In 1990, the leaders of 37 public/private housing partnerships from around the country gathered in Boston. Their organizations were doing some of the most successful and creative work taking place in affordable housing and community development, and they wanted to share their experiences. Shortly after the Boston meeting, the National Association of Housing Partnerships (our original name) was born. Chaired by Bob Whittlesey, then president of the Boston Housing Partnership, the association had no staff and little funding. But it did have a deep conviction that entrepreneurial, large-scale nonprofits could learn and grow by working together.
Since that time, nonprofit leaders and organizations have collaborated through the Network to share effective business practices, promote innovation and impact housing policy. In 1995, we created our first joint enterprise to operate as a funding intermediary for our members’ homeownership counseling programs. Our second enterprise – a joint venture with HUD to reengineer affordable multifamily properties in 1997 – led to the hiring of Thomas Bledsoe as the founding staff. He had served previously as executive director of the Boston Housing Partnership, where he guided the evolution of the network and became president in 1995. The success of the portfolio reengineering demonstration also generated capital and momentum to create our CDFI lending institution in 2000. Throughout this formative period and the sustained growth and innovation that has followed, the key to our success has been peer exchange and learning among the nation’s foremost social entrepreneurs who come together regularly at Network meetings.