Our approach to housing 

Housing is one of the Foundation’s five focus areas for grantmaking. In this Q&A, the Foundation’s Housing team explains our priorities and goals — and the difference Weinberg hopes these investments will make.

Why does the Weinberg Foundation focus on housing?

Housing provides safety and security and serves as a firm foundation for achieving life goals. Without a stable place to call home, families cannot move out of poverty and put themselves and their children on a path to a stronger economic future.

Yet nationwide, for every 100 very low-income families, only 33 affordable rental homes exist, and 70% of these families spend more than half of their income on rent. On any given night, over 580,000 individuals — or about 18 per 10,000 people — experience homelessness, which has been on the rise since 2017. Hawaiʻi’s share of individuals without housing is over twice that rate, at 41 per 10,000.

These issues disproportionately affect communities of color, reflecting the nation’s legacy of discriminatory policies and practices. For example, African Americans and Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders are more than four and 10 times more likely, respectively, to experience homelessness than their white counterparts. While 20% of Oahu’s residents are Native Hawaiians, they represent over 55% of the island’s unsheltered population, unable to afford the skyrocketing cost of housing. In Baltimore, 62% of the population is Black, but 73% of city residents who experience homelessness are Black.

Although the data is daunting, philanthropy can play a critical role in helping to accelerate the development of affordable housing. 

What are the priorities of the Foundation’s grantmaking in this area? 

We focus on addressing homelessness in three primary ways:

  1. We make capital grants to enable nonprofit housing developers to create more supportive housing units — i.e., housing that is affordable for very low-income households and provides services to help them remain stable.
  2. We fund efforts to remove obstacles to achieving housing stability, whether systemic barriers or individual challenges. The public systems and organizations that serve people without housing are often disconnected, placing the burden on the individual to navigate them. We’re exploring ways to build stronger connections among these agencies to break down those barriers to accessing housing and services.
  3. We fund new and innovative models for affordable housing to identify effective programs and practices that we can encourage others to invest in and take up in other communities. One recent example is Puʻuhonua O Waiʻanae Farm Village, a community-led development that will house 250 people, many of whom are Native Hawaiian, in rural Oahu. This community is a source of pride, healing, and growth for its residents, who are full participants in its design, construction, and operation.

A key priority in all of these efforts is ensuring people who have struggled with securing stable housing or who have experienced homelessness — particularly people of color — are part of developing solutions.

How has the Foundation’s grantmaking focused on housing evolved over time?

The Weinberg Foundation has historically provided funding for capital projects (i.e., brick-and-mortar projects), filling the final gap in dollars needed to complete affordable housing developments. However, we’ve learned that one of the biggest barriers for nonprofits in pursuing new projects — particularly in high-cost communities such as San Francisco, New York City, and Hawaiʻi — is securing funding for predevelopment activities such as acquiring land, retaining architects and engineers, or conducting environmental studies. Therefore, we are now working as partners with nonprofit developers, providing capital grants early in the development process to help projects get off the ground.

For nonprofits to successfully develop, own, and manage supportive housing, they need flexible, steady funds that will last the duration of the project. Government funding doesn’t typically support costs associated with the early activities of developing a property, so philanthropic funding in this vein is critical. Investing in these mission-driven developers further enables the nonprofit sector to leverage as much public funding as possible to create more housing units that will remain affordable for years to come. 

What are recent examples of grants in this area?

Providing predevelopment working capital: A 2021 grant to Bowery Residents Committee supplied predevelopment funding for a pipeline of projects in New York City. The organization has three projects underway that will ultimately create a total of 543 units of affordable housing.

Supporting community development financial institutions (CDFIs): Our grants to CDFIs enable them to provide affordable construction loans to nonprofits, giving them access to funds they often lack in the traditional financial market. One recent example is the San Francisco Housing Accelerator Fund. Since 2022, the Foundation’s support has helped speed up the creation of permanent supportive housing by increasing access to flexible financing for such projects. The nonprofit also has leveraged philanthropic investments to unlock over $180 million in available loan or grant capital for affordable housing development, including a 146-unit project in South of Market, a rapidly growing neighborhood in downtown San Francisco.

Addressing homelessness in creative ways: In Baltimore, we recently supported the innovative model of Sojourner Place at Oliver, where half of the 70 new affordable apartments are reserved for individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. Two grantees served as developers of the project, which also provides services such as case management to help residents make a successful transition to their new homes.

What does the future hold for the Foundation’s grantmaking in housing?

We want to be part of a shift from a scarcity-of-housing and scarcity-of-funding mindset to building a more flexible, healthy, and thriving housing ecosystem. So we will look at each place where we do grantmaking and ask: How does it make sense for philanthropy to help drive the development and preservation of more housing and to help people thrive?

We aim to be a true partner, working with philanthropic, public, and other stakeholders to continue learning with nonprofit developers as they build their pipeline of projects — and to share lessons with the broader field of affordable housing development. These partnerships will create even more opportunities for us to make collective progress in ensuring more people have access to safe, stable, and affordable housing, no matter where they live.

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