The San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys are widely perceived as “bedroom communities,” comprised of middle- and upper-middle class residents. But the reality is that, pre-pandemic, about 272,000 of these residents lived below the poverty line – almost as many as is the entire population of Santa Clarita. There is a chronic shortage of housing in Los Angeles County and, according to RentCafe and Rent.com, average rents go for about $2800/month, which results in many homes and apartments in the Northeast SFV and elsewhere being occupied by two to three low-income families. During the pandemic, the Los Angeles Times reported that “…five of the 25 communities with the highest rates of [COVID] infection rates are in the Northeast San Fernando Valley – in areas that are home to large numbers of ‘essential’ workers at prime risk of infection and include ZIP codes with high rates of crowded housing .” These close living quarters, mostly among people of color, proved to be disastrous in the COVID-19 crisis, during which more than twice as many Hispanics died from the virus than whites, with higher comparative death rates for Blacks and Asians as well.
Hispanics comprise 44% of the residents of the San Fernando Valley, and 35% of the Santa Clarita Valley. The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp reported that, early in the pandemic, more than 40% of unemployment claims in California were filed by LatinX workers – the highest of any racial group. . The fall-out from these negative trends has included rising rates of homelessness, food insecurity, mental illness, low educational attainment, and many other regional challenges.
The Los Angeles Economic Development Corp stated in its 2023 Economic Forecast that the poverty rate in the county has risen to 14.2% — the highest year-over-year increase in five years. In the midst of growing income inequality and the long-term after-effects of the pandemic stand more than 4000 nonprofit agencies in this region—agencies that are providing a range of vital services to meet the needs noted above. In a geographic area of 550 square miles, and “pockets of poverty” scattered throughout the Valleys, these organizations are strategically located in neighborhoods where their clients live, which is critical to the many low-income residents who are transit-challenged. A household that includes a mentally or physically disabled family member may need the services of multiple agencies: specialized care-giving, regular access to a free or low-cost clinic, physical or psychological therapy, and so on. A low-income family may rely on nonprofits to provide free or low-cost after school programs for their children while the parents are working, housing or rental assistance, a foodbank, a thrift shop or free clothing distribution center, etc. A senior citizen can thrive if he or she has access to home-delivered or congregate meal programs, a senior center for life skills and socialization, a cancer or grief-focused support group. Charitable organizations also provide cultural enrichment and education to local residents: museums; art, theater, music programs and related venues; sports and physical fitness opportunities to people of all ages; animal rescue and adoption services. These are just a few examples of the importance of the charitable sector to the vitality of the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys.
2023: A Challenging Year for SFV/SCV Nonprofits
Federal COVID relief funds were widely distributed in the nonprofit sector and this allowed many organizations to sustain themselves and to continue offering vital services to Valley residents, many of whom suffered severely from COVID and from related economic affects. Many of these agencies are still spending down their pandemic grants but there is a real concern that in the latter half of 2023 and into 2024, this funding will dry up. Although charitable giving remained strong in 2022, with inflation increasing and a recession looming, there is a real concern that nonprofits will struggle to maintain staffing and services, especially among those that rely primarily on government grants.
In terms of individual donors, the areas of significant charitable giving in our County historically have been on the Westside and Downtown LA where major firms and concentrations of civic, corporate, and philanthropic wealth are located.
Local charities have long been amazed at the non-government income that LA County regions to the south of us are able to generate. Generally, our local Valley charity campaigns and events raise far less income than their Downtown/Westside counterparts. With few large corporate headquarters in the Valleys, and no major law or CPA firms, local charities do not typically benefit from having CEOs of these firms who use their clout to secure significant donations from their own companies as well as their business networks.
The result has been that, for many years, the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valley critical community needs addressed by our nonprofits have been overlooked and underfunded by philanthropy – which puts a greater onus on our local citizenry to step up to meet local needs.
A New Vision: Transformation in our Valleys
The time has come to cast a new vision that will transform our life together in our beloved Valleys. As one civic leader and community bank CEO put it: “We need to “own” the problems we have here and solve them.” This means we need to determine the size and scope of these challenges in our geographic region. We need to come to terms with the limits of government agencies and foundations to fully fund the solutions that are needed. Finally, we need to sound the call to our community residents and employees to collectively invest in our local nonprofits to ensure that they have the resources to end homelessness, significantly reduce poverty, demonstrate success in our education and workforce sectors, and sufficiently provide for the myriad of other needs that only our charities can meet.
We believe the Community Foundation of the Valleys is uniquely positioned to give voice to this transformational vision, and to engage SFV/SCV leaders, residents, and employees in making this vision a reality.
A California Community Foundation Transfer of Wealth study found that the residents of the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys possess the highest current net worth of any region in Los Angeles County: $365.96 billion. This same study noted that these households have the highest potential for the transfer of wealth (est. $32.78 – $398.23 billion) .
A 2014 UCLA study showed that the average charitable gift in Los Angeles County was about $1400 a year. But the same report indicated that many San Fernando and Santa Clarita zip codes and neighborhoods gave significantly less. This represents the challenge for the Community Foundation of the Valleys: to create a broad awareness that increased local charitable giving will alleviate a multitude of social problems, and also create a healthier and more vibrant community for all of us. And as noted above, even though these Valleys face the same major infrastructure and social challenges as LA County, our needs are often overlooked and underfunded.
The San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita Valley have much in common, comprising the so‐called “suburbs” of the City and County of Los Angeles. These two sub-regions combine to make up what is referred to as Service Planning Area Two (SPA2), for which there exists a trove of demographics, civic and social data. This is also one of the most promising subareas in the county for future philanthropy—but they also lack the basic mechanisms to assure that these resources are directed to the areas of greatest need and opportunity.
Imagine if over the next 10-50 years, 5% or $1.64 – $19 billion could be given to local nonprofits from just the transfer of wealth, through a new effective and efficient channel?
The Community Foundation of the Valleys (CFV) is dedicated to making this a reality. By serving as a vital, resourceful conduit between donors and community needs, we can affect exponential and meaningful impact on our local communities. The Foundation provides leadership, funds initiatives and cultivates philanthropic infrastructure by promoting participation in community organizations and philanthropic causes that benefit both Valleys. We also aim to be a leader and driving force in initiating a comprehensive “give local” campaign, to inspire and educate our region’s residents on the importance of supporting charities in their communities. In addition, we want to challenge financial services providers to advise their clients about the tax benefits of charitable giving.
This transfer of wealth offers us an opportunity that is too big to ignore. We have a responsibility to help our communities understand and take full advantage of this, by providing philanthropic options and maximizing opportunities that make a lasting impact.
VISION TO ACTION
An exciting vision is nothing without a specific action plan that will ensure that transformation in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys will take place. Our Board of Directors has laid out a 2022-2027 Strategic Plan to energize our vision. The Plan includes four major strategies:
For more details, view the Strategic Plan summary.