Two of the eight recipients of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions went to housing groups: The National Housing Conference (NHC) and its research affiliate, the Center for Housing Policy, along with the Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF). The award, given by the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation, honors creative and effective organizations that drive significant change on a modest budget.

“These organizations may be small, but their impact is tremendous,” says MacArthur president Jonathan Fanton. “From protecting human rights to improving urban neighborhoods to conserving biodiversity, they are blazing new paths and finding fresh solutions to some of our most difficult challenges. The MacArthur Foundation has a long history of supporting organizations around the world like these that demonstrate the creativity, drive, and vision to make the world more just and peaceful.”

Each winner received up to $650,000. NHC, a D.C.-based nonprofit that helps ensure suitable housing for every American, plans to use the money to help take its recent internal and strategic business planning to the next level and invest in new technology focused on enhancing the firm’s reach and capabilities. “This award will enable NHC and the Center to expand our effectiveness and sustainability through in-depth strategic and business planning [as well as] targeted investments in technology that will strengthen our overall policy, research, and communications capacity,” says Center chair John McIlwain, a senior resident fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute.

CCLF, one of the leading CDFI predevelopment lenders for LIHTC projects in the Chicago metropolitan area, will use its winnings to expand its sustainable development program, with a portion of the funds to rest as net assets on its balance sheet that can be used to attract additional investors in its loan pool and/or reuse as loan loss reserves for sustainable investing.

Money isn’t the only benefit of the award. “The recognition in and of itself is very significant for CCLF because we provide financing and technical assistance to smaller developers whose projects are not as visible to key stakeholders,” says Calvin L. Holmes, CCLF’s executive director. “We also extend a large number of predevelopment loans that often fly below the radar of key stakeholders. Thus, the award raises our visibility in a highly competitive community development market and underscores that lending to smaller developers and providing predevelopment finance are both important and appreciated financial services in our metropolitan area.” 

The MacArthur Foundation selected CCLF because, “they have demonstrated creative and effective ways to provide seed capital to small and emerging housing developers in Chicago neighborhoods and have been at the forefront of making affordable housing green by encouraging the incorporation of sustainable building technologies into community development strategies and projects,” says Erika Poethig, associate director for the MacArthur Foundation’s housing program on human and community development.

NHC and its affiliate were chosen because, “they have worked effectively for 75 years to develop consensus policy positions,” Poethig says. “In the past decade, the Center for Housing Policy has translated scholarly research into creative and appealing ways to showcase for policymakers why affordable housing is an important investment.  These efforts have helped to elevate attention to affordable housing at the federal, state, and local levels.”

Two other housing groups have received this award since its inception in 2006: Chicago Rehab Network in ’06 and the National Housing Law Project in ’07.