March 13, 2017

Ensuring housing opportunities for all of Oregon

It’s an exciting time of year for us at Meyer — our Annual Funding Opportunity is now open! We relish the chance to learn about the interesting and passionate work our partners are doing to strengthen communities and ensure every Oregonian has a safe, decent and affordable place to call home.  

Details of our application process are available on our website, and general updates regarding the Annual Funding Opportunity are outlined in this blog by Candy Solovjovs, Meyer’s Director of Programs.  

Since we announced the first group of awards under the new Housing Opportunities portfolio, the Meyer housing team has been taking time to reflect on the process. We had a plan for how the process would go, and on the whole, it panned out as we expected. Where we saw reality diverging from our expectations, we knew there was room for simplification, clarification or both.   

We’ve also weighed the survey feedback from the 2016 applicants, who were frank in their assessments of what worked smoothly and, even more importantly, of what areas needed attention.

As a result, we have made changes to this year’s Annual Funding Opportunity. The changes are fine-tuning, rather than sweeping. Here are some answers to questions you might have about the changes:

 

Will Meyer’s goals for the Housing Annual Funding Opportunity change?

No. The core funding goals of Housing Opportunities remain the same:

  1. Preserve and increase the number of affordable housing rental units.

  2. Support the housing stability and success of Oregonians living on low incomes.

  3. Strengthen the housing sector by building capacity, diversity, equity and inclusion, and collaboration.

You’ll see some refinements in the wording of the funding goals. We hope these will add emphasis and clarity about the types of proposals we are hoping to fund. Everything else from last year’s funding call stands.

 

What did we learn from last year’s Annual Funding Opportunity?

We funded 39 exciting projects in the 2016 annual funding call. In my November blog, I noted that the batch of proposals was extremely diverse, encompassing both solid and proven approaches and new, innovative efforts to address affordable housing needs across our three funding goal areas. The slate of awards reached many corners of the state, and over 20 percent of awards were made to organizations that were new to Meyer or had never been funded before.

We also learned of some challenges in our process, leading us this year to reconsider our process and seek clarification. Some observations from the Housing Opportunities team:

  • We seemed out of sync with the state’s Local Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT) Housing Program. Many of the potential LIFT projects that applied to Meyer were early in the process, not quite fleshed out, and did not fare well in our funding.

  • Several proposals under Goal 2 were challenged to show how they would, beyond an indirect way, lead to greater housing stability and success. For example, we saw proposals that would help people gain more income. This could translate into housing stability but only if the project was intentional in helping participants to overcome other housing barriers — and if it measured housing stability.

  • It was challenging to align a project with complicated financing — especially those using tax credits — with our annual funding call. Some projects came in quite late and asked Meyer for “top off” funding, while others were quite early in the process.

  • Our process did not take into account some of the more complicated mixed-use housing developments.

  • Although many proposals included specific diversity, equity or inclusion (DEI) activities, few proposals were focused overall on DEI.

Incorporating what we’ve learned, what has changed in this year’s Annual Funding Opportunity?

 

Goal 1: Preserve + Increase the Number of Affordable Housing Rental Units

  • At a basic level, we know Oregon has a chronic shortage of affordable housing, making support of both preservation and new development a crucial part of the portfolio’s goals.

  • Because the initial batch of LIFT awards has been announced, we expect to see applications that are farther along and likely more competitive. Projects that were eligible for LIFT but were turned down last year are encouraged to apply again if their project has secured LIFT funding and they meet Meyer guidelines.

  • We expect the uncertainty of potential federal tax reform to continue to have an effect on tax credits and to challenge current developments in the pipeline. To the extent possible, applicants to this goal area should anticipate and consider other plans for pulling together the necessary financing.

  • We gave guidance last year that any mixed-use projects should seek Meyer’s support for just the affordable housing portion of a project. We will be more flexible this year and are willing to fund other aspects of a mixed-use project when crucial to project completion. If this situation applies to your project, you’ll want to have a conversation with our housing team staff.

Goal 2: Support the Housing Stability + Success of Oregonians Living on Low Incomes

  • The description of Goal 2 was modified to focus on housing stability and success. To be most competitive here, projects should not be structured to help people succeed  generally, but rather to have a more direct connection to housing. We expect to see projects that propose to track or measure the actual experience of people to access or retain housing, advance toward housing stability or mitigate displacement pressures.

Goal 3: Strengthen the Housing Sector by Building Capacity, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Collaboration

  • We described this goal last year as strengthening the housing sector by building capacity and long-term health. Yet the outcomes we were hoping to see focused on building capacity, fostering collaboration and increasing diversity, equity and inclusion across the sector. The phrasing of the goal now better aligns with the outcomes here.

  • Meyer supported several projects with some DEI-focused technical assistance, but we also want to consider longer and deeper equity work. We will, therefore, be offering general operating support grants to organizations that do the majority of their work in affordable housing and have DEI strategies as a meaningful part of their work plans for the grant period. These grants are expected to be more competitive, and if you are interested, please carefully read the guidelines on general operating grants.

Once again, Meyer will be offering a series of general information sessions around the state. In addition, three Housing Opportunities Information Sessions will be conducted by phone March 24, March 31 and April 6. You can sign up for the Housing Information Sessions on our website. If you have questions around your specific project, feel free to contact us at questions [at] mmt.org or 503-228-5512. We’ll route the questions to our team members for a prompt reply.

We were thrilled last year to receive a range of interesting, complex and creative proposals, and we have no doubt that this year’s proposals will be equally impressive. Know that your partnership is invaluable: Meyer couldn’t do its work if we didn’t have front-line practitioners sharing their experience, learning and perspectives.

We look forward to another opportunity to work with you in the coming year.

Theresa