Guests of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund tour an Eastside neighborhood during their visit to Jacksonville in April.(Ingrid Damiani)
In communities across the country, renters are struggling to make ends meet. U.S. Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan has called today’s market “the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has ever known.”
In Jacksonville, Florida, the stress on renters is profound — more than half of the renter households spend so much of their income on rent that they put themselves and their families in financial jeopardy.
The Jessie Ball duPont Fund in April convened a group of 15 national experts to discuss the state of Jacksonville’s housing market and opportunities that the Fund may have to improve the state of rental housing, beginning in the downtown area.
“Development in downtown is beginning to move,” said Sherry Magill, president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, “and we want to ensure that housing is on the agenda — housing that is accessible to people at all income levels.”
The Jessie Ball duPont Fund’s interest — and investment — in housing goes back almost two decades. The Fund supported revitalization of an historic downtown Jacksonville neighborhood in the 1990s through a partnership with the National Trust for Historic Places. The Fund was a founding supporter of Habijax, the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, and the Fund, in concert with two other philanthropic organizations, brought LISC to Jacksonville in the late 1990s.
But since the Great Recession, and the collapse of the housing market in Florida, the Fund has given renewed attention to the local housing landscape, particularly for renters. It has worked with the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida to develop the most accurate and current portrait of local housing, and begun early conversations with local leaders in an effort to get the issue on the political agenda.
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“Jacksonville has no current housing policy,” Magill said, “and it is clear that housing is not uppermost on the mind of the leaders at City Hall. Admittedly, the City has some huge financial challenges at present. But if we don’t begin to ensure that the people who already live here can have a decent place to live, fewer and fewer newcomers will find the city attractive.”
The two-day conference in April, organized by the Fund’s Senior Vice President Mark Constantine, was intended not to solve Jacksonville’s problems but to help the Jessie Ball duPont Fund identify the points where it might best leverage activity.
“The Jessie Ball duPont Fund has neither the reach nor the resources to address Jacksonville’s challenges alone,” Constantine said. “But it can help identify strategic points of entry and potential partners and allies — all of which could move the City forward in important ways.”
During their visit, the Fund’s guests began with an extended tour of greater downtown Jacksonville that, combined with a host of preparatory reading materials, provided a grounding in local history and current conditions. The guests then joined about two dozen local leaders — philanthropists, developers and civic leaders — for dinner and a free-flowing conversation on local challenges and opportunities. In the day-long meeting that followed, the guests shared their observations and experience with the Fund’s staff.
The discussion was rich and wide-ranging but themes were immediately evident:
The two-day meeting brought together the Jessie Ball duPont Fund staff with:
• Frank S. Alexander, Sam Nunn Professor of Law and Founding Director, Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University School of Law; General Counsel, Center for Community Progress;
• Allison Clark, Associate Director of Impact Investing, the MacArthur Foundation;
• Sean Closkey, President, TRF Development Partners;
• Salin Geevarghese, Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development;
• Ira Goldstein, President, Policy Solutions, The Reinvestment Fund;
• Trinita Logue, President, IFF; Chair, Opportunity Finance Network;
• George McCarthy, director of the Ford Foundation’s Metropolitan Opportunity work;
• Lauri Michel, Vice President, Special Projects of the Calvert Foundation; Trustee of the National Trust Community Investment Corporation;
• Audrey Moran, Senior Vice President for Social Responsibility and Community Advocacy, Baptist Health, Jacksonville;
• Bill O’Dell, Director, Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, University of Florida;
• Anne Ray, Florida Housing Data Clearinghouse Manager, Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, University of Florida;
• Jason Reece, Director of Research, Kirwan Institute on Race and Ethnicity, The Ohio State University;
• Karl Stauber, President and CEO, the Danville Regional Foundation;
• Martin Paul Trimble, Lead Organizer, Industrial Areas Foundation.