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Who is Cornerstone Partnership?

Recently we had the opportunity to sit down with Rachel Silver and Rick Jacobus, current and founding directors of Cornerstone Partnership. The Network and Cornerstone Partnership are currently in talks to potentially integrate their work. Rick and Rachel talked about Cornerstone Partnership’s history, goals and what they’ve learned through supporting CLTs and PAH practitioners over the years.

Silver Headshot

Rachel Silver, current Director of Cornerstone Partnership

Rick Jacobus-Revised Photo

Rick Jacobus, founding director of Cornerstone Partnership

What is Cornerstone Partnership? How do you define your work and whom do you serve?

Rachel: Cornerstone Partnership promotes strong, inclusive communities where all people can afford a decent place to live and thrive. Our focus has been on supporting and promoting longterm affordable homeownership programs, programs that help individual families build wealth and stabilize their housing situation while ensuring the investment of community resources that goes into creating affordable units gets preserved for future generations of homeowners. We provide expertise on policy and practice. We also support a network of housing practitioners, advocates, and elected officials in strengthening their capacity and impact.

Cornerstone Partnership was launched in 2010. Take us through the beginning of Cornerstone Partnership and how your work has changed since then.

Rick: Cornerstone grew out of work that the Ford Foundation initiated in 2007. They brought together advocates for Community Land Trusts, Limited Equity Cooperatives and Deed Restricted Homeownership programs because they saw that these programs had a lot in common and asked us to launch an initiative aimed at strengthening and bring greater scale to this whole sector.

The National CLT Network was a founding partner and helped to shape the initiative that became Cornerstone Partnership.

Cornerstone’s initial work focused on raising the profile of Shared Equity Homeownership nationally.  We convened local stakeholders across the country to develop a shared set of ‘stewardship principles’ which were endorsed by hundreds of organizations. We built a suite of training and technical assistance resources and funded assistance to dozens of local programs. In 2011, we won a $5 million federal Social Innovation Fund grant to fund the CHIP program that provides direct support to 10 local stewardship programs.

More recently we have been branching out and providing similar support to inclusionary housing and similar programs that not only preserve affordability but generate resources to create it in the first place.

Within the wide variety of Cornerstone Partnership programs, are there projects that feel especially important right now? What makes these goals or projects exciting?

Rick: One thing that we have struggled with over the years is how to better engage a much broader set of supporters. There is a dedicated group of people and organizations that are very committed to long-term affordability as a high priority goal. But there are not enough of us. When we have engaged local housing advocates it sometimes feels too technical to ask people to focus on the mechanisms for preserving long-term affordability.

Recently we have been focusing on winning resources like inclusionary housing policies that produce new affordable housing. Inclusionary housing programs require private developers to include affordable units in new market rate developments. There is a growing concern in many communities that not everyone is benefiting from new real estate development. People want to build and preserve more mixed-income neighborhoods but don’t know how. Inclusionary housing is one of the few practical tools available.

The vast majority of these programs require long term or permanent affordability because people recognize that these programs aren’t going to change things overnight. If we value economic integration we have to not only create affordable units but keep them affordable over time. We have already found that when we embed the message about long-term affordability into a campaign for a new resource like inclusionary it reaches far more people than if we were advocating for new affordability requirements in existing programs.

Rachel: We’re also really excited about our ability to demonstrate social impact. Practitioners know that the work they do is important – they see every day the lives and communities they touch – but it’s been hard to quantify that impact with data, and it’s been hard to demonstrate measurable results. Cornerstone commissioned the first major study about long term affordable homeownership programs in 2010. That study looked at seven programs, including several CLTs, and showed that homebuyers do build wealth, that homes do maintain affordability, and that most buyers move on to market rate homeownership.  Now we’re involved in two big projects to collect and share data on social impact – one is a long term study which will attempt to estimate the impacts of nine shared equity homeownership programs on homebuyers. The other is that we’re making the national data from the HomeKeeper HUB publicly available on an interactive web site. Again, this is a hugely significant milestone for us, in that it will really help practitioners make a stronger case to their funders and their communities about the scale and importance of the work that they do.
 
The Network and Cornerstone Partnership have a long history of close collaboration. Could you share some of the projects you’ve worked closely with the Network? How has this collaboration advanced the projects or added to your work?

Rachel: There are a couple of projects that come to mind immediately. First of all, Cornerstone and the Network have just finished a deep collaboration to develop industry stewardship standards for homeownership programs. Stewardship has been at the foundation of all of Cornerstone’s work. It is really a concept that came from CLTs, and something that we’re trying to get others to value. The Network has also been a huge contributor of training and technical assistance to the Cornerstone Homeownership Innovation Program (CHIP). This is a federally funded program that is helping up build the scale and capacity of nonprofit homeownership programs, including several CLTs. There are some great tools coming out of our collaboration with the Network on this program, including a video learning series about resale formulas that we’ll be launching later this year.

Rick: We’ve also been long term contributors to the Network. From the very beginning Cornerstone has funded the Network to produce training and technical assistance resources for the whole sector. And I think that Cornerstone’s proactive efforts to reach out to non-CLTs that steward affordable homeownership units has brought new peers to the Network’s work. In particular, Cornerstone has been effective in reaching out to local government staff that fund homeownership units with long-term affordability requirements. While their programs can be different from a traditional CLT’s in many ways, they face many of the same challenges and over the past two years several of these cities have joined the CLT Network.

Cornerstone Partnership also works closely with many community land trusts and permanently affordable housing programs. What type of projects have you worked on with these groups? What have you learned through these collaborations?

Rick: From the start, CLTs have been among the most active participants in Cornerstone’s events, webinars and other programs. Perhaps the strongest partnership we have with local CLTs is the HomeKeeper data system. HomeKeeper was initiated by 3 CLTs in the Northwest that wanted to find a better way to manage their program data. Cornerstone provided funding for these groups to begin the project and when it became too much for them to manage, we took over and hired dedicated staff to build the software.

There have been two surprising results. First, the software tool has given us a very practical way to engage closely with CLTs both to learn what their challenges are and to promote best practices. And second, while we built the tool with and for CLTs, we have found that administrators of a much wider range of programs really value it.

Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Network membership?

Rachel: Many of our most engaged contributors are also Network members. We appreciate and share the culture of peer sharing and peer learning that has enhanced so many of the tools and resources we now provide to the broader field, and we encourage all Network members to take advantage of our resources. It used to feel like the Network represented a smaller subset of the field of housing practitioners committed to long term affordability, and it’s been exciting to see the shift to an expanded focus on other types of organizations that share the values of long term affordability and strong, diverse communities.

Learn more about Cornerstone Partnership>

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