Deeper impact and expansion in 2020, and ways you can invest

It takes a village

 

I posted on New Year’s Eve about 2019’s historic results. Today, I’m excited to look forward.

It’s important to see ourselves within the context of the affordable housing crisis. I blogged about the crisis in November, citing a Harvard study that reported the loss of 4 million low-rent housing units (those costing $800 per month or less) between 2011 and 2017.

Last month, Freddie Mac released a landscape study on resident ownership and stated, “ROCs are one of the few sources of unsubsidized naturally occurring affordable housing in the country not subject to market-based rent increases.”

My point: Affordable units are declining, costs are rising, and more and more households are cost-burdened while ROCs are being discovered as “one of a few sources of unsubsidized naturally occurring affordable housing … not subject to market-based rent increases.”

I just reported record numbers – 25 new ROCs and more than 2,300 homes preserved in 2019 – from a Network of nine nonprofits and a national Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) working hand-in-hand with local communities in 17 states.

Imagine what is possible with greater capacity to serve more communities and more states.

In many parts of the country, resident ownership is just being discovered. The Iowa City Press-Citizen just reported an affordable housing coalition report in Johnson County that recommended, “Connect with an organization like ROC USA, which assists residents in forming cooperatives to purchase and manage their manufactured housing community, e.g., ‘resident-owned communities.'”

There are no ROCs in Iowa today but with your help, we can change that!

Our current Strategic Plan – titled, Sustainably Scaling Resident Ownership: Leadership and Impact – is an excellent blueprint in 2020 and beyond (although demand is greater than projected.)

Because the need and interest are growing – and because co-ops are preserving more affordable units than most other housing organizations – I am going to put my forward look in terms of fundable opportunities to support this burgeoning network of resilient ROCs.

Please come along.

Equity

It always starts with equity. Equity is the growth capital that fuels our ability to serve borrower communities with the most cost-effective capital that we can. Our CDFI balance sheet holds subordinate parts of first mortgage loans made to ROCs. We have strong leverage – every $1.5M of equity leverages $40M in total project lending.

We need to raise at least $1.5M of equity this year but frankly more would benefit our growth more than any other type of investment.

We won’t always need only equity grants to grow – our medium-term plan is to leverage dividend-paying equity, however, at our current stage, we are leveraging equity grants to expand lending.

We also need loans – both loans to our CDFI for re-lending and project specific loans that we do on a participation basis. If you’re a lender and are interested in learning more, please connect with me.

Network Investments

We are a Network of now 9 (and soon 12) regional nonprofit affiliates in order to serve communities with expert organization coaching on site and to leverage local partnerships that support communities. We are building shared systems in order to create economies of scale where we can but our work is rooted in relationships in the communities we serve and that’s simply expensive, especially in smaller communities.

While ROC USA and ROCs themselves have proven themselves sustainable, our challenge remains helping our front-line affiliates achieve sustainable lines of business as providers of pre- and post-purchase training and other services. Few of these nonprofit partners have the capital to invest in technology and staffing without initial funding.

We are raising funds to invest in affiliates and expand into new states, including California, Texas, and North Carolina in 2020.

New energy-efficient homes in secure ROCs

Local Network affiliates and partner organizations have replaced older existing homes and filled vacant sites with new EnergyStar® HUD-code homes. These include innovative projects to house formerly homeless veterans and formerly homeless families.

We are excited about our new national partnership with Family Promise and Clayton Homes, the country’s largest HUD-code housing builder. We are also long-time partners with Next Step Homes, another nonprofit social venture (like ROC USA) that is focused on delivering high-quality, energy-efficient homes in co-ops and elsewhere.

Community Revitalization Days and ROC Grants

The ROC Association Directors – the three ROC USA Directors who are elected by the currently 253 co-op Boards – have focused on supporting home and community improvement and rebranding efforts in the lowest income ROCs.

The Community Revitalization Day plan builds on some small grants from ROC USA and ROC Association. It is a plan to help co-ops organize Members and outside volunteer groups to tackle home and community improvements in a dramatic, community-building manner. Co-ops have people power and are secure communities. Such community-based efforts will make the power and potential clear to everyone!

This priority includes a broader set of strategies aimed at bringing home and community improvement providers and resources into these communities. We have glimpses of it in places but it takes work and resources to bring it to all 17 current states with co-ops.

If you’re a small donor and would like to help with community improvements, you can donate now online here. 100% of money we raise on our website goes out to the communities we serve for improvements that each community prioritizes. Please consider donating today!

Home financing

In 2001, I launched the award-winning home-only finance program that operates in New Hampshire’s co-ops today and I oversaw the substantial work to secure an unprecedented approval by Fannie Mae to buy home-only mortgage loans on homes in New Hampshire’s co-ops.

(It’s the only state and the only communities in the U.S. where this is happening but it does offer a blueprint for us to take to other states. It’s a vital part of our theory of change – these homeowners should have access to the same residential mortgage market as other site-built homeowners. It’s terrible that our lowest-income homeowners pay interest rates that are twice or more as much as other homebuyers.)

We are working several strategies to bring other lenders to the home-in-co-op market and home-only mortgage market. It’s a bit technical to launch into but if you want to see a market transformed through housing finance, let’s talk!

Online learning

I like to say that I am three feet wide and three miles deep to reinforce that we are focused on a single stock of housing that happens to be really important to a large number of very low-, low- and moderate-income homeowners. Our teams and co-op leaders themselves have developed a lot of expertise in this one sector and we need to make it available to our 17,000 Member-Owners on a 24/7 basis.

We’ve tried twice, and failed twice on this goal. (We don’t succeed in everything we do and we’re not afraid to tell you, but we do need to nail this!) We have a promising opportunity with a leader in online education but it’s a new area that is not yet funded through earnings. We need your help!

Research

The research agenda runs deep. I’m excited to be working with MIT and Cornell on two research projects presently and we have affiliates working with other academics. Our challenge is that we have little internal support for managing research activities beyond what we’re already doing.

Policy & Advocacy

Donors and philanthropists by now are wondering about policy. We do not have a policy director or team. We have been very market focused but indeed there are policy matters that would aid the work, and it’s becoming more pressing with the increased calls from legislators. Suffice to say, if you want to talk policy, let’s talk. Again, complexity holds me back from going on here.

Summary

These inspiring, bootstrap communities have proven themselves time and again. Together, we’re building a national movement on the simple idea that home ownership should include ownership of the land under peoples’ homes. By together, I mean, together. The ROC Association is directly involved in these priorities and will be expanding its role with two new national committees of local ROC leaders in 2020. We believe, “Not about us without us.”

Our vision is a country in which owners of efficient and affordable manufactured homes are economically secure in healthy and socially vibrant resident-owned communities.  You see in our 2020 priorities that we’re focused on each element of this vision statement with clear-eyed strategy.

Thank you for joining us on this sector-focused journey, hand-in-hand with homeowners from coast to coast.  ROC on!

Please email me if you’d like to talk.  I’d love to hear from you!