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MacKenzie Scott’s foundation is donating $10 million for affordable housing (exclusive) - The Jenn Pfeiffer Team
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MacKenzie Scott’s foundation is donating $10 million for affordable housing (exclusive)

MacKenzie Scott’s foundation is donating $10 million for affordable housing (exclusive)

The National Housing Trust will likely use some of the funding to modernize homes to be more climate-friendly—which should also drive down rents.

By: Fast Company

When Priya Jayachandran received an email from MacKenzie Scott’s foundation informing her that it was donating $10 million to her organization, she thought it was a hoax. She almost deleted the message.

But the offer was legitimate. Scott’s philanthropic organization, Yield Giving, is providing National Housing Trust, founded in Washington, D.C., in 1986, with a onetime donation of $10 million—the largest NHT has ever received—to further its work. That includes creating and preserving affordable housing, supporting affordable rent payments for tenants, and making the homes more sustainable in the process.

Since its founding, the organization has helped create and preserve more than 19,000 affordable units in 11 states and the District of Columbia. NHT owns most of the properties, so it also helps ensure that tenants can afford rent, through job training, hiring connections, job-placement programs, or, in some cases, establishing payment plans.

NHT aims to lower utility costs by modernizing properties to be more climate-efficient, via energy-efficient lighting, appliances, and low-flush toilets. It also invests in renewable energy, such as by building the largest rooftop solar installation on a multifamily property in the district.

And as the Inflation Reduction Act is providing federal dollars for climate modernization, the group is running boot camps to train small-property owners on how to best use the cash. “As the affordable-housing crisis has evolved, we’ve evolved,” Jayachandran, NHT’s CEO, says.

The group will be able to do more of this work with the $10 million from Yield Giving, which has donated billions of dollars since 2019, according to its website, to groups ranging from Habitat for Humanity to Planned Parenthood to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. It doesn’t require applications, rather it does “quiet research” to pinpoint organizations whose focus is to advance underserved communities.

Jayachandran confirmed that NHT did not apply for a donation, hence her surprise at the email. With the nonprofit’s annual budget of about $11 million, the donation represents almost a whole year’s worth of funding. It may choose to scale up its work in certain areas, though Jayachandran says the idea is “really doubling down on what we are already doing.”

Crucially, NHT will be able to reserve some funds for a rainy day. “What a lot of nonprofits like us don’t have is a lot of cash reserves,” Jayachandran says. “You’re like a small business. You’re very vulnerable to good years and bad years.”

It’s not just the size of the donation that matters. It’s also an unrestricted grant, which is extremely rare, as most philanthropic donations prescribe how recipients must use the funds. That can lead to inefficient work, because nonprofits often have to base their moves on what the grants stipulate, rather than on what their needs are. “It’s kind of ironic,” Jayachandran says. “People pick organizations for funding because of what they like, but then they come and overlay all of their priorities.”

In this case, Yield Giving is trusting the nonprofit to do the work that it’s already a proven expert in doing. “It’s like you saying, ‘Priya, I really loved our conversation, let me send you $25,’” Jayachandran says. “Except it’s $10 million.”

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