The Weinberg Foundation: How To Make Affordable Housing Truly Affordable
06/11/2013 - 17:09
Craig Demchak
The Weinberg Foundation helps make housing truly affordable to people with disabilities. Photo courtesy Weinberg Foundation
The Weinberg Foundation helps make housing truly affordable to people with disabilities. Photo courtesy Weinberg Foundation

Regular readers of this blog know that inclusion is a familiar theme. One of the largest private foundations in the country, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, defines inclusion as people with and without disabilities living together in scattered sites in the community, and people of different income levels to living together—double integration.

Integration includes choice of roommate, if a roommate is needed. Simply, people choose where and with whom to live. We embrace and promote efforts to move people with disabilities out of institutions and into a home in the community. To this end, one Weinberg Foundation effort stands apart as a model of successful nonprofit and government partnership.

Inclusion Innovation
The Weinberg Foundation has tripled its funding, a total investment of $3 million in partnership with state housing finance agencies, for an initiative called Weinberg Deeply Affordable Rental Housing for people with disabilities on SSI (Supplemental Security Income). This first joint venture in Maryland is also the first of its kind in the nation, and the Maryland program recently was replicated in Illinois. A $1 million dollar grant was given to the Illinois Housing Finance Agency to create eight units in Chicago. This project will reduce the rent for a 350 square foot studio apartment from $600 to $200 per month. 

Here is the central concept: the Weinberg Foundation grant goes to the state, and then to the for-profit or non-profit developer. These joint ventures address an urgent need in Maryland and Illinois (and a need that exists in many states): increasing the quantity and affordability of integrated, supportive, permanent, rental apartments for non-elderly persons with disabilities who receive SSI or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Currently, many of these individuals live in Medicaid-funded nursing homes, institutions, or are homeless -- especially those with mental illnesses.

So What Is the Strategy?
State programs such as Low Income Housing Tax Credits are the most important program in the country for creating new affordable housing. But people with disabilities whose income consists of social security benefits can’t afford even most "affordable" rental apartments. That’s why the Weinberg Foundation is offering a contribution up front for the financing of such multi-family rental housing. It enables developers to keep rents at 15 percent of area median income for 30 years because the developer borrows less money, lowering the annual debt service on the entire building. From a philanthropic perspective, the partnership with the state affords the Weinberg Foundation an ideal position of low risk for the Board; leveraging grant money with community bond money, state money, and, most importantly, federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. Weinberg grants are especially needed where there are no HUD vouchers available.

So what does this look like?
The Weinberg Foundation’s investment addresses the critical shortage of rental apartments for the disabled community as opposed to more easily acquired, even donated, single-family homes. Unfortunately, these homes often translate into group homes in which residents have little or no choice with whom to live.

The "Weinberg Apartments" in Maryland include studio, one, two, and even three-bedroom spaces -- for families with disabled family members, especially children. These 32 units will serve as many as 100 people with disabilities. Those with the greatest need, the greatest income poverty, and the highest risk for hospitalization or homelessness or institutionalization are selected by state referral agencies for these Weinberg Apartments. The first approved tenant for the Weinberg Affordable Apartments in Maryland is a single mother with mental illness who was homeless.  She is an SSI recipient and has two young children. Her combined household income is $10,980 which is approximately $600 over 15 percent of AMI for a 3 person household in this particular county. 

What Others Are Saying:
Ann O’Hara, The Associate Director of Technical Assistance Collaborative in Boston, wrote, "What the Weinberg Foundation is doing for housing policy for people with disabilities is really groundbreaking."

Chris Smith is Executive Director of the Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities. He calls the "Weinberg Apartments" idea "brilliant." In the absence of deep rental subsidies from HUD (vouchers, 811), Smith says this is the only way to encourage developers to make their "set aside" apartments (5 percent to 10 percent of total number of units being built) deeply affordable for the disabled on SSI. 

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation is one of the largest private charitable foundations in the United States. The Weinberg Foundation provides approximately $100 million each year in the form of capital, operating, and program grants to nonprofits that provide direct services to low-income and vulnerable individuals and families, primarily in the U.S. and Israel. Since 1990, the Foundation has made grants totaling $1.6 billion dollars. Grants are focused on meeting basic needs and enhancing an individual’s ability to meet those needs. The Weinberg Foundation is committed to funding nonprofits in the Jewish community, as well as the community-at-large, with particular emphasis on assisting the poorest and frailest older adults so their lives can be lived out in dignity. Other areas the Foundation supports include helping people to equip themselves for jobs and to obtain food, shelter, and medical care. The Foundation also supports programs that build economic self-sufficiency through education and child/family development as well as those that promote the independence and integration of children and adults with disabilities.

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