January 25, 2023–OAKLAND, CA
Merritt has been a trusted partner in affordable housing for the last 30+ years. We believe everyone should have a home in a community where they can thrive. Working toward our vision, we invest in affordable housing and people to build a stronger California. Investing in both the residents living in the housing we finance and the industry professionals who develop these homes. Increasingly, we have seen a need for our industry to invite in professionals, nurture talent, and support future leaders.
In early 2022 Merritt launched Commitment to California, pledging $2.5 million over three years to attract, train, and retain the next generation of affordable housing professionals. We proudly support housing programs across the state that foster diverse leaders and strive to create equity throughout the industry.
Attract, Train & Retain
In 2021, Merritt went through a strategic planning process, including a deep look at how we could better translate our dedication and organizational strengths into industry impact. We surveyed partners and industry leaders and found a common challenge across affordable housing development and finance organizations – a gap in talent in the affordable housing industry, a lack of financial support for existing programs, especially those addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Merritt, with our statewide reach, diversity of partnerships and strong financial position, decided to create this initiative to address these challenges.
Setting out to create a comprehensive industry support initiative to attract, train and retain talent, we looked to our partners to identify and assess the effectiveness of existing programs and identify the gaps. Internally, we looked at our in-house Merritt Scholars program to see where we could deepen our impact. We were pleased to find that our partners across the state had a wide range of programs to meet these needs.
From this, Commitment to California was created as a three-pronged approach to industry support, reaching people at different levels in their career. Attracting people to the industry through scholarships and internships, training those already in the industry to become future leaders and retaining skilled professionals by supporting them in their careers.
We heard from our industry partners that their pre-existing trainings, internships, and career development programs could be even more impactful with additional support. We are excited to help create sustainability and increase capacity for these programs by being a funding partner. Merritt Scholars needed more support in the form of mentorship and engagement to assist in an affordable housing career trajectory. Commitment to California was also created to support the work of addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry.
“CCRH hosts a paid internship program for diversity in nonprofit housing and community development,” said Gisela Salgado, Director of Leadership Development Programs. “Through Merritt’s Commitment to California funding, we can continue attracting affordable housing professionals who enhance inclusion and racial equity in the industry and assist in meeting the diverse needs of the communities served throughout the rural West. We are grateful for Merritt’s partnership and support and look forward to continuing this work together.”
Year One Goals
Our three-year goal was to attract, train, and retain 800 individuals in different parts of their career. In year 1, we aimed for 191 participants under our Commitment to California umbrella. In 2022, we welcomed 275 participants, exceeding our expectations!
Within our Merritt Scholars program we planned to increase the cohort size to 6 scholars, but with the level of interest and the amazing candidates we expanded our program to 16 scholars, reaching our year 3 goal in the first year.
As part of our dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion we had a goal of 50% of the Commitment to California participants to be individuals who identify as BIPOC and/or have lived experience in affordable housing/homelessness. In collaboration with our wonderful partners, we were able to surpass this goal with 71% of participants in Commitment to California.
“LISC is grateful to have a partner in Merritt because they see the value of the Housing Development Training Institute (HDTI) and the impact it makes on the affordable housing industry,” said Alexandra Dawson, Senior Program Officer, LISC LA. “With Merritt’s support, we were able to triple the capacity of the program from one cohort of 50 students every 3 years to a cohort every year. Together, we are ensuring greater opportunities in the industry for BIPOC and people with lived experience. We look forward to a continued partnership and the sustainability their funding brings to HDTI.”
Partners and Programs
Thank you to our Commitment to California partners and program participants (keep a look out we’ll be adding more in 2023!):
- Merritt Scholars and Merritt Scholar Mentors
- Non-Profit Housing Association (NPH): Bay Area Housing Internship Program (BAHIP) and Emerging Leaders Peer Network (ELPN)
- Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC): Housing Development Training Institute (HDTI)
- California Coalition for Rural Housing (CCRH): Internship program & Emerging Leaders Fellowship
- Southern California Association of Non-Profits (SCANPH): Project Manager Mentorship Program
- San Diego Housing Federation: School of Affordable Housing
- Housing CA: Emerging Leaders
- California Housing Partnership (CHP): Equity Fellows
“Through Merritt’s support of SDHF via Commitment to California, we were able to complete the research and planning to develop the School of Affordable Housing program,” said Sarah Buchanan, SDHF Executive Vice President. “This program is designed to create a pathway for students in under resourced communities to a career in affordable housing. Students are introduced to the industry and learn about career path options, particularly in property management. We were able to welcome 22 students into the inaugural class and we are excited to see what we will accomplish together in 2023.”
Best Practices and Lessons Learned
Looking back over the first year of Commitment to California, we learned many valuable lessons. We started out knowing it was more important to support our like-minded partners and build out our internal programs. Commitment to California is also an opportunity for Merritt to meaningfully support diversity, equity and inclusion within the industry.
A few specific lessons learned:
- Supporting existing programs generates positive outcomes quickly. Partnering with regional and statewide organizations that are already managing programs is the best way to support the future of affordable housing professionals across California.
- Creating long-term funding commitments with our partners allows them to grow their programs and create a deeper impact. Consistent support allows programs and organizations to focus on program development, giving them more freedom to plan and scale.
- We found that explicitly naming diversity, equity, and inclusion goals for each program was important for the success of reaching those goals. Commitment to California selected programs that focus on engaging populations underrepresented in our industry and were willing to work together to push those goals.
- We learned that we could scale our Merritt Scholars program to fill a gap in attracting students from school directly into a career in affordable housing. We found that building out the mentorship component and engagement components drastically improved students’ likelihood of joining the industry.
Just the Beginning
Reflecting on year one, we are excited to continue Commitment to California and look forward to what we can accomplish with our partners in 2023! We believe by creating new opportunities for our future affordable housing leaders, funding and expanding new and existing programs, we can build a better California for all.
“Merritt has truly prioritized the professional development of the next generation of housing leaders with their investments in the Bay Area Housing Internship Program (BAHIP) and the Emerging Leaders Peer Network (ELPN),” shared Monica Joe, Senior Racial Equity and Inclusion Program Manager. “With these commitments we have been able to provide ongoing programming for early career housers to ensure that they can thrive in our industry, particularly housers of color who represent the communities that we serve. We’re incredibly grateful for Merritt’s leadership in this area and for being vocal in bringing attention to this important aspect of sustaining our industry!”
Learn more about Commitment to California landing page: Commitment to California – Merritt Community Capital Corporation (merrittcap.org)
About Merritt Community Capital Corporation
Merritt Community Capital Corporation is a nonprofit dedicated to our mission to provide equity capital for affordable housing exclusively to California. We do this by partnering with mission-aligned affordable housing developers throughout the state to ensure the most critical communities are developed and maintained for low-income residents. Since 1989, Merritt has created and/or preserved 11,000 affordable homes, through investing over $1.2 billion in 26 separate funds, providing housing for over 29,700 people.