After more than 15 years, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is bringing a close to its affordable housing program.

The Foundation’s significant housing-related efforts will begin to wrap up as MacArthur doubles down on a few select program areas for greater impact, says Julia Stasch, president.

Julia Stasch
Julia Stasch

Going forward, key areas for the Foundation will include criminal justice and climate change. Its work will also be more time-limited in nature and aimed at reaching specific objectives. At the same time it is narrowing its focus, the Foundation will remain open to special projects. It is planning to award $100 million every three years to a single proposal to solve or significantly mitigate a major problem.

The new direction has meant making tough choices on other programs.

MacArthur has been a notable supporter of affordable housing through several programs, including its national Window of Opportunity: Preserving Affordable Rental Housing initiative, and it has funded housing-related research through its How Housing Matters to Families and Communities program.

The Foundation has made about 600 grants and program-related investments totaling $271 million since 2000. About $76 million of that has been in MacArthur’s hometown of Chicago.

Stasch says the housing program is entering the “legacy phase.” There will be approximately $16 million available in grants and potentially another $15 million in new program-related investments during the next three years, according to Stash.

She adds that the foundation’s program-related investments have a long life cycle, so they could be working for many more years after their initial funding.

“Even though after this legacy period we won’t be making new grants or program-related investments, in many instances they will still be at work,” says Stasch, who was named to the top post in March. Before serving as interim president, she was vice president for MacArthur’s U.S. programs for 13 years.

Prior to joining MacArthur, she served as commissioner of Chicago's Department of Housing and was also chief of staff for Mayor Richard M. Daley. As the mayor’s point person, she helped oversee the design and negotiation of the $1.5 billion Plan for Transformation of public housing in Chicago. Stasch was inducted into Affordable Housing Finance’s Hall of Fame in 2010.

In the affordable housing industry, MacArthur is best known for its $150 million Window of Opportunity program, which has provided grants and long-term capital to assist nonprofit owners in preserving approximately 80,000 affordable rental units.               

Stasch says she does not think the institutions that the Foundation has supported will be at risk as MacArthur ends its housing work. “We believe it’s quite the opposite,” she says. “We believe through our focus on institutions, particularly through the Window of Opportunity rental preservation initiative, they are much stronger, much more effective, and more sustainable than ever.”

“Don’t misunderstand: I don’t think that the problems are all solved,” Stasch says. “The economics of the moment, the demographics, the suppression of wages, they are exacerbating some of the affordability changes, but we think so many more pieces are in place than they were a decade ago. We are going to do all we can to ensure a smooth and successful transition because that’s what legacy is all about.”