Link Social Mission with Private Enterprise to Develop Better Affordable Homes

April 7, 2016

Kristin Siglin
Vice President of Policy, Housing Partnership Network

Would housing policy in the United States benefit from a greater emphasis on institutions that combine deep social mission with strong business acumen? A recent Housing Partnership Network (HPN) paper explores the benefits of such an approach, drawing on lessons learned through the International Housing Partnership (IHP), a collaborative of more than 175 nonprofits from Australia, Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. that collectively operate one million affordable homes. Since the collaborative’s founding in 2003, IHP knowledge exchanges have refined our thinking about innovative models that have the potential to better leverage private sector resources to deliver affordable housing. In our paper, we investigate models of this kind in the U.S. and the U.K., and observe that the British and American affordable housing systems both rely on hybrid public-private, social enterprise–based partnerships that work well in both countries, but in different ways.

For instance, in the U.K. the relatively significant scale and capacity of nonprofit housing associations stems in large part from the Large Scale Voluntary Transfer policy, which over the past 30 years has transferred subsidized housing to new management entities enabled to access private capital in order to make needed repairs. British housing associations have been able to improve the national housing stock and serve more people due to these efficiencies of scale.

The U.S. system also includes elements of public-private partnership. The primary capital source for affordable housing development in the U.S. is the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), which raises private capital from investors who receive credits against their tax liability for project-based investments in affordable housing.

While both systems have served as key affordable housing tools in their respective countries for decades, the particularly innovative impact of Large Scale Voluntary Transfers on the U.K.’s affordable housing stock reveals opportunities for the U.S. to build on its system’s current successes to deliver affordable homes more efficiently. IHP discussions and investigations of both models in our paper suggest five key policy changes drawing on the example of the U.K.’s Large Scale Voluntary Transfers that could enhance the capacity of mission-oriented U.S. housing providers to further leveraging public-private partnerships to develop affordable homes:

  1. Expand the Capital Magnet Fund.
    The Capital Magnet Fund competitively awards grants to nonprofit lenders and qualified nonprofit housing organizations, with a mandatory minimum 10:1 leverage ratio. The Fund has proven to be a uniquely effective tool for leveraging public funds to attract private investments for housing in low-income communities.
  2. Prioritize preservation.
    As resources for affordable housing development shrink, it is critical to preserve the existing stock of safe, decent affordable housing and ensure that it is managed efficiently for the long term. It can be more cost-effective to rehabilitate aging U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program-assisted properties under new nonprofit management. 
  3. Use a portfolio model for multifamily housing preservation.
    HPN recommends a shift toward portfolio finance for aging HUD-assisted and LIHTC properties. Policies should enable mission-oriented housing providers to acquire and preserve multiple affordable housing properties more cost-effectively by packaging several properties into one financial transaction.
  4. Make housing a platform for improving communities and building assets for residents.
    High-performing housing nonprofits can also link affordable housing development to broader programs of community and individual improvement because of their scale. Social enterprises can advance opportunity for low-income people because they combine excellence in housing development with an extensive network of relationships with social service providers.Holistic community development is easier for organizations with resources and reach. 
  5. Improve access to affordable homeownership.
    Social enterprises also can efficiently deliver homeownership as well as rental housing. Proven approaches to affordable homeownership—including nonprofit acquisition and rehabilitation and rent-to-own programs—have been shown to be effective in both the U.S. and the U.K. and should be expanded.

Combining the nonprofit mission with private business discipline can generate more affordable housing and lead to more effective management of such properties for the long term. Innovations like these are particularly important now because three quarters of Americans who are income-eligible for housing assistance currently do not receive it, often because there are not enough stable, affordable, and livable units available to meet the housing needs of low-income Americans. The success of the U.K.’s Large Scale Voluntary Transfers reveals that more effectively leveraging private funds to develop, preserve, and operate affordable homes can help to speed up the process and increase and improve the stock available to those who need it. Through our work in the International Housing Partnership, we will continue to identify and highlight similar models that have proven effective in improving and expanding the stock of affordable homes in their countries of origin and could hold promise for future stable housing in neighborhoods around the world. 

Kristin Siglin is Vice President of Policy at the Housing Partnership Network, a business collaborative of the nation’s leading housing and community development nonprofits and a top-rated community development financial institution (CDFI).

The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Federal Reserve System.