Former HUD secretary Henry Cisneros’s top 10 ways funders can support housing affordability
Yesterday, we wrote about former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros’ talk that kicked off WRAG’s Brightest Minds series last week. Cisneros laid out a clear case for affordable and transit-accessible housing, highlighting its impact on both an individual level and a regional level.
To spur the thinking of grantmakers in the room, Cisneros laid out the following recommendations for how funders can effectively create a more equitable housing market in our region:
1. Grantmaking: The most obvious way that philanthropy can support the development of affordable housing is through good old-fashioned grantmaking to nonprofit organizations, including housing developers and intermediaries, that are working on affordable projects. In very high cost markets like ours, it is difficult to complete affordable projects without supplementing traditional financial resources with philanthropic support.
2. Program-related investments (PRIs): Beyond traditional grantmaking, foundations can use their endowments to make return-seeking investments in projects and organizations. Besides providing much needed capital for housing developers, Cisneros noted that PRIs often can provide a considerable return on investment for foundations as well.
3. Public–private collaboration: Philanthropy can collaborate with local government, particularly around acquiring land in key areas. Providing matching funds to purchase land around transit stations, in particular, is a potential way for funders to support affordable housing where it is needed most.
4. Support financial counseling: Funders can support related services, such as financial counseling for potential home buyers. As Cisneros noted, the importance of financial counseling is especially important in light of the subprime mortgage crisis and the often abusive lending practices that precipitated it.
5. Support for the overall concept of sustainability: This means supporting the creation of energy efficient homes, so that energy costs are manageable, as well as supporting transit-oriented development, so that the cost of transportation isn’t burdensome.
6. Advance senior housing: As our region is hit by the “Silver Tsunami,” funders can support the creation of homes that are safe, accessible, and affordable for older adults. In the same way that houses have been retrofitted to make them more energy efficient, much of the existing affordable housing stock needs to be retrofitted to better accommodate aging residents.
7. Leverage the home-building industry as a source of job training for youth: Philanthropy can support programs, models of which can be found around the country, that help young people get into construction and related fields. These are good, career-oriented jobs that can’t be outsourced, and, as the housing market recovers, these skills will be in high demand.
8. Research into the interface between housing and other forms of social services: It’s hard – if not impossible – to pursue job training opportunities or ensure that your children are getting a good education if you don’t have a safe and secure place to live. Philanthropy can support research into how access to affordable housing relates to other critical outcomes, and advance initiatives that take a “housing first” approach to addressing other issues. For instance, Cisneros mentioned creative programs that highlight the connection between access to housing and success in life, such as public housing in Denver that was built next to a community college, in order to facilitate residents’ pursuing education and job training opportunities.
9. Support international housing needs: Access to affordable housing is not just a domestic issue. Cisneros noted that, for the first time in history, there are more people living in urban areas worldwide than in rural areas. For funders who support projects internationally, housing is an area where you can have a significant impact.
10. Public policy advocacy: Finally, funders can maximize their impact by supporting advocacy. Policies at the federal, state, and local levels can be improved to increase rental stock, shore up low income housing tax credits, and change local zoning restrictions to allow for infill housing development, “granny flats,” and other innovations that are often met with resistance.
Clearly, there are a variety of avenues that local funders can take to support housing affordability in our region. And, you don’t need to consider yourself a “housing funder” per se to have a positive impact on efforts to increase the supply of safe, accessible, and affordable housing for everyone who lives here.
What do you think of Cisneros’s suggestions?