Cover: Preservation of Affordable Rental Housing

Preservation of Affordable Rental Housing

Evaluation of the MacArthur Foundation's Window of Opportunity Initiative

Published Jun 6, 2016

by Heather L. Schwartz, Raphael W. Bostic, Richard K. Green, Vincent J. Reina, Lois M. Davis, Catherine H. Augustine


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Research Questions

  1. Did the Window of Opportunity initiative achieve its goals?
  2. What lessons does the Window of Opportunity initiative offer about effective preservation practices and prospects for the future of preservation?
  3. What was the structure of the Window of Opportunity initiative, and what are its implications for future philanthropic initiatives?

In 2000, the MacArthur Foundation began the Window of Opportunity initiative, a 20-year, $187 million project intended to help preserve privately owned affordable rental housing. The authors of this report assess whether the initiative achieved its goals and identify lessons learned about effective preservation practices. In doing so, they also provide a summary of the evolution of practices in preserving affordable rental housing, discuss challenges and opportunities for preservation going forward, and identify lessons learned that may help other philanthropies in their own philanthropic initiatives, even if they do not pertain to housing.

The authors find that the MacArthur Foundation met most of its goals for Window of Opportunity. As the initiative nears its end, large nonprofit preservation developers/owners have greater financial capacity and reputation, there are more resources and vehicles for preservation, and, to a lesser degree, the policy environment has changed to the benefit of preservation. However, Window of Opportunity has not achieved its most ambitious federal policy goals and is likely to fall short of its target for the number of privately owned affordable rental housing that will be preserved.

Key Findings

The Window of Opportunity (WOO) Initiative Has Achieved Most of Its Goals

  • Large nonprofit owners of affordable housing are larger, more sophisticated, better connected to financing, better positioned to partner with resident service organizations, and using a more sustainable business model then before WOO.
  • WOO successfully created new and more financing structures for preservation.
  • WOO helped foster statutory and administrative changes within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that promoted preservation, and WOO encouraged substantial state-level activity to promote preservation.
  • More groups have become involved in preservation than before WOO began in 2000.
  • Policymakers reported valuing both rentership (as separate from ownership) and preservation more during the WOO years, and that WOO has been a driver for at least the heightened salience of preservation to more evenly "balance" housing policy.
  • WOO has helped organizations gather better data about affordable renting housing, which is critical to making the case for preservation to elected officials.

Some Goals Have Not Been Fully Met

  • There have been no new federal incentives for preservation, such as tax code changes, and no new federal laws or regulations to promote preservation during the WOO years.
  • WOO is likely to fall short of its numerical target of preserving 300,000 affordable rental homes by 2020 through its own funding, with only approximately 150,000 units preserved to date in the course of the WOO initiative.
  • WOO is unlikely to meet its broader goal of helping to put in place a policy framework by 2020 that would cause the preservation of 1 million affordable rental homes.

The research reported here was conducted in the RAND Infrastructure Resilience and Environmental Policy Program, part of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

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