Blank foundation focuses Westside grant funding on affordable housing

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Foundation will eventually wind down health care funding in those neighborhoods.

The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation is sharpening the focus of its efforts to rejuvenate the Atlanta’s Westside, zeroing in on affordable housing and financial security.

The foundation this week announced some $2.4 million in grants to organizations on the city’s Westside, including funding to build new affordable homes, provide legal assistance to renters and support for home ownership and workforce development programs. The funding will bring the Blank Foundation’s donations to Westside causes to $5 million for this year. The nonprofit has committed to that level of annual funding in the Westside for the next decade.

“As we spoke with residents and nonprofit leaders about how we could make the most difference, we heard that legacy residents do not want to be priced out of the neighborhoods,” said Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation President Fay Twersky in a written statement. “They want to have more economic opportunity and more affordable housing enabling them to have the genuine choice to stay.”

Blank, a co-founder of Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, has committed to supporting community development and other initiatives as part of the deal with the city for hundreds of millions of dollars in public funding to support construction of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

In that time, Blank, other civic leaders, companies and community organizations have committed tens of millions of dollars to such areas as workforce, housing and health care efforts for neighborhoods near the stadium. The city and civic organizations also created the Westside Future Fund to fund and convene organizations to coordinate efforts.

New parks and the Beltline’s Westside trail have opened nearby in recent years. But the public and private investments have also spurred real estate speculation that’s driven up property values and rents, squeezing existing residents.

With the cost of housing rising so rapidly in the area, focusing on affordable housing and financial security is critical, said Danny Shoy Jr., the foundation’s managing director for youth development and Westside Atlanta.

Otherwise, “we would end up looking at neighborhoods that could change within a short amount of time, because we didn’t move with a level of urgency to preserve affordability,” he said.

The latest Westside grants include:

• $1.04 million to Westside Future Fund to support the production of affordable rental units

• $400,000 to Enterprise Community Partners and $310,000 to Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership for affordable housing

• $150,000 to Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation to reduce illegal evictions and increase renter protections

• $200,000 to On the Rise Financial Center to support financial coaching work in collaboration with the Westside Future Fund home ownership program and Westside Works workforce development training.

The narrower focus on housing and financial concerns means the foundation will eventually wind down its funding for health care services in those neighborhoods.

The Blank foundation also plans to eventually discontinue funding to nonprofit CHRIS 180 for the Westside Health Collaborative, which helps young people aging out of foster care, and the Community Health Workers program, which helps residents find health insurance, medical homes and social services. The foundation is giving a final $300,000 grant to CHRIS 180, with plans to help those programs transition and find other sources of funding.

CHRIS 180 CEO Kathy Colbenson said in a written statement that the organization is “grateful for this investment which will support our services in this year of transition, enabling us to help residents become more resilient and live more productive lives.”

“We are not leaving the Westside. We’re not decreasing our support. We’re just becoming incredibly more focused and trying to be thoughtful about how we attract other investment,” Shoy said. “Over time we knew that if we wanted to have profound impact, we needed to go deeper instead of being so broad.”

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