More than Just a House: Former CommonBond Board Chair Bruce Christensen Speaks to the Importance of Affordable Housing
Former CommonBond Communities (CBC) Board Chair Bruce Christensen has been a CommonBond champion and advocate for more than 15 years, and is a vocal supporter of affordable housing. Derek Madsen, Executive Vice President of Resource Development, recently caught up with Bruce to learn his perspective on current and long-term affordable housing issues, the importance of CommonBond’s work, and his advice on how to support affordable housing solutions.
Derek: Why is affordable housing an important issue to you?
Bruce: Our community is only as strong as our weakest neighbor. Psychologist Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of needs, which spoke to having food and shelter as being a foundational pillar of advancing human satisfaction. Without a safe home, it’s very difficult to move on to more self-sustaining, self-worth activities. In terms of CommonBond’s role, the ability to also provide supportive services really adds that additional connective layer to advance through the everyday challenges that a single mother, low income senior, or new immigrant to our country might face. For me, that’s a really interesting secret sauce that makes the CommonBond experience very formative; it’s this concept of more than just a house. I’ve been inspired by the work of CommonBond, and I think it’s unique to our community.
Derek: Are there other things that stand out in your viewpoint as a former board chair that makes CommonBond Communities unique?
Bruce: Yes — the entrepreneurial nature of the organization. The revenue stream is this earned income concept. So, CommonBond is an entrepreneurial nonprofit and it plays an important part in public policy. I think that’s an area where we need to lead a little bit more. The idea of affordable housing is very popular today in public discourse. A permanent affordability stock is what we really need to be pursuing. The need for it is growing and will not be going away. We need an ever-growing inventory of affordable housing, and I think there are some public policy failings right now.
Local communities are being tasked with providing and expanding their affordable housing stock. These public entities are putting the public treasury out there to stimulate private investment in affordable housing, but the financing aspects of that are very temporary. These are 15, 20, 25-year commitments on a private developer to commit a portion of those units to affordable housing. The problem is at the expiration of those term commitments those units can then get converted to market rate housing, which is very destabilizing. The worst thing we can do is build a temporary housing base and then pull that base back from those people that are in
need of it or have become reliant on that stable housing stock. An organization like CommonBond is absolutely a leader in what direction public financing should go. Who should get supported? It’s organizations that permanently support affordability.
Derek: What’s your recommendation to other civically-minded people looking to get involved in supporting affordable housing solutions in their community?
Bruce: Become aware of organizations, like CommonBond, that are committed to this permanent feature of affordable housing. Let’s not think of affordable housing as a today problem or a 10-year-from-now problem, but a permanent problem. We need to have stable, affordable housing in perpetuity. So, my advice is to seek out those organizations that are doing it well and have that long commitment. Also, the private development sector has a role in this, but I think it’s the nonprofits that have a unique role in serving that community in the long term.
Derek: Is there anything else you want to share with people about the importance of affordable housing or other issues surrounding that topic?
Bruce: A former board member and I helped craft a case statement for the capital campaign a number of years ago. The thesis that came back was that CommonBond is an amazing facilitator of resources. CommonBond can put in service a housing unit for surprisingly little equity. It’s the professional development team that organizes those resources and capital, and it is amazing what can get done. There is tremendous leverage in this story and I’ve been proud to be a part of that.
Click here to hear more from Bruce, and check out other clips from the interview on our Youtube channel!