Op-ed: Harnessing market forces for good can ease America’s growing housing crisis

It is a shameful irony that at a time when staying home has been so essential to protecting our health and our communities, an alarming number of families are in danger of eviction.

Housing is much more than a place to live. It is a foundation for success in life. We know that children do better in school, grown-ups do better on the job, and health outcomes improve for everyone when they have a safe, stable, healthy place to call home. America faced a severe housing crisis long before the coronavirus appeared, with nearly half of all renter households considered “rent-burdened.” But with the outbreak surging to new heights, the crisis has exploded into a full-blown emergency, as the pandemic has torpedoed many sectors of our economy and destroyed millions of jobs. 

 Many renters are doing their best, yet U.S. Census data shows more than 10 million renter households are behind on rent, with overdue balances mounting. And as so often is the case, America’s struggling underserved communities are most at risk, with Black and Latino residents bearing a disproportionate burden.

For middle- and lower-income residents, government policies have achieved mixed results – at best. Beginning in the 1990s, smart initiatives such as federal empowerment zones, state enterprise zones and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits successfully directed hundreds of millions of dollars of private capital into high-need areas.

Some have viewed the more recent Opportunity Zone program as a way to drive investment in low-income communities, but that vehicle has fallen far short of expectations to ease America’s housing affordability crisis. 

Directing adequate resources to build new housing, or preserve existing affordable housing, is essential. This is especially true today, when government coffers are running dry and nonprofit assistance is stretched to the breaking point.  

As policy leaders continue their search for sustainable solutions, it is vital they recognize models that use market forces for good. Yes, that means earning a profit. Market-driven social impact investing succeeds by attracting the investment needed to scale solutions to our most daunting challenges, housing included. 

Directing adequate resources to build new housing, or preserve existing affordable housing, is essential. This is especially true today, when government coffers are running dry and nonprofit assistance is stretched to the breaking point.  

We are working together on a social impact investment strategy at Turner Impact Capital in Santa Monica, Calif. that acquires and preserves affordable workforce housing around the United States. Our first housing fund preserved existing affordable workforce housing communities and enriched them with resident services.

We preserved over 7,800 units, enabling some 14,000 residents to live in safe, stable apartment communities. Based on that success, we recently completed fundraising for a second housing fund that will enable us to invest an additional $1.25 billion in housing affordable to residents earning less than the area median income. We plan to deploy those dollars to keep up to 10,000 apartments affordable for working families and individuals nationwide. 

Beyond investment capital, we have discovered two other critical ingredients needed to combat our housing challenge: creativity and optimism.

Creativity is vital to spur even more investment in affordably priced workforce housing. The investment community and the government must do a better job working collaboratively and imaginatively on solutions to the housing crisis.

At Turner Impact Capital, we have refined a profitable investment approach that allows us to keep rent levels affordable for working families at the communities we acquire. Fundamental to our work is maintaining an intensive focus on free on-site services for residents such as homework help, healthcare screening, employment assistance and neighborhood watch programs. Not only do these programs create the positive social impact we’re in business to achieve, they also improve tenant satisfaction and slash costly vacancy and turnover rates.

Finally, optimism — a fervent, passionate belief that success is achievable — is necessary to make genuine and enduring progress against the housing crisis. Our optimism is fueled by the residents who live and raise families in the communities we support. Many of these impressive men and women also tirelessly dedicate their time to sharing their skills in education, health care and public safety with their neighbors, building a true sense of community. 

As our housing crisis intensifies, we are all justified in being alarmed by the urgent challenges ahead of us. At the same time, by thinking creatively, acting boldly, and recognizing the tremendous potential of market forces to achieve good, we also have reason for hope.

Bobby Turner is Founder and CEO of Turner Impact Capital, a social impact investment firm based in Santa Monica, Calif. Chris Paul is an NBA All-Star playing for the Phoenix Suns and President of the NBA Players Association.