3rd Annual Poverty Summit Seeks to Break Barriers to Affordable Housing

Keynote Speaker Maurice A. Jones Shares Proven Housing Solutions

United Way of Pierce County presented the third annual From Poverty to Possibilities poverty summit, which has become a signature event focused on communitywide solutions in removing barriers for struggling local families. Approximately 250 participants filled the Hotel Murano ballroom for the highly anticipated half-day summit who represented businesses, direct service organizations, advocacy groups, faith-based organizations, government leaders, academics and individuals with lived experience of poverty.

According to United Way President & CEO, Dona Ponepinto, “There are many barriers to self-sufficiency, but housing is one of the biggest stumbling blocks. When you consider that one in three Pierce County residents struggle to make ends meet and housing is the biggest expense, it’s no wonder it’s a leading community topic.  When this issue stood out last year we knew that it would set the framework for the 2019 summit.  In addition to conducting and attending meetings around educational and public advocacy, we sought out our keynote speaker Maurice A. Jones, President and CEO of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a national community development financial institution] to provide a unique perspective because he is very experienced in addressing the challenges of community development and he is a strategic policy expert who understands the myriad difficulties facing low-income families". 

Jones shared experiences in several other markets that face similar problems, but have created solutions that are currently in play in San Francisco, Detroit and Charlotte, NC. Despite the differences in each community, there are overarching issues leading with racial inequity, repairing existing housing stock and providing supportive housing for individuals and families that are the most housing burdened.

“The private and public sectors are stepping up to fund investment vehicles that produce and preserve housing as well as policy and incentive structures. Additionally local governments are retooling zoning, permit costs for building infrastructure but all of these efforts take from a minimum of 10-20 years to lift up generations. This is not a short-term endeavor. It takes teamwork, stamina and the audacity to aspire to do big things—in addition to transforming hearts so that people gain greater compassion for our unhoused and unstably housed neighbors,” said Jones.

The summit also included insights from Pierce County Executive, Bruce Dammeier, Director of Urban Studies and the Assistant Chancellor for Community Engagement at University of Washington Tacoma, Ali Modarres and provocative panel discussions from thought-leaders. The panel discussion focused on policies, addressed barriers to affordable housing as well as some of the solutions that are working.  Panelists included: event moderator Tanisha Jumper, Media and Communications Director, City of Tacoma, United Way Board Member Maurice A. Jones, President & CEO LISC, Bill Riley, BRC Family, LLC, Denny Hunthausen, Catholic Community Services, Mayor Victoria Woodards, City of Tacoma, Maureen Fife, Habitat for Humanity and Nancy Aguilar, Habitat for Humanity Homeowner.

An interactive Human-Centered Design workshop presented by Professor Divya McMillian and students from the University of Washington, Tacoma, engaged guests in lively discussions that focused on advancing systems and technologies for people and communities to create accessible, sustainable, and prosperous futures. The event culminated with three Pitch to Ditch Poverty challenge winners that presented approaches to address poverty from the inside out. All three of the community-based organizations were award $5,000 each to launch their initiatives and included Building Financial and Social Capital, Community Based LFO (Legal Financial Obligations) Debt Relief and Just Dads.

Participation is essential, noted Ponepinto.  “Our hope is that we all walk away inspired to united into the community's affordable housing movement -- the importance of connecting and centering our collective work on racial equity, income equality and institutional and structural change. We are thrilled by the turnout from so many who joined the conversation and provided great insights, opportunities for connections, creative solutions and collective thinking when it comes to addressing barriers for hard working families in Pierce County. 

About United Way of Pierce County: Our goal is to lift 15,000 local households out of poverty and into financial stability by 2028, one family at a time. We do this with a three-pronged approach that incorporates prevention, intervention and empowerment. United Way creates a solid foundation for Basic Needs like food, clothing and shelter so people can move out of crisis; breaks down barriers via South Sound 211 to connect families to critical resources and navigation services including behavioral health, housing, transportation and employment; and Builds Strong Families by helping people face financial challenges with free, one-on-one financial and career coaching and resources that help families thrive and break the cycle of poverty. By mobilizing local businesses, community organizations, governmental agencies and individuals who are committed to making a long-term measurable difference in our community, we are tackling poverty in Pierce County. To learn more visit www.uwpc.org.

2018 Poverty to Possibilities Sponsors: WESCU, Boeing, Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, State Farm, CHI-Franciscan, Franklin Pierce Schools, Harborstone Credit Union, Northwest Bank, Puget Sound Energy, Tacoma Public Utilities, WorkForce Central, Columbia Bank, Coordinated Care, Tacoma Community College and Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber. Set designs were provided by Hope Furnishings, the retail program of NW Furniture Bank.