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Building Sustainable Communities: Addressing Inequities

March 4, 2021 | By

Fannie Mae’s Sustainable Communities Initiative held a virtual symposium that assembled thought leaders and some of our partners for a roundtable discussion on the challenges of the COVID crisis, and its impacts on communities of color.

From LBJ to Today:  Reflections on the Legacy of Inequity

Kenneth Imo, Vice President of Fannie Mae’s Office of Minority and Women Inclusion and Diversity & Inclusion, provided opening remarks, invoking a speech President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered in 1965 at Howard University’s graduation: “Men and women of all races are born with the same range of abilities. But ability is not just a product of birth. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family you live with, and the neighborhood you live in — by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child, and finally the man.”

Fifty-five years later, the legacy of inequity that Johnson observed still casts a long shadow on this country. Imo explains “Outcomes for individual Americans are determined by the neighborhood in which you live, the school that you attend, and the economic circumstances in which you were raised.”


Acknowledging that “awareness without action is meaningless,” Imo discussed Fannie Mae’s efforts to improve the quality of neighborhoods and communities nationwide through its affordable housing mission and cross-sector collaborations and partnerships.

“When families live in safe, stable, and thriving neighborhoods with integrated access to affordable housing, quality schools, and opportunities for health care and employment, they live in sustainable communities,” Imo said.

Imo’s new role as head of the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion is to execute the company’s diversity and inclusion strategy. Imo emphasized, “It’s not enough just to say you’ve got a diverse and inclusive environment without actually putting in the work to create that diversity through the way that we hire, promote, retain, and develop people.”

Externally, Imo spotlighted Fannie Mae’s Future Housing Leaders program, which works to diversify the wider housing industry by identifying students from underrepresented communities and organizing internships and employment opportunities for them.

Watch Kenneth’s Imo’s remarks above, as well as other panels from the Sustainable Communities Symposium below. 


Pivoting and Partnering Post-Covid: How Three Housing Non-Profits are Forging Ahead

The RoundTable: An Innovator Panel on Affordable Housing Solutions with Moderator Tyronda Simpson 

During the Sustainable Communities Symposium, leaders of three nonprofits that work to solve housing affordability challenges and create more resiliency in their communities presented updates on their work and how their organizations are faring during the coronavirus pandemic. “These speakers provided a master class in pivoting, perseverance, and partnership,” said Maria Evans, Vice President of Sustainable Communities Partnership & Innovation at Fannie Mae.

Build UP is a private, nonprofit high school in Birmingham, AL, that blends traditional academic coursework with hands-on paid apprenticeships in home construction and real estate. CEO Mark Martin acknowledged that it’s been “a tough year” and that it’s not just the coronavirus pandemic that’s impacting his community. “We had George Floyd’s death in May, Rayshard Brooks in June — and for my kids in Birmingham, it’s just been a hard year through and through,” said Martin. “And none of this is new, right, it’s been happening for generations.” Martin credits collaboration with outside partners that allowed Build UP to develop a virtual platform for teaching workforce development skills and ultimately helped re-open the school for in-person social distance learning.

Jobs for the Future is a national nonprofit that drives change for the American workforce and education system to advance economic enhancement for all. Senior Advisor Nancy Hoffman is also the Co-Founder of the Pathways to Prosperity Network, a national movement to reimagine how to prepare youth for their future careers. Hoffman noted that the pandemic revealed that families who were working and even had “middle-class wages” had no safety net to fall back on when they lost their jobs. “The consequence is a visible and growing tsunami of evictions, of food insecurity — an inability to use the internet, find a quiet place for your kids and have your kids continue school virtually.” As the country begins to recover, Hoffman’s work is focused on using educational settings to promote income mobility for young people.

LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) is a national nonprofit that has invested over $20 billion in communities across the country, which has led to the creation of over 400,000 homes. President and CEO Maurice Jones says that the pandemic, recession, and racial reckoning have all presented “incredible opportunities for us to recommit to the American experiment.” Since the pandemic, LISC has focused on improving internet access for low-income communities and “intentionally investing with a racial justice lens.” Jones said LISC’s small business work has also intensified. “We have raised over $250 million for small business grants, and the demand far exceeds that,” Jones said. “We are focused on businesses that are led by people of color, women, and people in rural areas. Ninety-five percent of our grant recipients are businesses led by people of color.”

To learn more about their partnerships and innovative solutions watch their discussion above.


Addressing Residential Segregation

Dr. Chris Herbert, Managing Director of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies

Dr. Chris Herbert discussed the state of housing in the U.S., the outlook for 2021, and the need for policies to address the impact of racial residential segregation. Referring to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies’ State of the Nation’s Housing 2020, Herbert described how rental affordability, already at crisis levels, has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and that the problem has “moved up the income ladder.” For households that struggled to pay rent, Herbert noted an uptick in associated problems, including access to adequate food, health care, and affordable transportation.

While the issue of housing affordability is impacting middle-income households, Herbert said it is particularly severe for low-income households of color. “One of the things we highlighted in the report is the fact that racial disparities in housing are both a cause and a consequence of other social inequalities,” Herbert said. “When people are consigned to very poor neighborhoods, they have less access to good schools, less access to jobs, and poorer health environments, all of which feeds into their ability to have a job, to advance, and to be able to do well.”

Herbert also noted racial disparities among homeowners. “We can’t just ignore the fact that there’s a 31 percentage point gap in Black and white homeownership rates,” he said.

The Harvard report makes the case for a systematic approach to providing housing opportunity. According to Herbert, we need to advance mobility so more people have access to currently thriving communities; but also must invest in transportation, schools, health, and housing in struggling communities.

To hear more about the state of affordable housing and the outlook for 2021, watch the full conversation above.





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