- Assets: $32,910,099 (2016)
- Grants Received: $28,128,179 (2016)
- Grants Awarded: $3,400,920 (2016)
- Collaborative of progressive foundations
- Powerful player in the Obama Administration’s green economy
Founded in 1991 as an informal partnership of seven foundations and an insurance company with a commitment to “help improve under-invested urban neighborhoods and local community-development organizations,” Living Cities (LC) was originally named the National Community Development Initiative. It has since has grown into a philanthropic collaborative of 22 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions. Among its members are the AARP Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
LC aims to “strengthen neighborhood institutions from the bottom up and re-engineer, from the top down, the public systems that fail to create adequate opportunities.” In an effort to “improve the lives of low-income people and the urban areas in which they live,” the organization seeks to “bring philanthropy, investors and the public sector together to help re-imagine underinvested neighborhoods and find new ways to connect low-income people to economic opportunities.”
LC focuses its philanthropy on several major concerns:
- The Green Jobs program prepares workers and jobseekers—particularly “low-skilled” and “low-income” people—for employment in “clean energy industries” related to energy efficiency, retrofitting, renewable energy, and “green building.” Beginning in 2009, one of LC’s chief priorities was to help direct billions of dollars from President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package toward “green” projects. At the closing session of the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative, representatives of LC and Green For All together launched a $20 million special fund, expected to leverage as much as $200 million, “to retrofit homes, businesses and community facilities to achieve greater energy efficiency.” These “green jobs” would be steered disproportionately to minorities and low-income people because, as LC’s chief executive officer Ben Hecht explained, “the creation of the Fund is part of our intentional strategy to ensure that low-income people and places can benefit from the emerging green economy.”
- The Transit Oriented Development program convened local officials from 12 of the regions hardest-hit by the 2008 housing crisis, to develop new strategies for stabilizing neighborhoods plagued by high foreclosure rates. One such strategy is LC’s Foreclosure Mitigation Initiative, which laments that “foreclosures, like the subprime lending that precipitated them, have been heavily concentrated in the same vulnerable neighborhoods …”
- The Gulf Coast Initiative raised more than $180 million for Hurricane Katrina victims during the 12 months that followed the 2005 storm.
- The Catalyst Fund has awarded millions of dollars in below-market-rate loans to finance “innovative efforts in the areas of neighborhood stabilization, energy efficiency retrofits, public education, and access to fresh foods and health care.”
- The Education Pipeline seeks to create “a continuum of educational opportunities for every student, from cradle to career.”
- The Housing Project aims to expand the availability of “affordable housing” for the poor. From 1991-2010, LC’s member foundations invested over $600 million in this objective. The organization directed these funds through two national housing intermediaries—Enterprise Community Partners (ECP) and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)—which in turn channeled the money to community groups in cities across the United States.
- The Living Cities Integration Initiative—which is active in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul—works to implement “game-changing innovations that will lead to great opportunities for low-income residents.”
- The Income and Assets program advances policies and programs that “help low-income families move from poverty to financial stability.”
- The Project on Municipal Innovation “enables city halls from across the country to learn about and act on integrative and transformative policy ideas.”
In addition to the foregoing initiatives, LC also holds periodic Catalytic Convenings—“strategic forums” that “facilitate the exchange of information from diverse perspectives and allow members to build relationships with a broader range of actors needed to create transformative change in America’s cities.” LC held its first “catalytic convening” in partnership with MacArthur Foundation and the White House Council on Environmental Quality in March 2011, with a focus on accelerating retrofits in commercial and multifamily properties.
LC’s board of directors boasts a number of influential executives as well as leaders from the most powerful progressive foundations in the U.S., including all those listed in the first paragraph as well as the Fannie Mae Foundation. Some of these leaders also have had ties to the Clinton–Gore Administration and the Nature Conservancy.
To promote its agendas as actively as possible, LC conducts intensive, two-day boot camps that convene at the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation (at Harvard’s JFK School of Government), where major stakeholders from various geographic areas gather to discuss critical issues facing their respective communities. Each LC boot camp has enjoyed the support and cooperation of the Barack Obama administration, which has given the participants ample opportunity to communicate directly with the federal agencies that have influence over their work.
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 Emphasizing that neither philanthropic, private, or public funds are sufficient, on their own, to address the problems plaguing American society, LC contends that “we can’t ‘nonprofit’ our way out of our problems but neither can we fix them solely with government grants or market forces.”
 Former Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines and Goldman Sachs official Alicia Glenn are key figures at ECP. Further, ECP president Doris Koo and LISC president Michael Rubinger both sit on the board of Joel Rogers‘s Emerald Cities Collaborative.)
 Four months after that first “catalytic convening,” LC’s Integration Initiative Symposium convened White House officials and key staffers representing ten federal agencies to discuss ways in which the federal government could better utilize community development financial institutions to revitalize America’s cities.
 LC’s Green Boot Camp, for instance, focused on efforts to create jobs “especially for lower-income people” and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through energy-efficiency retrofit initiatives in buildings in numerous locations. And a Neighborhood Stabilization boot camp convened local officials from 12 of the regions hit hardest by the housing crisis, to develop strategies for dealing with rampant foreclosures.