Leadership

Innovators Break Down Barriers; They Also Lift Up Our Resolve

A rare dynamic – of both lowering the barriers to change, and raising the will, skill, and resolve of people – is at the heart of Episode 4 of Ivory Innovations' House Party podcast, featuring a probing interview with Aishatu Yusuf, VP of Innovation Programs at Impact Justice.

Leadership

Innovators Break Down Barriers; They Also Lift Up Our Resolve

A rare dynamic – of both lowering the barriers to change, and raising the will, skill, and resolve of people – is at the heart of Episode 4 of Ivory Innovations' House Party podcast, featuring a probing interview with Aishatu Yusuf, VP of Innovation Programs at Impact Justice.

September 29th, 2023
Innovators Break Down Barriers; They Also Lift Up Our Resolve
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[Editor's Note: Ivory Innovations House Party, a podcast series hosted by Ivory Innovations Chief Innovation and Strategy Officer Jenna Louie, is presented here in partnership with The Builder's Daily. The weekly series of episodes dive deep with entrepreneurs, researchers and practitioners in the community, striving to shine a light on housing affordability solutions. Access the podcast episode here.]

The world's full up to here with examples of "easy-to-say-hard-to-do." Hardly anywhere is this so evident as in the messy, real-world realm of housing affordability, attainability, and access.

The Atlantic staffer Jerusalem Demsas captures exactly this with heart-crushing starkness in her most recent piece.

Building a new city is hard, and this most recent push to do so—unlike with recent gains in AI—doesn’t reflect an exciting breakthrough in America’s technological, political, or financial capacity. Rather, it reflects an abiding frustration with the ridiculously sluggish process of building housing in America’s most productive cities and suburbs. The dream of a new San Francisco is, then, rooted in the nightmare that the old one may be past saving."  – Why Don’t We Just Build New Cities?, The Atlantic

What people like Demsas do to such deeply-wrenching effect is to face unflinchingly how hard it is to change the arc of housing's affordability crisis, and at the same time plow us forward with a challenge that there's little choice but to change it.

Authors Chip and Dan Heath tackle the same meta issue in a 13-year old book they entitled, "Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard."

Central to the Heaths' nudge at us to accomplish what is "easier-said-than-done," i.e. to change, lie two separate but equally necessary and doable parts of the equation:

1) Shrink the change

2) Grow your people

Housing's affordability dialog hyper-focuses on Number 1, shrink the change. We hear so often of "bending the cost curve" of housing development in the direction of more households' income levels as the solution. Certainly, lowering the barriers to a change, as the Heath's attest, is a vitally essential part of what solutions look like and do.

But how about Door Number 2, "grow your people?" In addition to removing friction (i.e. cost, racial discrimination, and other vicious-circle traps) from people's access to healthy, attainable homes, an equally critical mechanism required to accomplish what's "easy-to-say-and-hard-to-do," means raising the resolve, and belief, and realistic determinism to make that change happen.

The Heaths write:

[Paul Butler] inspired them to feel more determined, more ready, more motivated. And when you build people up in this way, they develop strength to act."

This dynamic – of both lowering the barriers to change, and raising the will, skill, and resolve of people – is at the heart of Episode 4 of Ivory Innovations' House Party podcast, featuring a probing interview with Aishatu Yusuf,  VP of Innovation Programs at Impact Justice where she has created, evaluated, and sustained a portfolio of transformational projects that work to reform and transform social systems.

House Party host Jenna Louie, director of Strategy and Innovation at Ivory Innovations, engages Aishatu Yusuf in an exploration of change with housing as a key part of the solution, including questions of how to support the most vulnerable populations in our community when they experience homelessness? How might we help prevent  homelessness in the first place? Impact Justice’s Homecoming Project takes a popular idea – home sharing - and applies it to a non-traditional population – formerly incarcerated individuals exiting the justice system. Formerly incarcerated people are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public. The Homecoming Project model provides a novel and successful path for individuals who might otherwise become homeless to instead re-enter society in a welcoming housing environment. Impact Justice’s Homecoming Project was the 2021 Ivory Prize for Housing Affordability Winner in Public Policy & Regulatory Reform

Here, from Jenna Louie's interview with Aishatu Yusuf, are highlights of their compelling exploration:

Q: What drew you to do the work you're doing?

Aishatu Yusuf

I have multiple inroads to working on the criminal legal system, both from the personal experience of my family -- a family of immigrants and a black family in America -- both characteristics in America where people are more susceptible to interaction with the justice system. My family is not exempt from that.
Because of those reasons and identities, I was really interested early on about how we as a society can both understand what's happening in our communities and understand how oppression and institutionalized racism impact and create the pathways for people like me and my family to be more susceptible to justice involvement.
When I was doing undergrad work, I did my thesis around laws about crack and cocaine. That propelled me into some of the work of understanding just how laws and policies fuel the system. I began doing some education work to understand those pathways, and that led me to a realization: It's not just one entity, it's not just one failure, but that it is a system of failures that have allowed people like both me and my family, but millions of other folks of color and immigrant families, women, girls, to be disproportionately impacted by the system.
I come to this work with an understanding that all of these kinds of systems work together. At different points in my career I focused on different ones. There was a time that I focused on women and girls. There was a time that I focused on gangs.
Now, because I do this work around the premise that it takes more than a criminal legal solution to solve the problems that we have has led me to these big openings, particularly around housing. Thinking about our housing crisis, and what led up to this housing crisis, and how the housing crisis impacts people differently, especially in a system that treats them differently because of their marginalized status."

Q. How does the Homecoming Project work to help marginalized people who've been incarcerated re-enter homes and communities?

Aishatu Yusuf

The Homecoming Project is a project that grew out of the idea of the sharing economy model. Basically, it’s the idea that there are rooms inside of folks' homes all across this country, and there are people leaving prison all across this country. What we serve is individuals who have been sentenced to at least 10 years in prison -- and that is specific to the Homecoming Project, because what the data shows us is that individuals who have been in prison for a long time and reenter back into communities are most likely to be homeless. That is particularly because of a lack of affordable housing, and a lack of job availability, but also because they've been gone for a long time, which means that navigating our society after having been gone for such a long time is much harder.
The Homecoming Project serves individuals who’ve been sentenced to at least 10 years in prison. We have what we call a ‘host recruiter’ on our team, and they reach out to the broader community. The Homecoming Project launched in Alameda County, and we blossomed out into Contra Costa County as well. Host recruiters work in the communities with individuals who own a home, and those homeowners open up a room they have inside their home, and rent that room out to one of our participants.
We work to raise both philanthropic dollars and county and state dollars to help fund this project. That funding allows us to pay each homeowner $1,400 a month to house one of our program’s participants. That individual will stay inside a homeowner’s home for six months.
The big piece of this is we provide an individualized case plan for each participant. We have what we call a community navigator, and that individual works one-on-one with each participant to help facilitate their reentry back into the community. That includes helping them save money because we are subsidizing their housing for those six months, finding a job, building a resume, reconnecting with the family, and working on their integration skills. Further, we work with them on any of the things that they need, whether that's how to get a bus pass, how to get your ID, how to navigate the train system, etc., The case manager/community navigator helps them navigate that. That is such a key piece to our program that allows each one of our participants to have an individual who works closely with them as they re-navigate society.
They’re in our project for six months. Because a Community Navigator has worked so closely with them, they are able to exit our program to a variety of places. We don't believe in a one-size-fits-all model at the Homecoming Project. For some people, they've reconnected with their family, and they're reentering back into housing with their families, maybe a partner, maybe a parent, maybe another family member. Sometimes that means they move out of the state if they're allowed to do so. Sometimes that means that the host and that participant became so close that they've now entered into a lease agreement. And they're now roommates. Oftentimes, most often that means that they saved money, and they have a good job. They’ve saved a first- and last-month rent deposit so they're able to find an apartment.
We've worked as a team with the Homecoming team to create great relationships with housing developments and different apartment complexes. Sometimes they leave apartments open for us to place our participants.
Our project is unique in that our goal is to provide housing for people upon their release, or their recent release, and subsidize their rent so that they can start to work on things that are important to their transition. We built this as a housing model, a way for us to provide housing opportunities for folks who are leaving prison without having to build a single entity. What we created was a relationship project. The relationship forged between the host and the participant is a beautiful relationship that lasts many years. We also know that people who are able to create strong relationships with folks who have different experiences than they do have a greater likelihood of finding success.

The program works both to "shrink the change" and "grow the people." All told, it falls into that "easy-to-say-hard-to-do" category. What's gratifying is witnessing the ones doing it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John McManus

John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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