Affordable housing developers have long believed that their projects provide more than a roof and four walls. Now, a first-of-its-kind calculator can help estimate a development’s social impact.

The Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) has unveiled its Social Impact Calculator, a tool that puts a dollar value on the social impact of investments in low-income communities.

The online calculator allows users to estimate the social value of investments across five program areas: affordable housing, quality child care, education, community health clinics and equitable transit-oriented development.

LIIF is encouraging other organizations to use, adapt, and help refine the new tool.

“Efforts to improve lives—or create ‘social impact’—through financial investments are now mainstream,” says Nancy O. Andrews, president and CEO of LIIF. “But the ability to monetize the largely unmeasured effects of these investments is new. And while our Social Impact Calculator was developed by LIIF for LIIF, our goal is to advance broad discussions about the value of social investments and help other organizations think about how they measure their work—their social return on investment—in new ways.”

Over the past 30 years, Andrews’ organization has invested $1.5 billion dollars and served 1.7 million people. That's on the surface. The new calculator, using an "impact by proxy" approach, shows that LIIF's social impact has been $30 billion.

Investments in affordable housing can create discretionary income for families by alleviating housing cost burdens. The calculator can estimate increased food expenditures and discretionary income boosts that comes from affordable housing. It can also calculate the medical cost savings that can come from supportive housing.