Taking stock. I’m doing a lot of it right now, and you’re probably engaging in some reflection yourself as 2021 nears the finish line.

For those of us in the affordable housing sector, the year has brought another exceptional mix of inspiration and uncertainty. Still, we forge ahead.

The six winners of the Housing Affordability Breakthrough Challenge exemplify the grit and resilience that define our industry.

Each one prevailed at the height of the pandemic to show how their idea could break through the status quo and reshape how we build and finance affordable housing – and how it can profoundly improve life outcomes for individuals and families.

One year into the two-year challenge, these innovators have carried out their transformative work under rigorous conditions. From Hurricane Ida to Winter Storm Uri to a global supply chain crisis and more, they have all been tested.

Yet they continue to lead in pursuit of their vision and on behalf of the people and communities they serve.

All six innovators are meeting, if not exceeding, tangible goals toward developing and scaling their breakthrough ideas. I am energized by their success in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Their workplans may have shifted. But their determination and passion at this halfway mark of the challenge remain unshakeable.  

None of this work would be possible without the leadership and generous support of Wells Fargo. Their commitment inspires me. It’s the fuel driving each one of the innovations below to move toward completion and scalability.

Innovator: Center for New York City Neighborhoods

Underwriting for Good is a new platform conceived by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods that aims to build on alternative-lending best practices and take them to scale. The technology promises to eliminate biases that restrict Black, Indigenous and people of color’s access to the primary vehicle for American wealth building: homeownership.

Underwriting for Good Milestones

The Center is managing the development of the data-management system and decisioning engine. Once complete, Underwriting for Good will automate alternative credit underwriting processes currently executed manually.

It will leverage financial and non-financial data to better understand a borrower’s true ability to repay a mortgage. The innovation also encompasses ongoing housing and financial counseling to ensure homeowners’ success.

Ultimately, the Center envisions Underwriting for Good opening new avenues to serve underbanked households and reduce the cost of credit for marginalized communities.

Innovators: cdcb | come dream. come build. and buildingcommunityWORKSHOP

MiCASiTA is a new affordable option for working families to own a home that “grows” as their income, credit or family evolves. cdcb’s unique model – created in partnership with [bc] – provides homeowners with design choices and a path to multi-generational wealth building.

MiCASiTA Milestones

Construction of the MiCASiTA manufacturing site in Brownsville, Texas, is complete and the first prototypes of the homes are also nearing completion. The team has drafted 18 home-design configurations, with each “box” slated to meet Enterprise Green Communities certification. The MiCASiTA Choice Empowers app under development will allow users to choose home-design options while seeing real-time costs.

Beyond the Rio Grande Valley of Brownsville, the team has consulted with tribal and rural communities. The goal is to scale MiCASiTA to persistent areas of poverty where access to homeownership faces the greatest barriers.

The Breakthrough Challenge is the piece we’ve been missing for so many years. It’s given us time and resources to build our innovation with the right expertise and input from diverse communities across the country.

Nick Mitchell-Bennett, cdcb Executive Director

Innovator: Forterra

Forterra’s Forest to Home innovation uses modular cross-laminated timber to create an attainable, beautiful multifamily affordable housing solution. Through modular CLT, Forterra imagines a continuum where sustainably managed forests are harvested responsibly to produce long-lasting durable modular homes.

Prototype Development Milestones

Forterra’s modular CLT prototype has met fire, mechanical, electrical and plumbing requirements to achieve compliance with U.S. building codes. A team of five master carpenters from Switzerland and local engineers began constructing the prototype over two weeks in late November.

The prototype will be showcased in the greater Seattle area as Forterra completes manufacturing and construction documentation. The innovation’s technical designs will be open source and shared with nonprofits and mission-aligned for-profits to promote modular CLT affordable housing nationwide.

Innovator: Gulf Coast Housing Partnership

Gulf Coast Housing Partnership has created a unique investment structure and terms that are viable to managed care organizations. Its Health + Housing innovation marries new affordable housing developments with access to culturally competent care and resident support.

Health + Housing Milestones

Health + Housing centers on two pilot developments: H3C in New Orleans, Louisiana, and The Pearl in Jackson, Mississippi. GCHP expects to close on the managed care organization’s financing by year’s end. Both developments are set to break ground in early 2022, making way for 274 affordable homes linked to health care centers.

With two developments successfully financed, GCHP will work toward a scalable model with the managed care organizations it has successfully collaborated with to help developers across the country replicate these innovative transactions.

This unique capital structure, combined with a roadmap for developers to collaborate with health care payors, will provide the foundation needed to scale the Health + Housing innovation.

Innovator: Impact Justice

Impact Justice’s innovation tackles one of the greatest challenges facing people leaving prison: housing access and stability. The Homecoming Project matches participants with homeowners who have a spare bedroom and want to be part of someone’s successful reentry into the community. In return, home-sharing hosts receive a small financial stipend.

The Homecoming Project Milestones

To date, the Homecoming Project has paired 70 participants and homeowners in California’s Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, with over 60 applications for placement approved.

The Homecoming Project also became the first California nonprofit program to be named a Family Preference program through the Board of Parole Hearings. That means participants can be matched with family members through the Homecoming Project.

By the end of 2022, Impact Justice will have placed 120 participants and distributed $500,000 in host stipends, creating additional income for homeowners.

Ultimately, Impact Justice seeks to refine, document and scale their model to communities nationwide, not only bridging a gap in services but also bridging the social divide.

Watch our Housing Breakthrough webinar series to meet the six innovators and learn more about the vision and strategy driving their winning ideas.

Innovator: Preservation of Affordable Housing

What if housing developments could focus more on meeting the needs of residents and supportive staff than on meeting compliance requirements? That’s the vision behind POAH’s drive to create trauma-informed approaches to resident services, property management and space design.

Trauma-informed Design and Services Milestones

Transparency is key to POAH’s process-driven work. The team developed the Resilient Communities website to share their idea and progress. To date, teams have interviewed over 100 residents, staff and partners across the innovation’s four pilot sites. POAH also led a human-centered design sprint to recreate a 750-unit property’s office and community space from the lens of fostering resilience.

POAH incorporated trauma resiliency in their new organizational strategic plan. Moreover, it aims to scale their culture-change model across the affordable housing sector. The goal: systems-level impact on staff well-being and retention, resident experience and property performance.

Follow all the innovators and their innovations at HousingBreakthrough.org and subscribe to keep up with the challenge’s latest news and updates.