Expert Q & A | November 15, 2006
Chief Executive Officer, Fannie Mae
What is the newest issue emerging in homelessness policy?
Fannie Mae, through its partners, is now investing in permanent supportive housing developments targeting people with serious mental illness and addictions who are living on the streets. For a long time, conventional wisdom held that these individuals could only succeed in housing after a long and costly period of transition and treatment. However, our partners are showing us that the faster people are transitioned to stable housing, the faster they can start down the road to health and independence. This is a challenging approach to implement, but it reflects what we’ve learned about the fundamental importance of permanent, stable housing. Whether it’s a homeless person trying to overcome a debilitating health problem, a child striving to do well in school, a young adult embarking on their first real job, or a senior hoping to retire in a safe, affordable community, a good home is the cornerstone of success.
What issue in homelessness policy should everyone be reminded of?
Homeless Americans defy stereotypes – in any given year half are members of families and nearly 40 percent are children. We know homeless people need homes. Some also need appropriate support services to live independently. A growing body of research is helping us to better understand and meet these diverse needs. Ultimately our challenge is to provide people who are homeless with the right housing opportunities that enable them to live with dignity in an independent, stable environment.
How did you start working in the field of homelessness (or housing)?
When I joined Fannie Mae, I became involved in the Fannie Mae Foundation’s Help the Homeless volunteer effort. I quickly realized that despite the housing industry’s success, there were still far too many people left behind. Today, as Fannie Mae’s Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Fannie Mae Foundation, I want to grow our Help the Homeless effort as well as expand our year-round initiatives, which include providing capital for the development of supportive housing through investments in Low Income Housing Tax Credits and predevelopment and acquisition financing. We also lend our expertise and leadership to partners like the National Alliance to End Homelessness in their efforts to address this issue.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I recently visited Skid Row in Los Angeles with our senior management team. We were overwhelmed by the poverty, despair and suffering we saw in the nation’s second largest city. Yet, we were also inspired by what we saw in the city’s state-of-the-art permanent supportive housing developments, where people with long histories of homelessness, mental illness and addictions were living healthy, productive and fulfilling lives.
Why do you think ending homelessness is possible?
Since the 1980s, when homelessness increased dramatically, we have learned a lot about what does and doesn’t work to prevent and end homelessness. More and more, our nonprofit and governmental partners are embracing a rigorous data-driven and outcome-oriented approach. I’m hopeful it will lead to more efficient targeting of resources and an even more effective response to meeting the critical housing needs of homeless people.
Read past Take Five! Expert Q & As.