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Housing Justice and Systems Change Through a Funder Collaborative

By Jeanne Fekade-Sellassie and Jennifer Angarita, Funders for Housing and Opportunity

The following us an excerpt from the article "Housing Justice and Systems Change Through a Funder Collaborative," and is a part of FHO's Collaboration for Housing Justice series originally published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review. In the series, we share ideas, observations, and lessons from our housing justice efforts, including how and why the work will only move forward if it is systemic, anti-racist, and bridges sectors.

Illustration by Raffi Marhaba, The Dream Collective

In 2015, nine major philanthropies recognized a significant gap in the field: Few national funders were working to address the upstream causes of homelessness and the ramifications of unstable housing on Black and Brown communities. These funders had the bold idea to form a new pooled fund, Funders for Housing and Opportunity (FHO), dedicated to addressing the cross-sector, systemic causes of housing injustice.

Many of FHO’s founders were part of the growing movement toward funder collaboratives as a way to have more efficiency, impact, and engagement with peers and practitioners. A 2021 Bridgespan Group survey of 100 funder collaboratives found that nearly three-fourths had been formed since 2010, and nearly half since 2015. The amount of money given through philanthropic collaboration has also increased: It now tops $2 billion annually. A growing body of research has been examining the key ingredients of funder collaboratives, how they are used, how they add value—and what happens when they don’t.

Although FHO is still a work in progress, operating as a collaborative positions us to tackle two kinds of problems effectively: those that require an intentional focus on dismantling systemic racism (and really, what problem doesn’t fall into that category?) and issues that require us to work across sectors and systems. Housing justice is our mission and a prime example of the kind of work that hits fully on those two characteristics. We share some early lessons and thoughts here about the future of funder collaboratives—offered from a place of humility, given our collaborative’s newness—to help the field learn in real time from this evolving and promising form of philanthropy.

What We've Learned

  1. Funder collaboratives should be a “leading edge” of knowledge and practice for members. 

  2. Racial equity and trust-based approaches are powerful—and necessary—drivers of philanthropy seeking housing justice.

  3. Systemic injustices are interconnected, so the solutions must be, too. 

  4. A sense of community can produce the trusting relationships and learning that funders need to take risks and make changes.

  5. A funder collaborative’s power to influence change lies in the ability to speak with a unified voice and leverage collective capacities.


Looking Forward

Over the next five years, we hope to go deeper and farther in some of the directions we’re already headed. We expect to adopt more practices of regenerative grantmaking so that FHO becomes more field-led and so funders cede more power to people with lived experience in homelessness or housing insecurity, especially people of color, both through our collaborative and through members’ own foundations. From re-orienting our operational processes to better support grantee partners in achieving their vision of impact to revising our reporting requirements to reduce the burden on grantees, we hope to continue learning with FHO members and making strides to shift our practices away from extraction and toward regeneration.

We see room for growth in how philanthropy assesses risk in grantmaking. The old formulas continue to privilege applicants with long balance sheets, which typically are white-led while reinforcing the institutionalized racism that prevented BIPOC-led organizations from accessing capital and building wealth in the first place. It’s time to throw out those definitions—and to stop using “risk” as a coded way to talk about race.

We would love to see shifts in how Americans think about housing so that as a country we are more compassionate and recognize our interdependence. And we may lean more on using arts and culture as vehicles for narrative change so that messages about housing justice are embedded everywhere—in the music and stories we hear, the movies and theater we watch, the video games we play, and the poems and books we read. 

We know that systems change doesn’t happen quickly or easily. It took centuries to embed racism in housing. It will take decades to change deeply ingrained narratives, and nearly as long to demonstrate the efficacy of solutions well enough to shift policies. But we also know that when funders learn and act together, when we combine not only our resources but our knowledge, experiences, and connections alongside a commitment to address power inequities in the philanthropic sector, our collective solutions have the potential and power to shift the field toward transformative solutions.


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