The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation announced Sept. 21 that it is doubling down on Atlanta’s Westside.
It is awarding three grants totaling $22.4 million, making that the largest round of gifts the foundation has made on the Westside to date. In all, the foundation’s committed investment in the Westside since 2007 now totals more than $88 million.
The grants are part of the foundation’s refreshed strategy to increase the economic mobility of legacy residents in the English Avenue and Vine City neighborhoods, communities that are directly west of the Mercedes Benz Stadium. Arthur M. Blank, majority owner of the Atlanta Falcons, made a commitment to invest in those neighborhoods during the construction of the stadium.
The goal is for legacy residents “to have a viable choice” to remain in the community, according to Danny Shoy Jr., managing director of Youth Development and Atlanta’s Westside for the foundation. “As the Westside continues to change and gentrification happens, we want to mitigate and minimize displacement,” Shoy said in an interview.
The three grants are focused on affordable housing and financial inclusion.
The largest grant — $10 million — is going to the Westside Future Fund to help launch its $55 million “Our Next Chapter” campaign. The grant will support affordable housing projects in the English Avenue and Vine City neighborhoods. The program’s three service areas include single-family homeownership, rental housing and property tax assistance for legacy residents.
“It’s the single largest one-time philanthropic commitment we’ve received,” said John Ahmann, president and CEO of the Westside Future Fund. “Given the leadership role of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, it’s an important validation of the significance of our work, and the latest round of grants is a proof point of Mr. Blank’s stated commitment that they are here for the long haul. By them staying committed, it keeps others committed.”
Ahmann said he hopes to raise most of the $55 million within the next two-and-a-half years. WFF already received $1 million from the Coca-Cola Foundation and other gifts totaling $1 million.
The foundation also made two other grants — each for $6.2 million. One grant is going to CareerRise, which manages Westside Works, a neighborhood-based workforce collaborative. It provides job and career training services to residents in English Avenue and Vine City. People receive entry-level skills, and they are given support to grow and develop their careers. Westside Works is expanding its career pathways, adding welding as well as transportation, distribution and logistics, Shoy said. Already, they are exploring opportunities to work with the Centennial Yards development, which is transforming the railroad gulch downtown into an office, residential, retail and entertainment hub.
The second $6.2 million grant is going to the Georgia Resilience and Opportunity Fund (GRO) to support the “In Her Hands” program it is running in partnership with GiveDirectly. It will provide 200 female residents in English Avenue and Vine City with guaranteed income over three years to improve their living situation by leveling the playing field for women. There already is a pilot program in the Old Fourth Ward.
The Westside program will seek to strengthen the safety net for women whose incomes are at 200 percent or below the federal poverty level. Shoy said those 200 women will be selected through a lottery because GRO expects the demand to exceed the number of slots available.
The $22.4 million is in addition to two grants the foundation recently made as part of its Westside portfolio totaling $929,600 to the Atlanta Land Trust and First Step Staffing Atlanta.
“All of this work is connected, and these grantees are integrated,” Shoy said. “CareerRise with its Westside Works, works really well with Westside Future Fund to help residents be eligible and ready for the ‘Home on the Westside’ program. It’s not like they’re working in isolation.”
These efforts also fit in the Westside Future Fund’s longer-term goal of creating 1,500 permanently affordable rental units and 250 affordable single-family homes. Ahmann said the $55 million campaign will help trigger up to a $45 million investment from its impact fund and another $10 million from public sources.