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Social Capitalists

Housing Partnership Network

In 1990, the leaders of public-private housing partnerships from around the country gathered together in Boston. Their organizations were doing some of the most creative and successful work in affordable housing and community development, and they wanted to share their experiences. Shortly after the Boston meeting, the Housing Partnership Network (then known as the National Association of Housing Partnerships) was born. Chaired by Bob Whittlesey, the founding director of the Boston Housing Partnership, it had no paid staff and practically no funding -- but there was a conviction that these entrepreneurial groups needed to find a way to work together.

They did.

Fifteen years later, the Network has become a major national voice, peer network, and business cooperative for some of the most accomplished affordable housing organizations in the country. We opened an independent office in Boston and hired professional staff in 1998. Since then, our membership has doubled to more than 80. Network members operate on a metropolitan or statewide basis and have demonstrated large scale impact in their markets by forging high-performing partnerships with public, private and civic organizations.

The Network has evolved into a unique business and organizational model that is neither trade association nor foundation. We have a fundamentally different approach than the traditional centralized intermediary with a large staff that makes grants to support lower-capacity nonprofits. In contrast to this top-down structure, ours is a distributed network that operates as a business cooperative with high-capacity, entrepreneurial partners. By collaborating through the Network, our partners obtain higher-risk capital to compete with for-profit developers and develop innovative strategies to respond to the rapidly changing policy, regulatory and economic environment.

Our first collaborative business venture was to create a funding vehicle for the home ownership counseling and asset building efforts of our members. In 1995, the Network was certified as a national intermediary for HUD's Housing Counseling Program, and in this role we have provided more than $12 million in grants to help 40 nonprofits educate and counsel more than 250,000 lower-income homebuyers.

The Housing Partnership Fund, a CDFI-certified lending institution, was established in 2000 to provide our partners with equity-like predevelopment and acquisition capital that enables them to compete in the marketplace for properties and land suitable for affordable housing. The $30 million facility has provided mezzanine loans to acquire and preserve or develop more than 10,000 units of affordable rental and ownership housing. Investors include the MacArthur and Fannie Mae foundations, the U.S. departments of the Treasury and Housing & Urban Development, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia, Fleet, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Key Bank, US Bank, and Wells Fargo.

Housing Partnership Insurance (HPI), a captive insurance company owned through a stock corporation by 17 regional nonprofits and the Network, was launched in April 2004 and is now providing property and liability coverage for 35,000 affordable apartments valued at almost $3 billion. HPI is the first captive insurance company owned by and operated for nonprofit affordable housing organizations. By pooling risk, raising capital, and structuring a business partnership with national insurance carriers, Housing Partnership Insurance has significantly improved insurance terms and saved our partner organizations more than $1 million annually. Reduced expenses will prevent insurance related rent increases for lower-income families and the nonprofits will reinvest savings and future dividends from the captive into resident services, property improvements and the acquisition and development of more affordable homes. Key participants in this venture include the AIG companies, Merrill Lynch, and a Lloyd's of London insurance syndicate.

The Network recently adopted a four-year strategic plan to significantly expand our impact and become financially self-supporting through a more diverse revenue base by 2007. In addition to the steady expansion of our existing business lines, and the creation of the two new enterprises, we are substantially increasing the Network's policy and research capabilities. We opened an office in Washington, DC in November 2004, managed by a new vice president who will direct our policy and research efforts. A major focus will be a two-year initiative that began in the summer of 2004 with the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, the Urban Institute, the Fannie Mae and MacArthur foundations, and other policy partners. The goal is to promote systemic changes in national housing policy, regulation and funding to encourage a more entrepreneurial and sustainable nonprofit sector.

Through innovative peer-to-peer and policy efforts we continue to create new businesses and play a leading role in addressing systemic barriers to enhance the performance of housing partnerships.

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The above information was provided by the profiled organization.