New funders’ collaborative to tackle deepening affordable housing crisis in US


Andrew Milner


Nine US foundations, including the Ford Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have launched a new partnership, Funders for Housing and Opportunity, to tackle an affordable housing crisis in the country which ‘has stifled opportunity and threatens the health and stability of millions of Americans,’ according to the Melville Charitable Trust which has convened the new collaborative.

Research last year by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), one of the beneficiaries of the new partnership, found that there is no US state where a two-bedroom rental home is affordable (defined as costing less than 30 per cent of the renters’ income) for those working a 40-hour week on the minimum wage.

Funders for Housing and Opportunity has divided an initial $4.9 million in grant money, most of which will be spent ‘in the area of policy, advocacy and organizing,’ according Susan Thomas, senior programme officer at Melville Charitable Trust and chair of Funders for Housing and Opportunity. The main recipients will be the Center for Community Change, which will get $750,000 to bolster its work with low-income communities, National Housing Trust and Enterprise Community Partners, which will receive just over $1 million to lead a community coalition to help residents be heard on housing issues and the California-based Partnership for Children and Youth will get $400,000 for its training and advocacy work in housing developments. The largest grant, however, of $2.7 million over three years, goes to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), which is working to launch a multi-sector housing campaign which will include organisations from across the healthcare, civil rights, education and anti-poverty fields.

The funding will be particularly timely given the proposed budget recently announced by the Trump administration, which would close the Section 4 Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing programme. According to the proposal document, the programme is ‘duplicative of efforts funded by philanthropy and other more flexible private sector investments.’ Few outside government would agree. Habitat for Humanity International, one of the main beneficiaries of the programme, says that ‘federal funding received by Habitat for Humanity supplements and leverages the support of our generous donors. It never replaces or duplicates it.’

Meanwhile the initial $4.9 million pledged by the Funders group won’t go a long way. Mary Cunningham, vice president of the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute, says, ‘I don’t think philanthropy will be able to make up the losses that we face from the federal budget but certainly getting smarter, targeting affordable housing and helping align the fields is really important work.’ And, says Thomas, there is more to come and it will be focused on mobilising and scaling grassroots projects that work ‘particularly in the areas at the intersections of housing and education and housing and health care. … We really feel very strongly that this is a cross-sector issue; it’s not just a housing issue.’

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Comments (1)

Keith Gumbinger

It's true that philanthropy likely won't be sufficient to offset the loss of federal supports for housing programs. It does make one wonder: If all the housing support dollars (federal, state and donated) were tallied together and provided to eligible renters in the form of direct cash assistance (and without the overhead costs of foundations, bureaucracies and the like) how much would this mean in available regular support? For example, the $4.9 million mentioned here isn't much, it's true, but it would be enough to provide a $100 per month direct rental subsidy for a full year to over 4,000 needy renters. Studies, programs and advocacy are all well and good, but it may be that direct help might provide more actual benefit to people struggling to find and hold onto a decent place to live.

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