May 04, 2009

Foreclosure Crisis Presents Role for Local and Regional Grant Makers

The home-foreclosure crisis represents a huge and complicated challenge for the United States, but local and regional grant makers of even modest size can make a big dent in the search for solutions, speakers at a Council on Foundations session said.

Laurie Latuda, a program officer at the Goldseker Foundation, in Baltimore, said her organization has spent $640,000 in grants on foreclosure issues from 2005 to 2008 and given roughly an equal amount to neighborhood groups for broader use.

Goldseker has gathered nonprofit, government, and for-profit leaders in the city to devise solutions to the foreclosure problem and has provided “seed money” to test experimental solutions. The foundation has paid for research to identify the scope of the problem in Baltimore as well.

And Goldseker has dedicated some of its staff members to play the “worker-bee” role of coordinating and tracking issues related to foreclosures in the city, she said.

George McCarthy, director of urban regeneration and opportunity at the Ford Foundation, in New York, said that while significant federal money will ultimately be needed, there’s a crying need for local and state models of what works to avert or respond to foreclosures.

He pointed to an effort in Chicago to organize local housing and foreclosure commissions, led by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, as an example of “stellar achievement” in this area.

While most of the foundation money has been focused on preventing foreclosures, conference speakers said philanthropy also needs to figure out how best to help families that have already lost their homes.

Susan C. Keating, president of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, talked about an experimental “families stabilization” project involving her group and the Alliance for Children and Families.

The idea, she said, is to provide a centralized way to give families who have lost their homes access to a wide range of financial, mental-health, job-training, and other services to help them regain their financial footing.

The project will probably be tested in Michigan and Ohio, with the goal of building on what works and applying it on a national scale, she said.

She urged foundations to consider “transitions” as an important part of the solution.

Ms. Keating added: “The longer-term costs to all of us if we don’t figure out a way to do this are going to be enormous.”