Funders for Housing and Opportunity

A philanthropic collaborative committed to bettering life outcomes for the millions of Americans that lack stable housing by addressing housing affordability.

The Challenge

The housing affordability crisis in our country has stifled opportunity and threatens the health and stability of millions of Americans. Today there are:

  • Over 12 million Americans who pay more than half of their monthly income on rent or do not have a home at all.
  • Over 9.6 million of these households make less than $15,000 a year, including seniors and people working taxing but low-paying jobs like home health care workers and hospitality workers—people we see, interact with, and depend on every day. What’s left over after rent can’t cover groceries, child care, medicine, transportation, or other essentials.

If we act

The Solution

By bringing together some of our country’s leading foundations, we believe we can begin to turn the curve on this issue.

In 2016, eight national foundations formed Funders for Housing and Opportunity, a collaborative dedicated to tackling housing affordability and opportunity: Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Ford Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Melville Charitable Trust, Oak Foundation, J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families. These foundations make up the steering committee of the collaborative. Staff support for the collaborative over its first year has been provided by PolicyLink, serving as the project manager, and the National Housing Conference, The Urban Institute, and Hattaway Communications are supporting the work of the collaborative.

The goal of the collaborative is to ensure that millions of households can afford safe and stable rental homes in neighborhoods with access to amenities supporting better health and well-being, economic mobility, and economic achievement, no matter their race, socioeconomic status, or ZIP code. We believe a partnership between the nation’s leading foundations engaged in housing, and those foundations with complementary missions can be a powerful force for change. Whether a funder’s core mission is focused on education, health, work, homelessness, children, or older adults,safe and stable housing is fundamental to all of our work.

The Melville Trust’s Role

From our 25 years working to end homelessness, we know that the greatest factor impacting our ability to do so is the growing lack of affordable housing. At the end of 2014 we set out to determine how philanthropy could leverage its convening power and ability to work across sectors to impact the housing affordability crisis. It was clear that alone we could not achieve the kind of impact needed to reverse this national crisis. We approached seven foundations that have invested substantially in housing-related work and, believe as we do, that housing is a platform for achieving overall well-being. The group met quarterly over the course of eighteen months and agreed upon a framework we believe will yield measurable results.

More about Funders for Housing and Opportunity

By Frank Mckenna

Photo: Frank Mckenna

As rents spiral out of control, it has become clear that the private market alone is not able to produce housing that people with the lowest incomes can afford. Funders for Housing and Opportunity is setting out to leverage leadership and investment from the public sector and the active participation of communities to bring about the large-scale changes that will improve the lives of people who too often are left behind.

With a focus on individuals and families that are “precariously housed” (those paying more than 50% of their income on rent and people experiencing homelessness), the collaborative will direct its funding in the following areas:

  • Policy & Advocacy: Scalable impact requires policy change at the federal, state and local levels. It requires advocacy efforts, grassroots organizing and messaging that is targeted and coordinated. Philanthropy is uniquely positioned to take the long view and support efforts that take time and tenacity to effect change. Our work in this area will be targeted to influence federal policy, connect national and local advocacy efforts, and build organizing power on the ground.
  • Local Capacity Building: Many decisions are made at the local and regional level, including: land use and zoning ordinances, allocation of federal entitlement money, rental subsidy preferences and priorities among others. In order to drive deep and lasting change, it is essential to build the capacity of local coalitions and leaders to develop and implement comprehensive housing plans that have goals that are aligned with the health, education, and economic sectors. Philanthropy is well positioned to provide flexible dollars to test scalable solutions that work at the local level. Our investments will scale what we know already works, pilot innovative strategies and financing tools, and enroll local government and philanthropy in the process.
  • Communications: America needs to talk and think differently about how housing is the foundation for better educational achievement, economic mobility, and better health outcomes. The collaborative believes having a safe and stable home is a first step toward overall well-being and is inextricably linked to one’s ability to thrive and build a future. We will focus on changing the current narrative in our country around housing affordability, educate policy makers and the public, and connect housing to non-housing outcomes like health and education.

Funders for Housing and Opportunity will make its first round of co-investments in 2017 and we will share information on the process here.

For more information

Please contact Susan Thomas, Senior Program Officer: sthomas@melvilletrust.org

Resources & Learnings