How does the Steelcase Foundation respond to pressing community needs?

Nonprofits are on the frontline of communities: meeting basic needs, connecting people to resources, advocating for policy change, and providing programs government and the private sector cannot accomplish. Because of their central position in communities, nonprofits often take on the role of first responders. When there is a lack of affordable housing, an increase in hate crimes, or kids who do not have a safe space to go after school, nonprofit organizations are often the first to step into action.

Adequately responding to these pressing community concerns requires resources. Especially when a problem comes about quickly, organizations may not have the capacity to fulfill community needs within their annual operating budget. Philanthropy has the potential to fill this gap by partnering with nonprofits to meet pressing community needs. Foundations – through grants – can provide funds to nonprofits so they can pilot a new initiative, expand programming, or build infrastructure to better serve their constituents.

Here are two examples of how the Steelcase Foundation recently partnered with organizations in response to pressing community issues:

Migrant Legal Aid

Community Need: There are about 65,000 migrant workers and children in West Michigan during each growing and harvesting season; about 47 percent are undocumented. Migrant workers have struggled with workplace mistreatment for years, but in the past year migrants are experiencing hateful words and acts in the grocery store, on sidewalks, at the gas station, and their children are experiencing harassment at school. In the last year, Migrant Legal Aid (MLA) documented problems intensifying due to racism and anti-immigrant sentiments:

  • 20 percent increase in school bullying of migrant children;
  • 15 percent increase in workplace harassment and violence;
  • 33 percent increase in families deciding not to seek services from health providers or pursue legal claims because of immigration or violence-related fears;
  • 28 percent increase in calls seeking legal counsel and advice regarding deportation and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) interactions;
  • Migrant workers have grown increasingly wary of law enforcement and organizations that could help them (e.g. health clinics, schools), leading to increased isolation on farms.

Steelcase Foundation grant: With a $150,000 two-year grant from the Steelcase Foundation, MLA will implement an initiative to protect migrant workers and to reduce acts and words of hate directed at both legal and undocumented immigrants. This project is a new, proactive collaboration with law enforcement, including those at the prosecution level, to alleviate the festering mistrust of police and the courts due to ICE activities and the more overt acts of hate and harassment migrant families are now experiencing.

Inner City Christian Federation

Community Need: Since the foreclosure crisis, affordable housing has become an increasing concern in Grand Rapids:

  • In 2015, 26 percent of Grand Rapids residents lived in poverty, including 31 percent of families with children and 52 percent of single women parent families with children (2011-2015 American Community Survey).
  • The median price for houses sold in Grand Rapids rose 60 percent over the past five years. In 2011, 49 percent of single family homes sold for $100,000 or less; in 2016 only 15 percent of sales came in under $100,000 (Grand Rapids Association of Realtors sales data).
  • Average apartment rents in Grand Rapids are estimated to have risen 44 percent, from an average of $667 in May 2012 to $960 in May 2017 (RentJungle.com).
  • Of all single-family homes in Grand Rapids, 24 percent – 10,679 houses – are owned by investors. A growing number of these owners are out-of-state investment groups.
  • African Americans in Grand Rapids are 77 percent less likely to own a home with a mortgage than their White counterparts, a ratio that is the fourth-worst among the nation’s larger metropolitan areas (Trulia 2016).

Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) purchased a large portfolio of homes, 213 properties, in November 2017 previously owned by an out-of-state investment firm. Acquiring these properties allows ICCF to retain and increase the number of affordable housing options in the community.

Steelcase Foundation grant: As it acquired over 200 properties, ICCF recognized the need to engage tenants and, if desired by residents, provide homeownership assistance. With support from a $300,000 three-year grant from the Steelcase Foundation, ICCF will hire a Resident Engagement Manger and implement a robust resident engagement program for its tenants. The Resident Engagement staff will conduct a voluntary community needs assessment to better understand the tenants who are living in the properties, their strengths and barriers, and their personal goals as it relates to housing. This project emphasizes equity and financial wellbeing, fostering home ownership among low and moderate income households, many of whom are people of color.