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This post was originally published by Prosperity Now, an organization with a mission to ensure everyone in our country has a clear path to financial stability, wealth and prosperity. The report that it references is forthcoming by the Center for Community Capital, but a field scan on housing organizations working to build financial capability was published in January 2018 and can be found here

Insights from the field and emerging research show that families relying on housing services face a multitude of financial challenges, including a lack of safe and affordable financial products and the complexities of navigating complicated financial situations. At the same time, we know that housing programs represent an ideal opportunity to meet people where they are with financial capability services that boost their financial knowledge and skills, along with access to safe financial products.

To explore both these challenges and these opportunities, Prosperity Now partnered with the University of North Carolina’s Center for Community Capital to convene a slate of affordable housing experts to discuss how we can leverage housing as a platform for boosting financial health and well-being.  

Increasingly, housing organizations across the country are seeing the challenges facing their residents as reasons to broaden their menu of services to include financial coaching, free tax preparation, credit-building classes and other financial capability offerings. As leading housing organizations see it, helping residents find somewhere to live and improving their overall financial situations are two distinct but related goals.

With participants gathered from across the country, our November convening gave practitioners and leaders from the field a chance to exchange ideas and strategies for integrating financial capability services into their programs. For example, the New York City Office of Financial Empowerment, New York City Housing Authority, and nonprofit Urban Upbound reported on their new initiative, ResidentsCAN!, which provides one-on-one financial coaching to New York City public housing residents. The initiative focuses on a cluster of public housing communities with the intent of testing a variety of strategies to scale participation in subsequent years. (Stay tuned for an evaluation of this and other programs from the University of North Carolina’s Center for Community Capital.)

A little farther south, at AHC of Greater Baltimore, resident case managers are being trained as financial coaches and provide residents with banking assistance, job readiness, credit building and repair, emergency matched savings, rent reporting and coaching. As AHC shared at the event, their model is unique in that they have partnered with a prepaid card provider, which enables staff to issue cards to residents on the spot. This not only incentivizes participation in other services, but it also connects residents with a safe, affordable banking product—an essential ingredient in financial security.

While the provision of these kinds of services at housing organizations is not yet universal, the event highlighted a wide variety of innovations organizations have discovered as they’ve integrated financial capability services into their regular routines. “We have only begun to raise the flag on behalf of the power and impact of financial capability,” said Kevin Jordan, Senior Vice President of Local Initiatives Support Coalition, in his opening remarks at the event. Indeed, innovative programs like ResidentsCAN! and AHC of Greater Baltimore are paving the way, and as other programs take notice, we’re sure to see an upswell of support for efforts that leverage housing programs to boost residents’ financial well-being.

As the convening came to a close, Prosperity Now President Andrea Levere issued a call to action for the housing and financial capability fields. To achieve greater impact, Levere declared, we must:

  • Share best practices and expand our learning related to products, services, data, partnerships and policy.
  • Build on growing awareness of the need for (and impact of) financial capability by leveraging our networks, partnering with employers and identifying public-sector funding streams.
  • Explore sustainable funding sources with banks, fee-for-service models, and social impact bonds.
  • Calculate the return on public investments in this realm, as well as the impact these integrated approaches have on individual lives.

Throughout the event, speakers agreed that housing is a foundational element of household financial stability. But they also were clear that, to create a financially secure life, “housing is necessary but not sufficient.” Raising up and creating new connections between housing and financial capability will be part of the challenge for Prosperity Now, and the organizations at the event, as we all work together to meet people where they are in life and have a real, lasting impact on their financial futures.

If you’re interested in getting more involved in our quest to expand housing and financial capability opportunities for U.S. families, join Prosperity Now’s Affordable Homeownership Network today.

The UNC Center for Community Capital is the leading center for research and policy analysis on the transformative power of financial capital on households and communities in the United States. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive regular updates on our work, opportunities to get involved, and more.

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