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.
Housing Policy Research
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 housing that is affordable 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 those 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 about $20 million to 42 research projects.
To ensure that this research has maximum relevance and impact on practical innovations and policy reforms, the Foundation is investing in organizations that are focused on translating and engaging key audiences including policymakers, practitioners and experts both within the housing field and those focused on issues where the research identifies an important relationship. These areas include education, health care, and economic opportunity.
Fostering Pragmatic Policy Solutions to the Nation’s Housing Challenges
While research reinforces the important role that housing plays in people’s lives, the nation’s housing finance and delivery system is faltering. The recent financial crisis has revealed significant flaws, and housing market weaknesses are stifling economic recovery. 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 in 2011 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, having sought input from the public and leading thinkers regarding fundamental issues that will shape the future of housing policy released its recommendations in early 2013.
The Commission’s report, Housing America’s Future: New Directions for National Policy, proposes:
- A reformed system of housing finance in which the private sector plays a far more prominent role
- A responsible, sustainable approach to homeownership
- A more targeted approach to providing rental assistance
- A more comprehensive focus on meeting the housing needs of our nation’s seniors
The report is the centerpiece of the Commission’s efforts and serves as a bipartisan roadmap for how Congress and the Administration can reform the housing finance system and address the rental housing needs of low-income Americans.
In 2014, the Commission is continuing to provide a forum for ongoing dialogue among industry stakeholders, advocates and policymakers to build and sustain momentum towards meaningful housing reform.
Preserving Affordable Rental Housing
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 capital to local, regional, and national nonprofit affordable housing owners whose operations cover nearly every state. 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.
Our Strategic Approach
The Foundation’s housing initiatives are driven by a set of theories of change:
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- Seed and disseminate rigorous research to understand the social and economic value of housing beyond shelter and to inform sound, cost-effective policy solutions
- Develop innovative, pragmatic housing policy solutions to address key housing challenges driven by economic pressures and demographic trends
- 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
- Explore the intersection between health and housing policies
The Window of Opportunity initiative is in a “legacy” phase, whose goal is to secure and sustain the 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 evaluation is underway.
The How Housing Matters to Families and Communities research network will continue for several more years, and we will continue to release findings from individual research grants through 2016. 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 May 2014