing insecurity, dealing with lack of access to medical care and support during that process.

I was lucky enough to have an amazing mom. She’s actually on here listening to me today. I had to move home. I slept on her couch and my daughter’s had a bedroom there until we could get back up and do this again, we bought a house in Makawao. It was at that time what I thought was really expensive, and within four years, it raised in equity over $350,000, which for someone who owns it, it’s great, but that’s the reality of how quickly the housing prices rise here in Hawaii.

To be able to keep up with that has been insane. During COVID, while that was all happening, I got into real estate. I wanted to learn a little bit more about real estate investments because I felt from the nonprofit lens, we refer to it as a downstream reaction instead of upstream. During COVID, we kept talking about how are people coming in and purchasing these homes—cash! I know it happened across the country, but definitely watching it in Hawaii was really scary.

I took a few real estate investment classes to try to figure out, how are people doing this? Does everyone really have millions of dollars of cash? The median [costs] are 1.1 to 1.4 [million] depending on what island you go on, and I learned that there are actually various ways to purchase real estate, so I started it. I started doing that on the side. That’s actually what bought me to Hawaiian Community Assets. A few people, they were texting me this job. They were like, “This is yours. This is yours.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?”

I was really comfortable in the space that I was at, but led me here and allowed me to start our first rental program where we use real estate investment skills. We capture those properties before anyone else does, and we hand them over to our clients and we say, “Work with your housing counselor. You got about two years to qualify to purchase this from us,” and to us, it’s an innovative way of getting around new developments.

Here in Hawaii, if you’re going to do a new development, you’re not going to break ground for at least five years. Our people can’t wait five years. We have to do this now. In the meantime, there are properties flying off the market from other buyers, so we’re trying to insert ourselves to do that. That’s fun for me and exciting that I have this skill that we can try to bring in—what people call innovative, but really real estate investors have been doing this for forever. It’s not that innovative, it’s just doing it in a nonprofit lens. We need less profits, so we can keep those things affordable, but that excites me to try something new.

Dean: Lived experience for me: a teenage mom living in a ZIP code that would’ve had me a statistic, and I saw a community that I wanted to change, did housing as a Section 8 case manager, and had young women that were sitting across from me that were the same age as me that just did not have the support system that I had.

I was very intentional about my career path so that I can help other individuals like me to become homeowners and to become assets in their community in terms of advocating for better quality living conditions.

Evans: I have personally faced some barriers as working female, a leader in the space. There are some people who love my ideas and some people who would prefer I not be in the room. Curious what that’s been like for all of you, if anyone has experienced that, and just your thoughts on either advocating so that happens less or your thoughts on getting through those barriers.

Parker: I’ll chime in. I’ve experienced some of those challenges as well. When you talk about people questioning why you’re in the room, if your voice even matters, are you the actual decision-maker? When things like that happen, I’m like, “Well, deuces, I don’t have to work with you.”

That’s my first thought, but the way I have navigated it, two things. One, I’ve had to become more self-assured of who I am. I know I’m supposed to be there—that this thought around imposter syndrome is a thought—but it doesn’t have to be my reality. I can move with a different level of confidence, and that’s taken some time. Second to that is really focusing on who’s bringing me in the room and how they have introduced me.

Really trying to find those sponsors, mentors, advocates who can help position the conversation a little bit better so that I can try to block out some of those barriers. I’ve tried to create those relationships intentionally.

Dean: If they don’t have a seat for me at the table, I bring my own chair. Yes, there are barriers … to being a woman and then also being a Black woman, but I will first let my presence speak for itself. Then also just the knowledge and experience that I have … gained from organizations like NeighborWorks America and beyond that, it gives us the opportunity to be able to engage individuals as thought leaders in this space.

Gloshay: Yes, plus one to all of that, I feel like I’ve had to really build that muscle in my speaking, and feeling that I’m reclaiming space and that I should be there. Also, developing tools for myself to self-advocate, centering my live, learn, and labor experience. Those are all valuable, and just building self-awareness around, like who’s in the room? How do we enhance the work that we’re doing by developing and being in right relationship with folks? Then resourcing myself.

I do run into challenges and barriers, especially with what you named in racism and those perceptions that people have. I have to be self-aware of when I get activated in a response.

To your point around bringing my own chair, I think we’ve also had to build our own tables, so thank you so much.

Santamaria: Yes, plus one to everything that you all mentioned. I’ve run into the issue of, of course, being a woman, but also being young. I am 26 years old and a lot of people still think that I’m an intern. They still think that I have no lived experience, that I have no idea what I’m doing. At the end of the day, what I have done is I’ve taken my strengths, my lived experience, what I have done in the community, and it ends up being my strength and the other person’s weakness.

A lot of times when I’m in the room with, let’s say, elected officials or other folks, decision-makers who don’t really know the dire situation in the community, who are they coming to to actually ask what’s going on? Myself and the other folks in the community.

Mindset has really been a big part of it. I really want to emphasize the fact that the reason I’m in the room is because the other people in the room [are] missing something that I have, they’re missing that knowledge. They’re missing that lived experience, they’re missing those connections in the community.

Yes, we’re bringing our own chairs, we’re building our tables, we’re going to build our own institutions if we need to. We as women … have to find our community, our base that is able to support us and really push us on to get through those barriers. I think at the end of the day, our womanhood is truly that strength, [and] I think if we tap into it, then we’re able to show that we can get through it.

Dean: I agree. In terms of youth, I experienced all of that. I get that, and I think for those of us that are more mature in this space, it’s … our responsibility to provide access to our younger counterparts, if you will, to be even mentors so that we can create a safe space, and so that we can bring you all alongside. I have a younger staff here and they see things from a different perspective, and I appreciate that. I embrace that, I welcome it, and it’s my responsibility to make sure that I equip them to take this space, take my space, when I move forward.

Parker: Chelsie, we talked a little bit about everyone’s lived experience and things like that, but I know we all share some wins, and we have a personal thought process of what success looks like for us. I’m curious, from the work that you’re doing and just personally, what’s your measure of success in this world of community development? Can you share what some of that success may have looked like?

Evans Enos: That’s a hard one. I’m definitely the hardest assessor of my success. My board always says [complimentary] things, and I’m like, “Really? I thought I could have done this better.” That’s difficult for me, but many times what I’m looking at is, have I done something that will have at least a step to an impact that’ll make my kids’ lives better?

At the end of the day, it’s, do my children have an even 1 percent better chance of getting access to housing, job security, and meeting their dreams?

Have I given them opportunities to also take a look at what is available out there? I do feel like very much we get into the weeds of the grant reports and the financial reports and audit that I’m going through right now and all of that fun stuff. Can I take a step back and say, “We’ve given community an opportunity to see new options, to see what can be out there,” which is a large goal, but anything more than where I started to me is successful.

Parker: I love that. That’s awesome. Jaime, did you have any thoughts on that question?

Gloshay: I’ve been doing a lot of unlearning, I think, on decolonization, around this notion or definition of success within a Western reframe or worldview. I’m trying to really lean into my indigenous identity about what that looks like because I think a lot of our communities have been conditioned to labor, have been conditioned to produce, in this world of capitalism.

I often think about … safety as a success, especially with indigenous women, as I shared before, around what’s happening in our communities. What would it look like for me, or my community or my family, to have access to clean water, to our homelands, to live safely in our own homelands and territories, to have a home? For me, I really lean into those types of ways to reframe what success looks like and just being able to live a life not only of safety, but to now get to all of our communities to a point where we can thrive together.

Santamaria: My measure of success is—I’m going to stay away from numbers—I really like to focus on, did I bring people into what I’m doing? Are people involved in the work that I’m doing and the decisions that I’m making? Because I firmly believe no one person has all of the answers. Not one person is going to be able to solve all this. We say it time and time again, it’s going to take a village.

I think for any of the work that I do, if there is a decision to be made, did I bring in enough people to really give them the space to contribute to it, to really make sure that what we’re doing is actually addressing the issue? It’s not just some idea that I had. If I’m able to bring in community, bring in their input, their perspectives, and really create something that is formed out of those lived experiences, that’s my version of success.

Parker: I love that. I think, especially Jaime and Wendy, all of you all have really refrained what success looked like, and I love that. Ever since I met you, Jaime, talking about success being decolonized and it being a form of safety, that just touches my thought process in a different way, so I appreciate that.

For me, I’m really big on how do I recreate the opportunity that I have in starting my own business and doing community-oriented development work. It’s very rare that we get a chance to do that and be backed by business partners. I want to make sure that people have the capital and the support to take on some of these longer-term, but impactful projects. Once I’m able to do that in full capacity, I feel like I will have been successful.

Dean: NeighborWorks America, part of our assessment of organizations is that they have a neighborhood representative on their boards, on their nonprofit boards. The communities in which they serve, there’s always representation. Success for us looks like, one, that you have representation, which means you have lived experience and you have the voice of the community in which you’re receiving these dollars to help.

Also, to see a community transformed—I have seen many of them—[and] I mean transformative, not transactional. Transactional, you’re just building a house here, house there. Transformative is when you walk onto a community and everything is just like, “Wow.” You have the cooperation and input from the residents who live in that community. Doing transformative, comprehensive community development is what we do here at NeighborWorks America. That’s just a part of what success looks like to me as an individual that works here and also as our organization.

Santamaria: Our final question is, community organizing work is notoriously difficult. How do you maintain mental health and self-care so that you can responsibly show up for others?

Parker: I try to take care of my physical body, so whether that’s being in motion, drinking water, trying to laugh, and be around people that I love. Then I try to take care of just the mental components, which is being in a relationship with others and really finding my tribe, both in a work setting—I know that the things that I think are great ideas aren’t just crazy or radical, but they can actually happen. Then also being in the community [in] a personal setting. Friends, families, personal relationships are paramount in all of that for me.

Gloshay: Plus one to all of those. I think for me, it’s just cultivating greater self-awareness as I get older around my own boundaries, around my needs, naming those things. We did a lot of work in a fellowship Maggie and I were part of. That really highlighted the impact of burnout, especially in justice-led work, especially with women of color at the front lines, and really trying to think about how we insulate and protect ourselves against that because we hold multiple roles, multiple visions.

We’re bringing so much to this work, so much beauty and magic and complexity that oftentimes we forget to fill our own cups. I’ve been just really sitting with that: How do I source myself in a way that brings me joy and love and safety and connection so that I continue to sustain this work as an individual, but then have that impact collectively.

Dean: Admittedly, that’s a struggle for me sometimes, trying to balance it with all the responsibilities. Then the passion for the work. Physical fitness for me, you got to take care of your temple so that it can take care of you.

I appear to be very extroverted, but I’m actually an introvert. After giving of yourself, you have to remove yourself and recharge, and I know when I’ve reached that limit, so I will pull away and recharge. You got to make sure that you understand your limits. If you need to step away and recharge yourself, then that’s exactly what needs to happen. Then I can’t stress enough, physical fitness, it keeps that stress level down and it keeps you healthy.

Evans Enos: I think last year when I lost my son, it definitely was an eye-opener to how much we take on our plates and what gets left off the plate when we take on certain things. I think I’m still going through a journey of trying to figure that out, but that awareness, unfortunately, came not in the way that I wish. I don’t know if any of you here deal with mom guilt, but the mom guilt, especially after you lose a child, is loud and proud and very apparent. I think overall, it helped me to realize really the most important thing for me is my children and the time that I get with them.

It’s made me better at saying no to things that I felt like I needed to take on just so I could keep a job or just so it made me deal with my imposter syndrome to say, “Well, it doesn’t matter even if you don’t feel like you’re good enough.” The reality is, if it’s asking too much of you, and it means the sacrifice of the time with your kids that’s not promised, then it’s not worth it anyway. I’ve gotten much better at drawing those lines. I’m not going to say that it’s easy. The job is still very demanding, but it has helped me to at least filter out the things that I can do, the things that I put as a priority, and the things that can wait, which I wasn’t great at before.

Santamaria: We have just a few minutes left, and we want to get some questions from our attendees. Schlonn, we’ll turn this over to you.

Hawkins: I don’t know about you all, but we could go for some more time. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time, but I just want to give a round of applause to our panelists. Thank you so much, ladies, for being so vulnerable.

The first question is a two parter: In the space that you work in, what do you do to ensure that financing companies, banks, take legislation like the CRA seriously? And do you have experience in approaching noncompliant institutions?

Evans Enos: I have the opportunity to sit on an advisory council with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That gives me an opportunity to be able to advocate for those types of things. In all honesty, I’m still very new to it, but it gives me just a holding space to take the information from community of what native clients are dealing with, specifically in those sectors, and go back to the CFPB and say, “Hey, we need help on this, and let’s work on this.” That’s one way that I’m working on that.

Parker: I’ll give another quick example in the Dallas market. There was a gentleman that really took this to media. There was a series of articles that came out that was called Banking Under 30. It specifically actually called out banks that had not met their CRA requirements because that’s pretty much all public information. It got a lot of traction to the point where a lot of the banks did not want to be in the news. Some banks did not have mergers happen as a result of being in the news. There are some coalition/media components, strategies that can be used to put some fire on folks. The series is called Banking Under 30 in Dallas.

Hawkins: The next question is, what are some tangible steps we can take in our community to encourage more just housing options?

Evans Enos: I’m going to get in on a very micro level. We encourage people, if you’re going to ever sell your home, you get a choice on who you sell to. You also have choices of putting on deed restrictions on that home, of what that looks like in the future for that home. Does the person that is going to purchase it, that it could be an opportunity for you to say that this house must stay [with] an 80 percent and under or 100 percent and under area median income household?

There’s lots of innovative ways. Again, I say innovative because it’s new to everyday thinking, but our real estate developments do it all the time, they put restrictions on these properties. Anyone can do that. I think maybe digging into a little bit more research of what you do in the market, if it was even just half of us, that would change the market completely. If we keep looking at it in a colonized view, and we need to profit as much as we can on the house that we’ve owned before, then we’re going to keep being in the situation.

Dean: I’ll jump in and say advocacy. Municipalities at the local government level receive Community Development Block Grant dollars, as well as HOME dollars. Oftentimes, these local governments use those for housing. Many local governments have housing plans and housing strategies.

Having said that, being engaged, civically engaged as a part of community building engagement, so that’s one. With your elected officials, make your voice heard in terms of allocating those resources towards affordable housing. Many state agencies also receive tax credits and things of that sort in terms of funding to be allocated towards affordable housing. Advocating for those at your elected official level is one way to start that.

Santamaria: Thank you, Deletta, for that. I want to add on, from the tenant point of view, I think for a lot of folks, homeownership has not been possible. I think some of the tangible things we can do is if we live in apartment buildings, talk to your neighbors, build a tenant association, get communicated with them. If you are ever facing illegal rent increases, evictions, it’s a lot easier to fight it if you are all united. It’s the common theme in my work. It’s power in numbers, and if you are not united, then we’re not going to be able to survive this.

I think also pushing for ordinances at the local level, as Deletta mentioned, working with our elected officials to make sure that we have rent stabilization ordinances, that we have things like a right-to-counsel program, rental registries. There’s a lot of tangible things that we can push for at the local level. I would say building that community infrastructure amongst tenants, amongst homeowners, amongst the community who wants to see affordable housing being built and affordable housing being prioritized.

When we say affordable housing, we don’t mean market price. We mean actually affordable for the working families in that municipality. I think in building that community infrastructure, advocating for that at the local level, and honestly taking somebody from that community and putting them in that seat of decision-making. I think what it’s going to take for us to be able to really, really get to the root of this issue. We need people with lived experiences with the knowledge and the passion to actually get to the root of this issue. I think solidarity amongst your neighbors and really getting civically engaged, that would be my two pieces of advice.

Hawkins: Does anyone have anything else to add before we close out?

Santamaria: I think for the final question we had about self-care in this type of work, … I wanted to say there’s two things that I would recommend to people. One is less tangible, which is, of course, water your own tree, find your people who can support you, but the other one is more tangible. You work in a nonprofit, unionize. Unionize, unionize, unionize.

I did it and our staff saw the ability to finally be able to afford where they live, get better working conditions, raises, all of these things. These are very tangible things. Unions are helpful and for-profits hate unions. Yes, absolutely. Remember what a union is. It’s just workers getting together advocating for the working conditions and better pay and all this stuff. I firmly believe that no industry, no sector, not even the nonprofit sector is excluded from the need for a union. There is always a need for workers who come together.

Hawkins: We are at the end of our session today, “Her Story, Her Power, in Community Development.” Thank you, Chelsie. Thank you, Wendy. Thank you, Jaime. Thank you, Maggie. Thank you, Deletta, for joining us today.

Related Articles