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Founder: Inflation is creating a barrier to healthy food access, affordable housing for Houstonians

Equitable access to services is integral to the vitality of all communities. Photo by Erik Scheel/Pexels

Approximately 40 million Americans, including five million Texans, live in food deserts. These are communities with low access to fresh and healthy foods and high access to unhealthy alternatives, where a trip to the grocery store is oftentimes a tradeoff between convenience, cost, and choice. Everyone deserves (indeed, needs) good food access, yet current market offerings are not designed to satisfy demand.

And food is but one part of a tapestry of disparity – which includes among other things health and wellness services, digital connectivity, debt and access to credit, and housing insecurity – that disproportionately impacts historically marginalized communities and leaves residents vulnerable to greater risks. These issues, long-standing though they are, have become more acute with inflation, as the cost of everything goes up and wages lag.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the price of food that people eat at home rose 10 percent in the last year. At the same time, the cost of rent in Houston also increased 10 percent last year - Houston now ranks in the top 50 most expensive cities in America for renters. Across Texas, rents are up 30 percent in Austin, 11 percent in San Antonio, and 17 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth last year. When tenants face a rent increase it hampers their ability to move, because even if they are working, it can be a challenge to pay the lump sum of a new first month’s rent plus a security deposit. This is a huge barrier for our neighbors living paycheck to paycheck.

Whether it’s rent or the price of eggs, families are being squeezed, and in order to bridge this widening chasm – the Market Gap and Equity Gap – we need to embrace fresh solutions for all who live in service deserts. Fortunately, new organizations are coming to the fore in a targeted and meaningful way:

Tech start-ups such as Providers and Forage are empowering low-income households with greater access and insight on how and where to use food stamps.

At the community level, New York-based Wellfare is leveraging density and community knowledge to run a direct-to-door food subscription model for low-income households. And here in Houston, my organization, Little Red Box Grocery, will soon be launching a reimagined community store, designed to bring the benefits of good food access + health to Houston’s Food Deserts.

Yet when it comes to the wellspring of uncertainty, so much flows downstream from unstable housing it is hard to overstate its importance on family stability. If a landlord increases the rent, some renters can certainly move, but others have no choice but to pay up as they cannot afford the upfront costs required to find alternative housing. And the more one spends on housing, the less there is for life’s other many necessities… including food.

Fresh food access and housing insecurity are intertwined challenges that we must meet head on. Fortunately, companies like Rhino are helping solve one of renters’ biggest financial hurdles – the up-front cash required for a security deposit – with security deposit insurance. This gives renters a low-rate policy as affordable as $5 per month for an apartment renting for $1,000 per month. Some property owners in Texas are already accepting it as an alternative way to secure an apartment.

The benefits of this kind of arrangement are easy to see. People can put money that would otherwise be locked away in a security deposit into savings, pay down debt, buy groceries for their family in a manner that improves home and community health and well-being. One could even start a business, or pursue a degree. The point is that it frees up home economics to be used in a manner most efficient for that family.

And services such as this should help level the playing field. In a recently released survey of renters, renters of color were more likely to pay a security deposit than white renters and they paid $150 more on average in the security deposit than white renters. Renters of color also submitted more applications and paid higher application fees than white renters.

Equitable access to services is integral to the vitality of all communities. Good food, secure housing – it doesn’t just nourish bodies and minds, it can spur new investment into our neighborhoods and prove once and for all that manmade deserts of any kind do not have to exist if we let imagination and innovation prevail. If there was ever a time to prioritize access – and action – it is now.

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Sam Newman is the founder of Houston-based Little Red Box Grocery bringing the benefits of good food access to Houston’s Second Ward.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston this month. Photo via Getty Images

Houstonians are transitioning into a new summer month, and the city's business community is mixing in networking and conference events with family vacations and time off. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar for July when it comes to innovation-related events.

This article will be updated as more business and tech events are announced.

July 10 — Have a Nice Day Market at the Ion

Stop by for a one-of-a-kind vendor market - #HaveANiceDayHTX - taking place at the Ion, Houston's newest urban district and collaborative space that is designed to provide the city a place where entrepreneurial, corporate, and academic communities can come together. Free to attend and free parking onsite.

Have a Nice Day is a creative collective with a goal of celebrating BIPOC makers, creators, and causes.

The event is Sunday, July 10, 4 to 8 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 12 — One Houston Together Webinar Series

In the first installment of the Partnership's One Houston Together webinar series, we will discuss supplier diversity an often underutilized resource for business. What is it and why is it important? How can supplier diversity have long-term impact on your business, help strengthen your supply chain, and make a positive community impact?

The event is Tuesday, July 12, noon to 1 pm, online. Click here to register.

July 14 — Investor Speaker Series: Both Sides of the Coin

In the next installment of Greentown Labs' Investor Speaker Series, sit down with two Greentown founders and their investors as they talk about their experiences working together before, during, and after an equity investment was made in the company. Attendees will get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most important relationships in a startup’s journey and what best practices both founders and investors can follow to keep things moving smoothly.

The event is Thursday, July 14, 1 to 2:30 pm, online. Click here to register.

July 15 — SBA Funding Fair

Mark Winchester, the Deputy District Director for the Houston District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, will give a short intro of the programs the mentors will discuss. There will be three government guaranteed loan mentors and two to three mentors co-mentoring with remote SBIR experts.

The event is Friday, July 15, 10:30 am to 1 pm, at The Cannon - West Houston. Click here to register.

July 16 — Bots and Bytes: Family STEAM Day

Join the Ion for a hands-on learning experience to learn about tech and robotics and gain insight into the professional skills and concepts needed to excel in a robotics or tech career. This event will be tailored for 9-14-year-olds for a fun STEM experience.

The event is Saturday, July 16, 10 am to 1 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 19 — How to Start a Startup

You have an idea...now what? Before you start looking for funding, it's important to make sure that your idea is both viable and valuable -- if it doesn't have a sound model and a market willing to pay for it, investors won't be interested anyway.

The event is Tuesday, July 19, 5:30 to 7:30 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 20 — Perfecting Your Pitch

Join the Ion for their series with DeckLaunch and Fresh Tech Solutionz as they discuss the importance and value of your pitch deck when reaching your target audience.

The event is Wednesday, July 20, 5:30 to 6:30 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 21 — Transition On Tap: Investor Readiness with Vinson & Elkins LLP

Attorneys from Greentown Labs’ Gigawatt Partner Vinson & Elkins LLP, a leading fund- and company-side advisor for clean energy financing, will present an overview of legal considerations in cleantech investing, geared especially toward early-stage companies and investors. The presentation will cover the types of investors and deals in the cleantech space and also provide background on negotiating valuation, term sheets, and preparing for diligence.

The event is Thursday, July 21, 5 to 7 pm, at Greentown Houston. Click here to register.

July 28 — The Cannon Community 2nd Annual Town Hall Event

Partner of The Cannon, Baker Tilly, has played an integral part in the success of Cannon member companies. Join the Cannon community for The Cannon's 5-year anniversary celebration!

The event is Thursday, July 28, 4 to 7 pm, at The Cannon - West Houston. Click here to register.

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