Blank Foundation doubles down on efforts to improve the Westside
By Maria Saporta
The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation is hitting the refresh button on its strategy for the Westside.
The new strategy will focus the Foundation’s efforts will build upon the investments it has made since 2014 when the Westside Neighborhood Prosperity Fund was established to improve the struggling communities west of the Mercedes Benz Stadium, which opened three years later.
“We are not going anywhere,” said Daniel “Danny” Shoy Jr., the Blank Foundation’s managing director of youth development and the Westside. “Arthur (Blank) would say: ‘There’s no finish line.’ The solutions have to be long-term solutions.”
More often than not, a stadium development next to a low-income neighborhood causes the displacement of legacy residents. Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, committed a parallel focus on building the stadium while improving the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods.
“We wanted to know how the community can benefit from the stadium,” Shoy said in an exclusive interview. “Not only ‘do no harm,’ but how can we do the most good in the community.”
So far, the Blank Foundation has invested at least $57 million in the Westside starting with a $15 million grant in 2014, another $15 million grant in 2017 and an additional $27 million since then. The Foundation continues to invest about $5 million a year in those communities, and it is committed to investing at that rate for the next 10 years.
As part of its refreshed strategy, the Blank Foundation announced $2.4 million in grants to six organizations to reflect its refocused priorities.
“The goal is to increase the economic mobility of legacy residents living in the English Avenue and Vine City neighborhoods,” Shoy said. “We don’t want people to be stuck in place. We want there to be opportunities for people to collectively thrive. If we are not thoughtful about the equity piece, then not everyone will be able to benefit.”
Fay Twersky, president of the Blank Foundation, described the Westside as a vibrant community undergoing considerable change.
“Many legacy residents, however, are vulnerable to displacement,” Twersky said in a statement. “We want to support long-term residents to be more economically stable and benefit from the improvements in the community they’ve called home for years. 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. They want to have more economic opportunity and more affordable housing enabling them to have the genuine choice to stay.”
The foundation’s new Westside grants include:
- $1.04 million to Westside Future Fund to support the production of affordable rental units.
- Two grants to strengthen the affordable housing ecosystem on the Westside to include both rental and homeownership opportunities, $400,000 to Enterprise Community Partners and $310,000 to Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership (ANDP).
- $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 homeownership program and Westside Works workforce development training.
- $300,000 to CHRIS 180 to support the transition of two programs connecting Westside residents to preventive and coordinated health services.
Shoy explained that the Westside Future Fund will act like a “quarterback” with Enterprise Community Partners working to address rental affordability and ANDP working on homeownership opportunities. On the Rise Financial Center and Westside Works will focus on the financial security and improvement of community residents, most of them making less than 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI).
The refreshed strategy also means the Blank Foundation will shift its focus from healthcare services and education initiatives, and its grant to CHRIS 180 will help in that transition through 2023.
Shoy said the Blank organization, which includes several private ventures as well as its philanthropic initiatives, is working in tandem to have a cohesive impact on the areas it serves.
“It’s all of the AMB entities,” Shoy said. “It’s the notion of collectively thriving – repair the world and tying business and philanthropy.”
Shoy is in his second stint at the Blank Foundation, returning in February after spending 12 years at the East Lake Foundation, where he most recently served as president and CEO of the place-based entity focused on a cohesive approach to improve communities.
“I went from the Eastside to the Westside,” Shoy said laughingly. Prior to joining the East Lake Foundation, Shoy spent nearly 10 years with the Blank Foundation working in the areas of youth development through education, arts and culture.
Shoy now is embracing his work on the Westside.
“This is a community that’s rich with history and rich with talent,” Shoy said. “Here’s an opportunity to do restorative work.”
But Shoy quickly added that the Blank Foundation welcomes others to join its efforts.
“We hope what the Blank Foundation is doing on the Westside will inspire others,” Shoy said. “We are not seeking to do this work by ourselves.”