How a N.C. Community Foundation Is Marshaling Support to Create Affordable Housing

Charlotte, N.C. Courtesy of Foundation for the Carolinas

Charlotte, N.C. Courtesy of Foundation for the Carolinas

By Amanda Palleschi

A North Carolina community foundation is showing how philanthropy can play a leading role in working with government and business to tackle a challenging community issue.

Last November, voters in Charlotte, N.C., overwhelmingly approved a $50 million bond referendum for their city to invest in affordable housing. 

Charlotte already had a Housing Trust Fund in place to address affordable housing issues, but it was clear that the fund wasn’t enough to support the growing need for affordable housing. The city and surrounding Mecklenburg County  face a deficit of more than 20,000 affordable housing units.

A 2017 task force report, funded in part by the Foundation for the Carolinas, urged the region to spend more to tackle the problem as part of its comprehensive look at economic mobility in the region.

By some estimates, Charlotte ranks last in economic mobility among U.S. cities of its size. The task force built out a comprehensive 30-year plan to address economic mobility, with affordable housing as a key component. 

The report also recommended that private sector funds match any funds the city came up with, too. 

So the Foundation for the Carolinas took the lead in marshaling that private sector support — and the foundation recently announced it has now secured more than $30 million in matching funds for the Charlotte Housing Opportunity Investment Fund it started to accompany the city’s commitment to affordable housing and the referendum’s investment. 

The funds support a combination of new affordable housing construction, support for existing affordable housing infrastructure, and lowered interest rates.

“We hope to strike a balance between preservation and new construction,” says Katie Coff, who advises the Foundation of the Carolinas on affordable housing. 

The foundation received combined commitments from several banks and organizations -- including BB&T, SunTrust, Bank of America and Wells Fargo -- and they are 60 percent of the way toward their $50 million goal. Several of the banks have also pledged to support area nonprofits outside of the fund that work on economic mobility issues. 

“I think that the foundation makes a great convener,” Coff says. “There’s so much leadership in the community, of people willing to roll up their sleeves and do work that’s needed to be done and it’s just all happened very in-sync.”

Foundation for the Carolinas is also developing a way for its fundholders to invest in the affordable housing fund, and could ultimately use the fund’s subsidiary to create a land bank for affordable housing. 

Coff says the housing project’s success in attracting private sector funding bodes well for how the community will respond to the other economic mobility recommendations in the task force plan, which has had the communities nonprofits changing how they do business, she says.

“The Foundation acted as the catalyst, but it was a community-wide response and we’ll have community-wide engagements going forward,” Coff said.