Funding Solutions with Amy Kleine of the Weinberg Foundation

image of Isaac and Supervisor Haney. Isaac is a mixed race black autistic man smiling at camera with short brown hair, glasses, headphones, and microphone. Amy is a white lady with short light blonde grey hair with red glasses smiling at camera.

Leaders for Inclusive Community is a podcast hosted by Isaac Haney-Owens covering topics related to housing and disability. As part of May’s 2020 Affordable Housing Month, Isaac hosted a series where he interviews three leaders in the affordable housing field. In this episode, he talks with Amy Kleine, Senior Program Director of housing at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, a funder of The Kelsey’s work.

Check out all episodes here to listen on Spotify, or read this episode’s transcript below.

Read the Transcript

Isaac Haney-Owens:

Hello. This is Isaac Haney-Owens, your host of the Kelsey’s Leaders for Inclusive Community Podcast. As a part of Affordable Housing Month, I’m interviewing individuals about housing developments, policies, and funding that can help advance Disability-Forward Housing Solutions and learn more about their own work within the affordable housing field.

Amy Kleine :

The first thing we need to do is help people get into housing, and then once they have that stability, they can work on achieving their other hopes and dreams.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

Today I’m interviewing Amy Kleine, Senior Program Director at the Weinberg Foundation. Let’s get started.

Thanks for joining me today. I’m really excited to talk with you. To begin can you tell me about where you work and your role there?

Amy Kleine :

Sure. It’s nice to meet you, Isaac. Thanks for having me join today.

I’m Amy Kleine. I work for the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. We are based in Baltimore, Maryland with a second office in Honolulu, Hawaii. I am a Senior Program Director and I lead the foundation’s work in housing. I also manage our place-based grant-making in Chicago. The foundation provides funding to nonprofit organizations, and six US communities and in Israel. Those six communities are Maryland, Northeast Pennsylvania, New York City, Chicago, the Bay Area, and Honolulu, Hawaii, the State of Hawaii.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

How long have you been working at that organization?

Amy Kleine :

I will be celebrating my 13th year with the Weinberg Foundation, and it has been a privilege to work here. I have been involved since I began with housing and homelessness and other programs to address people’s basic needs. The foundation has evolved quite a lot in the time I’ve been here, and it’s been just a wonderful job.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

What’s one exciting or interesting thing you’re working on right now in housing?

Amy Kleine :

Well, there’s a lot happening in housing right now. It’s actually a really exciting time. The COVID-19 pandemic really, I think helped people understand the importance of safe, stable housing. There is a lot of interest in connecting people to housing and ending homelessness and in prioritizing affordable housing. There’s a lot going on.

One kind of interesting project we’re working on is helping a nonprofit in New York City purchase and renovate a hotel to be used for permanent supportive housing. This is happening in other communities, including in California. Because of the moment that we’re in, the hotel market is kind of depressed and so hotel owners are willing to sell at reasonable prices and it’s an opportunity to quickly acquire units of supportive housing. That’s something I think is really innovative and exciting, and I’m happy for the foundation to be a part of it.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

Because this will give these people a chance to get their life together, a chance they may not have had in their life, or have had for a really long time. [inaudible 00:04:07] be like me and you with housing and a place to live and a life that they can call their own.

Amy Kleine :

Right, that’s what’s so exciting about working in housing, especially for people who are experiencing homelessness and we know that what they really need first is a stable house, the concept of housing first. The first thing we need to do is help people get into housing, and then once they have that stability, they can work on achieving their other hopes and dreams.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

Because the services that they can receive won’t really do any good if they don’t have a permanent house.

Amy Kleine :

Right, it’s a lot harder, isn’t it? Yeah. Many people may still need services and supports once they’re in housing, which is the whole idea of the permanent supportive housing. So it is important to make sure that people still have the services needed, that a house alone may not be enough.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

Now I’d like to talk a little about funding. Affordable housing costs a lot of money. Where does the money come from to pay for new housing?

Amy Kleine :

It does cost a lot of money and it takes a lot of time to make a deal work for affordable housing. Most of the money comes from the government, as I think you know. Low-income housing tax credits play a big role and are usually essential to pay for most of the costs of affordable housing. Different states have programs that provide additional funding. It could be the Home Program. It could be the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Cities or counties may have resources they can provide. And then there is often a gap that can be covered by philanthropy foundations like ours.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

How does the foundation work with that funding?

Amy Kleine :

That’s a great question. We actually partner very closely with the state government, especially in Maryland, where we are based and so we know them quite well. We actually have a really innovative program with our Department of Housing and Community Development. It’s called the Weinberg Deeply Affordable Apartment Program. What we do is we provide a grant to a project that has received low-income housing tax credits, and it helps reduce the debt of the project so that some of the apartment units can be more affordable.

For example, if the project has units that are affordable at 30% of area median income, our grant makes them affordable at 10% of area median income. So people who can only pay 200 or $300 a month can still afford to live in this high quality housing. That’s one example.

We also partner with them in that we know which projects receive tax credits, and we talk to our colleagues at the state when we’re considering providing a grant just to confirm that they’ve also reviewed the project and that it’s a good project that’s going to move forward. So our partnership with state government is really important to us.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

How do you decide what housing or other projects get funded?

Amy Kleine :

Well first, as I mentioned, there are certain communities where we focus our grant making, so the project needs to be in one of those communities generally. There are some exceptions, which I’ll explain. We focus our money on housing for certain populations. So the housing should be available to older adults, people with disabilities, people who’ve experienced homelessness, or veterans. So when there’s a housing project and it might be 80 units of affordable housing, a certain number of those units need to be dedicated to one of those special populations for us to have an interest in funding it.

There are some sort of general criteria that we look at first. And then if it meets all of those criteria, we do what we call a due diligence process to assess the strength of the organization, its experience developing other housing, the services that will be provided. Does it have enough other funding sources for the project to be successful? Those are the kinds of things we consider when deciding whether or not to support the project.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

Do you think about inclusion for everyone when making funding decisions? How about the inclusion of people with disabilities?

Amy Kleine :

We do not currently do that. We do ask the developer, the organization that’s creating the housing, whether they have included the people they’re serving in their plans. So when they develop these housing plans, we would like to know if they’ve included the voices of people who are going to live in that housing to create their plans, because we would like to know that they have considered input from the people who will live there when deciding on how the housing should work.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

Why did you decide to go into this field?

Amy Kleine :

That’s a big question. My background is in graduate school I studied public health and social work, and I worked for a while in international women’s health. I had been in the Peace Corps and I had worked and traveled internationally. I came to Baltimore for that job. And while in Baltimore, I became very interested in all of the disparities that I witnessed here in the city where I was living. I had this great opportunity to come work for the foundation. That is actually when I started working on homelessness and housing. I had become very passionate about it. I think it’s a critical issue of our time that we have the resources to solve and I want to be part of that solution.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

What do you like about your job?

Amy Kleine :

So many things. I like my colleagues. I work with a lot of very smart, committed people who are also passionate about the work we do. I love being able to work with our grantees to help them advance their mission. I can tell you one of my favorite parts of the job is when I can visit a housing project that we have funded and actually see the people who have moved in and made that their home, and feel that I played a small part in that. That never gets old. It is thrilling to me.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

What advice do you have for people interested in working for a foundation?

Amy Kleine :

Well, I think it’s important to have some experience in the field, either for a nonprofit organization or government or policy to kind of be on the ground and understand what that side is like. Because when you come to a foundation you’re distanced from that, you’re no longer doing that direct service work, you’re not on the front lines, but I think it’s important to be able to relate to the people who are doing the work and for them to know that you have been there and have an understanding of where they’re coming from and really be able to have a lens of how does this work serve people who are experiencing the issues that we’re trying to solve. I believe there are some good internship or fellowship opportunities to be able to get some exposure to foundations. It’s not terribly easy to enter the foundation world because the jobs don’t turn over very often, but certainly anyone who really has that interest should go for it.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

And final question; for my last question, I want to ask you about Home For More. Home For More is The Kelsey’s tagline at thekelsey. It represents that there are many opportunities and ways to advance housing. For you, what would you like to make Home For More of?

Amy Kleine :

I know it’s so important. Those of us who have not experienced not having a home, and I haven’t had that experience, can take it for granted. I think people like you, Isaac, and The Kelsey are so important to be advocates and help people understand the importance of everyone having a home, that it’s something everybody deserves.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

But it takes more organizations other than The Kelsey to make it happen, because one observation can’t do it alone. The more that do this, the better there will be in getting people homes who don’t have homes.

Amy Kleine :

Absolutely. Well, it takes partnership as you’re learning. It takes a lot of us working together and some very dedicated leaders like you have at The Kelsey who do not give up. You have a very determined leader with [McKayla 00:15:00]. In this work, you have to be very dedicated because it is not easy and it takes a long time, but it is worth it.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

And then you also have to have a passion for it and want to help other people.

Amy Kleine :

Yes, definitely. Why are you interested in this work?

Isaac Haney-Owens:

I’m interested in it because I see that people with disabilities don’t always have access to housing, and a high percentage of them live with families. And I want to see housing available to them if they want it, so they have another alternative instead of just staying with family and living their whole life with them.

Amy Kleine :

Absolutely. I agree with you. I am very fortunate that the Weinberg Foundation is able to support projects that help to do that.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

What is the Weinberg Foundation?

Amy Kleine :

Oh, that’s the foundation where I work. The Weinberg Foundation that we’re talking about provides money to help build new units of housing for people with disabilities, people who’ve experienced homelessness, older adults.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

That’s good because if the funding isn’t there, then the housing can’t get built for these individuals. So it’s great to have organizations like these that are bringing the money that the developers need to build the housing for the most vulnerable population.

Amy Kleine :

Yes, absolutely. We’re lucky that there are organizations doing this work because we don’t do the work ourselves. We provide money to support those organizations. So we really rely on them to pull all the money together and to develop the housing. It is very, very complicated. As I said earlier, it’s incredibly rewarding when the buildings are finished and people move in and you know that it can happen. We just need to make it easier and faster.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

And it’s a joint effort. It can’t happen with just one entity; it has to take all of them working together to meet the common goal.

Amy Kleine :

Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. But it takes a leader and a visionary to have that goal and to bring people on board with the goal, as is the case with The Kelsey to talk to all the different partners and convince them why they should be involved.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

Yeah, because we want to bring them together and let them know that them working together we’ll meet the common goal quicker than trying to work alone. What McKayla would say that these different people that she talks to, we’re all deciding on what to do about affordable housing on their own and deciding what it should look like and how they want it, but they weren’t coming together and talking about it together collectively to come to some sort of a common goal. They would just talk about it amongst each other.

Amy Kleine :

Right. And Micaela also is bringing the perspective of people with disabilities, as you had said earlier. What kind of housing do they want to live in? What would be the nice community for them? And that’s what she’s trying to develop.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

Thanks for listening. Make sure to check out my other episodes at thekelsey.org/stories. Have a great day.

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