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A Dreams Party for Renters' Equity

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

The back story

Last year, I was a part of an Artists as Change Agents cohort that was facilitated by EMCarts and sponsored by Arts and Science Council. The premise of the EMCarts curriculum was rooted in a belief that the artistic process has unique power to unlock entrenched attitudes and open up new ways of seeing. During our gatherings, we exercised our abilities and facilitation skills around the artistic capabilities that help communities to find solutions to community problems. The capabilities, in short hand, were: adapt, engage, experiment, embrace uncertainty, and rehearse, reflect, & regroup.

At the end of the cohort, ASC provided each of us the opportunity to apply for a "Small Act of Radical Intent" grant. I chose the following project: Artist facilitation of story telling and mixed media workshop focusing on concerns of renters and affordable housing providers. Once I was accepted as a Resident in Residence at McColl Center for Arts and Innovation, I knew that this might be the perfect setting to complete the Small Act of Radical Intent project.

Here's what happened

I used eventbrite to invite folks and made it an invitation only event. I invited 31 people to attend the workshop. The invite list included landlords, tenants, QC Family Tree residents, Housing Organizers & Advocates, and Renter's Rights advocates. 15 people responded that they would attend. Eight people were in attendance. We met in the groundfloor Levine Creation Lab at the McColl Center. Upstairs, the Outcome open house event was taking place. [We enjoyed the jazz music above our heads and had an opportunity to join the party after our workshop.]

We gathered food and joined together at a "dining room style" table to eat and begin. I presented the group agreements for our time together and talked about how the intent for the workshop was for it to be an abundantly generative exploration time. The group agreements that I used for this workshop came from a combination of group agreements that I have gleaned from EMCarts and anti-racism training led by Sandyha Jha and Yvonne Gilmore.

These are the same relational agreements that I sent to the McColl center upon entering my time as a Resident Artist. After coming back from anti-racism training, the lesson I could not get out of my head was "In stress moments, we and our organizations will default to the dominant paradigm if we have not institutionalized anti oppression values." And so, the group agreements and resident artist relational agreements are:

Together, we will:

  • Engage in an Abundant worldview that uses resources responsibly

  • Participate in transparent communication and decision making that guards personal integrity

  • Embody cooperation and collaboration that nurtures individual creativity

  • Activate Both/And thinking with a bias toward action

  • Experiment, discovering new insights and possibilities

  • Remain generous and generative

  • Praxis- act + reflect

  • Work with surprises and adapt.

  • Make connections across what seems like difference.

After we discussed group agreements and assumptions, we set a common definition of "Equity" for the workshop. Equity = capital, asset, stake, money invested in a possession, and investment- monetary + time, improvement, beauty, care, emotional, social. I then asked each person to look at a collection of images and to pick an image that represents to them "How possible is rental equity in Charlotte?" Once they picked an image, they held onto it until later.

The next part of the workshop was story circles, a process I have learned from Alternate ROOTS and which was created by Junebug Productions' John O'Neal. Prompted by "tell a story of something that you owned and loved," each person had 2 minutes to tell a story. We all listened to each story with no cross talk. After the stories were told, we each took a moment to describe a snapshot or image from the story we heard. For example, "I can see you in your red coat, smiling big."

Once we completed the story circles, we went back to the table images and picked a second picture prompted by, "now that we've shared stories, how possible is rental equity?" After picking a second image, folks got into pairs and talked about their first and second images. I asked them to take a few minutes to reflect on what they see, sense, relate to, and what resonates with them in the images.

After sharing our observations and thoughts on the images, I handed out a description of the Renters' Equity prototype: QC Family Tree's Affordable Housing Rental Properties. The information on the hand out included QCFT's assumptions, the problem, QCFT rental rates, and the QCFT housing properties budget. Folks had an opportunity to review this information and ask questions. Then, everyone was asked to brainstorm as many potential solutions for increasing renters' equity within the QCFT residents/properties.

Here are all the ideas:

  • A portion of rent goes into escrow account for future home ownership. Perhaps this future home ownership is identified as home ownership in Enderly Park, 28208, or the West Side Community Land Trust.

  • Place based wrap around supports. Creating a targeted plan per household where each household identifies their own goals and QCFT supports with a care coordinator or case manager.

  • A portion of rent is saved for the resident's "next step"

  • If the rental housing is a funnel for directing folks to home ownership, perhaps a part of their rent "payment" is recruiting the next folks who will be living in the rental.

  • A part of rent pays for community services to pay for what folks need, such as: a CSA, Healthcare, exercise membership, mental health, etc.

  • Offset rent with folks' skill set. What skills do the tenants have that will save QCFT money?

  • Include cleaning services as a part of the rental contract. This will help with some of the expenses of deferred and unexpected maintenance.

  • Renters coordinate together for resident parties, events, and social gatherings.

  • Host house maintenance parties where everyone gets together to help paint, fix, clean, etc.

  • Give residents space and ownership to change design features of the home.

  • Renters begin to pay their own utilities. QCFT saves that expense in an account and establishes a trust with that money for homeownership.

  • QCFT creates sponsoring partnerships and connects residents with sponsors to help residents institute their own projects. Example: supplies for a raised bed garden.

  • Shift properties to rent-to-own or cooperatively owned.

  • QCFT acquires ore income based living spaces at 30% AMI.

  • Renters fund raise on behalf of QCFT and this amount is matched. This money goes into savings escrow for renters.

  • QCFT develop ADU's (Accessory Dwelling Units) that produce income. The residents are the landlords. This produces income for the renters.

  • Renters participate in community meetings as a part of the lease agreement.

  • A portion of rent can be paid by tenant as sweat equity- performing maintenance and/or landscaping.

After these ideas were shared, folks got to make their mark on the two or three they liked best. [they are listed above according to which they liked best] The last thing folks did was to share their feedback on the workshop. I asked folks to give their stamp of impactful (rather than approval). Using the resource, Aesthetic Perspectives: Attributes of Excellence in Arts for Change, I created garden themed stamps that represented the following social impact attributes: commitment, communal meaning, disruption, cultural integrity, risk taking, openness, emotional experience, sensory experience, coherence, resourcefulness, and stickiness. I also invited folks to give any other constructive feedback before they left. The participants chose to give the following stamps of impactful for the workshop: 1 openness, 3 commitment, 1 coherence, 1 resourceful. One participant wrote, "inspirational."

As we were leaving, I heard, "I nearly cried three times, " " I have no idea how we got to where we got. I am amazed at how we came up with so many solutions, especially since our method was very unconventional," "I am surprised at how quickly we got to know each other."

QC Family Tree will be initiating some of these ideas and will also continue to get input from residents, community members, and other supporters of QC Family Tree. I'll be sure to keep folks updated on where we go from here.

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