Systemic failures have made quality affordable homes too hard to find. For the last two decades, Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF) has championed a clear solution for addressing these systemic inadequacies: invest in mission-driven organizations that work to create the greatest impact for people and communities. I deeply believe in this work because I see the lasting impact on communities. And this solution resonates beyond the community of nonprofit affordable housing developers, including with major philanthropists and thought leaders.
Today we announced the largest gift in our 20-year history—a multi-million-dollar contribution from MacKenzie Scott’s philanthropy, Yield Giving. This gift is a testament to our collaborative and to our twelve members’ effectiveness in developing and operating sustainable, affordable homes that center residents and connect them to services.
This gift demonstrates that this approach can—and should—be scaled. That all people can—and should—have the choices that a quality affordable home provides.
What does it mean to prioritize people and impact? For our members, it means holding a clear commitment to residents, and their voice and choices, even when it's challenging. Too many conversations about affordable housing begin and end at the property line. I’ve sat in on countless presentations describing the architecture, the building amenities, and the capital stack that finances the building.
While these are all critically important elements, the conversations that motivate me are about creating homes—places that are a source of refuge, strength, choice, and joy. This is personal for me. My family moved eleven times when I was a child. Sometimes those moves took us to wonderful places that truly felt like home, and sometimes we moved to places that felt temporary and devoid of the comforts of home, without a clear sense of what would come next. I learned that a home is a place that feels stable, a place where you make the decisions about what’s best for you and your family, and it’s a place that gives you a kind of peace and refuge that you can’t find elsewhere.
SAHF’s members do so much more than just put a roof over someone’s head. They make permanent commitments to people and communities and place their trust in the people who call their buildings “home.” We believe that communities know best what they need to succeed. Our members strive to actively involve residents in defining the impact we seek to achieve, though there is no one size fits all approach. I’ve seen some truly amazing projects—for example, an ongoing redevelopment of a historically-significant affordable housing site where planning has been led by current residents. Or an energy retrofit and rehabilitation project that completely changed the scope of the project following resident input, resulting in improvements that the residents wanted. Or even older adult residents co-creating and leading health programs to ensure neighbors have access to the resources they need to thrive.
These are inspiring examples of incorporating resident voice, but they also demonstrate the importance of choice. We create real choice for individuals and families by creating more affordable homes. When a family has the choice of a quality, affordable place to live, they can tap into opportunities to build their collective health, wealth, and well-being.
A challenge in the nonprofit sector is the tendency to over-program solutions, which can undermine the voice and choice of residents. The reality is—individuals, families, and communities know exactly what they need to succeed. Yet, too many elements of our housing system remove residents voice and choice. Our members provide access to homes, but the home is just the beginning. Theirs is a very real commitment to ensuring that people and communities flourish.
MacKenzie Scott’s generous gift avoids the temptation to over-program the solution and allows us to double down on this commitment to strengthening organizations and creating policies that ask how an expanded supply of affordable homes can create the greatest impact.
Our members have remained steadfast to this commitment—through heated markets, multiple recessions, and a global pandemic. They don’t take the easy road, instead choosing to tackle the difficult question of how to not just create more homes but create more choices—and therefore more well-being—for everyone.
What SAHF members do works – but they keep asking how they can have more impact. They inspire me. I hope this gift inspires others to ask how we can bring together residents and committed partners like SAHF members to make sure that every person has a home where they have the power to thrive.
Andrea Ponsor is the President and CEO of Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future where she works to identify, develop and advocate for key strategic issues of concern to SAHF and its members, create a level playing field for effective, mission-oriented nonprofit businesses, and amplify SAHF’s impact to create more sustainable properties and communities and improve the lives of residents.
Ms. Ponsor has over 20 years of experience in the field of housing and community development.