What's Behind This Big Ford Grant for Fair Housing in Texas?

The Texas Low Income Housing Information Service has had a nice run lately. Its co-director, John Henneberg, just won a MacArthur Fellowship. And not long before that, the organization pulled down $600,000 from the Ford Foundation.

So why is Ford, along other national funders, so keen on a housing group based in Austin, Texas?

A few reasons:

For one thing, the Texas Low Income Housing Housing Information Service, or TxLIHIS, is in sync with Ford about the crucial role of self-help and community empowerment in solving the problems that confront low-income people. At the same time, though, TxLIHIS knows how to play the policy game at a high level, and is a sophisticated operator in Texas housing policy and beyond.

This group has also been quite innovative, especially in taking advantage of post-disaster funding to help low-income folks. Here's how MacArthur described Henneberg when it dropped $625,000 in his lap last week:

Skilled at identifying points of agreement among parties with varying, often opposing, economic interests and political views—such as developers, elected officials, and community members—Henneberger was an architect of a conciliation agreement with the State of Texas for Hurricanes Dolly and Ike post-disaster rebuilding. This agreement transformed the way that Texas and its local governments address affordable housing, community development, and fair housing and inspired new rule-making at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It has helped to restore equity in disaster assistance for persons with disabilities and racial and ethnic minorities; expanded low-income residents’ involvement in disaster rebuilding; and served as a model for the allocation of disaster rebuilding funds in other states. 

Ford's grants to TxLIHIS since 2010, including this latest one, have been directly related to its work on disaster funds. The goal of the new grant, just like the last two, according to Ford, is to "ensure that federal disaster recovery funds are allocated for fair housing development in the Rio Grande Valley and cities near the Gulf Coast of Texas."

In other words, for four years now, Ford has been backing the innovative work that MacArthur just recognized Henneberg for with its genius grant. And when MacArthur named Henneberg as a fellow, the Ford Foundation was quick to go live with a blog post by its president Darren Walker that pointed out the foundation's support for Henneberg.