When you think of nonprofit innovation, technology may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet Byrd Barr Place, a local nonprofit supporting Seattle residents with social services for over 50 years, is leading the way with a new online app—the first of its kind in the country. Byrd Barr Place (BBP) is one of many agencies around the country administering the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program that provides financial assistance to low-income people to maintain affordable, dependable utility services and avoid shutoff during the winter. In recent years, BBP has to work harder each year to distribute available funding to those in need.
“We have heard from clients that the traditional ways of accessing social service programs has become more difficult to navigate in today’s environment,” said Andrea Caupain, CEO of BBP since 2008. “Many low-income families are working two or more jobs to stay afloat, and they don’t have the time or transportation to travel across the city during the week to apply. We had to completely rethink how we reach them.”
Turning to technology, BBP staff partnered with local Seattle University grad students to begin development of what has evolved into a web-based application more fitting for today’s digital economy. This year, clients can apply and upload relevant documentation directly online, eliminating the need for in-person appointments at the agency’s office in the Central District of Seattle. When a client submits all of their information correctly, the turnaround time for approval and payout is reduced from six weeks to ten days or less. In addition, when clients are in crisis and in danger of a utility shut off the Energy Assistance Online (EAO) technology allows clients to instantly upload their application into the system to support faster processing. The agency estimates the technology will make the application process 40% more efficient for both clients and staff by digitizing and automating much of application process.
“This is only the beginning,” said Kevin Dawson, Board President of BBP. “We will continue to evolve the app for mobile devices and integrate securely with a CRM system so that returning clients can easily access their account information online. We want this valuable program to be accessible to anyone with access to a smartphone or computer.”
BBP serves over 13,000 Seattle households annually through its Energy Assistance Program and complementary social services including a Food Bank and Financial Education Program. For more information on Byrd Barr Place’s programs, visit the BBP website.
Rooted Communities: Placemaking, Placekeeping
In Seattle’s Central District, development is driving out Washington’s largest African American Community and reducing opportunities for wealth accumulation and creation among lower and middle classes. Recent development patterns are creating displacement of both land owners and existing tenant residents and businesses, alike. This dispersal impacts the Black community’s political representation, as well as its social, cultural and economic capital.
In a single generation, the African American population in this neighborhood has decreased from 70% to less than 20%, driving a cultural “diaspora” from Seattle’s historically Black area for over 130 years. Shaped by racist housing policies that pushed families of color into the neighborhood and limited access to economic mobility, the community built up powerful neighborhood businesses and institutions in the 1970s. Now, families, businesses, and institutions that have lived and operated in the Central District, or “CD”, are being forced out by surging rents and taxes, and a loss of community.
African Americans in Seattle have a homeownership rate of 24%, precipitously lower than the roughly 40% experienced by African American’s nationally, the latter rate virtually unchanged since 1968 and a third less than the 70% enjoyed by Whites today.[i] Lack of African American home ownership increases vulnerability and susceptibility to gentrification-induced displacement, which drives rent increases, reduces affordable housing inventory, and rolls back economic opportunity for established community members.
Housing un-affordability coupled with historically low incomes for Seattle’s Black communities continues to drive displacement, signaling to Seattle’s African American Financial Capability Initiative (AAFCI) Community of Practice (CoP) that a more synergistic approach is necessary to combat the impacts of gentrification. To this end, Seattle’s own aspiring Africatown Community Land Trust (CLT) provides a promising model for how to negotiate partial ownership in proposed private sector developments within historically Black communities. The CLT is actively involved in two commercial development projects for the Liberty Bank Building and Midtown Plaza which will provide over 250 affordable housing units in the heart of Seattle. Three additional projects are on the horizon, with the goal to ensure African American families most threatened by displacement can live and thrive in the city.
Africatown is part of the Seattle AAFCI, a transformative coalition of African American organizations motivated to find long-term community-based solutions. Africatown seeks to preserve and develop the African American and African diaspora presence in the Central District of Seattle and surrounding areas through community economic development and development of low income housing. Seattle’s Community of Practice model, part of a 6 city Initiative funded by the Northwest Area Foundation and supported by the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative at Prosperity Now, has 3 years serving the community, and is comprised of Africatown Community Landtrust, Byrd Barr Place, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and Washington State Commission on African American Affairs.
The collective work is driven by findings from the report, “Creating an Equitable Future in Washington State: Black Well-Being & Beyond,” which assessed barriers to economic success and encourages diverse groups to work together to develop innovative solutions.
Community Land Trusts (CLTs), traditional African American collaborative ownership models, have proven to slow the negative impacts of gentrification and work as a mechanism for land development and ownership. CLTs are legal structures of communally-owned property that are formed with the intent to uphold long-term control of land – often for the purposes of preserving a cultural and/or economic mission such as affordability of businesses and housing. There are hundreds of CLTs in the United States, but relatively few exist in urban areas. Even fewer address the racial disparity of gentrifying cities. However, those that do address issues of equity – such as Dudley Street in Massachusetts – are proving successful.
Drawing upon the strength of this historic culturally-anchored model, Seattle’s CoP is developing a 21st century African American Community Land Trust blueprint.
Building on the recent success of the Africatown CLT, the CoP is finalizing a replication model to help national communities of color grappling with the impacts of gentrification in mid-tier metropolitan areas where land is still readily available. The goal is to enable local communities to easily understand, form, and run CLTs. Next steps for this pilot phase include working with other similarly situated communities across the state and nationally to implement a similar mission and model. The AAFCI project will launch this innovative solution in the autumn of 2018.
As a means to engage displaced and dispersed community members at the individual and family level, Seattle CoP also plans to include a culturally-responsive financial education program that focuses on both maintaining short-term personal finances, as well as long-term wealth-building. Current programs serve over 456 individuals in the community, with 245 achieving some or all their stated financial goals. The Seattle CoP is exploring how to augment existing programs and community development networks to more consistently deliver content and technical assistance in formats that are motivating and actionable.
As Seattle moves to identify and build upon what works for African American communities, we are hopeful that the community engagement and CLT models we develop here can serve as an example for communities of color nationally who are dealing with multi-systemic issues of gentrification and displacement. We are truly stronger together, particularly when our work builds upon rich traditions and models.
Building Assets for Washington State’s Future Report
“In an inclusive economy, everyone – including the youngest
among us – would have the means to have a lifetime of economic
security. Yet this is not the case for many children and families
in Washington state. Financial security and stability remain
out of reach for many families, especially for families of color.
Thirty percent of all households and fifty percent of households
headed by people of color do not have enough savings to cover
basic expenses for three months in the event of a sudden job
loss, medical emergency, or another financial crisis
– let alone
enough resources to save for their own future and the future of
Washington’s elected leaders have the unique opportunity to
ensure prosperity for kids by creating a statewide child savings
account (CSA) program. CSAs are long-term savings accounts
established for children early on in life that build until they reach
adulthood, and offer incentives that can help accumulate savings
along the way. CSA programs structured to advance equity can
set kids up for lifelong economic success, particularly for
kids of color in families who may face additional barriers to
Our state’s well-being is inextricably tied to the health and
prosperity of Washington’s kids and families. Policymakers
who pursue the creation of programs like CSAs can help our
state thrive into the future and invest in the collective economic
prosperity of Washington state.”
The full report from the Washington State Budget and Policy Center is available here.
Remembering Pastor Samuel McKinney (1926-2018)
We remember McKinney and his tireless activism to make Seattle a more equitable home for all.
As pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church the congregation tripled under his leadership and he established numerous programs and projects transforming the community.
McKinney, one of the founding members of Byrd Barr Place, formally Central Area Motivation Program (C.A.M.P.), collaborated with other community leaders to also found Liberty Bank, the first black-owned bank West of the Mississippi, he was an original member of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, which successfully passed the legislation of the city’s first fair-housing act. He founded and served as president and CEO of the Seattle Opportunity Industrialization Center and was the first black president of the Church Council of Greater Seattle.
“While Seattle has made undeniable progress during his life, in death Dr. McKinney will serve as a constant reminder that securing gains on human rights and civil rights, and when confronting issues of race and social justice, requires constant vigilance, not complacency.”
– Seattle Council President Bruce A. Harrell
Photo Courtesy of King5.com
Dear neighbors, allies, friends, and family,
We write to you today with hearts full and hopes high—a sentiment that may feel out of place in a time when our national conversation is filled with the rhetoric of prejudice and racism. In the last year we’ve witnessed ongoing police brutality against Black and Brown men and women. We’ve watched white supremacists walk the streets of Charlottesville, spewing hate. We’ve seen families and communities fractured by painful immigration policies.
And yet, we remain optimistic.
In the midst of strife, we’ve also witnessed survival and strength, kindness and generosity, love and grace. Women marched; people stood with immigrants and refugees against inhumane bans; communities came together to rebuild after disaster, time and time again.
In the face of adversity, we look forward with faith.
Byrd Barr Place was founded as the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP) in 1964, during the peak of the civil rights movement. For more than 50 years we have been a force for positive change and a pillar of Seattle’s Black community, and in that time we have gone from CAMP to Centerstone, and now from Centerstone we are opening our next chapter and unveiling our new name: Byrd Barr Place. Yet the heart of our work remains the same. We believe in the idea of helping neighbors help themselves—that if families have access to basic human needs and the tools to succeed, they are stronger. And strong people make for strong communities
We are continuing our fight to create a more equitable world for all people, no matter race or zip code.
Throughout our history, we have seen the resiliency and courage of Seattle’s Black community. Teachers boycotted to demand de-segregation. Students hosted sit-ins. The Black Panthers seeded a movement for Black power. Anti-poverty programs came and went. Gang and drug wars and rising prison rates destroyed families. We lived it with you. And we, like you, rose from those experiences with a conviction to end inequity and build opportunities within the Central Area and throughout King County.
Today, our community is impacted by rapid gentrification and displacement. Families who have called the Central Area home for decades find themselves unable to pay sky-rocketing property taxes, effectively pushing them out of Seattle. A lack of affordable housing options forces low-income families further from education and employment opportunities. Immigrant and refugee communities are left to navigate an adopted city without access to culturally-relevant resources. All these things exacerbate an already expansive racial wealth gap.
And these are the very issues Byrd Barr Place is committed to addressing, every day, by providing Seattle residents with rental assistance, energy assistance, personal finance education, and healthy food through our food bank. We’re also working in partnership with Africatown, Black Community Impact Alliance, and Capitol Hill Housing to construct the Liberty Bank Building, which broke ground last year and will provide affordable housing in the Central Area. And we’re gathering data to influence policy and shed light on issues critical to creating opportunity and prosperity within the Black community.
This newest chapter of our history is an opportunity for us to re-root ourselves in community. Our new name honors Roberta Byrd Barr, a leader, educator and journalist, who once wrote for Trumpet, CAMP’s newspaper. Roberta woke up Seattle to the realities of poverty and the experiences of people of color through her moderated news program Face to Face.
When we first heard Roberta’s story, we were moved. We had to tell others. When we shared it with our friends and families, people often asked, “Wait, who’s Roberta Byrd Barr?” And then we told them how Roberta led marches to demand de-segregation in schools; that she helped save the Douglass-Truth Library; that she was the first Black woman to run a Seattle high school.
And they were moved, too. They understood immediately that this woman embodied everything we value and she committed her life to providing the next generation a better, more equitable future.
With our new name, we will deepen our commitment to the values that have always defined us—values of compassion, resilience, and equity. We will continue to offer support with basic human needs, so everyone has a strong foundation to break the cycle of poverty.
We hope you will join us on this journey. Only when we stand together against intolerance and injustice can we realize a more equitable world, for this generation and every generation that follows.
Andrea Caupain Sanderson, Byrd Barr Place CEO
Kevin Dawson Jr., Byrd Barr Place Board of Directors, President
In 1965, the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP) opened its doors. In 2012, CAMP became Centerstone of Seattle. In 2018, Centerstone is becoming Byrd Barr Place.
Our new name honors Roberta Byrd Barr, a community leader, educator and journalist, who once served as editor of the Trumpet, CAMP’s newspaper. Our new name is an opportunity for us to re-root ourselves and deepen our commitment to the values that defined CAMP, Centerstone, and now, Byrd Barr Place. Roberta was a passionate, fearless advocate, leading marches to demand de-segregation in schools. As a teacher and school administrator, she fought to provide the next generation a better, more equitable future. As a journalist, she woke up Seattle to civil rights issues, elevating the voices of the Black community, the poor and others.
Roberta embodied the values that are the foundation of this organization. We are humbled by her legacy and honored to carry her name forward. While our name may be different, we remain committed to helping people help themselves. We will continue to nurture a more equitable Seattle by providing programs and advocacy that enable people to live healthier, prosperous lives. Together, we will build a stronger, more vibrant city, where all people have access to basic human needs.
Patrice moved to Seattle with her family in the first grade. Living almost her entire life in the neighborhoods of South Seattle, she wanted to be more involved in the community once she started raising a family of her own. Patrice began volunteering for the Boys and Girls Clubs of King County, eventually leading to full time employment. Twenty-seven years later Patrice is still passionately employed with the Boys and Girls club, currently fulfilling the Nutrition Coordinator position.
The trouble began for Patrice when she received a call from her landlord letting her know they were selling the spacious five bedroom home in Columbia City where she lived with her youngest daughter and 6 year-old grandson. She did not consider what a hardship moving would be in the rapid redevelopment climate of Seattle and suddenly found herself homeless for the first time in her life. It took five months before Patrice was able to find her next home. During this time she wasn’t able to afford storage for all of her home furnishings and had to give most of them away before she was able to get settled again. “I had no bed, no heat, nothing really, I was starting all over, and everything seemed to be happening at once.” Patrice recalled how she felt learning that her new home was heated by oil and she wasn’t able to pay the high up-front costs for a home delivery service to fill the empty tank.
Patrice reached out to the City of Seattle for help and was referred to Byrd Barr Place. She applied but learned that with her full time job she was just above the income eligibility guidelines to qualify for help. “So I felt very blessed when Haley called to let me know there was another program called Bridge the Gap that could help me during this hard time.” Patrice said, reflecting on the program manager of the Energy Assistance Program, who kept her in mind and coordinated $325 dollars’ worth of oil to be sent to Patrice’s home during this year’s very cold winter. Now, thanks to generous donors, Patrice is able to focus on her family instead of an empty oil drum. She has gotten her daughter a job at the Boys and Girls Club and is exploring funding to support her daughter in furthering education to become a dental assistance.
Kathleen was born in 1946 and raised in West Seattle. She has lived around the city but has always loved the West Seattle area where she grew up. Kathleen worked for Boeing, then transitioned to an independent contractor role. After the 2008 recession hit her income dropped by at least 45%. Then she was injured on the job and was unable to continue working. She makes a small income selling items on E-Bay and living off her pension. However, she began to struggle to keep up with her expenses on a fixed income and went into debt.
Kathleen found her way to Byrd Barr Place after a referral from a Seattle City Light (SCL) representative. She receives a monthly senior discount from SCL and was looking for help with her PSE gas bill. After doing some research on the web for help she made an appointment at Byrd Barr Place, but was told she didn’t qualify for our program due to her income level. Fortunately, Byrd Barr Place was still able to help her through a Bridge the Gap grant. Kathleen was beyond thankful!
She mentioned she has always been the one to help others. She has donated to those who were in need in the past and never expected to be in this type of position but it happened so fast. Fearful of getting her heat turned off in freezing conditions she says she was “rejuvenated” and “full of hope” after receiving our help. Kathleen is working on a budget and plans on selling her home to pay back her debt to friends and family, then hopes to transition into senior living or an apartment in the area.
Katherine came to Byrd Barr Place during a desperate time in her life. Born and raised in Seattle, she bought her first home in West Seattle. She has worked in healthcare for over 15 years, then opened up her own social work practice. In recent years, she became a full time caregiver for her mother. After she passed away, Katherine then took over care for her disabled brother and his wife. Kathleen struggles with taking care of two family members while working at her practice. Over time, the emotional and financial responsibilities have taken their toll.
Katherine found Byrd Barr Place after running low on oil without an extra dollar to her name. She initially didn’t quality for our Energy Assistance program as her income exceeded the federal program guidelines, however being self-employed her income fluctuates greatly from month to month and she couldn’t keep up with her bills. That’s where anonymous Bridge the Gap donors were able to help with a $400 grant. Once she found she would receive assistance, she was incredibly grateful.
Katherine said she hadn’t wanted to use oil to heat her home because of her fear of not being able to pay so her home was extremely cold. She remembers her pets cuddling up to her with their cold paws and it really made her depressed. “This grant made a world of difference for everyone in my home, family and pets included.”