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Bay Area Expands Housing Justice to Encompass Community Well-Being

Dec 11, 2021 | 4mins

FAJ team and community

FAJ team and community

F4ICA Invests in Mental Health for Thriving Communities

A safe, healthy, affordable, and stable place to call home is a vision we all have for ourselves and our families. Housing is interconnected with multiple ingredients that add up to thriving communities including family-supporting jobs, quality schools, equitable mental health and healthcare access, and inclusive neighborhoods free from systemic racism and inequity.

In recent years, the lack of safe, affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area has made the region difficult to live in for hundreds of thousands of families including Black and Indigenous people of color and low-income people. In 2018, San Francisco made global headlines when families earning $117,000 qualified as low-income according to the federal government.

The new housing, economic, and health crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic spurred the Fund’s Bay Area Community Advisors to integrate individual and community mental health and well-being more explicitly into their organizing and advocacy.

At Filipino Advocates for Justice (FAJ), even before the pandemic, organizers saw their community struggling to cope with housing, economic, and racial barriers. From May to June 2020, FAJ partnered with the Alameda County Health Department to survey the Filipino community and understand how the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing issues.1 The survey revealed many community members grapple with mental health challenges and do not seek out government or nonprofit support and services that don’t reflect their community’s needs.

FAJ is drawing from survey findings and longstanding relationships to strengthen mental health and well-being programming that honors community members in their full humanity and dignity. “We weave the intersections of healing and organizing,” is how FAJ framed their October 2021 Filipino American History Month event.

We put tenants and community members front and center in our work,” explained Ysrael Quezon, Racial Justice Project Coordinator at FAJ and an F4ICA Community Advisor. “Young people show up to meetings and it’s them and their families getting displaced. This is why we address issues beyond housing. Youth and families struggle with their mental health due to worsening housing insecurity, so they’re getting involved to heal, organize, and build healthier communities.”

“F4ICA and its funding partners provided us flexibility as we deepened mental health and well-being programming informed by the community,” said Pamela Ignacio, Communications Coordinator at FAJ and an F4ICA Community Advisor. “This is a more supportive and sustainable way to invest in people – to hear from us first, learn about our needs, and identify opportunities for groups to partner with each other to build relationships and collective power.

FAJ’s efforts among the Bay Area’s Filipino community did not happen in isolation. Organizers across the Bay Area are increasing their focus on mental health and well-being, recognizing how the challenges communities face lead to very real and human consequences.

The Regional Tenant Organizing Network – funded and supported by us at F4ICA and led by local organizations – is redoubling its leadership development work, pairing recent organizers with seasoned leaders in mentoring relationships. 40 people have gone through this program run jointly with the UC Berkeley Labor Center. Organizers across generations require more support than ever to ensure their needs are met even as they fight for their community’s needs.

We are working to heed the call of base-building organizations urging philanthropy to invest significant resources in leadership development, mental health, and community well-being. The Fund is learning and applying lessons from the pandemic to ensure leaders and residents can sustain organizing and community engagement for the long-haul in a way that nourishes and recognizes them as full human beings dedicated to fulfilling a bold community vision for housing justice and equitable development.