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NHC Beyond 4 Walls Podcast

The mission of affordable housing can unite people

This week, our guest blogger is Steve O’Connor, senior vice president of the Mortgage Bankers Association and an active member of the NHC Board of Governors. Steve is also co-chair of our Black Homeownership Working Group, along with Antoine Thompson of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers. – David Dworkin

In terms of physical beauty, Seattle is a city with few rivals. It blends an impressive skyline with stunning views of the Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains. However, behind this alluring façade is an affordable housing crisis. It is, quite literally, affecting all aspects of life there.

From rampant homelessness that scars the cityscape and divides its residents, to middle-income families struggling to find homes near their workplaces, Seattle has a complex web of housing problems that offer no easy fixes. While Seattle is not alone in this regard, what I discovered on a recent trip there was a host of creative partnerships working to address some of these housing challenges. At the Mortgage Bankers Association, as with the National Housing Conference, we believe in the power of collaboration.

To this end, MBA launched a new Affordable Housing Initiative in June. At its core, the initiative is about finding ways for MBA and its members to forge new affordable housing partnerships in both the policy and business arenas. As the MBA executive leading this effort, I have been conducting an extensive “listening tour,” with the goal of identifying where we can be most impactful. What I saw in Seattle underscores how diverse groups, working together, can make a difference in the affordable housing space.

An example of a high-profile housing coalition is Challenge Seattle, with 15 major employers and two foundations. It is focused on what it describes as “the invisible crisis – a lack of affordable housing for middle-income families and individuals.” Its members include such prestigious organizations as Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft, and the Gates Foundation. This effort shows how disparate stakeholders can rally around a shared housing problem.

A less visible but equally devoted effort involves Seattle-based HomeStreet Bank. Through its Affinity Lending program, HomeStreet has a team dedicated to working with a broad spectrum of over 200 partners, focusing on ways to assist with closing costs, down payments and financial education. HomeStreet’s partners range from the University of Washington, the city’s second-largest employer, to Pioneer Human Services, a social enterprise that helps individuals with criminal records and those with addiction and mental health issues transition to new lives. The collective impact of HomeStreet’s program has been to create thousands of first-time homebuyers – a figure that doesn’t begin to capture the life-changing benefits for those individuals and their communities.

Since launching our Affordable Housing Initiative, MBA has had dialogue with over 100 stakeholders. We have found that there is no shortage of good ideas on where we can be influential, and sifting through the various recommendations won’t be easy. We will be looking at how we can leverage the core strengths of our members (access to capital, technical knowledge, and sophisticated business operations) along with our association’s platforms for policy, advocacy, research, public affairs, education, and meetings. Importantly, we will also be looking at how we can work with others, including NHC and many of its members, to help those struggling to pay their rent or buy their first homes. The mission of affordable housing can unite people and lead to new partnerships – something that I saw first-hand in Seattle.

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