Partnerships for Opportunity

By Carolyn Schwaar

Four organizations that can help you create housing opportunity in your community.

Getting involved in creating housing opportunity in your area doesn’t mean going it alone or starting from scratch. There are organizations right in your back yard that can help you establish a housing program. These same organizations also need your help and expertise.

In fact, housing opportunity programs need you now more than ever. Faced with uncertain federal budgets, a sluggish economy, rising unemployment, and a spiking need for affordable housing, housing organizations are seeking new ways to finance development and new partners to help expand services.

Innovative and constructive partnerships between different sectors and interests often provide significant progress toward creating sustainability. Housing creates jobs, boosts local tax revenues, and helps communities become vibrant places to live, work, and conduct business. From city planners and builders to lenders and real estate professionals, maintaining a healthy homeownership market is a group effort.

Organizations fighting for housing opportunity in America range from small community groups that combat housing discrimination to nationwide foundations that grant financial assistance to homeless families. Housing opportunity organizations such as community development corporations, housing trusts, the NeighborWorks Network, and local offices of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development specialize in uniting industry players behind one common cause. Many RealtorŪ associations have been partnering with these groups for years to transform neighborhoods and extend the American dream of homeownership to everyone.

NAR President Cathy Whatley has challenged all RealtorŪ association leaders to initiate a housing opportunity program in their communities by June 2003. “I want RealtorsŪ to become known for helping to create healthy communities where all Americans, no matter what their income level, will find a full range of viable housing opportunities,” says Whatley. She believes that RealtorsŪ have no higher purpose than to do everything in their power to create housing opportunity.

To help you take up your president’s charge, we’ve compiled information on four types of organizations working toward housing opportunity in the United States. Each of them has state and local arms and a history of partnering with RealtorŪ associations. Contact your local or state chapter of these organizations to start your own partnership for opportunity.

Housing Trust Funds

These funds are established by cities, counties, and states to support a variety of affordable housing efforts initiatives for low-income households, including new
construction, preservation of existing housing, emergency repairs, homeless shelters, housing-related services, and multifamily building for nonprofit organizations. At least 257 housing trust funds in the United States spend more than $500 million on housing opportunity every year.

To counter the effects of shrinking affordable housing options in the Silicon Valley, the Santa Clara County Association of RealtorsŪ helped found a housing trust fund, the Housing Trust Fund of Santa Clara County, in conjunction with the city of San Jose and other partners in 2000.

“We partnered with other organizations and businesses in the public and private sector to create a template for establishing a housing trust that is now used nationwide,” says association Executive Director Paul Stewart.

Unique to the Santa Clara trust model is the creation of housing opportunities for broader markets, filling in the gaps left by existing affordable housing initiatives. The trust promotes home ownership as an essential component of a family’s ability to succeed economically and socially, says Stewart, while “most programs focus solely on the homeless and multi-family affordable housing or on first-time homebuyers.”

In California, RealtorŪ associations in Fremont and San Diego have followed Santa Clara’s trust model. The San Diego Housing Trust Fund, for example, began as a $20 million venture to produce more than 1,800 units of housing in its first 30 months. Local business leaders credit the program with keeping jobs in San Diego where, like the Bay Area, housing pressures were undermining their major industry—tourism. The trust also made the city eligible for specific government funding that required matching funds.

The Santa Clara association helped unite many Silicon Valley corporations, foundations, and housing groups to coordinate the trust fund, establish funding parameters, and appoint a board of directors. The trust’s directors, who determine how the funds will be distributed, to date have helped 1,700 individuals and families by providing low-interest loans, financing for affordable rental housing projects, and transitional housing for formerly homeless and other special-needs people in Santa Clara County.

“By our involvement in the fund and other outreach efforts, we underscore the fact that RealtorsŪ not only sell homes, we also create and maintain communities,” says 2002 Santa Clara association president Steve Hanleigh.

“From the trust’s point of view, it only makes sense to work closely with RealtorsŪ,” says Roccie Hill, executive director for the fund. “Who else has a better handle on the homebuying community, and who else is in a better position to offer help in so many ways?”

The entire association membership has the opportunity to get involved in creating housing opportunity in Santa Clara County. “For instance, members who want to can easily contribute to the Santa Clara County RealtorsŪ Foundation, which serves as the funding conduit from the association to the trust, by checking an option on their dues bills. The new first-time homebuyers’ program, coordinated through the association, also provides opportunities for our members and lender affiliates to become involved with the trust by teaching new homebuyers how to work with a real estate practitioner and others involved in the transaction,” says Stewart.

For more information on forming a housing trust fund or finding one in your area,


NeighborWorks Network

This national coalition of community-based organizations is improving communities through cooperative efforts with residents, business, government, and other partners, including RealtorŪ associations. Network programs focus on partnership building, repurchase education and outreach, flexible loan products, property services, and post-purchase counseling and services. The network was founded by the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp., which provides much of the financing, training, and technical assistance for the programs NeighborWorks supports as well as periodic program review and oversight.

The Fort Wayne Area Association of RealtorsŪ, Ind., partners with Project Renew, a member of the NeighborWorks Network, to provide $25,000 as seed money to rehab homes in the inner city. Once the properties are sold, the association receives its investment back.

To date, the association has funded the rehab of seven inner city homes, and a RealtorŪ currently serves as Project Renew president.

“The biggest benefit of our partnership with Project Renew has been how proud it makes our members feel to be contributing to the community,” says Karan Ford, the association’s executive officer. “Members raise funds for the program and help choose which house to rehab next.”

The association’s involvement in Project Renew and the city’s housing services board has opened doors for involvement in many other community development projects, says Ford. “The city asks to have our members serve on housing development strategic planning and growth teams, and we’ve built strong new alliances with community groups and other industry groups in our area.”

The Fort Wayne association plans to expand its community development work next year with a new partnership with Habitat for Humanity and more Project Renew rehabs. “We’re helping to revitalize our inner city, redevelop neighborhoods, and put families in homes,” Ford says.

To find a NeighborWorks Program in your area, visit the NeighborWorks national Web site,, and click on “Network Directory” to search by city or state. For more information on Project Renew, visit

Community Development Corporations

These community groups were founded across the country in the 1960s to empower the poor and revitalize communities. The idea was not just to marshal private, public, and nonprofit resources to eradicate poverty, but to foster greater participation by low-income residents in the political processes that affect their lives. But as CDCs evolved, neighborhood development took precedence over fighting poverty. Today CDCs produce affordable housing and create jobs through business and commercial development activities. Corporate and government partnerships are emphasized over political activism, and federal and foundation funding are an important part of CDC activities.

In Tennessee, the work of the Jackson Area Association of RealtorsŪ’ CEO, Paul Shahan, is an example of how RealtorŪ

associations can play a key role in leading coalitions to promote homeownership.

Shahan is the president of his local community development corporation, the Affordable Housing Community Development Corp., and says there’s no more appropriate group to which AEs can lend their leadership skills.

“CDCs are experts in bringing together leaders in the housing industry, including developers, contractors, lenders, and real estate practitioners, to address a community-wide problem: housing opportunity,” says Shahan.

AEs, Shahan says, can use their management and coalition-building skills to help CDCs gather support, raise funds, and create achievable strategic plans. For a time commitment of one day a month, Shahan’s involvement in his CDC also promotes the RealtorŪ image and “it shows the community that practitioners care about affordable housing,” he says.

On the horizon for the Jackson Area association and the affordable housing CDC is a local housing opportunity conference to bring together all industry segments to share ideas on promoting housing opportunity in the area. Shahan recently announced that the CDC has also purchased a tract of land that will accommodate 30 lots for affordable housing development.

There are more than 3,600 community development corporations across America. To find a CDC in your area, visit the National Congress for Community Economic Development online at Click on “state associations” and then on the map to search for CDCs by state.

Housing and Urban Development

HUD offices have a long history of partnership with RealtorŪ associations. The department offers nearly 75 housing programs nationally, but there are many more state and local programs. State HUDs coordinate and participate in a wide variety of grassroots programs, from new buyer education and special financing for teachers and police officers to multifamily housing development and rehab.

The Rhode Island Association of RealtorsŪ recognized that for practitioners to be effectively involved in low-income home sales, they needed a greater understanding of the obstacles that low-income homebuyers face. This need spurred the association, along with the Rhode Island office of Housing and Urban Development, to create an education and designation program called Community Awareness in Real Estate, or CARE.

“We approached the Rhode Island office of Housing and Urban Development to help us develop a program that would educate RealtorsŪ to better serve low-income homeseekers,” says Susan Arnold, Rhode Island Association’s chief executive officer.

CARE’s mission is to teach RealtorsŪ how to work with low-income and minority home seekers. The curriculum focuses on unique financing opportunities, credit counseling, diversity training, fair housing, buyer agency, and tips for helping homeowners prevent foreclosure.

“When we first approached HUD, we sensed that they didn’t think real estate practitioners really cared about serving this segment of the community,” says Arnold. “But as we began working on the curriculum together, they realized our passion for getting people into homes.”

Now HUD promotes CARE designees on a practitioner referral list provided to community organizations, posted on community Web sites, and promoted at homebuyer fairs throughout the state. HUD also uses practitioners to teach “How to Work with a RealtorŪ” classes.

“It’s been a boost in business for the program graduates,” says Arnold. “As one graduate said, this boom market isn’t going to stick around forever.”

Graduating in 2002, the first CARE class consisted of eight practitioners from all corners of the state, each of whom successfully completed 27 hours of classroom training. The next CARE class is scheduled to start this spring, and enrollment has grown to 35 practitioners.

Find your state or local HUD office at For a list of state housing agencies along with links to their Web sites, visit

Housing resources and education programs

Browse or search the new Housing Opportunity Web site at, a housing programs database for information about federal, state, and local programs that provide assistance to homebuyers, renters, property managers, and developers. Whether you’re helping homebuyers obtain financing or planning to develop affordable housing, you’ll find local programs and resources that will benefit you and your clients. Visit

Browse or search the Housing Opportunities database for courses and educational programs related to affordable housing. Many are provided by NAR, state and local RealtorŪ associations, and NAR’s institutes, societies and councils.


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