MacArthur Foundation to Wind Down Housing-Related Investments

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is winding down its housing-related investments and hoping that other foundations and funders will step up as it exits the field, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Over the past fifteen years, the foundation has invested more than $270 million in efforts to study and create affordable housing, including $76.5 million in Chicago alone. Not surprisingly, officials at affordable housing organizations are concerned about the exit of one of the nation's largest foundations from the affordable housing arena, not least because it may suggest the nation's housing problems have been "fixed." Just last week, however, the Make Room initiative was launched to draw attention to the lack of affordable rental options for families across the nation; MacArthur made a $500,000 grant in support of the campaign in 2014 after its research found that roughly one in four renter households spend at least half their income on rent.

Three years ago, MacArthur, along with the Citi, Morgan Stanley, Prudential, and Ford foundations, invested a total of $100 million to create the Housing Partnership Equity Trust, an affordable housing REIT that works with a dozen nonprofits to buy and preserve affordable multi-family buildings, while in the Chicago area MacArthur's affordable-housing investments have benefited researchers, loan programs, nonprofits, developers, and municipalities. Among other things, it helped fund Chicago's Plan for Transformation, which aims to overhaul the city's public-housing high-rises, and it provided additional funds to help researchers study the effect of relocation on those residents. It also provided funding for Elevate Energy, an effort to help owners of multi-family rental buildings make their properties more energy-efficient. According to Anne Evens, Elevate Energy's CEO, the program will continue to receive funding from utility companies and local and state governments.

Still, the possibility that others may misread the foundation's decision worries Julia Stasch, a former Chicago housing commissioner who was recently named president of the foundation. "Housing is something I find a very compelling issue," said Stasch, who noted that the foundation may continue to invest in specific programs related to housing. "At the same time we are challenged to say, 'Are we doing too much across our entire portfolio.' When you go down that path, you have to make some tough decisions. No initiative in any foundation lasts forever."