Affordable Homes within Reach

by Lisa Urias

As our state confronts the third most severe affordable housing shortage in the nation, it’s clear that the status quo won’t cut it for average Arizonans. Compounded with rising rental rates, soaring overall demand and a high percentage of households at risk of eviction, the number of people experiencing homelessness has risen steadily in recent years. As a community-centric organization that focuses on the broad needs of citizens in every corner of the state, the Arizona Community Foundation has made it a priority to use all the tools in its toolbox to address housing insecurity.

At its core, ACF houses more than 1,900 charitable funds created by individuals, families and organizations to benefit our communities. ACF manages these funds and distributes grants to qualified nonprofit organizations and projects that align with the fund founders’ charitable interests. Since 1978, ACF funds have distributed more than $1 billion in grants to causes that include such broad categories as health innovations, quality education, community improvement and development, arts and culture, and environment and sustainability.

While continuing to ensure all funds are granted with the donors’ intent in mind, ACF has created and supported funds that bring affordable housing projects to life. Two innovative impact loan programs, the Affordable Housing Predevelopment Loan Fund and the Community Impact Loan Fund, began as collaborations with community partners and have together supported the building of more than 3,300 affordable housing units while recycling $20 million in capital for use on these projects. ACF is also home to the Arizona Housing Fund and Northern Arizona Housing Fund, both of which receive funding from real estate transactions and individual contributions to develop affordable housing projects across the state.

With more than 40 years of leadership in Arizona through our staff and board of directors, ACF is also a respected convener and has been involved in public policy work at the state and national level. Launched in 2017, ACF’s Courage to Listen, Learn, and Act series brings diverse voices to the table to discuss social justice issues starting from their roots and building toward an exploration of potential solutions. This series is currently focused on affordable housing issues in our state. ACF is actively working to increase awareness among policymakers about the need for and benefits of affordable housing. It is also working with other partners to restore full funding to the AZ Housing Trust Fund.

ACF has also used unrestricted and discretionary grant dollars to fund a wide range of programs that increase public awareness around the issue of affordable housing. This includes grants to the Arizona Republic for investigative journalism into the affordable housing crisis and to ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy for needed research on the breadth and depth of this challenge for our communities.

In order to leverage these affordable housing investments, ACF also encourages the strategic use of philanthropic dollars to decrease duplication of effort and increase the number of organizations working together toward shared goals. One example of this call for collaboration is the Housing Security Challenge, the fourth philanthropic prize competition housed under the New Arizona Prize banner. 

The Housing Security Challenge was designed to inspire collaborative, cross-sector ideas that addressed the lack of affordable housing in Arizona. Launched in the fall of 2020, 13 applicant teams submitted proposals that addressed supportive services related to racial inequality, economic and physical mobility, social work, public health, education, safe neighborhoods and more. In May of 2021, five finalist teams pitched their projects to a selection committee comprised of industry leaders.

The winning project, The East Valley Senior Home Sharing Program, received a $250,000 grant to begin implementing their solution to address the housing crisis. Led by Tempe Community Action Agency, the group brings together resources from AZCEND, Aster Aging, ASU’s Watts College of Public Service/Action Nexus on Homelessness and Valley of the Sun United Way to interrupt the crisis of elderly homelessness in Maricopa County. Their array of wrap-around services will foster housing permanency, independent living and saved lives for older adults at risk of homelessness by matching them with roommates to share housing costs, companionship and responsibilities.

These are some of the ways that ACF is bringing people and organizations together to address Arizona’s affordable housing shortage by following the guiding light of its mission to lead, serve and collaborate to mobilize enduring philanthropy for a better Arizona.  

Building Connectivity

On a single night in January, the Maricopa County Association of Governments identified 7,419 people experiencing homelessness. Seniors are making up a larger portion of the Arizona homeless population than ever before. On any given night, seniors take up about 43% of the shelter beds at Central Arizona Shelter Services, the largest shelter in the state.

ACF believes that stable, affordable housing will help foster a thriving region of shared prosperity and belonging. Strategic partnerships are required to bring this work to life. With that in mind, ACF is expanding relationships with leaders in the affordable housing space, including:

  • Vitalyst Health Foundation
  • Phoenix Community Alliance
  • Arizona Housing Coalition
  • Local Initiatives Support Coalition
  • Home Matters to Arizona
  • Greater Phoenix Leadership
  • and more

Lisa Urias is the chief program and community engagement officer at the Arizona Community Foundation, a statewide family of charitable funds supported by thousands of Arizonans.

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