Prior to joining Cornerstone Partnership, I associated the word “stewardship” with trees—expensive trees. I had been working as an affordable housing project manager, and my building specs often included the use of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood. Thus, it was only natural that the term conjured up images of eco-friendly forests. I later learned that those in the community land trust (CLT) movement embrace “stewardship” as a core philosophical value that’s about protecting homeowners and making sure their units are kept affordable over the long-term. And most significantly, the CLTs are showing us that stewardship works – it’s the key to their notable success in preventing delinquencies and foreclosures.
But what does stewardship really mean? How do you get started or improve what you’re already doing? Even among the CLT community, the meaning of stewardship can vary and the activities it encompasses can be fuzzy. For the past year, Cornerstone Partnership and the National Community Land Trust Network worked collaboratively with over 150 experts, practitioners, and consultants to develop the Stewardship Standards for Homeownership Programs (“Standards”), an educational resource that provides a clear framework for answering these questions.
Affordable homeownership stewardship is a holistic process that requires upfront planning and long-term monitoring. As we note in the Standards:
[Stewardship is] a set of practices designed to help households maximize wealth, while protecting the program and its community investment. Stewarded homeownership programs work with buyers before and after they purchase their homes to ensure that they are well-prepared for homeownership, financially responsible, and able to maintain the property. Stewarded programs also protect the community (or public) investment by monitoring the physical asset and enforcing program requirements over the long term.
As one member pointed out, the Standards are like a “yellow brick road” – a resource to guide programs on their journey to higher performance.
Here are five steps to get started:
- Review the Standards. Download the PDF and skim the standards. There are 32 key standards and associated best practices in six program topic areas. The standards are highlighted in orange and their associated practices are highlighted in blue for easy skimming. When you’re ready to implement the practices you can access the details for a more thorough reference.
- Reflect and Assess. After looking through the Standards, share them with others in your organization and schedule time to reflect and assess your program’s strengths and weaknesses according to the six topic areas. Consider incorporating the Standards into your workplan or your strategic planning sessions. You can also use the Standards to educate Board members and staff about the foundations of excellence in this sector. If you’re involved in administering a homeownership program for another nonprofit or jurisdiction, you can also use the standards to evaluate how well your client is meeting some of these practices.
- Identify 3 to 5 Practices to Get Started. Review the standards and select several practices that are quick and easy to implement or that you’ve identified as a high priority. We’ve included resources with each standard that provide links to tools and templates that will help you implement the practices without having to reinvent the wheel.
- Influence Funding Decisions. If you’re running a homeownership program, share the Standards with funders. Highlight your stewardship program and the key standards you’re already implementing as a high-performing program. You can also use the Standards to make the case for securing funding to fill in gaps in practice. And if you’re a funder—select standards and practices that align with your housing strategies and consider incorporating these requirements into your funding design.
- Tell Us How It’s Going. Now that the Standards are out in the world, share your experience with us! We want to hear about what’s working and what’s missing so we can do a better job finding or developing additional resources. You can leave your comments or email them to Hong Ly at email@example.com.
We know it will take some work, but we believe that one day, all long-term affordable homeownership programs will recognize the importance of stewardship. Join us in this effort and check out this other post if you’d like to learn more about how we crafted the Standards.