Foundations Shrugged

Posted by Ruth Loess on August 26, 2016

Ruth Loess (her pen name) is our newest blog contributor, and brings something different to our usual offerings … satire. Ruth has over 30 years in the nonprofit and philanthropic worlds, and starting today, she’ll be challenging some sacred cows of the field, as well as stating the obvious, yet funny flaws of a system we live and work in. Like all the other Shelterforce bloggers we so deeply value and appreciate, Ruth’s opinions are all her own. We hope you enjoy her writing. — Editors


Foundation leaders from across the country issued a collective shrug last week in response to claims of improprieties at the Clinton Foundation. The allegations stem from release of State Department emails that, according to the Trump campaign, seemingly indicate that foundation officials used their connection to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to procure favors for donors.

The special treatment afforded these individuals is said to have included responding to email messages in a timely manner, facilitating introductions beyond those generally associated with elite DC cocktail parties, and seeking employment for friends (and, occasionally, ne’er-do-well relatives) associated with the Clinton Foundation.  

Ethics experts were quick to point out that there is some ambiguity as to who should be held accountable for any possible wrong doing: the staff of the Clinton Foundation for asking, or employees of the State Department for responding?

The CEO and President of one large community-based foundation commented that donors are known to ask for all kinds of favors. This person cited one specific example stating, “If we had a dollar for every time a conservative donor asked us not to fund Planned Parenthood, we could double our assets.” Coincidentally, this individual oversees an endowment that has increased in value from $150 million to $300 million over the past ten years.

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From Barracks to Apartments: Serving Vets in Transition

Posted by Flynann Janisse on August 25, 2016

As regular readers of Shelterforce know, with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, Congress provided $75 million to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to create the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program. This initial funding was specifically focused on rapidly housing 10,000 homeless veterans. Even more importantly, it enlisted a Housing First model removing many of the regular stumbling blocks for the homeless, such as sobriety testing or mental illness screenings, thus allowing counseling and treatment services to reach an otherwise transient population.

Many veterans have some specific experiences that lend themselves to a different mix of services than other people leaving homelessness might need.

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Universities Step Up and Commit to Challenging Inequality

Posted by Steve Dubb on August 23, 2016

Earlier this year, Campus Compact—a group that brings together 1,100 colleges and universities to advance civic responsibility—held its 30th annual conference, at which it called on member campuses to develop Civic Action plans to embrace a set of five community commitments. These are to co-create mutually respectful partnerships with community groups, prepare students for lives of engaged citizenship, contribute to the health and strength of surrounding communities, challenge inequality, and affirm the public purpose of higher education.

So far, over 400 member institutions have signed on. Three regional gatherings, each expected to attract 100 university participants or more, are scheduled this fall and are designed to spur action plan development on these community commitments. Additionally, Campus Compact has created a set of knowledge hub websites to provide further resources, including one on anchor mission strategies that I developed and one on assessing engagement developed by the directors of Campus Compact’s Missouri and Indiana chapters.

For those working to build community wealth, the commitment language is highly encouraging.

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A Non-Profit Housing Acquisition Program Could Protect The Displaced

Posted by Shane Phillips on August 22, 2016

In a recent post on my website, I wrote about the need for a new affordable housing policy—one that targets the 99 percent of housing already built and operating, rather than focusing exclusively on new construction, which represents only about 1 percent of the total housing stock in a given year. In that post, I suggested that nonprofit operated housing could accommodate tenants displaced from nearby properties, providing a safety net that mitigates the negative impacts of new housing construction.










This chart compares the amount of affordable housing created by new construction versus how much market-rate and affordable housing could be purchased and preserved with an acquisition-based program. While the acquisition-based program starts out slower it experiences exponential growth, whereas the construction program plateaus.


Then, a few weeks ago, I discussed the nexus between nonprofit housing and displacement in more detail, arguing that a policy that protects existing residents is essential to build political support for adding more housing in LA—something we desperately need in the midst of a historic housing shortage and a record-low vacancy rate around 3 percent.

I'd like to explore this idea a bit further, looking specifically at the role of non-profit housing and how a limited mission of serving tenants evicted by the Ellis Act would be a great, low-risk place for such an organization to begin its work.

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As Affordability Worsens, State and Local Governments Act on their Own

Posted by Daniel McCue on August 19, 2016

The 2016 State of the Nation’s Housing Report published by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies once again points to the continued worsening of rental housing affordability as a significant societal issue calling for a more concerted response. Citing recent data from the American Community Survey, the report found that the number of renters facing housing cost burdens (i.e. paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing costs) hit another record high of 21.3 million, which is just about half of all renter households in the nation. More concerning, the number of people facing severe cost burdens (devoting more than half their income to housing), also reached a new record of 11.4 million. The report documents how the affordability crisis is getting new and greater policy attention, particularly at the state and local level. Indeed, with federal response failing to keep up with the need, a growing number of state and municipal governments have been taking matters into their own hands in attempts to add to the supply of affordable housing.

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Starting a Social Enterprise? You Need to Know This

Posted by Jenifer Kaminsky on August 17, 2016

Those of us in the affordable housing industry have often required our general contractors to have a payment and performance bond, but have rarely had to go out and secure one for our own organizations. If you were required to get one, would you know whom to turn to, the process to get one, or what you were really taking on? If you’re starting a social enterprise that doesn’t require bonding, is there a similarly new kind of regulation or paperwork you’re facing?

In a recent article in Shelterforce, I talked about PUSH Buffalo’s efforts to create social enterprise businesses around sustainable landscaping and stormwater management. One of our most significant successes with this work has been a partnership with the Buffalo Sewer Authority (BSA) through their Community Water Quality Partnership Program.

In the summer of 2015, we were on the brink of signing a substantial contract with the BSA to carry out sustainable landscaping treatments on close to 23 acres of land throughout the city of Buffalo. Before we could sign, however, we needed to produce proof that we had secured a payment and performance bond. With pressure from the BSA to get started so they could meet tight grant deadlines and a crew anxious to get to work (and whose payroll I needed the BSA dollars to fund), I reached out to PUSH’s existing insurance brokers for assistance with the bond.

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Earned Income Should Not Replace Public Funding for Community Development

Posted by Miriam Axel-Lute on August 16, 2016

The second article in our New Frontiers series, "Getting Beyond the Developer Fee" has spurred some discussion.

"This article accurately portrays the state of the community development field . . . and it should worry those who are committed to resident-led community development," noted Joe Kriesburg of the Massachusetts Association of CDCs. He then gave a list of points to consider about the current environment, including:

  1. Over the past 20-plus years there has been an intentional and dramatic investment in building the CDFI sector through certification, grants, technical assistance, and access to capital. There has been nothing comparable for CDCs. This needs to change.
  2. Our housing finance system has become dominated by tax credits–LIHTC, NMTC, Historic. More flexible and easier to use funds like HOME and CDBG have been slashed. These policy decisions have had significant impact not just on who develops housing but on what we develop. . . 
  3. Those who argue that smaller CDCs should focus on organizing, resident services, and other non-real estate activities need to identify sustainable business models to support these activities. The reality is that there is no substitute for owning real estate. . .

[Read Kriesburg's full comments below this article.]

His comments reminded me of Corianne Scally's defense of CDCs and housing development at the close of our "Time to Rethink CDCs" issue.

And his final point also reminded me of the path we took with "Getting Beyond the Developer Fee." Our original plan was to seek out community-based organizations that were actively trying to back away from developer fees, pursuing recent implications that smaller organizations should consider leaving development work to more efficient, larger organizations.

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Housing Groups Should Expand to Repair Work to Help Seniors Age in Place

Posted by Jonathan Reckford on August 15, 2016

Before school Oliver used to collect baskets of wood that his father would sell. That was his way of contributing to the effort of saving money for a lot on which to build a house. His father always stressed that Oliver should save his money and invest in a home of his own. So in 1977 Oliver bought the house he had lived in for 39 years in Memphis, Tennessee.

It took several months to strip off the three layers of wallpaper that covered every room, but finally, the last layer of paper—a sea of begonias—came down and the plaster walls were clean.

Oliver, who is 73, raised three children in his home and feels such a sense of belonging in the neighborhood he has known all his life.

But the years took a toll on the century-old home with its scalloped exterior and inviting porch. In 2012 a corner of the floor in Oliver’s bedroom dropped three to four inches, the foundation had crumbled, and he had termites. He had to move his bed so it would not fall through and stuff a blanket in the hole to block the draft. Oliver was so grateful when Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis shored up the foundation and repaired the floor. They also replaced the decking and the roof, repaired plumbing in the kitchen, and made other repairs to make the home more energy efficient. Oliver said his utility bills dropped more than $70 a month after the work was done.

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Homelessness Is Falling Despite Worsening Conditions. Why?

Posted by Nan Roman on August 11, 2016

Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts from the keynote speech given by Nan Roman, the executive director of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, during a conference in July.  

On the Real Progress Toward Ending Homelessness:

Between 2009 and 2015 (our most recent numbers) we have:

  • Reduced homelessness by 10 percent
  • Reduced homelessness among individual adults by 9 percent
  • Reduced family homelessness by 13 percent
  • Reduced chronic homelessness by 22 percent
  • Reduced the number of people who are unsheltered by 24 percent
  • Reduced veteran homelessness by 35 percent

(We do not have the baseline data to assess our progress with homeless youth, although tremendous work has been done by talented providers all across the country.)

During this same period:

  • The population went up 5 percent
  • The rental vacancy rates fell to 7.1 percent
  • Average rents have gone up
  • Median household income went down 3 percent

So there were more people, lower incomes, but higher rents. All things being equal, the number of people who are homeless should have gone up. But it did not. It went down. Why? Because of your work.

What were some of the key things that mattered? First, there is the tremendous effort to end veteran homelessness. There was and is immense public and political will to help veterans. Congress and the Administration did a massive ramp up to end veteran homelessness, and put a lot of money behind it. New interventions were added to the toolbox, especially Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF).

At the local level, the coordination between VA Medical Centers and Continuums of Care was unprecedented. Tremendous organizing efforts were undertaken including the White House Mayors Challenge and the wonderful work of Community Solutions and others. The resultant reductions in veteran homelessness are really driving the overall reductions in homelessness.

The work to end chronic homelessness continued, increasingly with the promise of Medicaid to fund services. We made progress, but we did run into some roadblocks toward the end. We did not get the money from Congress to go all the way to scale and solve the problem. That is on them.

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Say What, Washington Post? Declining Homeownership Rates Aren’t a Good Thing

Posted by Doug Ryan on August 11, 2016

On Aug. 3, The Washington Post published a remarkable opinion piece by Charles Lane, one of the paper’s editorial writers, which fits squarely into the Post’s narrative about the perniciousness of all things Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Lane drops this gem, “the ongoing decline of the homeownership rate is actually good news.”

Actually, it’s not.

Let’s start with how we lost ground on homeownership, which has dropped to about 63 percent of households from a peak of near 70 percent. There are two ways we did this: one, by turning owners back into renters through foreclosures, and two, by having fewer new entrants to the market. While it’s impossible and fruitless to argue what the homeownership rate should be, we know that the loss of wealth is never a good development.

Foreclosures, short sales, and other reactions to the crisis threatened and then wiped out many American dreams. It’s also well known that, as we remain in the shadow of the housing crisis, first-time homebuyers are delaying or not buying at all.

While Lane may think this is good news, it’s hard to mesh this with other data points from the crisis. 

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