Decent, stable, and affordable housing is at the core of strong, vibrant families and communities. MacArthur’s grantmaking is designed to support more balanced housing policies that acknowledge the importance of affordable rental housing and to help low- and moderate-income Americans improve their lives.
Although decent, stable affordable housing is essential to strong, vibrant families and communities, our nation’s limited stock of affordable housing is dwindling, and the supply of new replacement housing falls short of demand. This undersupply affects low-income households hardest: 80 percent pay more than a third of their incomes for rent, leaving less for food, healthcare and education. Moderate and middle income households increasingly face a similar burden.
The national recession and collapse in the housing market highlights the need for a comprehensive overhaul of the structure and regulatory framework of the financial and housing sectors. While housing policy historically has put a premium on homeownership, political consensus is emerging that affordable rental housing has an important place in a rebalanced national housing policy and that a healthy rental sector is vital for family and community stability.
Our $150 million Window of Opportunity: Preserving Affordable Rental Housing initiative seeks to preserve and improve affordable rental housing nationwide by showing that housing preservation is a cost-effective way to extend past investment in housing; strengthen families and communities; and encourage a wide mix of partners to invest in and preserve such housing. The initiative is yielding the evidence, models, momentum, and leadership for policy reforms that position preservation as a central approach to meeting U.S. housing needs.
We provide grants and long-term, local, regional, and national nonprofit affordable housing owners in 37 states. We also support specialized financing vehicles across the country and public sector-led preservation efforts in Chicago, New York City, and 14 other states and localities; and fund policy analysis, data collection, and expert assistance to encourage investment in rental housing preservation and foster sound federal, state, and local policies. We also are making a limited set of investments to identify how energy efficiency improvements can help preserve rental housing affordability.
Compelling findings from a range of fields are revealing critical links between housing and other national policy issues. In 2008, the Foundation launched a five-year, $25 million How Housing Matters to Families and Communities initiative that includes a competitive research program and an interdisciplinary research network that seek to determine whether and how stable, affordable housing has positive effects on education, employment, health and other outcomes. Early findings show that such housing improves school performance, diminishes health problems, and reduces psychological stress.
If this work provides rigorous and robust evidence that particular housing characteristics and programs have positive effects, housing programs or programs that integrate housing with other interventions may receive more support, and agencies will be better equipped to identify ways to leverage resources to improve outcomes, and realize cost savings.
To date, the competitive research program has awarded more than $17 million to 34 research projects.
While research reinforces the important role that housing plays in people’s lives, the nation’s housing finance and delivery system is faltering. The current financial crisis has revealed significant flaws, and housing market weaknesses are stifling economic recovery. Although society will continue to see dramatic demographic shifts in the coming decades as it grows older, as family structure changes, and as income stability and growth is less certain, - realistic solutions are absent from the debate, particularly about the next generation’s housing needs.
To develop sensible, actionable policy solutions to address near- and long-term challenges, the Foundation recently launched the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Commission comprising leaders from a range of political and industry perspectives who share a commitment to putting national housing policy on a sustainable path forward. The group is seeking input from the public and leading thinkers regarding fundamental issues that will help shape the future of housing policy:
- What kind of housing will Americans need?
- How should it be designed, financed and delivered?
- How can existing housing be renewed for a new generation of owners and renters?
- What is housing’s relationship to transportation, energy, the environment, health care and jobs?
- What is government’s role in the housing sector?
The Commission will release its recommendations in early 2013, and spend the following year promoting those recommendations.
Our Strategic Approach
The Foundation’s housing initiatives are driven by set of theories of change:
- Demonstrating through practice that affordable housing preservation is cost-effective and feasible will spur public and private investment and lead to more balanced national housing policies.
- Providing solid evidence that housing has positive effects beyond shelter alone will increase support for housing programs or programs that integrate housing with other interventions.
- Creating a bipartisan, non-ideological forum and process to examine the evidence, consider the facts, and recommend and promote a set of sound policies to address housing market problems will help address current housing challenges and help ensure more sound policies in the future.
We support practice-driven, evidence-based, and policy-focused efforts that will make stable affordable housing available for more families nationwide. Our grantmaking priorities are to:
- Support nonprofit owners to increase construction and preservation of affordable rental housing;
- Build organizational capacity and financial strength in the affordable housing sector;
- Help balance the goals of energy conservation and affordability through research, policy, and practice in “green” housing finance; and
- Seed rigorous research to understand the social and economic value of housing beyond shelter and to inform sound, cost-effective policy solutions.
The Window of Opportunity initiative will end in 2013, by which time we hope to have helped bring about significant policy change that acknowledges the value of rental housing and supports preservation nationwide. All direct investments in housing owners and developers are in place, and a comprehensive multi-year, multi-study evaluation is underway.
The How Housing Matters to Families and Communities research network will continue for six or seven years, and we will continue to release findings from research grants through 2015. We are establishing a mechanism to aggregate and disseminate the research and will monitor and evaluate how effectively this body of work informs practice and policy.
The success of the Bipartisan Housing Commission will be measured by its ability to: provide authoritative data and analysis to inform debate; create a better understanding of long-term economic, social and demographic trends and their relationship to housing needs; and create recommendations for short- and long-term housing policy reform that will be championed and adopted in whole or in part. A formal evaluation of the Commission will be undertaken after it completes its efforts in 2014.
Updated December 2012