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Sustainable Communities

Housing & Partnerships

November 3, 2020
James Anderson
James Anderson

Project Manager, Sustainable Communities Initiative

Housing is at the core of all healthy, vibrant communities. When housing is integrated with opportunities for employment, health, and education, a thriving community emerges where residents can prosper. Yet the global pandemic has exacerbated a pre-existing housing crisis, pushing affordable housing in stable communities even further out of reach for too many families in the United States.

Systemic racism and decades of underinvestment in certain communities have created neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, where multiple generations of residents — typically people of color — have had limited opportunities to access good-quality housing, well-paying jobs, health care, good schools, and healthy food.

The legacy of disinvestment persists to this day and is visible in many respects, including higher rates of infection and deaths due to COVID-19, as well as higher rates of income or job loss due to the current recession. In today’s environment, low-income Black and Latino people are bearing the brunt of the public health crisis and economic downturn and are among the least able to bear it.

As families across the United States confront the compounding effects of a severe lack of affordable housing, a health pandemic, and an economic recession, access to safe and decent affordable housing in areas of economic opportunity, with quality health care, good schools, and reliable transportation, is critical to their ability to succeed and thrive.

Fannie Mae continues to support cross-sector collaborations needed to create neighborhoods that are mixed use, mixed income, and mixed race, because those neighborhoods lead to a better quality of life for all residents.

Solving the affordable housing challenge requires acknowledging and then addressing the complex and interconnected nature of the problem. We know that when families have stable housing, they have greater opportunities. So, addressing the affordable housing crisis from a holistic, community perspective, giving equal consideration to the sectors adjacent to housing — such as employment, health, and education — is imperative. When people have steady, well-paying jobs near their homes, they have a greater chance for economic mobility and housing stability. Healthy physical environments, such as walking trails and parks, lead to improved physical, social, and mental health. And school-age children who live in stable housing with access to high-quality learning have a greater chance of positive educational outcomes, which in turn heightens their future earning potential. Stable, affordable housing, access to good-paying jobs, and opportunities to access health and a good education — these are the building blocks of a good quality of life.

mother, son, and dog in kitchen

This is why Fannie Mae created the Sustainable Communities Partnerships and Innovation Initiative four years ago — to ensure that affordable housing was integrated into thriving communities that would create positive stepping-stones for residents. Through this initiative, Fannie Mae has awarded nearly $7 million in contracts over the last two years to support innovative, local projects with 13 organizations that are tackling the challenges of affordable housing from different angles. Through these projects and partnerships, we are exploring new ways to support sustainable communities, which we define as safe, stable, and thriving neighborhoods that are resilient to shocks and stresses and that offer residents quality affordable housing as well as economic, health, and educational opportunities.

For example, Build UP in Birmingham, Alabama, has created a workforce development program for underserved youth that provides apprenticeships in real estate and construction.

“This program is about poverty alleviation, equity, and the revitalization of our community,” said Dr. Mark Martin, CEO of Build UP. “With support from the private sector, the nonprofit sector, and organizations like Fannie Mae, we’re putting youth to work, and they actually get to own a home and a rental property at the end of this program.”

This pioneering program adds to the local, affordable housing stock by rehabilitating abandoned homes and blighted properties where students work side by side with professionals to learn construction skills. Upon graduation from the six-year program, students will have earned both a high school diploma and an associate degree, and they will receive the deeds for two rehabilitated houses — one to own and one to rent as a supplemental source of income. Build UP has rapidly adapted its program to the COVID-19 environment by using remote learning, social distancing, and other health and safety protocols so that its work can continue.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, Fannie Mae is partnering with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to create an innovative capital funding structure shown to be a successful model for integrating affordable housing with resources focused on social determinants of health, such as employment, food security, and mental health services.

With support from Fannie Mae, LISC is evaluating new financing structures for the construction and preservation of affordable housing as a means to scale a system to pay for, coordinate, and track health outcomes. The long-term goal is to build a financing vehicle that provides meaningful incentives to health systems, payors, and other partners to spur long-term investments in housing that ultimately improves health outcomes of residents in underserved communities. The project aims to improve the quality of life for residents and better position them to avoid the destabilizing and devastating effects of events like the current public health crisis.

As we focus on recovery from the pandemic, our conversations about lasting solutions for health and well-being must include quality affordable housing. We must include economic opportunity, we must include access to quality medical care and the chance to make good choices about food and exercise. All of those relate to each other.

“Our partnership with Fannie Mae allows LISC to take on all of these issues as part of a concerted strategy to narrow the health and opportunity gaps that many of our neighbors face,” said Caldwell.

With the increased focus on racial justice sparked by anti-racism protests across the country, a growing readiness to address the long shadow of systemic racism in housing, and the deepening resolve by corporate leaders to take actions that will lead to meaningful change, the work of Sustainable Communities and their partners has never been more important. “We are committed to racial equality in housing and to collaborating with organizations that reflect and serve communities of color. By leaning into the things we are uniquely positioned to do, fostering strong partnerships, and encouraging an innovative mindset, we will address the most pressing social challenges facing our communities,” said Maria Evans, Vice President of Sustainable Communities at Fannie Mae.

All people should have equal access to quality, affordable housing, which is the cornerstone to good quality of life. Fannie Mae is committed to making meaningful change by executing in the areas we are best suited for and by working with partners who are equally committed to working across sectors to make a difference in communities across the United States. We challenge all stakeholders, both in and adjacent to housing, to implement solutions that support stronger, more resilient, sustainable neighborhoods. Our collective efforts will create a healthier housing ecosystem and thriving communities that meet the needs of homeowners and renters — affordably and equitably.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of articles from Fannie Mae examining the critical elements of sustainable communities in times of crisis and recovery.