Community-based organizations (CBOs) have long been an integral part of New York’s landscape, grounded within the low- to moderate-income communities they serve and aiding underserved populations that easily slip through the net of traditional government aid. Weathering crises and responding immediately demands both deep coordination and a sensitivity to local issues.

CBOs have the flexibility, the local knowledge, and, most importantly, the trust within communities to act quickly, identify those in need, and maintain lasting relationships. This is especially true for CBOs operating affordable housing. CBOs know their tenants and were able to mobilize quickly when the pandemic hit - they made sure tenants were aware of new safety protocols, provided PPE supplies to tenants in need, and enhanced the frequency of cleaning in common areas.

Across the state, the health impacts, job losses, and housing instability caused by Covid-19 fell disproportionately on low-income and Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities. Meanwhile, the CBOs working to support their communities are stretched thin. Housing-focused non-profits, in particular, were faced with the dual challenges of constrained cash flows from delayed government payment, developer fees, and rent collections, and higher expenses from the additional staffing and safety costs.

Externally, CBOs continue to engage with thousands of vulnerable people in their communities. CBOs quickly set out to respond to the needs they saw on the ground: they sourced and distributed food, raised and distributed cash, and worked with tenants who lost their jobs to negotiate a rent repayment plan. To support the work of our non-profit partners and their vital role as first responders in a crisis, Enterprise created a national Covid-19 response program, Emergency Action for Resident and Partner Sustainability (EARPS).

Mirroring our national strategy, Enterprise New York launched our local response program, the New York State Non-Profit Housing Recovery Program (NYS NHRP).  Enterprise’s Covid-19 response strategy was designed to help these organizations bridge funding gaps, maintain operations, and adapt their programs and services to ensure that they continue to meet the evolving needs of their communities.

Since June 2020, we've awarded grants totaling $2.5 million to 20 nonprofits across New York. Enterprise prioritized resources to BIPOC-led organizations serving BIPOC communities; 70 percent of the grantees are BIPOC-led. Collectively, the grantees own or manage 17,080 units of housing, serving over 41,800 people across New York State, 84 percent of whom identify as BIPOC. The grants have also allowed the organizations to retain their own workforces and limit layoffs: collectively, they employ over 3,041 staff members in their communities.

The impact goes far beyond numbers. The flexibility of the Enterprise funding allowed the organizations to respond in real time to the changing needs of their communities and quickly pivot. As the program moved past the initial rollout, grantees reported that the funding enabled them to sustain operations, including expanding or developing new programs like food access, eviction prevention, cash assistance, and partial rent forgiveness.

Receiving this type of flexible funding is rare for CBOs, who tend to rely heavily on grants that may come with specific parameters. Being able to dictate their own needs and priorities has been instrumental to the ability of CBOs to respond quickly to the rapidly changing conditions brought on by the pandemic. Technical assistance (TA) provided by Enterprise has also been an integral part of the program, ranging from communications strategies for seniors, IT, fundraising, and organizational financial stability, all tailored to the individual needs of each of the 20 grantees.

To uplift the critically important work these CBOs are doing on the ground, this blog series will highlight several grantees.

Grantee Spotlight: Community League of the Heights

The Community League of the Heights (CLOTH) is a multiservice community development organization founded in 1952 and dedicated to supporting and empowering the economically disadvantaged residents of Hamilton Heights, Washington Heights and Inwood. As the twin health and economic crises caused by Covid-19 swept through the neighborhood, CLOTH mobilized quickly to respond to the needs of its community, pivoting its existing programs and housing operations to respond to needs on the ground as well as expanding a much-needed food access program.

The organization prioritized its crisis response work in the face of multiple challenges: new and changing safety protocols, a pivot to remote operations, students in the public school it operates transitioning to remote learning, community members out of work and unable to pay their rent, and a staggering increase in demand for food pantry services.

CLOTH was able to use the $150,000 Enterprise grant to support critical operating expenses as well as new IT infrastructure required in the post-Covid-19 landscape. The grant also enabled CLOTH to maintain its services and operations. For an organization that has always executed its work in-person, this was no small feat, and is a similar hurdle faced by many CBOs that have historically relied on face-to-face outreach.

After successfully ensuring that existing programs could continue uninterrupted, CLOTH was able to focus on one of the most pressing issues within its community: food insecurity. As many community members remain out of work, unable to pay their rent and buy food, CLOTH anticipates that access to food will continue to be an ongoing need for years to come. This service was already a major part of its platform prior to Covid-19. More than a year into the pandemic, in partnership with local food providers, CLOTH now serves between 600 to 800 families every week through its food pantry and nutrition programming.

To meet what is expected to be a long-term need for food in the community, CLOTH will repurpose a site they own for an expanded food pantry to serve the community going forward. CLOTH will begin pre-development of the site in 2021 and is actively fundraising to support the build-out of the space, hire a full-time pantry manager, increase the amount of food distributed, and expand the hours of operation. In addition to the grant funding, Enterprise is providing technical assistance on sourcing financing to develop the new food pantry and identifying fundraising opportunities for the pantry.

The role that CLOTH plays in the Upper Manhattan community cannot be understated. For many residents, including the most underserved and vulnerable, CLOTH offers critical lifelines that can include an affordable and safe place to call home, mental health services, a trusted resource whom residents can reach out to for aid, and fresh food. The need for these lifelines existed well before Covid-19 and the pandemic highlighted the vital role that CBOs like CLOTH play in their community. Enterprise is honored to support the work of these critical first responders.

Enterprise New York would like to thank the following partners for supporting our Covid-19 response work: New York State Attorney General, JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo and Enterprise New York’s Gotham Society.