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A decade of advocating for people without homes

Housing and Homelessness Programme / Partner story

© Mohammed Hasan

Over the last decade, advocacy to protect and increase funding for affordable housing has been a mainstay of the Housing and Homelessness Programme’s (HHP) portfolio. However, because the production of new affordable housing cannot meet demand in the UK or the US, we started supporting what is now being termed ‘naturally occurring affordable housing’ (NOAH).

An example of NOAH is rooted in Philadelphia’s dominant architecture – the ‘rowhouse’ – a modest-sized family home. Historically, rowhouses placed homeownership within reach of Philadelphia’s low-income workers. As a result, an extraordinary number of low-income Philadelphians own their homes – nearly 38 per cent of city homeowners have annual household incomes below USD 35,000. In addition, about 41 per cent of owner-occupied homes are owned free and clear, without mortgages. However, many of the owners are elderly and have limited incomes, making it hard for them to keep up with taxes, utilities and maintenance.

In 2014, Oak supported the ‘Healthy Rowhouse Project’, an initiative to encourage a new way of thinking – seeing rowhouses in need of repair as a potential asset that could provide low-cost high-quality housing for families, if they could afford to repair them. “The government has overlooked homeowners in working class neighbourhoods who are too often denied loans by big banks,” said Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker. “The Healthy Rowhouse Project provides an affordable tool for residents to preserve their most prized asset, their home.”

In 2017, the Philadelphia City Council approved a USD 100 million package for home repairs: USD 60 million was allocated for grants to help people repair their homes, and USD 40 million underpins a programme to provide loans to low-income Philadelphians so they can repair their homes. We continue to support our partner Clarifi to provide low-income homeowners with financial counselling as they take advantage of the loan programme.

These examples illustrate some of the great work of our partners over the last decade, under the leadership of HHP’s former director Amanda Beswick. In May 2020, Amanda moved on to the next stage in her life and we wish her well. “It has been a great privilege to lead the Housing and Homelessness programme, to work alongside a stellar team and creative Trustees,” she says. “Most of all, to partner with organisations determined to address what is unfair, to maximise opportunity, and to preserve rights that are threatened. I have been fortunate to lead a programme which has expanded and evolved, but there is much to be done and new leadership will bring fresh ideas and approaches.”

We thank Amanda for her great work and wish her the very best in her future endeavours.

Over the last decade, Oak funding has supported services that have helped thousands of people to keep their homes or to resolve their homelessness. Read more about the HHP programme strategy here.