Living Cities was launched in 1991 as an informal partnership among seven foundations and an insurance company with a commitment to help improve under-invested urban neighborhoods and local community development organizations. Living Cities quickly emerged as a leader in addressing urban issues.
Now comprised of 22 leading foundations and financial institutions, Living Cities is the world’s largest philanthropic collaborative dedicated to improving the lives of the low-income people and the cities where they live. No other partnership focusing exclusively on domestic issues exists on this scale and involves top-tier leaders from foundations, corporations and government.
Living Cities has historically focused intensely on building institutional capacity in the housing and economic development sectors, which are essential to providing individual opportunity, restoring neighborhoods and creating healthy, vibrant communities in the long term.
While understanding the extraordinary impact of this focus on neighborhoods, Living Cities also developed an awareness that the challenges of the 21st century demand that we simultaneously strengthen neighborhoods and re-engineer broken, siloed systems, such as education and workforce development, that fail to create adequate opportunities for low-income people.
In response to this challenge, the Living Cities Board of Directors in 2006 adopted a bold new vision to:
- Make Living Cities a more member-driven partnership
- Expand our reach beyond housing and economic development into education, health, workforce development and the emerging green economy
- Create the ability to respond to emerging investment opportunities
- Amplify our collective multi-sector voice for improved public policies
- Promote innovation through new combinations of investments
- Invite new investment partners that complement the strengths of our existing intermediaries
Living Cities was founded as the National Community Development Initiative, or NCDI, with an initial focus of providing capital and building capacity at local community development corporations (CDC’s). This support was intended to expand and accelerate the work of CDC’s so that they could genuinely transform the trajectory of declining neighborhoods.
One of the main stumbling blocks to any kind of real estate development in underinvested communities is the lack of front-end financing to support predevelopment activities such as feasibility studies, property acquisition, and project design, as well as actual project construction. NCDI funding was strategically used for such critically needed and important gap filling. During our first decade, $174 million of NCDI funding was used for real-estate projects, the vast bulk of it (91 percent) for such high-risk, up-front, interim financing through lines of credit and other bridge loans, which were not readily available to CDCs at reasonable terms from other sources.
By 2006, we had invested more than $540 million 23 cities to build or renovate more than 140,000 homes – enough to house the entire population of St. Paul, MN and equivalent to the number of housing units severely damaged or destroyed in New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Our funding was deployed through two national nonprofit organizations – LISC and Enterprise Community Partners – and also helped build stores, schools, child care options, health care and job training centers, as well as other community assets after being leveraged total value of nearly $16 million – an incredible leverage ration of 29:1.
Throughout our history we have focused on building systems and institutional capacity, not simply producing a discreet number of housing units or other project outputs in a cost effective manner.