Fortis Capital Partners with Living Cities and the City of Minneapolis to Double Down on Bridging Racial Gaps in Access to Capital

Business ownership in Minneapolis is uneven by race. The City of Minneapolis has a total population of 411,500, of which 19% percent are Black, 10% Latinx, 6% Pan Asian, and 1% Native American. While Whites comprise 63.9% of the population, they own ~80% of the businesses. This implies that entrepreneurship amongst people of color is disproportionally lower.

In collaboration with the Minneapolis Innovation Team, a group of city employees that serves as in-house public sector innovation consultants to the City of Minneapolis, the City has uncovered key challenges facing entrepreneurs of color, including lack of intergenerational wealth, absence of affordable commercial space, confusing city processes, and poor access to advisor and investor networks. In addition, their exploration has laid bare that the Minneapolis’ capital ecosystem does not always work for entrepreneurs of color.

Research shows that entrepreneurs of color have lower levels of access to “friends and family money”, which can help to capitalize businesses, particularly at the early stages. Similarly, the underwriting criteria for debt products used by both traditional and alternative lenders does not meet the needs of entrepreneurs of color who lack wealth and have few fixed assets. Lastly, entrepreneurs of color do not have access to the informal sources of financial, knowledge, and social capital that are crucial in the start-up and early-stages of the business lifecycle.

The Fund

“Supporting small businesses owned by people of color is a critical part of any strategy to meaningfully address racial disparities in any community.”

To address the city’s long-standing racial wealth disparities and with the goal of shifting how the local capital ecosystem works, the City of Minneapolis and Living Cities’ Blended Catalyst Fund (BCF) made an inaugural investment in Fortis Capital and its Participation Loan Program. As a non-profit organization, with 501c(3) status, Fortis Capital aims to increase access to debt on reasonable terms for small and growing businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color.

“Living Cities has worked in Minneapolis/Saint Paul for over a decade through projects like The Integration Initiative and the Catalyst Fund, and we are excited to build on our existing partnerships and investments by working with the City of Minneapolis and Fortis Capital on their efforts to close the racial income and wealth gaps.”, said Demetric Duckett, Managing Director for Living Cities. “Supporting small businesses owned by people of color is a critical part of any strategy to meaningfully address racial disparities in any community.”

“Increasing access to financial, knowledge and social capital is and has been a driving force in the creation of Fortis Capital.”, said Jim Terrell, President and COO of Fortis. “We are positioned to use a proven lending model as well as key partnerships to reach borrowers and to serve communities that otherwise are not being adequately helped.”

By incorporating lending criteria that does not rely on strict credit/collateral guidelines but includes a review of business readiness; prioritizing borrowers who are unlikely to qualify for traditional bank financing, and offering terms and loan amounts that meet the needs of entrepreneurs of color, Fortis Capital leverages lessons from past local loan programs to bridge gaps in access to capital and increase jobs created or retained by people of color.

For the years 2014, 2015, and 2017, small business loan programs provided an average of $1.92MM of capital from the City and leveraged an average of $11.24MM from private lending partners. Borrowers estimated that these loans helped create an average of 256 jobs and retain an average of 340 jobs in the years 2014, 2015, and 2017. The Fortis Capital Participation Loan Program was designed to fill a number of gaps in the Minneapolis capital ecosystem. The program offers loan amounts and loan terms that address borrowers’ capital needs and, most importantly, it deliberately targets entrepreneurs of color.

Racial Equity Focus

Fortis Capital’s vision to provide flexible capital to entrepreneurs of color, innovate existing local loan structures to better meet the needs of disproportionally undercapitalized communities, and increase jobs and business ownership for Black and brown people, is not only appropriate for the current context, but aligned with BCF’s impact focus.

This alignment is manifested in the efforts that the City is doing to work with banks and nonprofits providing technical assistance to incentivize transformations within the local financial ecosystem. The aspiration is that as bank underwriters gain experience understanding the specific barriers faced by entrepreneurs of color, they will provide credit reference points to expand the bank’s underwriting approach.

The BCF’s inaugural investment in Fortis Capital is the result of Living Cities’ intentional focus on increasing investments in founders and capital decision-makers of color to achieve better outcomes in a country undergoing a rapid demographic shift. This investment is also an opportunity for the impact investing field to gain clarity around the structures and underwriting processes necessary to scale efforts to close racial wealth gaps.

To learn more about Fortis Capital contact Jim Terrell, from the Community Planning & Economic Development department, and Brian K. Smith, from the City of Minneapolis Innovation Team at info@fortiscap.org. For more information on Living Cities’ Capital for the New Majority Strategy, contact Thaddeus Fair, the Senior Investment Associate for this transaction, and Demetric Duckett, Managing Director at Living Cities at catalystfund@livingcities.org.

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Fortis Capital Partners with Living Cities and the City of Minneapolis to Double Down on Bridging Racial Gaps in Access to Capital

Business ownership in Minneapolis is uneven by race. The City of Minneapolis has a total population of 411,500, of which 19% percent are Black, 10% Latinx, 6% Pan Asian, and 1% Native American. While Whites comprise 63.9% of the population, they own ~80% of the businesses. This implies that entrepreneurship amongst people of color is disproportionally lower.

In collaboration with the Minneapolis Innovation Team, a group of city employees that serves as in-house public sector innovation consultants to the City of Minneapolis, the City has uncovered key challenges facing entrepreneurs of color, including lack of intergenerational wealth, absence of affordable commercial space, confusing city processes, and poor access to advisor and investor networks. In addition, their exploration has laid bare that the Minneapolis’ capital ecosystem does not always work for entrepreneurs of color.

Research shows that entrepreneurs of color have lower levels of access to “friends and family money”, which can help to capitalize businesses, particularly at the early stages. Similarly, the underwriting criteria for debt products used by both traditional and alternative lenders does not meet the needs of entrepreneurs of color who lack wealth and have few fixed assets. Lastly, entrepreneurs of color do not have access to the informal sources of financial, knowledge, and social capital that are crucial in the start-up and early-stages of the business lifecycle.

The Fund

“Supporting small businesses owned by people of color is a critical part of any strategy to meaningfully address racial disparities in any community.”

To address the city’s long-standing racial wealth disparities and with the goal of shifting how the local capital ecosystem works, the City of Minneapolis and Living Cities’ Blended Catalyst Fund (BCF) made an inaugural investment in Fortis Capital and its Participation Loan Program. As a non-profit organization, with 501c(3) status, Fortis Capital aims to increase access to debt on reasonable terms for small and growing businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color.

“Living Cities has worked in Minneapolis/Saint Paul for over a decade through projects like The Integration Initiative and the Catalyst Fund, and we are excited to build on our existing partnerships and investments by working with the City of Minneapolis and Fortis Capital on their efforts to close the racial income and wealth gaps.”, said Demetric Duckett, Managing Director for Living Cities. “Supporting small businesses owned by people of color is a critical part of any strategy to meaningfully address racial disparities in any community.”

“Increasing access to financial, knowledge and social capital is and has been a driving force in the creation of Fortis Capital.”, said Jim Terrell, President and COO of Fortis. “We are positioned to use a proven lending model as well as key partnerships to reach borrowers and to serve communities that otherwise are not being adequately helped.”

By incorporating lending criteria that does not rely on strict credit/collateral guidelines but includes a review of business readiness; prioritizing borrowers who are unlikely to qualify for traditional bank financing, and offering terms and loan amounts that meet the needs of entrepreneurs of color, Fortis Capital leverages lessons from past local loan programs to bridge gaps in access to capital and increase jobs created or retained by people of color.

For the years 2014, 2015, and 2017, small business loan programs provided an average of $1.92MM of capital from the City and leveraged an average of $11.24MM from private lending partners. Borrowers estimated that these loans helped create an average of 256 jobs and retain an average of 340 jobs in the years 2014, 2015, and 2017. The Fortis Capital Participation Loan Program was designed to fill a number of gaps in the Minneapolis capital ecosystem. The program offers loan amounts and loan terms that address borrowers’ capital needs and, most importantly, it deliberately targets entrepreneurs of color.

Racial Equity Focus

Fortis Capital’s vision to provide flexible capital to entrepreneurs of color, innovate existing local loan structures to better meet the needs of disproportionally undercapitalized communities, and increase jobs and business ownership for Black and brown people, is not only appropriate for the current context, but aligned with BCF’s impact focus.

This alignment is manifested in the efforts that the City is doing to work with banks and nonprofits providing technical assistance to incentivize transformations within the local financial ecosystem. The aspiration is that as bank underwriters gain experience understanding the specific barriers faced by entrepreneurs of color, they will provide credit reference points to expand the bank’s underwriting approach.

The BCF’s inaugural investment in Fortis Capital is the result of Living Cities’ intentional focus on increasing investments in founders and capital decision-makers of color to achieve better outcomes in a country undergoing a rapid demographic shift. This investment is also an opportunity for the impact investing field to gain clarity around the structures and underwriting processes necessary to scale efforts to close racial wealth gaps.

To learn more about Fortis Capital contact Jim Terrell, from the Community Planning & Economic Development department, and Brian K. Smith, from the City of Minneapolis Innovation Team at info@fortiscap.org. For more information on Living Cities’ Capital for the New Majority Strategy, contact Thaddeus Fair, the Senior Investment Associate for this transaction, and Demetric Duckett, Managing Director at Living Cities at catalystfund@livingcities.org.

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Urban Living Might Just Survive Coronavirus

“How will cities survive the coronavirus?” a New York Times opinion writer recently asked. “Can New York avoid a coronavirus exodus?” the Financial Times chimed in. Since the beginning of the pandemic, many have predicted the demise of U.S. urban living — where physical proximity is the norm, social distancing complex, and lockdowns in sometimes cramped apartments decidedly uncomfortable.

A new report by City Observatory researcher Joe Cortright, made available as an interactive dashboard, suggests that such hand-wringing may be premature. Searches for urban properties on real estate website Zillow increased in 29 of the 35 largest U.S. metropolitan markets in April, compared with April of last year. Data from another website, Apartment List, show that more people were looking to live in New York City during that same month, the darkest one in terms of lives lost in New York, and much of the northeastern U.S.

”The broadest base, real-time indicator of what people are looking at indicates that they haven’t turned away from cities,” Cortright said, cautioning that the urban exodus some are predicting could still come to pass. “We’ll have a definite answer to this question several years from now,” when new census numbers are available, he said.

For the past two decades, cities have held increasing appeal to well-educated young adults, whom Cortright calls the “young and restless” in his research. They are between the ages of 25 and 34, have at least a bachelor’s degree, and are most likely to move across state lines. Not only are they the powerhouse of the U.S. economy, he writes, but they have increasingly become fans of city life.

“We found that 25-to-34-year-old college graduates were among the most likely to move of any demographic group, and that they were systematically moving toward some places and away from others,” states to the report, Youth Movement: America’s Accelerating Urban Renaissance. “To an apparently unprecedented degree, those moves seemed to be motivated by a desire for urban living.”

In the 52 largest U.S. urban centers, the population of well-educated young adults has increased by 32% since 2010, in close-in neighborhoods — within three miles of a central business district. The rate of growth in four out of five of those cities accelerated faster than during the previous decade, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

Cortright timed the release of the report to a moment when many have reported a flight from major cities during the pandemic. While some wealthier neighborhoods in New York City temporarily emptied out as the coronavirus swept into the city, Cortright predicts that pattern is unlikely to hold. He cited the resurgence in urban living that followed previous calamities, like the Spanish flu of 1918 and the 9/11 attacks.

“Cities adapt in ways that can make them better or stronger,” Cortright said. “I don’t think this challenge is different from the ones we’ve faced before. It’s the sort of thing that cities evolve and adapt to.”

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We Were There: Reckoning with Living Cities’ History on Race

Nearly 30 years ago, Living Cities began as the National Community Development Initiative (NCDI), an organization made up of many of the same philanthropic members we have today and designed to support community development across the U.S. In those days, we were primarily focused on building and sustaining affordable housing, and though we were successful in many ways, our efforts were completely race neutral.

In our latest interactive piece, we wanted to reckon with the landmark political and cultural history that pushed both Living Cities as an organization–and as a philanthropic collective–forward. We wanted to highlight the moments during which our staff and members were actively considering race and racism in their decision-making, and points in time where we, frankly, didn’t get it quite right. The timeline you’re about to see references everything from the Community Reinvestment Act, passed in 1977, to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray. All caused us in some way to reexamine our work and dig deeper into the root causes of the problems we want to solve.

By looking back at Living Cities’ history,
maybe we can see where we as a collective
and as individuals got it wrong.
Maybe we can see how to correct these mistakes;
center race in everything we do; and collectively
envision a bright, just future.

The timeline first reflects on these stories, and then forward into the next several decades, to imagine an anti-racist America where people are economically secure, building wealth, and living abundant, dignified and connected lives. By looking back at Living Cities’ history, maybe we can see where we as a collective and as individuals got it wrong. Maybe we can see how to correct these mistakes; center race in everything we do; and collectively envision a bright, just future.

We hope as you explore the timeline you’ll think about where you were in these moments, the effect these events had on you, and whether they have changed how you and your organization think about race in this country.

If you’d like to share, please tweet us @Living_Cities and let us know where you were in our movement history timeline.

Thanks to Global Action Project for their support in creating this timeline.

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For Those Living in Public Housing, It’s a Long Way to Work

Let’s say there are two people in Atlanta who need jobs. They poke around on Snagajob, a job-search site for hourly work that lists hundreds of thousands of jobs in 300,000 locations. They scroll through listings for FedEx delivery driver, or shift manager at Wendy’s, or lot associate at Home Depot. But one job seeker lives in a public housing development, and the other doesn’t. According to a new Urban Institute report, their odds of finding work close to home might look very different.

Using job listing and applicant data collected in 2015 by Snagajob, researchers cross-referenced available jobs posted in 16 metro areas with the number of applicants who lived within a “reasonable commuting distance” from the jobs in question. (Here, “reasonable” is defined as one being within 6.3 miles of each zip code’s population-weighted center; though Snagajob is just one platform, U.S. Census Bureau figures suggest that in the 16 metros researchers studied, it accounted for 13% of recent new hires.) Then they compared that difference for those who used federal housing assistance, like public housing, Housing Choice Vouchers, or Section 8 rental assistance, and those who didn’t.

Depending upon which zip code they call home, researchers found that the average person using some form of government housing aid is likely to face tougher odds of getting a job near their neighborhood than the average job seeker who isn’t using assistance, even those who are extremely low-income. “In fact, the average assisted household is surrounded by 6,032 more nearby Snagajob seekers than Snagajob postings, compared with 3,056 more for unassisted, extremely low–income households — nearly double the amount,” the report reads.

Of all assisted households, those living in public housing had the biggest difference between the number of job seekers and the number of jobs nearby; next came housing choice voucher, or HCV, recipients.

These outcomes weren’t totally intuitive, says Christina Stacy, a senior research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute and the lead author of the report. “You’d think public assisted, federally supported rental housing might help people live closer to available jobs, and maybe live in places they might prefer, that have more opportunity,” she said. But landlords have long discriminated against voucher holders, and public housing has historically been sited in neighborhoods far from opportunity. Though some lower-income families experience frequent, and often turbulent, residential moves, they often lack the ability to choose when, how, and to where those moves happen. As a result, more families on housing assistance may end up living in places where fewer businesses are looking to hire nearby, and where there’s more competition for the spots that exist.

That’s not true everywhere. While New York City, Miami and L.A. show pretty much everyone in every zip code contending with more fellow job seekers than open job listings — with the worst gaps appearing for those who live in assisted housing — Minneapolis, San Francisco and Boston are trending in the opposite direction. There, nearby jobs exceed the number of people who want to fill them.

The gaps between job availability and job seekers are actually smaller for assisted households than for unassisted households in cities like Seattle, which has a healthy regional job market and a fervent construction pace. As the map below shows, the majority of assisted households are concentrated in the city proper, ready to meet demand; assisted households 35 miles south in places like Tacoma aren’t as fortunate.

In the Seattle MSA, both jobs and applicants are concentrated in central Seattle zip codes, but Tacoma displays a greater spatial mismatch. (Sources: Urban Institute analysis of 2015 Snagajob data, 2015 US Department of Housing and Urban Development Picture of Subsidized Households data, and 2013–17 American Community Survey five-year estimates.)

On the other end of the spectrum, households on federal housing assistance in New York City, Chicago and Atlanta have the worst spatial mismatch compared to their unassisted and extremely low-income counterparts, even compared to the poor odds for the rest of the pool. Chicago’s assisted households cluster in the south and west sides, while in Atlanta (as seen in the map below) jobs are clustered in the city’s center — both areas where there are a lot of people gunning for the same gigs.

Spatial mismatch and public and assisted housing in the Atlanta MSA, by zip code. (Sources: Urban Institute analysis of 2015 Snagajob data, 2015 US Department of Housing and Urban Development Picture of Subsidized Households data, and 2013–17 American Community Survey five-year estimates.)

Spatial mismatch was first understood as a phenomenon that increases racial divides, limiting economic prospects for segregated, majority-black neighborhoods. Though job applicants’ race wasn’t recorded on Snagajob or analyzed as part of these maps, among subsidized households, people of color are disproportionately represented.

Proximity to jobs isn’t the only thing that makes a neighborhood worthy of settling down in, of course. Access to good grocery stores, health care, schools, family and friends could all rank higher on anyone’s priority list. But research shows that, particularly for hourly or low-wage workers, spatial mismatch can increase rates and lengthen spells of unemployment. Employers lose out, too, if they can’t find enough staff.

Scoring high on the spatial mismatch scale doesn’t have to preclude workers from bridging those divides and finding a great job in another neighborhood anyway, though. Good public transportation — and affordable housing built near it — can turn an unreasonable commute into a reasonable one. A journey of 6.3 miles in the Bay Area, for example, could mean a two-stop BART ride from Oakland into San Francisco’s Financial District; in Atlanta, that same 6.3 miles across the city could take up to an hour by bus.

The study didn’t account for the connectivity dimension, though Stacy says further research will try to. And the fact that their jobs data is from five years ago, before the U.S. experienced today’s record-low unemployment levels, is another important caveat — though the caveat to the caveat is that, for black Americans, the rate is still twice as high as for white Americans on the national level, as it has been for decades.

Still, creating more housing that’s both affordable and accessible to jobs is an urgent goal in increasingly pricey cities like New York and L.A. To achieve it, Stacy suggests targeting higher levels of housing choice voucher assistance in job-rich areas, enforcing anti-discrimination laws against landlords that deny voucher holders from renting, and consciously locating new public housing in job-rich neighborhoods. Focusing public transportation improvements on areas that are home to job seekers would go a long way, too.

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Living Cities’ Catalyst Impact Funds Named to ImpactAssets 50 for Ninth Consecutive Year

For over a decade, Living Cities’ impact investing work has helped us test innovative approaches to spark and accelerate social change. Our commitment to using capital to achieve better outcomes for people in US cities, is aligned with our organizational priorities and reflected in our race-centric impact strategy. That’s why we are thrilled to announce that the Catalyst Fund and the Blended Catalyst Fund have been selected to the ImpactAssets 50, a publicly available showcase that recognizes a diverse group of impact investment fund managers who demonstrate a commitment to generating positive social, environmental and financial impact!

With record applicants from a variety of sectors, this year’s showcase includes eleven impact funds with more than $1 billion in assets under management and a list of emergent impact managers with a tracked record of exploring alternative approaches to advance social change. This recognition is not only a testament of our commitment to using capital as catalyst for change, but an opportunity to share proof points on what it takes to invest in closing the racial wealth gaps, with the impact investing field.
Through our impact investments, we drive more capital to founders and fund managers of color to influence how the field assesses risk and shift the entities and individuals who get to access wealth-building opportunities. By testing innovative investing approaches and exploring alternative underwriting methods, the Blended Catalyst fund aims to disrupt racial income and wealth disparities that have been 400 years in the making.

The Catalyst Family of Funds

The Catalyst Fund and Blended Catalyst Fund are structured debt funds that advance Living Cities’ programmatic initiatives. Through the Catalyst Family of Funds, we have deployed approximately $57 million and our 29 investments have leveraged over $1 billion in additional financing. Our second fund, the Blended Catalyst Fund (BCF), is in its deployment period and is actively seeking new investment opportunities.

Below are two examples of recent transactions:

UP Community Fund: The BCF made a $2.6 million loan to Up Community Fund, a lender that provides technical assistance and flexible capital in the form of loans ranging between $250k – $2mm to businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color in the Southeast. The $19.5mm Fund is focused on addressing the capital gap experienced by founders of color, which among many other factors, contributes to the staggering racial disparities in income and wealth.

The Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement PFS Project (“MA Pathways”): The BCF made a $650,000 investment in the first Pay For Success (PFS) initiative in the nation to be focused exclusively on workforce development. Through the provision of vocational English classes, skills training and job access, this $12.43M Pay for Success project improves economic outcomes for approximately 2,000 English language learners living in low-income neighborhoods in the Greater Boston area.

We are especially honored to be part of such extraordinary group of leaders in the impact investing field this year, as we continue to implement our race-centric impact strategy. We are certain that we will continue to learn from their investing experience and commitment social and environmental impact.

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Turkeys Are Getting Better at Living Around Humans

Earlier this month, residents in in Toms River, New Jersey, were calling for help. The state is home to some 20,000 wild turkeys, and about 40 to 50 of them, residents say, are terrorizing their Holiday City neighborhood. The birds have become so bold that they’re knocking on doors looking for food, according to a recent New York Times report, and so menacing that they’re trapping residents in their homes, local news outlets reported. The birds also block streets and peck at cars, one of which belongs to baseball player Todd Frazier, whose tweet sent reporters flocking for the scoop.

Ruthless rule breakers that the birds are, “they cause traffic problems,” Holiday City resident Don Kliem told CBS. “People blow their horns at them, and they don’t pay attention to them. It means nothing to them.”

The “invasion,” as some residents have described it, came weeks before Thanksgiving, but similar stories of humans clashing with wild turkeys pop up year-round and across the country. There are between 6 million and 7 million of the gobblers across the U.S. today, and while they generally live in parks and forests, they are increasingly finding their way into the built environment.

“The suburbs have been marching out into the countryside and into the turkey’s natural habitat,” says David Curson, the director of bird conservation at National Audubon Society’s Maryland-D.C. office, where he also serves as the interim executive director. “Especially where there are green corridors alongside rivers and streams projecting into the cities and suburbs, turkeys will follow those, and come into built areas.”

The encounters have played out more dramatically in some areas than in others, and residents are finding it hard to coexist with their 20-pound feathered neighbors. Sometimes the birds get aggressive, as in the case of the Holiday City birds. In Waukesha, Wisconsin, one bird has been stalking a local postal worker “for months.” Other times, they’re just in the way. Wild turkeys have come crashing through the windshield of a big-wheeler in Sarasota, Florida, and through the windows of a two-story home in Elk Grove, California. In Moro, Oregon, and Oxford Township, Michigan, earlier this year, the birds were responsible for two fatal collisions on the highway.

It wasn’t so long ago that these kinds of human-turkey interaction were uncommon—even rare. Unregulated hunting and habitat loss from logging and urban development rendered wild turkeys almost extinct in the U.S. Before Christopher Columbus set foot in the Americas in 1482, there were an estimated 10 million wild turkeys, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation, a citizen-led group that advocates for sound hunting policies. By the early 1900s, numbers dwindled significantly—varying estimates put the population lows at 30,000 or up to 200,000.

The conservation movement at the turn of the 20th century proved beneficial to the birds. “The big successes were the public conservation laws that brought in hunting regulations and a system in which you buy a permit to hunt,” Curson says. In the 1940s and 1950s, state governments and the turkey federation worked to enact hunting restrictions and require licenses. The fees were put toward hiring staff to manage wildlife population, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Local conservations, meanwhile, worked to reestablish the turkey population by trapping birds from forests where they were in abundance and reintroducing to other suitable habitats, like abandoned farmlands reclaimed by nature. (They learned the hard way that farming turkeys and placing them in the wild didn’t work, as the barnyard birds proved to be far less efficient at foraging and escaping predators.) The strategy took decades, but eventually the population started bounce back.

In Maryland, “they expanded enormously in the last 30 to 40 years,” says Curson. Once restricted to the western, more rural areas, they’re now found all over the state. “Wild turkeys have been translocated to new areas if they’ve adapted very well,” he adds.

Indeed, turkeys are a generalist species that adapts well to new environments because they don’t need specialized food or a particular vegetation to survive. A 2017 study by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources found that wild turkeys don’t require vast forested landscape, which means they are more flexible with where they’re able to live. The researchers studied female turkey habitat selection between forested areas and open agriculture fields, and found that they preferred the edges in between the two landscapes.

So as suburban and urban development threaten the turkey’s more vulnerable predators—bobcats, coyotes, and such—the birds have been better at living among humans. They’ve thrived on food put out by humans, like those found in bird feeders or unsecured trash. That’s allowed them to flourish in the New England region, where the wild turkey population is at a record high, the National Geographic reports. Sometimes environmental disasters push them into residential areas. In Northern California, for example, last year’s wildfires pushed the birds into the nearby cities. Even as the some returned to the burn areas, many are staying put in their new habitat where there is food readily available and fewer predators, according to the Record Searchlight.

That combination can help embolden their lack of fear toward humans. Curson says wild turkeys aren’t naturally aggressive creatures. “Naturally, wild turkeys are a very wary bird; they tend to hide, they don’t like to be near people,” he tells CityLab. “But if they are in an environment they are free of predators, it’s possible that they could become quite more confident.”

Curson expects that turkeys will become an increasingly familiar sight in backyards, and, to a lesser degree, in cities. Many states continue to impose hunting regulations to keep the local population in check, though in recent years the national number has slowly fallen, likely due climate change and continued development that disrupt habitats. (Turkeys may have been good at adapting to developments, but they are not immune.)

When the birds become aggressive, officials tend to remove them as a quick, though temporary, response. After multiple complaints from Holiday City residents, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife finally set up bait stations and installed net traps around the neighborhood last week to relocate the gang of disruptive turkeys. Meanwhile, officials are warning residents to assert dominance over the turkeys if they do seem aggressive and scare them away with tools like brooms or garden hoses.

To some people, though, wild turkeys remain a curious sight. Earlier this year, an “extremely regal-looking wild turkey” was spotted in Washington, D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, likely having wandered away from the nearby Rock Creek Park. And in this case, the turkey was the one who was followed by residents delighted with its rare and almost majestic presence in the city.

If you see one near your house, and it isn’t bothering you, “enjoy watching it,” Curson says. ”Usually, there’s nothing to worry about.”

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Living Our Values as a 21st Century Learning Organization: Lessons from Digital Community Engagement

Living Cities has been exploring and defining what it means to be a 21st century learning organization since its inception in 1991. We have always placed a premium on learning over success. Ben Hecht, our CEO, likes to talk about Living Cities as an “innovation lab” where we test out new ideas to then spread what works to our member institutions and around the country. We began to put a framework on our learning agenda around 2012, when Ben wrote “Leading in a Hyper-Connected World”. The organization began to invest significant resources in knowledge and learning capacities, which included evaluation, communications, and knowledge management.

Living Cities is funded by its members in three-year funding cycles, and for the 2016-2019 round, we decided to refine and focus our learning efforts in the hopes of building a 21st century learning tool: a digital platform that would connect practitioners around the country to help them achieve their results in closing racial income and wealth gaps.

We knew that the social sector needed significant investment in digital infrastructure—similar to the massive connectivity investments of wifi, search engines, and social media of the 2000s. We knew that while we could not undertake the massive investment required to create a digital infrastructure that serves the needs of the social sector, we could create a digital tool that meets the needs of our network, and also test some specific hypotheses in the process to build the understanding of what it takes to use digital technologies to encourage learning and racial equity.

Today we are releasing a new report that details the process and findings from the development of that digital tool. The report outlines the approach and values needed to undertake a digital community engagement effort, and what organizations should consider if they want to be successful with online engagement.

Goals of the Development Process

We intentionally built our digital platform as a series of pilots. To live our values as a 21st century learning organization, we knew that we could not come up with a project plan with rigid time-lines or completely defined goals. Instead, we developed some general questions and set some assumptions:

  • How do we support a community of practice? Understand the scaffolding to put around existing communities of practice that will support the development, spread, and adoption of most promising practices.
  • How do we co-create a platform for sharing? Co-create a digital platform, building on existing technology and networks, for the effective sharing and scaling of solutions.
  • How do we build a repository of solutions? Build a robust, dynamic repository of economic opportunity solutions that is easy to discover.
  • How do we encourage collaboration in our ecosystem? Facilitate purposeful collaboration between Living Cities staff and stakeholders.

What We Learned

To answer these questions, we completed fieldscans of existing digital infrastructure, as well as developed several partnerships with other organizations to understand the needs of our community and how we could meet those needs. These partnerships included Sphaera, the Gates Foundation, Slalom, Context Partners, and Strategic Learning Partners. These partners helped us test what works and what doesn’t to authentically engage our communities.

We learned the following takeaways:

  • For an organization to achieve social impact, it needs to work in an open, networked way. A network of partnerships can help accelerate results through the sharing of learnings and promising practices.

  • The goals and results from any learning efforts need to be centered on racial equity. If learning efforts do not center racial equity, they will disregard the defining reason of inequity in our society.

  • Becoming a 21st century learning organization does not happen overnight. This work takes time and energy and investment to build the required capacity.

  • Part of the investment in becoming a 21st century learning organization is about shifting culture. Many organizations, and many individuals, are not used to working in an open, collaborative, learning environment.

  • Digital engagement cannot be successful without a deep understanding of community needs; it must be done in co-creation with partners.

  • Living Cities and other organizations working on digital community learning platforms are ahead of the curve. It is challenging to be supporting digital engagement in an industry that is still struggling to understand what that means.

You can read more about the project and our lessons learned in our new report.

Contributors to this report included several Living Cities staff members, past and present: Joanna Carrasco; Santiago Carrillo; Shanee Helfer; Shannon Jordy; Julienne Kaleta; Hafizah Omar; Alyssa Smaldino; Carmen Smith.

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An Exciting Update from Living Cities: JaNay’s New Role as Chief Strategy Officer

Living Cities’ strategy has evolved radically since the early 1990s. Following a pivot away from community development, today, it’s putting racial equity front and center in a striking way. “Our North Star is that we want to focus on racial disparities,” said President and CEO Ben Hecht. “We’re asking ourselves: How do we become a leading racial economic justice organization? There’s been great excitement around that future among our 18 member institutions.”

– Inside Philanthropy, September 10, 2019

I was excited that Inside Philanthropy profiled Living Cities’ evolution earlier this month. We have indeed been a work in progress. Over the past several years, as we watched economic disparities grow, especially between white people and people of color, we came to realize that despite millions of dollars, thousands of hours, and the efforts of countless individuals and organizations, our impact has been incremental compared to our aspirations. We had to ask ourselves, why?

Twenty years of race-neutral solutions weren’t having the desired impact because our prescriptions were based on a faulty analysis of the problem. We failed to understand that the root of our nation’s persistent inequities has been our unwillingness to come to terms with the racism that’s been in our groundwater since our country’s founding. Achieving impact requires us to see the ramifications of structures (e.g., laws, policies and practices) that were built to separate white and Black people, and to legally support a white supremacist society from 1619 to as recently as the 1960s. And, we must build solutions that intentionally address the harms stemming from those actions, which have compounded over time.

Our organization had to get clear on two things. First, the overarching goal stated in our mission—economic opportunity—didn’t reflect a desired end condition. Although useful at times, the concept of economic opportunity represents a means to an end—a piece of the puzzle rather than a vision for economic well-being. Relying on opportunity as our endpoint placed a heavy burden on the individual, ignoring all the systemic factors that must be in place for a person to actually take advantage of an opportunity. It excuses public, private and philanthropic actors from their responsibility to create and maintain the conditions necessary for everyone to participate and thrive.

Second, we learned that you can’t achieve results ‘for all’ without an anti-racist approach that addresses the history and legacy of structural racism. Race-neutral solutions fail to improve conditions for communities of color because they assume that race is irrelevant. The reality is that race continues to be one of the strongest predictors of outcomes in any given area of life (e.g. economics, health, education, life expectancy). Without strategies that address the historical and current realities of structural racism, our work to secure better life outcomes for all people would continue to be undermined.

So, over the past three years, our organization has focused on both race and results. Building on staff’s efforts to deepen racial equity competencies, JaNay Queen Nazaire championed an approach that married race and results in a then-newly created position, Managing Director for Performance and Results. JaNay led us through a process to define our “north star” result—all people in American cities are economically secure and building wealth –and articulate the path forward–closing the racial gaps in income and wealth. She helped us determine how to best position our organization to make meaningful and measurable contributions to changing public, private and philanthropic systems so that we can improve outcomes for people in cities.

JaNay will not only ensure that we continue our disciplined focus on race and results, but also bring strategic stewardship of the organization that will help us to manage for stability, growth, and impact.

This past May, the Living Cities board committed to work together for another three years—which will bring us to an unprecedented 30 years of working collaboratively. They were excited about the clarity of the focus and the internal consistency of the portfolio. So are we as staff. The foundational work that JaNay led us through has ensured that every element of our portfolio takes race into account, and effectively utilizes our unique assets toward closing the racial gaps in income and wealth.

As we launch into this next three year round, I’m pleased to announce that JaNay will become Living Cities’ first Chief Strategy Officer. JaNay will not only ensure that we continue our disciplined focus on race and results, but also bring strategic stewardship of the organization that will help us to manage for stability, growth, and impact. She will help us to fully leverage our many existing relationships and to develop new individual and institutional ones. Importantly, we will look to JaNay to oversee the ongoing development and implementation of the results-oriented, anti-racist culture we need to make LC’s strategic vision a reality. I could not be more excited to have JaNay with us in this exciting and mission critical role.

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Living Cities’ Catalyst Impact Funds Named to ImpactAssets 50 for Seventh Consecutive Year

Unlocking capital for social good is a principle at the heart of Living Cities’ approach to closing racial gaps by supporting the creation of jobs, income, and wealth. That’s why we’re thrilled to be included in the ImpactAssets 50 among an impressive set of peers in this vibrant and growing field.

At Living Cities, we believe that we can use the power of capitalism and incentives to get more resources where they are needed most and be an activist investor for social impact. It’s something we’ve seen proven out over nearly a decade of work in the impact investing space and in our 25 year history of blending and pooling capital to improve the lives of low-income people in the United States. But, we’re also committed to learning in real time and doubling down on what works.

Our new race-informed impact investing strategy is only the latest example of how we use capital to address seemingly intractable problems in U.S. cities. Another approach we’re experimenting with through our Blended Catalyst Fund is the notion of combining philanthropic debt and commercial lending from a diverse group of investors toward a shared set of outcomes, a model shared by many others on this year’s ImpactAssets 50 list.

The Catalyst Impact Funds

Living Cities manages two structured debt funds. Catalyst Fund and The Blended Catalyst Fund (BCF) is the second fund, which is capitalized at $36.9 million. BCF’s twelve investors include some of the world’s largest financial institutions and foundations. Through our funds, we have deployed approximately $57 million and our 29 investments have leveraged over $1.13 billion in additional financing. Two-thirds of our newest fund, approximately $20 million remains to be invested.

Some of our most recent investments include investments that will deliver on our racial economic justice goals and have informed our approach of putting racial equity front and center:

  • Central Baltimore Future Fund ($2.5M loan): This $10M fund finances revitalization projects in ten Baltimore neighborhoods that connect low-income residents, who are predominately African American, to economic opportunity. By being intentional about the design and construction firms used for these projects, the Central Baltimore Future Fund will work to address racial economic disparities in Baltimore.
  • BuildNOLA Mobilization Fund ($1.3M loan): Co-created by Living Cities and the City of New Orleans, this fund helps minority and women-owned business enterprises access the capital necessary to bid on public construction and infrastructure projects.
  • Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement Project ($650,000 investment): Through the provision of vocational English classes, skills training and job access, this $12.43M Pay for Success project improves economic outcomes for approximately 2,000 English language learners living in low-income neighborhoods in the Greater Boston area.

We are honored to share this recognition with such extraordinary group of firms with similar commitments to social impact. We are certain that we will continue to learn from their unique experience shaping the impact investing field, as we implement our new investing strategy.

Living Cities is actively seeking new debt opportunities for the Blended Catalyst Fund. Please reach out to us if you have a transaction we should consider (catalystfund@livingcities.org).

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