NI Employees Go the Extra Mile to Make a Positive Impact
From hiring Ukrainian refugees to cutting promotional product waste, NI employees are creating innovative programs that positively impact society and our planet.
Austin, Texas, has been one of America’s fastest-growing cities for the last decade. Driven by a booming economy and an influx of technology companies, the metropolitan area’s population has increased by 34 percent since 2010.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to this growth. Austin has quickly become one of America’s least affordable cities, with a median housing price of $640,000 and median rent of $2,400, compared to the median household income of $75,000. Many residents have been pushed to the city’s far suburbs or into situations of temporary homelessness, which could mean staying in motels or cars. And each night, an average of 3,000 people sleep on Austin’s streets or in its woods and ravines.
“We Can Now has stepped up to serve. We are adamant about bringing essential resources to wooded encampments where people experiencing homelessness have been placed,” Antony Jackson, Founder of We Can Now said. “As someone with lived experience, the transition out of homelessness is one that takes resources. I am proud to be a part of a community where solving homelessness is at the forefront.”
Other Austin-area nonprofits have also pioneered innovative solutions to help people find safe housing. Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Community First! Village has been nationally recognized for its 51-acre master-planned community for people transitioning from chronic homelessness. But with insufficient space to house Austin’s current unsheltered population and another 2,300 households expected to fall into homelessness over the next 3 to 5 years, the city’s current homelessness programs simply cannot keep up with the demand.
In April 2021, more than 250 leaders from Austin-area government agencies, community organizations, and nonprofits came together to create a detailed action plan for tackling the city’s acute crisis of unsheltered homelessness. Out of this summit came Finding Home ATX, a public-private coalition charged with implementing the action plan.
Finding Home ATX is raising $515 million to create a data-driven, citywide homelessness operating system that will tie together Austin’s current programs, fill the gaps to create a continuum of care, and rapidly scale housing and services to meet demand. The organization is tackling the crisis from all angles. It is investing in crisis services that will prevent people from falling into homelessness and provide temporary shelter to people needing stability while in transition. At the same time, it will build 1,300 new units of permanent supportive housing—housing combined with services such as mental health care, substance abuse recovery, and workforce development for people needing longer-term solutions.
Eric Starkloff and NIers show their support for Finding Home ATX at a November 2 press event.
“Finding Home ATX represents the most comprehensive group of advocates and leaders ever assembled in Austin—all focused on one big, transformative goal—to rehouse 3,000 people in the next three years,” said Lynn Meredith, chair of Finding Home ATX. “Our approach is based on best practices from other cities and ours and is powered by Austin’s unique culture of innovation and philanthropy.”
Rehousing 3,000 people in three years will put Austin at Functional Zero: a milestone, which must be sustained, that indicates a community has measurably solved homelessness for a population. When it’s achieved, homelessness is rare and brief for that population.
Finding Home ATX has already raised $443 million from organizations including St. David’s Foundation, Rastegar Property Company, and Indeed. NI also made a $500,000 donation to Finding Home ATX, to be distributed over two years to the projects most in need.
Homegrown technology companies like ours have greatly benefited from Austin’s growth, and we need to be part of solving challenges that growth has caused. NI has a strong tradition of helping our neighbors, and that includes our neighbors who are unhoused or struggling to find affordable housing.
- Eric Starkloff, CEO of NI
“Building an equitable and thriving society” is a pillar of NI’s corporate impact strategy, with the goal of reducing racial, gender, and economic inequities. The company has made affordable housing and homelessness initiatives a focus area, recognizing that housing is not just a human rights issue, but also an equity issue.
“Thirty-six percent of people experiencing homelessness in Austin are Black and 25 percent are Latinx—and Black and Latinx Austinites also have higher rates of poverty overall. Addressing our homelessness and housing crises is critical to closing racial and economic inequities in our community,” said Dr. Kazique Prince, NI’s global director of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging and board member of Austin Habitat for Humanity.
Earlier this year, NI also awarded a $25,000 grant to Foundation Communities, an Austin-based organization that provides affordable homes and free on-site support services such as childcare, financial education, and learning centers for more than 7,000 people. Residents include families with kids, veterans, seniors, and individuals with disabilities. The organization’s 23 communities are designed to be as attractive and well-appointed as other modern apartment communities in Austin and to promote a sense of belonging through wellness and social activities.
“If you’ve been homeless...slept in your car...it’s nice. To me it represents stability and dignity,” said Leaf McCrum, a resident of Spring Terrace, a Foundation Communities community. “I love my life now. I finished my undergraduate degree, I started a master’s degree, I get to volunteer, I have a life in the community, and I have a full-time job—I do advocacy work about what it’s like to live with mental illness.”
NI has also supported Foundation Communities for many years through volunteerism, with employees creating welcome baskets for residents and donating housing items. Later this year, employees will fulfill the holiday wish lists of at least 60 residents and provide meals at the communities.
NI also brings that spirit of volunteerism to Austin Habitat for Humanity, which brings people together to build homes, communities, and hope. As the presenting sponsor of Habitat’s Build for Unity campaign, NI hosted a panel-raising ceremony on September 21 at its headquarters. NI employees built and raised a wall panel for a new home in Habitat’s Scenic Point community, and then 161 employees spent 932 hours building at the community in September and October.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler joins NI employees for a panel-raising ceremony to kick off Austin Habitat for Humanity's Build for Unity campaign.
“When we began to volunteer on the construction site, I fell in love with the Scenic Point neighborhood, and I’ve been so impressed by the quality of the houses,” said David and Camelia, who will live at Scenic Point with their son and David’s aging parents, for whom they are caretakers. “We believe this program gives hope to families like ours who have felt hopeless about finding affordable housing in Austin. We want to thank all of the sponsors and volunteers for all of the support in making our homeownership dreams come true.”
Eric Starkloff and NIers help build a home for Austin Habitat for Humanity.
In 2020, NI also supported Austin Habitat for Humanity through an impact investment in the form of a $500,000 low-interest rate loan. This loan helped the organization fund construction of a new community in the city’s Mueller neighborhood, which opened in 2021.
“We were proud to collaborate with NI and Austin Habitat for Humanity on this innovative project that provides hard-working families access to affordable housing,” said Mike Nellis, CEO of Austin Community Foundation. “We are glad that NI and other Austin companies are addressing the city’s housing crisis, and we encourage them to continue this support.”