Since our founding, and especially this year, we’ve proven that working together is the best way to have the most significant impact. Our collective knowledge — and the collective action we take to better our communities — is our best asset and most significant opportunity.
As we reflect on 2022 and what lies ahead, we’re also thinking about what it means to work alongside one another and all we can do together if we commit to a shared purpose.
Here’s what we’re proud of accomplishing this year with you:
Together, we made Houston stronger.
Housing stability received a boost this year through the collective work of the Houston-Harris County Rental Assistance Program. In 2022, the program ensured that, throughout the City and County, tenants in eviction proceedings had access to rental assistance in the face of changing laws and tenant protections, economic instability, and the conclusion of other COVID relief programs. This year, more than 5,400 applicants received rental assistance, and the program distributed more than $33 million in assistance funding. So far, more than $370 million in rental assistance has helped those in need.
We deepened our focus on housing stability by convening an Eviction Prevention and Diversion Coordination effort. One of the highlights this year was the co-design sessions with Coalition for the Homeless, where we reimagined the intake systems used by those experiencing houselessless. Improving the intake and triage process will make applications for assistance more empathetic and accessible for both clients and providers.
Through initial design sessions with more than 50 stakeholders, we have embarked on a collective journey of envisioning a local Public Benefits Hub. Our national partner, Benefits Data Trust, just released their estimate that $800 million in public benefits dollars remain on the table in Harris County. We know that using public benefits increases stability in the average American family and we are committed to designing an accessible, equitable tool that makes applying for and receiving public assistance easier. Access to public benefits is essential to building economic resilience in Harris County and our surrounding communities.
Together, we reimagined how to solve Houston’s most complex issues.
On the first anniversary of Winter Storm Uri, the Kinder Institute for Urban Research published a resilience assessment highlighting how Houston handled extreme winter weather. The Kinder Institute named Connective’s storm assessment data as the most robust among the three primary datasets used in the report because of its high level of detail in assessing complex post-disaster damages.
Disaster surveys collecting data on damages and needs are critical when advocating for community funding and connecting survivors to available resources. Our coordinated survey for Harris County, the Connective Survey, will now be published on behalf of the Harris County Long-Term Recovery Committee and shared by Harris County after every major disaster. This is a huge step forward for our community.
The Connective Survey is also a main recommendation in the Nonprofit Disaster Recovery Framework, a blue-skies guide for disaster recovery built with our partners over 18 months. The NDRF is the start of a game plan to address and adapt to our climate reality. This year, we completed the “Envision” stage of the NDRF with over 30 nonprofit partners. In addition, we hosted a potluck to decide how to communicate the concepts in the NDRF with our community.
We were particularly reminded of our local climate reality when we paused to reflect on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Harvey in collaboration with the Climate Justice Museum, OneBreath Houston, and Air Alliance Houston. “Five Years After Landfall ‘’ focused on our Harvey experience, its impacts, and the structural inequities that deepen recovery gaps in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Connective curated a Hurricane Harvey Living Library for the event, with books, reports, assessments, and analyses surrounding Harvey’s effects and community-led recovery.
At home and across the country, many are thinking about the effects of climate change in our communities. Our Director of Partnerships and Policy, Elaine Morales, spoke on the New America panel “What is Coastal America’s Future?” in July. The panel explored how to reimagine life on our coasts and beyond in the face of climate change. Elaine reflected on how to build creative solutions responsive to frontline communities’ changing needs and wisdom; and called for radical transformation that prioritizes climate adaptation.
We look forward to exploring the big questions we asked ourselves this year: What does climate adaptation look like when we have to stay? How might Houston, the world’s energy capital, build a new climate-forward identity that leads the clean energy transition and build resilient infrastructure that protects all of us? Connective has joined a cohort of HIVE Fund grantees to collectively explore some of these questions and create a just transition strategy that leads with equity and justice.
Together, we turned barriers into bridges.
Early in 2022, we published and distributed our human-centered design research report Build With Us!, focused on Harris County residents impacted by COVID-19. This research led to several rapid improvements across local assistance programs, including improving COVID relief application processes and creating Connective Texts.
With more than 50,000 subscribers, Connective Texts is increasing the awareness of available resources for residents in Harris County, Fort Bend, and surrounding counties — while enabling a new outreach method for our social services ecosystem. We are also excited to share that we are expanding our capacity to do human-centered design research with and for partners, most recently we supported a public sector partner on a research sprint with home-based childcare providers in Harris County to better understand their needs and the barriers they experience when accessing available resources.
Throughout the year, we’ve also worked to strengthen our existing eviction infrastructure to build better links between service providers (rental assistance, legal aid, and homelessness services) and those at immediate risk of eviction or already in the eviction court pipeline. Our approach aims to demystify the eviction process for the average renter and ensure they have the necessary tools to appear before an eviction judge. At the same time, our goal is to make the eviction process more effective, empathetic, and human. We’re improving this process by supporting more transparent information, more accessible navigating of court systems, and a human-centered lens when designing new eviction intervention programs.
In collaboration with LISC Houston and Benefit Kitchen, we received the 2022 Finlab Exchange Grant to bridge knowledge gaps between nonprofit staff and clients, giving those seeking assistance the most up-to-date and accurate public benefits information. Closing these gaps will make public benefits information more equitable and accessible, ensuring that as many people as possible are aware of the benefits of public benefits.
We’re also reducing barriers to homeownership for people of color in Houston through a $7.5 million Wells Fargo WORTH grant to LISCHouston to make homeownership access more equitable in our community. Connective is a grant partner to LISC along with Avenue CDC, Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, Houston Habitat for Humanity, Tejano Center for Community Concerns, the City of Houston Housing & Community Development Department, and the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation.
Together, we’re building a public-facing portal to help prospective and existing homeowners navigate programs and resources. This portal will link Houstonians to homebuyer training and education, credit score repair, down payment assistance, home repair, legal aid services, and homeownership counseling services.
Together, we transformed social services.
While many of our reflections are about our work with others, we have dedicated significant time to our organizational health and capacity this year. We have added six new members to our Board of Directors, and our team continues to grow with new staff. Their knowledge and insights will be essential to our organization’s success and, ultimately, our ability to transform social services.
Notably, this year, both the Migration Policy Institute and Urban Institute Housing Crisis Research Collaborative highlighted our transformational contributions to distributing financial and rental assistance during COVID-19:
“During the pandemic, Connective further adapted its use of [Salesforce] to coordinate and disburse COVID-19 direct assistance across several rounds of funding and the many different agencies that participated in delivering the assistance. Connective’s use of the platform also facilitated rapid dispersal of funding, drawing funds from multiple pools depending on eligibility rules, and allowed for tracking and evaluation of where the assistance went and who received it.” (Capps & Fix, 2022, pg 24.)
“One of the most innovative program components was integrating a landlord database, enrolling landlords through individual outreach and association emails. This component allows tenants to go on the portal and immediately identify whether their landlord is enrolled to know if they need to apply for direct assistance; the database also provides further protections for tenants around eviction while the tenant is enrolled in the program.” (Boshart, Champion & Popkin, 2022, pg 14.)
In November, we launched our redesigned website. This new website better explains our story and mission, articulates what we do, and highlights how we can transform social services together.
Finally, we wouldn’t be where we are today without the help of our partners, friends, and donors. Thank you to Houston Endowment, United Way of Greater Houston, Greater Houston Community Foundation, Baker Ripley, Catholic Charities, LISCHouston, The Alliance, the HIVE Fund, the Dovetail Impact Foundation, FinLab, and Vanguard Charitable Trust, for your steadfast support and encouragement.
We look forward to more project and partner announcements in 2023. We’re committed to working together to provide our communities with the tools they need to thrive.