It is a privilege to join this gathering announcing the creation of the New York Acquisition Fund, and a special pleasure to be speaking at The Christopher. Common Ground’s Rosanne Haggerty is a MacArthur Fellow, recognized in 2001 for the creativity, dedication, and vision that she has shown in purchasing buildings like this one to preserve and improve the supply of affordable housing.

It is appropriate that we are here, because the benefits of the partnership we unveil today extend far beyond the housing it will help build and preserve. There is mounting evidence that stable, affordable housing helps people get and keep jobs, improves their health and well-being, and is a vital ingredient for the economic vitality of cities and regions.

The shortage of apartments with reasonable rents for people of modest means is a national problem. In the last decade, the United States has lost hundreds of thousands of affordable rental homes as markets soared, federal subsidies waned, owners divested, and aging properties deteriorated beyond repair.

Four years ago, the MacArthur Foundation launched a ten-year, nationwide housing preservation initiative called “Window of Opportunity” – the centerpiece of our $100 million commitment to the issue of affordable housing.

Fully half of this – $50 million – has been invested in creative new financing arrangements, such as the fund we announce today. Why? Because preserving and improving affordable housing is not simply a question of more money. It is also a question of making enough money available at the right time on the right terms. 

But even the best financing is not enough. Success also requires strong institutions, expert policy analysis and good information. So here in New York, for example, we have funded preservation leaders like Phipps Houses and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, as well as researchers at New York University and other top institutions.

Preserving affordable housing is sensible public policy: it costs half as much to acquire and improve an existing rental apartment than to build a new one. And to truly increase the net supply of affordable housing, new construction must be accompanied by the preservation of existing properties. Only by combining these strategies can we meet our nation’s growing need for decent homes at a reasonable cost.

The New York Acquisition Fund will make it possible to build more affordable housing where there is vacant land and fresh opportunity. But the Fund will also make it possible to retain and improve the homes of lower-income families and seniors throughout the city. This is a winning combination that will show the way forward to communities across America, which look to New York for innovative solutions to metropolitan problems. MacArthur is proud to play a part.

Housing, Housing