Housing cost burdens are unequally distributed by race, with Black and Latino households two to three times more likely to pay outsized shares of their income toward housing. Significant racial disparities were not limited to housing costs. Households of color were significantly more likely to be evicted, foreclosed upon, or displaced from their homes by gentrification. They were also more likely to live in units that were overcrowded or contaminated by lead, asbestos, and other environmental hazards within high-poverty, low-opportunity communities. Families of color have also carried a heavier burden due to the pandemic, from higher rates of disease and mortality to higher rates of job loss and income that led to missed rent or mortgage payments.

As the pandemic continues into its third year, many aspire to a return to “normal.” But with respect to housing, a return to how things were is neither possible nor desirable. Long-standing racial disparities provide evidence of how bias and discrimination are a feature, and not a bug, of our housing system. The dramatic increase in both rents and home prices threatens to intensify affordability challenges for low- and moderate-income families.

Coming Together to Respond

There is nothing simple about the issue of housing. It is an inherently complex and wonky domain, requiring an understanding of complex issues that defy simplistic solutions, quick fixes, and strictly partisan ideology. Getting our housing system to work better for all—especially for families of color who have long experienced discrimination and bias—will require a long-term concerted endeavor with coordinated efforts from a broad host of public, private, and community actors. Philanthropy has important roles to play in these efforts in providing funding, supporting community-led or directed efforts, and generating research and learning.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s mission is to create a brighter future for America’s children, young people, and families. While the foundation’s mission covers much more than just housing, it cannot achieve this mission without helping to ensure families have safe, stable, and affordable housing. To do so, the foundation focuses on improving housing stability, expanding the production or preservation of affordable housing for families, and ending youth homelessness. Casey seeks to accomplish these goals in a variety of ways, from investing and supporting research and policy advocacy to building the capacity of community, nonprofit, and public organizations to lift up the voices of young people.

But the foundation also recognizes that no group or organization can create meaningful change alone. To mobilize the full power and potential of philanthropy requires more effective collaboration and coordination among foundations. Notwithstanding the emergence of several funder collaboratives in recent years, such coordinated activity is still more of an exception than the rule. When Susan Thomas from the Melville Charitable Trust reached out to me more than six years ago about her idea for Funders for Housing and Opportunity (FHO), the value proposition was as clear and compelling as it was daunting. The goal was to bring the nation’s leading funders together from across sectors and perspectives in a funder collaborative to advance stable housing that connects people to better health, economic opportunity, and good jobs and schools, especially for those who have historically been denied access. Could foundations with unique missions and priorities go beyond talking and learning to aligned action?

Read the full article about transforming the housing system by Charles Rutheiser at Stanford Social Innovation Review.