If you ask people today, “What is Austin’s biggest challenge?” lots of folks will answer: affordability. But twelve years ago a “scrappy bunch of people” were already actively working on this issue, joining together to found HousingWorks with support from Austin Community Foundation which made their start possible.
HousingWorks, a nonprofit organization, envisions an Austin where everyone has the opportunity for a secure and affordable home. They work to make this vision a reality by providing research, education, advocacy, and policy recommendations.
In 2005, when the opportunity arose for voters to consider affordable housing bonds, a group of concerned citizens formed HousingWorks. Through a fiscal sponsorship agreement, Austin Community Foundation took care of HousingWorks’ financial, legal, and risk management details, allowing the tiny start-up with no staff to focus on its mission.
The sponsorship was helpful in other ways, too. Because Austin Community Foundation is known and trusted, the partnership offered credibility in the eyes of potential donors. This helped HousingWorks secure funding and further their impact.
HousingWorks helped pass a $55 million affordable housing bond package in 2006. In 2010, the group helped produce a groundbreaking report, “Building and Retaining an Affordable Austin.” The report called for affordability goals in all parts of the city, and served as the City’s policy blueprint for the next seven years. In 2012, voters turned down a second affordable housing bond measure, but thanks in part to an increased education effort by HousingWorks and its partners, a $65 million bond measure for affordable housing passed in 2013.
HousingWorks has a strong track record of success. But if Austin Community Foundation hadn’t been there to help them get started, it’s not clear how they would have gotten off the ground.
“It’s hard to figure out who else could have done it. Without Austin Community Foundation, we as a city would not have made as much progress on the issue as we have,” says Frances Ferguson, board president of HousingWorks.