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Congreso is one of 42 nonprofits to receive funding in 2020 from the Bezos Day One Fund. Photo: Congreso.net 
Congreso is one of 42 nonprofits to receive funding in 2020 from the Bezos Day One Fund. Photo: Congreso.net 

Congreso gets $5 million Bezos Day One Fund grant to fight housing insecurity in Philly

The longtime nonprofit serving North Philly’s Latino community has yet to decide how to allocate the funding among its housing programs, but it’s a much-needed…

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Since its founding in 2018, the Bezos Day One Family fund has distributed upwards of $300 million to hundreds of nonprofits performing impactful social services in communities across the U.S.

The effort was created by Amazon CEO and richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos alongside his ex-wife Mackenzie Scott, and one of 2020’s 42 awardees is North Philadelphia’s Congreso de Latinos Unidos.

The grant is worth $5 million and is to address housing insecurity and homelessness in the city.

“At Congreso, we know the power of a safe and stable home — a space where families can come together and can focus on building a bright future of economic self-sufficiency and well-being,” said Congreso Executive Director Carolina Cabrera DiGiorgio about the award. “We are grateful to the Day 1 Families Fund for selecting us so we may continue serving and supporting families to ensure that this basic right becomes a reality.”

Philadelphia has long carried the title as ‘America’s Poorest Big City,’ with a poverty rate of over 20%. It’s a distinction city leaders are trying to erase, but the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has thrown a wrench in some parts of the plan, while speeding other aspects up.

When it comes to housing, ever since the pandemic hit the city in March and caused its shutdown, some members of City Council and other community leaders have warned of a “tsunami of evictions” set to collapse on the city should no moratorium or alternate avenues of rent payment be in place.

Up to this point, Philadelphia has a moratorium extending until the end of the year and has extended parts of its Emergency Housing Protections Act, which passed back in June.  

But it hasn’t been just the city government fighting against the pending housing crisis. Nonprofits and community organizations across the city have also provided both direct housing assistance and guidance to housing resources throughout the pandemic.

At Congreso, there is an entire branch of its services dedicated to providing housing assistance to the community.  

According to data provided by the nonprofit, it has provided 565 families with housing counseling and rental assistance since the pandemic began. 

“All have been assigned a housing counselor, but the demand is never-ending,” wrote Julia Rivera, Congreso’s director of external affairs, in an email.

She also wrote that a big part of the housing counseling is around fair housing and the rights and responsibilities for tenants and landlords.

For its other housing assistance programs, there are 65 active clients in Congreso’s Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program (HOPWA), 29 in its Rapid Rehousing program, and 12 taking part in its Rapid Rehousing Reunification program, which is in partnership with the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services.

The nonprofit has also held virtual homeownership workshops throughout the pandemic.

With the $5 million grant, Congreso is still determining how to best allocate the cash among its existing programs, but also hasn’t ruled out starting new aid programs based on new research and models related to addressing homelessness.

“We are also looking forward to connecting and working with leaders and partners in our community in this space to ensure that funds are used intentionally and effectively as well as in harmony with other related resources and opportunities,” wrote Rivera.

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting as brokeinphilly.org.

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