Decent, stable, and affordable housing is at the core of strong, vibrant families and communities. After more than 15 years of support for activities to expand opportunity for affordable housing for low- and moderate-income Americans, the Foundation's housing program is in a legacy phase, with grantmaking and program-related investments ending by 2020.
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 recent economic crisis and collapse of 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.
The Foundation's Housing Program has made more than 450 grants and 60 program-related investments totaling $385 million. Throughout, the Foundation's goal is access to stable, decent homes for the greatest number of families through a more balanced housing policy.
Housing Policy Research
Compelling findings from a range of fields are revealing critical links between housing and other national policy issues. The Foundation recently concluded a competitive research program totaling $25 million as part of the How Housing Matters to Families and Communities initiative. The initiative seeks to determine whether and how stable, decent, and 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 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.
Findings from 40 research projects are expected through 2017. With MacArthur support, the Urban Land Institute launched the How Housing Matters website, which serves as a central hub for the research and continued exploration of the impact affordable housing has on people's lives.
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.
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 program-related investments to identify how energy efficiency improvements can help preserve rental housing affordability.
An evaluation of this initaitive is underway, testing the following Foundation hypothesis: demostrating through policy reforms and practice that affordable housing preservation is feasible, cost-effective, and related to positive social and economic outcomes, the intiatives will spur public and private investment and lead to more balanced national housing priorities.
Our Legacy Strategy
The Housing Program's legacy phase will end by 2020. The goal of the Housing Program during this phase is twofold.
First, we aim to secure a prominent place for rental housing on national, state and local policy agendas. To do so, we will support:
- Organizations that provide the field with current, reliable data about the rental housing stock and who it serves
- A new data collaborative among universities with housing-focused research centers
- Nonprofit mission driven real estate companies to inform municipal, state and federal leaders about the regulatory and financial barriers to affordable rental housing
Second, the Foundation will support efforts to build momentum for the next generation of housing policy that is informed by Foundation supported research that demonstrates the critical value of housing in people’s lives. To do so, we will support:
- Efforts to communicate and disseminate the research in a way that is accessible to wide audiences
- Engagement with those working in allied fields like education, health and economic opportunity
- Cross-issue communities of practice
Updated May 2015