Nine of the nation’s largest private foundations have joined forces to create the Funders for Housing and Opportunity (FHO) collaborative with the goal of ensuring individuals and families who spend more than half of their income on rent—or have no homes at all—will be able to afford safe, stable rental housing in thriving communities.

Together, FHO members will commit grant dollars that will be used to catalyze systemic change. The new organization announced that it has committed $4.9 million to four grantees over the next three years.

The initial members of the collaborative are The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Ford Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, Melville Charitable Trust, and Oak Foundation.

Separately, they invested more than $65 million in domestic housing-related activities in 2017. FHO allows these foundations to align strategies, leverage their funds, and extend their reach beyond what they could individually support.

“Any one foundation, working alone, can have only limited impact given the scale of the problem,” says Jeanne Fekade-Sellassie, project director. “Too many lower- and middle-income families struggle to afford each month’s rent. We need a monumental shift in how rental housing security and its impacts are addressed at the national level. By working together, Funders for Housing and Opportunity, and our partners can be a powerful force for change.”

There are more than 12 million households that are considered cost-burdened or are homeless in this country, notes Fekade-Sellassie.

“One of our major priorities is affordable housing,” says Don Chen, director, equitable development, at the Ford Foundation. “Our foundation’s goal is to reduce inequality. We joined FHO because we believe access to affordable housing in good communities is an absolute baseline necessity for families seeking to bring themselves out of poverty. It’s abundantly clear that not having stable, affordable housing makes it incredibly hard for families to have a decent quality of life.”

The lack of affordable housing can contribute to a cascade of misfortunes, especially for people for whom even the smallest unexpected cost, such as a medical expense or a car repair, can be catastrophic, he says.

For the Ford Foundation, FHO is an opportunity to align with other funders and leverage more resources, according to Chen.

The new collaborative is unique because all the members bring different perspectives and priorities, adds Susan Thomas, senior program officer at the Melville Charitable Trust and chair of FHO.

Thomas and others emphasize that safe and affordable housing is integral to residents’ health, education, and employment.

“I hope that other foundations will also feel that this is a unique opportunity for them to join in an effort that’s important for their priorities as well,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be housing but in other areas like health, education, economic mobility, anti-poverty initiatives. We’re really hoping that other foundations see the uniqueness of this and will join our effort.”

This first set of grantees include:

• Center for Community Change’s Housing Trust Fund Project will build the power and capacity of state and local partners and resident leaders to increase state and local revenue for affordable housing, scale and expand resident leadership, and strengthen a national housing movement for policies that address the unmet housing needs of people at the lowest incomes. This effort will be national, with focus on resident engagement in California and Washington.

• National Housing Trust and Enterprise Community Partners will lead a community development coalition that raises the voices of residents regarding housing concerns and connects them to elected representatives and to health, education, and energy campaigns in their communities. They will focus activities in Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

• The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) will lead a campaign, together with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Children’s Health Watch, Make Room, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, that advances affordable housing solutions for the lowest-income people, galvanizing housers, educators, health professionals, civil rights, and anti-poverty advocates, the faith-based community. They seek to spur federal policy changes, including increasing federal investment in proven solutions so fewer renters are severely cost burdened and stably housed, says Diane Yentel, NLIHC president and CEO.

• Partnership for Children & Youth will provide training, coaching, and capacity-building work to housing developments, with the aim of increasing the expanded learning program quality through gains in student health and wellness, academic achievement, and family economic and housing stability. Its focus will be in California and Washington.