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A Home for the Holidays


Philanthropy was a catalyst for the funding of the National Housing Trust Fund, which will increase access to housing for low-income families.

Last week, Mel Watt, the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Administration, issued letters directing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to begin setting aside and allocating funds to the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). This simple act marked a historic day in federal housing policy by providing the first funding for NHTF, an amount which could exceed an estimated $300 million each year to create rental housing for extremely low-income families.

This action could not have come at a better time. On any given night in America, more than 600,000 people are homeless – 600,000 children and adults who have no “home for the holidays.” And more than 7 million households in America have extremely low incomes and pay more than half of their income on housing. In fact, there are just three rental homes affordable and available for every ten extremely low income households in our country.

The campaign to establish a national housing trust fund was actually launched in 2000 by the ever-enterprising National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) under the leadership of its dauntless CEO, Sheila Crowley. NLIHC envisioned the trust fund as a permanent federal fund that is focused on providing support to states to build, preserve and ultimately increase the supply of affordable rental housing for extremely low-income families, including homeless families. NHTF was envisioned to have dedicated sources of funding so it would not be subject to the annual federal appropriations process.

Long-term and patient philanthropic support was critical to this win. The Melville Charitable Trust, the Butler Family Fund, and other foundations, supported NLIHC as it worked doggedly for more than fifteen years to pull together and activate a nationwide network of advocates and champions to realize this vision. NLIHC’s Sheila Crowley’s tenacious work and visionary leadership made all the difference.

NHTF was finally signed into law by then-President Bush in 2008, and the initial target for funding was contributions from Fannie and Freddie based on an assessment of their volume of business. Unfortunately, this came at the same time both entities ran into financial trouble and FHFA suspended their contributions. All that changed last week when Watt lifted the suspension.

As Sheila Crowley has said, “We celebrate today and get back to work tomorrow. It is crucial that together we make sure that the implementation of the NHTF is exemplary.” And beyond implementation we look to ultimately bring efforts like NHTF to a scale that will ensure that all children have a safe, secure home for the holidays.

Janice_Elliott.jpgJanice has over twenty-five years of innovation and achievement in creating solutions to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy for systems change and the creation of supportive and affordable housing for vulnerable individuals and families. Before joining the Melville Charitable Trust in 2012, she led InSite Housing Solutions, a professional consulting firm specializing in the planning and creation of affordable housing that integrates human services. Janice also served as Managing Director for the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) and was responsible for their four national programs: Policy and Research, Project Development and Finance, Resource Center, and Strategic Partnerships.

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