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Fannie Mae is challenging you to help us revitalize the nation’s neighborhoods

December 18, 2017 | By

In 2016, Fannie Mae embarked on a listening tour to better understand factors driving the nation’s affordable housing crisis. The company met with organizations that directly affect housing, as well as those in sectors adjacent to housing — including energy, health care, and education.

The results of the listening tour confirmed our belief that many neighborhoods across America aren’t just facing a lack of affordable housing options to meet demand. Often those same neighborhoods also lack access to quality schools, recreational space, jobs, health care, and reliable public transportation. Recognizing the multi-dimensional nature of the challenges residents in these neighborhoods face, Fannie Mae is launching a two-year, $10 million Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge (The Challenge). The first phase is seeking ideas at the intersection of affordable housing and employment/economic opportunity. We recently sat down with Maria Evans, Vice President of Sustainable Communities Partnership and Innovation at Fannie Mae, to learn more.

THS: Why an Innovation Challenge?

Evans: Fannie Mae has been a leader in affordable housing for 80 years. Affordable housing has always been central to our mission. Through The Challenge, we are building on that longstanding commitment and expanding our focus by acknowledging the inextricable link between housing and the broader community.

Today, income inequality is a greater part of the public discourse, especially as the number of cost-burdened households continues to rise nationwide. We think now is the right time to take a fresh look at this complex, persistent issue by focusing on where affordable housing intersects with various aspects of a sustainable community, such as economic opportunity and employment, health and wellness, energy, and education. Those are key intersections where Fannie Mae wants to work with partners to generate new ideas to address our nation’s affordable housing problems. We believe affordable housing within a sustainable community with integrated access to quality health care, education, and employment opportunities leads to better life outcomes for residents.

We also believe partnering with others is the key to finding solutions to these complex issues.

The Challenge will support ideas that help preserve, increase access to, or increase the supply of affordable housing with sustainable communities. Ultimately, our goal is to identify good ideas that can be replicated and scaled in communities across the country.

THS: How will The Challenge work?

Evans: The Challenge is a three-phase effort. For the first phase, we’ll focus on ideas where affordable housing and economic opportunity intersect. How can we reduce barriers and/or create incentives to increase access to affordable housing units in high-opportunity areas? How can we connect underserved communities with greater economic opportunity? During the first phase of The Challenge, we are seeking ideas that answer those questions.

We are inviting proposals in two categories – early stage research and design, and slightly later stage idea development and testing. Those with the best ideas will be awarded a contract to research and develop those ideas. The submission period for this round is December 18, 2017 to February 23, 2018. We welcome ideas from public, nonprofit, or private sector organizations or individuals and/or cross-sector teams from both inside and outside the traditional affordable housing sector.

THS: Why did you choose to focus first on economic opportunity?

Evans: A growing body of research illustrates the relationship between economic opportunity and access to affordable housing. People historically have migrated to where there were jobs. For many years, that migration was coupled with more housing being built, which meant workers at many income levels could live affordably near where they worked.

In recent years that dynamic has changed. Rents and home prices in high-opportunity areas have skyrocketed, with new supply often on the high-end, pricing out lower-skilled and lower-wage earners, forcing them to live further and further away from their places of employment. Simply put, lack of affordable housing has closed off access to high-opportunity areas, and everything they offer, for far too many people.

This gets to the main point of Phase 1 of The Challenge. We are looking for ways to advance more affordable housing in high opportunity/sustainable communities and/or bring greater economic opportunities to those areas where affordable housing already exists.

We know others are thinking about this complex problem. They can seize this opportunity to submit a proposal and, if successful, scaled to help communities nationwide.

THS: Can you give us some examples of the kinds of ideas you’re looking for?

Evans: For Phase 1 we’ll consider two types of proposals – research and design and idea development. Examples of possible ideas include:

  • Strategies to create more inclusive high-opportunity communities by increasing the supply of mixed-income housing in proximity to higher-wage job opportunities;
  • Approaches to align employers, nonprofits, government, and other stakeholders to increase the supply of affordable housing in high-opportunity communities, including approaches that target particular job categories or segments of the workforce;
  • Ways to elevate, scale, and replicate exemplary practices and policies that create incentives for, and reduce regulatory barriers to, the creation and preservation of affordable housing in high-opportunity areas.

THS: Who will judge the submissions?

Evans: Proposals will be evaluated against a predetermined set of criteria set forth in the Request for Proposal (RFP) and will go through multiple rounds of review, including a semi-final review by an Expert Advisory Panel comprised of leaders from public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Fannie Mae will make final contract award decisions.

THS: What else would you like to tell our readers?

Evans: Fannie Mae recognizes that we don’t have all of the answers. Trying to address these growing and complex issues alone would yield limited results. Partnership, particularly cross-sector partnership, is the key to effectively tackling these social issues facing our country. We also recognize that the objectives of The Challenge are big and bold, but we think they reflect the size and nature of the problem.

We hope that your readers will accept our challenge and help us address the nation’s affordable housing issues together.

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