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SCI Impact Story


Housing is the heart of any community.

Building sustainable communities is the heart of what we do.

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When families live in stable homes in sustainable communities, they have greater opportunities to prosper in all aspects of life and are more resilient to life’s shocks and stressors. Yet, housing in stable, thriving communities is often out of reach for those with modest incomes.

That’s why Fannie Mae launched the Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge (SCI), a nationwide competition that awarded $7 million to 13 organizations tackling the challenges of affordable housing from innovative angles. We spurred innovation and fostered cross-sector partnerships to widen access to affordable housing and healthy, stable communities nationwide.

The story of housing in America includes a history of systemic racism and lack of affordable housing disproportionately affecting people of color, posing an obstacle to their advancement and well-being.

View the SCI infographic

Sustainable communities have the power to unlock social and economic progress for all. To prove their efficacy, we’ve drawn housing industry and non-traditional players together to think differently, move faster, and do more to address housing needs.

The Challenge drew hundreds of promising submissions from a variety of industries—but innovation, collaboration, and compassion were the driving principles of this initiative.

The Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge steps beyond our industry to support innovation at the intersection of affordable housing, health and wellness, education and economic mobility.

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The following project types were eligible to apply:

  • Research & Development. Early-stage ideas seeking support for planning and feasibility studies, prototyping, or design.
  • Idea Development. Mid-stage ideas ready for start-up implementation, initial testing, and refinement.
  • Program Scaling. Growth-ready prototypes that have shown promise in initial testing or pilots and are ready for refined diffusion or replication.

Before final selection, workshop days helped select organizations sharpen ideas and practice pitching to teams at Fannie Mae and socially minded investors. Once selected, awardees received expert mentorship, frequent check-ins, and virtual learning sessions to support implementation and ongoing project management. Technical assistance also increased awardees' capacity to scale their projects.

Accelerating innovations that inspire

From developing a prototype of a vertical farm co-located with affordable housing in Jackson, WY, to a program that streamlines the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) process for low-income homeowners in Denver, CO, we accelerated all kinds of innovative ideas with a shared focused on making communities more sustainable.

Real-time resilience and flexibility

Due to the pandemic, many awardees were forced to reshape programs in real time. They showed flexibility and resilience, pivoting to provide fully virtual homebuyer education programs in Brownsville, TX, renter and micro-business relief in Charlotte, NC, and phone and outdoor health screenings in Newark, NJ. One project, Guilford County Schools in Greensboro, NC, suspended in-person learning for almost a year but expanded their operations to meet the critical needs of their students and teachers from a distance.

Read the Housing & Home article to explore more real-time innovations.

Housing First Village has always been fortunate to have remarkable community support, but maintaining excitement was difficult. The Challenge award came at the perfect time to build momentum that carried us through the complications of a pandemic that emphasized the heightened health risks to people without a safe place to shelter. The Challenge and its resources helped us elevate the work, the need, and a community conversation that will transform outcomes for our neighbors experiencing homelessness.” - Tracey Menuez, HRDC

Mentorship and mutual learnings

In addition to plan analysis and advising, the Sustainable Communities team created a community of collaborative learning among awardees. Fannie Mae has convened awardees three times per year since 2020, engaging with expert speakers, networking with industry leaders and other awardees, and brainstorming solutions to common challenges.

People need affordable homes and quality jobs—and these things must be easily accessible. What if we reimagined affordable housing as a basis for economic opportunity, mobility, and wealth creation?

Affordable housing and economic mobility

We challenged cross-sector thinkers to identify solutions that integrate affordable housing with economic mobility. Together, we asked how might we:

  • Develop more affordable housing in areas with quality jobs?
  • Spur more employment opportunities near existing affordable housing?
  • Promote pathways to jobs that directly benefit underserved communities?

When affordable housing is pushed farther away from employment opportunities, there’s less time, energy, and flexibility for family and community life. Access to housing in proximity to quality employment opportunities can increase residents’ income potential and economic stability.

As a direct result of the Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge, awardees made positive community impacts.

Every person in every community deserves access to economic mobility, perhaps especially those people and families that have been part of the community for generations yet face displacement due to gentrification. I was proud to work with the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative who, through their innovative ADU program, are helping residents increase both their income and wealth and are creating new, affordable housing supply, so that other people with modest incomes can prosper in this rapidly changing neighborhood.” - James Anderson, Sustainable Communities Team Member

Housing and health outcomes are inextricably linked, yet they’re nearly always addressed separately. What if we reimagined affordable housing as the prescription for a healthy life?

Affordable housing and health

We challenged cross-sector thinkers to identify solutions that integrate affordable housing with health and wellness. Together, we asked how might we:

  • Incentivize affordable housing design that promotes health and wellness?
  • Leverage technology to better support health or prevent illness?
  • Promote diverse, multigenerational communities where people can remain vibrant participants at every stage of life?

When communities feature amenities like parks or integrated health and wellness services, they experience decreased rates of anxiety and depression, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduced obesity, asthma, and diabetes.

As a direct result of the Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge, awardees made positive community impacts.

Mr. G will be the first to tell you that the Community Opportunity Fund (COF) saved his life. As a 67-year-old African American male with diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, Mr. G records his blood pressure and pulse oxygen (OX) levels daily, using the TIPs at-home monitoring devices provided by COF. One weekend, Mr. G discovered that his OX was low. He immediately called an ambulance and the ER doctor informed Mr. G that having the OX reader at home was key to his survival that day. Later, Mr. G met the TIPs staff and personally thanked them.

Educational opportunity increases quality of life for entire communities. What if we reimagined affordable housing as the foundation for educational attainment and upward mobility?

Affordable housing and education

We challenged cross-sector thinkers to identify solutions that integrate affordable housing with educational opportunities. Together, we asked how might we:

  • Partner with schools to prepare a workforce to access job opportunities within the housing industry?
  • Provide stable home and school experiences for very low-income students?
  • Increase access to quality childcare and early childhood education for families in underserved areas?

A stable community with easy access to quality childcare and K-12 education empowers residents by increasing employment prospects, improving economic mobility, and providing ongoing opportunities to learn life skills.

As a direct result of the Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge, awardees made positive community impacts.

We have to rethink education. Specifically, in career and technical education. How do we deliver instructions and demonstrate skills effectively? We want to ensure students have memorable moments which allow them to matriculate to the next level and next course.” - Dr Eboni Chillis, Chief Innovation Officer, Guilford County Schools

The Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge brought awareness of the need for cross-sector, goal-oriented collaborations while showcasing replicable models that build thriving communities and local economies.

While the innovations we supported continue to benefit neighborhoods across the nation, the larger impact of this work is the encouragement of cross-sector engagement and the collaborative path to innovation.

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  • Programs. Awardees are working to replicate and expand proven programs, either through the partnership with Fannie Mae or with external investors who became interested through the Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge award.
  • Communities. Challenge awardees drove economic mobility, healthier living, and improved educational access for hundreds of people in neighborhoods across the nation.
  • Industries. All submitted ideas from The Challenge have been cataloged into a searchable database, and key learnings from awardee projects have been collected and retained—all to fuel continued collaboration between the housing industry and adjacent partners.

Sustainable communities have the power to improve quality of life for all who inhabit them. Fannie Mae’s Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge connected a wide range of thinkers and practitioners to not only make housing affordable but to offer integrated access to economic mobility, improved healthcare, educational opportunity, and more.

We know this work is far from complete. Together, we must continue to reimagine the potential of our communities. And as we innovate, our nation’s neighborhoods will begin to feel less like spaces filled with housing and more like vibrant communities filled with thriving people.

Intentional multisector collaboration and partnership are key to creating sustainable communities. This was our guiding principle throughout the Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge (The Challenge). As Fannie Mae examined its place within the affordable housing ecosystem, we saw an opportunity to do more. We wanted to collaborate with community leaders, industry experts, and local voices from a variety of sectors to support communities and populations that have been historically underserved and overlooked.

As a result, The Challenge created unique opportunities for cross-sector collaboration, diversification, and expansion. While every submission showed creativity, the selected contract awardees proved that their ideas would enrich the economic mobility, health and wellness, and educational opportunities of community members.

I am beyond proud of each awardee and what they have achieved. Despite setbacks and difficulties, including the pandemic, they have made an enduring impact on their communities and the lives of residents. They’ve also helped us create a framework to build more sustainable communities to benefit more people.

- Maria Evans, VP for Community Impact, Fannie Mae

Sustainable Communities Innovation
Challenge Award Recipients

Economic Mobility




1 Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, The state of the Nation’s Housing, 2020. The State of the Nation's Housing 2020 (

2 The Gap: A shortage of Affordable Rental Homes, National Low Income Housing Coalition. The Gap | National Low Income Housing Coalition (

3 Chetty, Raj, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence Katz. 2016. "The Effects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children: New Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity Project." American Economic Review 106 (4).

4 Brookings, “Commuting to Opportunity: The Working Poor and Commuting in the United States,” 2008

5 Enterprise and Center for Outcomes Research and Education, Health in Housing: Exploring the Intersection between Housing and Health Care, 2016. Health in Housing: Exploring the Intersection between Housing and Health Care (

6 Harvard University, “The State of the Nation’s Housing,” 2013

7, “This Is How Much Childcare Costs in 2021”

8 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “The Condition of Education 2020”

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