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Housing Trust Funds

At a Glance

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Type: Financial tools
Where tool is used: Residential neighborhoods and downtowns/transit corridors
Timeline: Medium-term
Who implements: Jurisdictions
Relative density impact: Medium

Housing trust funds (sometimes referred to as affordable housing funds) are funds established by states, counties, or cities that receive sources of public funding to produce and preserve affordable housing. A key benefit of housing trust funds is their flexibility and applicability; they can fund a range of activities and be designed to meet the particular housing needs of each community.

Housing trust funds are funded in different ways. Dedicated housing trust funds are those that receive a dedicated source of revenue. Housing trust funds can also receive direct appropriations of other revenue sources that aren’t dedicated on an ongoing basis. Some housing trust funds also receive private donations.

In jurisdictions that have established development impact fees, in-lieu fees, or other taxes or fees dedicated to affordable housing, local housing trust funds are typically the repository to collect those fees and then reinvest them in housing.

Housing Endowment and Regional Trust (HEART of San Mateo County) is a joint powers authority (JPA) and public/private partnership among San Mateo County, the cities, and business, nonprofit, education and labor groups to create more opportunities for affordable housing in the County. HEART finances the construction, rehabilitation, and purchase of homes for middle- and low-income households, through the following financing types:

  • Short-term predevelopment or construction loans to finance multifamily housing
  • Long-term loans for affordable rental housing
  • Homebuyer assistance loans

Since its inception in 2003, HEART has received more than $14 million in funding and invested $12.4 million to fund over 950 affordable homes.

San Mateo County’s Department of Housing has an Affordable Housing Fund (AHF), which has received funding from unrestricted General Funds, Measure A funding, and Housing Authority reserves and federal sources, and Housing Authority federal sources. AHF released three “Notices of Funding Availability” (NOFAs) from 2013 to 2015, and targeted the funds to a variety of uses, including multifamily rental housing, emergency and transitional housing, homeownership, farmworker housing, and preservation of existing affordable housing stock.

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Key Benefits

  • Housing trust funds can be designed to fund multiple purposes and can be tailored to the particular housing needs of a community, such as housing for special needs populations, affordable rentals for working families or seniors, or first-time homebuyer assistance.
  • Because they are not subject to the same federal requirements as other sources, housing trust funds can fund needs that are ineligible for funding through other programs or in need of additional resources.
  • Common funding types include predevelopment financing, construction loans, long-term loans, and homebuyer assistance loans.
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Community Considerations

  • Design and structure of housing trust funds must be detailed enough to benefit the desired target populations and funding activities, but flexible enough to adapt to future challenges, including changing market conditions.
  • Housing trust funds, including those with dedicated funding, can be vulnerable to economic downturns reducing revenues, taxes, and fees.
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Community Engagement Strategies

  • Develop informational resources: Infographics and flow charts showing how revenue and contributions collected by housing trust funds are invested to leverage more funding and finance housing.
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