BKLYN Commons, Brooklyn’s premier coworking space and home to more than 300 indoor storefront businesses owned and operated by entrepreneurs, creators, change-makers, and forward-thinking innovators.

“What we’ve done at BKLYN Commons is create a community where our members collaborate and support each other,” said Johanne Brierre, BKLYN Commons head of growth.

Building a community – both inside and outside its walls – enabled BKLYN Commons, its members and partners to survive COVID-19’s destruction of Brooklyn’s small businesses. 

Indeed, BKLYN Commons was the glue that kept its members together at the peak of the crisis and enabled many of them to survive. 

It’s a two-street. The members and broader community partners helped BKLYN Commons to keep its doors open at a time when many other coworking spaces shut down permanently.

At the height of the pandemic, BKLYN Commons leveraged its partnerships with community-based agencies, civic leaders and members to share updated information on the government’s complicated Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), where to obtain Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), and other important resources. 

The members also supported each other. For instance, BKLYN Commons member Nadia Aristide, the president of business finance company Maroon Strategist, provided information to other members on PPP. BKLYN Commons also teamed up with its community partner IMPAACT Brooklyn, a community development corporation, in hosting Zoom forums on how to apply for the government funding program. 

At the same time, BKLYN Commons went into its surrounding neighborhoods to collaborate with local leaders. We partnered with Community Board 3 in hosting Bed Stuy Thrive: Back to Business. 

At the forums, Ingrid Murray, a BKLYN Commons member who owns commercial cleaning company Prospect Cleaning Service, shared information with local businesses on how to clean, sanitize and reopen safely after the lockdown. Marketing and public relations expert Keith L. Forest taught a class on marketing during the pandemic, and real estate professional Tywan Anthony shared information on how to renegotiate commercial leases.

BKLYN Commons in partnership with BKReader began publishing articles on March 16 that share members’ survival stories in a series collectively named Straight Out of COVID.

It will inspire struggling entrepreneurs, as well as share ideas about how other small businesses, nonprofits and solopreneurs can reinvent themselves.

New articles appear every Tuesday and Thursday, in the Local Voices section. In today’s post, we meet Rob Solano, a co-founder of the grassroots movement Churches United for Fair Housing. His organization did an amazing job of obtaining the grant funding needed to continue providing aid to individuals and communities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.


CHURCHES UNITED FOR FAIR HOUSING: STAND UP & STAND STRONG DURING COVID

By: Lindy Hale
Churches United for Fair Housing. Photo: Supplied.

Born and raised in Williamsburg during the 1980’s, Rob Solano witnessed the neighborhood’s transformation into one of the most popular places to live in the country—a change that had a major impact on his community. Slowly, he watched as Brooklyn became less economically accessible to individuals and families who had lived there for decades.

With this transformation happening before his eyes, Solano knew he had to make a difference. So, in 2009, he quit his job and co-founded Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH). CUFFH, a grassroots movement which operates out of BKLYN Commons’ Bushwick location, is focused on preserving and creating vibrant communities that are affordable for working families throughout New York City. 

Through community organization, youth engagement, and social services, Solano and his team of seven have grown CUFFH’s network to include seven core churches, 50 partner churches, and 40 organizational allies across New York City. To date, CUFFH has assisted more than 20,000 families throughout the Greater NYC area.

When the communities CUFFH empowers were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Solano and his team did not stand idly by. We sat down with Solano, to chat about CUFFH’s lasting commitment to providing aid to individuals and communities impacted by COVID-19.

Without the ability to provide in-person community services, how has CUFFH pivoted to provide aid to individuals and communities in the wake of COVID-19?

Churches United for Fair Housing. Photo: Supplied.

Throughout the pandemic, CUFFH has remained deeply committed to its mission of organizing around critical issues impacting New York City’s most vulnerable communities.

Through grant funding, we’ve been able to reach and connect with our community members to provide basic needs such as medical supplies, housing, food, and clothing. This funding has also provided us with the opportunity to learn from community members about their direct experiences and concerns in the midst of the pandemic. 

What has been CUFFH’s biggest takeaway from COVID outreach work?

Grant funding has allowed us to contact individuals outside CUFFH’s network of churches—individuals who had not previously utilized our services. Through mutual trust and discussion, we’ve been able to learn more about the indirect toll and consequences the pandemic has had on not only personal lives, but the community as a whole. Mental health, job insecurity, roommate safety, and tenants’ rights are all real, vulnerable concerns that CUFFH has had to pivot to further focus our efforts on. 

Can you tell us about a specific program that has been born out of the CUFFH’s mission to provide safe opportunities for its most vulnerable community members?

Through congregational outreach and long-term service work within Brooklyn-based churches, we’ve established trust with clergy and community members of faith. These trusted relationships have allowed us to identify individuals within three congregations that have lost income due to COVID-19 and who are ineligible for unemployment or stimulus benefits due to their immigration status. These individuals and/or families are provided with gift cards to help make ends meet. CUFFH is deeply committed to our community base and continues to raise money to fund programs like this.

CUFFH is one of the founding members of BKLYN Commons. How has working within a diverse and inclusive community supported CUFFH over the last few years? 

BKLYN Commons has allowed our team to be surrounded daily by like-minded people who want to help us build our organization.

The team and members of BKLYN Commons have become family. Anything CUFFH needs from WIFI to printing, help hanging a banner, or setting up for pre-COVID community events, has been right at our fingertips. This undying support helps us remain undistracted and focused on our work. 

 ——

CUFFH has recently launched individual memberships for anyone who shares its ideology and wants to be part of a collective movement of change. 

Like Solano says, “It’s about watching our community thrive, not just survive.”

For more information or to get involved with CUFFH visit www.cuffh.com or give them a call at 718.360.2906


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of BK Reader.

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