Eric Muschler: Exploring Unsubsidized Affordable Housing

February 26, 2015, 4:00 am

This post originally appeared at The Edge, an online magazine from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Policy Development and Research.



Minneapolis' Clare Midtown, recipient of the 2014 AIA Minnesota/McKnight Affordable Housing Design Award

Minneapolis’ Clare Midtown, recipient of the 2014 AIA MN/McKnight Affordable Housing Design Award

Recently, the McKnight Foundation has been giving more consideration to what market orientation and scalability mean for our programs, policies, and grantmaking approach. In part this is an adaptive response to the Great Recession, diminishing resources, constraints at the federal level, and persistence of troubling trends. Many of our development partners in the affordable housing field are aware of market orientation because they must work in the marketplace to attract resources for construction and rehabilitation; however, because financing systems for affordable housing rely so heavily on subsidies, these developers aren’t necessarily encouraged to make market orientation a priority. The focus of developing affordable housing is filling the “gap” in the market between total development costs and what can be financed by net operating income. Thanks in large part to Minnesota’s well-developed and sophisticated affordable housing field, however, we are beginning to ask ourselves tough questions about the subsidy per unit cost of affordable housing (see MN Challenge) and if there are alternatives that would require little or no subsidy. We wanted to know if a socially motivated developer could purchase existing unsubsidized housing and create permanently affordable housing with little or no subsidy. Read the rest of this entry »

Elizabeth McGeveran: Small decisions equal big opportunity for investor influence on carbon disclosure

January 29, 2015, 12:04 pm
Midwest-centered report from the Risky Business Project.

Heat in the Heartland: Climate change impact on the Midwest

Last week in Minneapolis, hundreds of people gathered at the Economic Club of Minnesota, which provides a non-partisan platform for business, government, and public policy leaders to present ideas on how Minnesota can better compete in the global economy. The packed house came together for the national release of Heat in the Heartland: Climate Change & Economic Risk in the Midwest, a new report funded in part by The McKnight Foundation.

With the report’s analysis as their backdrop, well-known captains of industry Greg Page (executive chair of Cargill) and Henry Paulson (former Goldman Sachs exec and former U.S. Treasury Secretary) underscored the dramatic risks facing Midwest businesses in a changing climate. According to the research, regional outcomes will likely include shifting agricultural patterns, lost productivity, and rising crime. The report is based on open-source data that allows interested readers to go very local, exploring implications for specific cities such as Minneapolis/Saint Paul. Read the rest of this entry »

Annual letter: Grantmaking forecast and 2014 highlights

January 13, 2015, 9:01 am

This annual letter updates our grantees and program partners with information about The McKnight Foundation’s grantmaking forecast and program priorities as we enter 2015. We believe that communicating openly about our work can build shared understanding among our partners, helping us all to work more effectively together.

McKnight staff during a service day clearing buckthorn at Coldwater Spring, working with National Park Service and Mississippi River Fund.

McKnight staff during a service day clearing buckthorn at Coldwater Spring.

McKnight’s grantmaking in 2015 is slated to total roughly $85 million across all programs, on par with recent years. Across the board, we plan to hold steady our support for all current programs. The Foundation’s endowment now sits at just over $2.1 billion.

In setting grant payout levels every year, McKnight’s board of directors balances several factors, including our commitment to impactful grantmaking, maintaining strong momentum toward program goals, and providing sound stewardship of the Foundation’s assets. Read the rest of this entry »

Becky Monnens: Acknowledging and addressing gender bias can unlock program potential

December 18, 2014, 10:30 am

Women with millet harvest and traditional granaries in the background (West Africa)

Recently, I stumbled upon Project Implicit, a website full of assessments that are designed to reveal a person’s subconscious attitudes, stereotypes, and biases. As a self-described feminist and a professional grantmaker in agricultural research, I wondered if the site’s tests might reveal a subconscious gender-science bias in me. I was pleased to find no measureable, implicit bias when looking at my perceptions of gender and science, because I know that both explicit and implicit gender biases in science (and in many other careers) exist in spades across the world.

Like so many other challenges, eliminating such biases starts with awareness. As a grantmaker, I need to be aware of the implicit and explicit biases in myself and in the people and institutions I work with, continually questioning whether our actions are going to produce equitable outcomes. Read the rest of this entry »

Ted Staryk: Sandy Spieler, 2014 McKnight Distinguished Artist

December 12, 2014, 12:38 pm

Below is board chair Ted Staryk’s foreword from the recently released commemorative book celebrating McKnight’s 2014 Distinguished Artist, Sandy Spieler — artist, activist, and founder of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre on Lake Street in Minneapolis.

2014 McKnight Distinguished Artist Sandy Spieler

2014 McKnight Distinguished Artist Sandy Spieler

When a MinnPost interviewer asked Sandy Spieler why she had chosen puppets as her medium, Sandy replied that “Puppets have no life of their own, and yet, when you pick them up, a breath comes into them. And then, when you lay them down, the breath goes out. It’s the ritual of life: We’re brought to our birth, then we move in our life, then we lie down to the earth again.”

For Sandy, such transformation is the very essence of art, and the transformation in which she specializes extends far beyond any single performance. She and her colleagues and her neighbors transform ideas into spectacle. They transform everyday materials like cardboard, sticks, fabric, and paper into figures that come to life. And through their art, Sandy and her collaborators at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) have helped transform their city and our region. Their work—which invites people in by traveling to where they live, learn, play, and work— combines arresting visuals, movement, and music to inspire us to be the caretakers of our communities and the earth. Read the rest of this entry »

Lorri Todd: McKnight as host, thinking green for ourselves and our guests

November 17, 2014, 9:25 am

More than 10 years ago, McKnight relocated from a nondescript downtown office to our current site in the Washburn A Mill building, on the western bank of the Mississippi River.

Staircase is reclaimed wood from a barn and reprocessed corten steel

Staircase is reclaimed barn wood and salvaged, reprocessed Corten steel

Although we only moved about a mile, the resulting changes in McKnight’s practices, culture, and grantee relationships were monumental. Our old space functioned as little more than a home base for program work taking place outside the office, in the communities we serve. But our current offices are much more of a home than a home base — and nowadays, every day, we welcome communities of grantees, partners, collaborators, and peers here to join us. Last year in our five onsite community meeting spaces, McKnight’s offices provided space, tech resources and support, and basic concessions for 3,900 people at 152 mission-related meetings and convenings. This represents a level of daily program support and partnership that wouldn’t have been possible prior to our current location.

And, as this has become an increasingly integral element of our philanthropy, we’ve emphasized that how we provide this service is as important as the service itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Kate Wolford: New report highlights PreK-3rd grade alignment initiatives across MN

October 22, 2014, 11:31 am

Below is president Kate Wolford’s foreword from Starting Strong: PreK through 3rd Grade Success Stories from Across Minnesota, a 2014 MinnCAN report that highlights how teachers and school leaders in six communities are building towards third grade literacy by strengthening pre-K and aligning resources and curriculum across the early grades. 

homepageMinnCANreport3At The McKnight Foundation, we have a long tradition of investing in education. Through years of research and on-the-ground experience, we’ve determined that the developmental span from pre-K through third grade offers the best opportunities for us to focus our efforts. We’re not alone: According to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, “Improving early learning programs for children birth through third grade is critical work…[and] one of the most cost-effective investments America can make in its future.”

Reading by the end of third grade is a huge milestone in a child’s learning process. And ensuring proficiency means starting support for early literacy skills long before grade three. To significantly increase third-grade literacy for all Minnesota kids, we must begin by aligning PreK-3rd grade literacy standards, instruction, assessments and professional development. Such alignment ensures that students enter each successive grade with the skills they need to succeed—and that educators across the continuum share common goals, language and strategies. Read the rest of this entry »

Kate Wolford: Solid analysis and ambitious goals drive investment innovation at McKnight

October 20, 2014, 9:04 am

Like many of our peers, the McKnight Foundation specializes in pairing data-informed strategies with ambitious goals. Among those goals is helping to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. With a goal this big, we need to leverage all our resources, including McKnight’s $2 billion endowment. Diversified across sectors and asset classes, we see increasing opportunities to make prudent financial decisions that advance our programmatic goals.

HiResOne of our longstanding investment managers, Mellon Capital Management, agreed to work with us and our investment consultants to design a climate-responsive solution for a $100 million investment we’d previously had in a low-fee, broad market U.S. stock portfolio.

This week, we are pleased to be the first investors in Mellon’s Carbon Efficiency Strategy (news release). Using data about greenhouse gas emissions, this new product overweights carbon-efficient companies, while underweighting companies slower to embrace our new energy reality. Looking at company performance and the climate-readiness of company management across sectors, the Carbon Efficiency Strategy stands to reduce McKnight’s emissions profile in this $100 million investment by over 50%, relative to a more typical index exposure. Additionally, the fund bars investments in coal mining and production companies. Read the rest of this entry »

Erin Gavin: With the right tools, PreK-3rd focus is a school strengthener

October 16, 2014, 1:47 pm

Three years ago, the McKnight Foundation launched its Pathway Schools Initiative, a partnership between the foundation, the Urban Education Institute, and seven Twin Cities schools serving high-needs students. The initiative leads McKnight’s Education & Learning program strategies to significantly improve the number of low-income and minority students who read proficiently at third grade.


Photo: Joe Rossi

The Pathway Schools Initiative extends decades of research demonstrating the long-term benefits of early learning by framing our PreK-3rd focus as a school improvement strategy – not simply a means of preventing achievement gaps but also a mechanism for reversing them. It embraces the theory of action that smart, coordinated investments in aligning and supporting instruction, assessment, and leadership across the PreK-3rd continuum can turnaround underperforming schools and close academic opportunity gaps.

We’re pleased to see growing support for this approach. In August, the federal department of education proposed accepting PreK-3rd approaches – including high-quality PreK and full-day Kindergarten – as an allowable model for schools receiving turnaround dollars through its School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. In late September, the Ounce of Prevention Fund and Mass Insight Education jointly released a report titled Changing the Metrics of Turnaround to Encourage Early Learning Strategies. The report posits that “early learning is critical in the turnaround context.” A forthcoming publication from MinnCAN (and funded by McKnight) also demonstrates that doubling down on early learning can drive improvement in struggling schools. Read the rest of this entry »

Witteman & Sheehy: Report highlights MN’s emerging clean energy market, more jobs and better pay

October 8, 2014, 9:37 am

A successful transition to a clean energy economy carries with it the long-term economic benefits of highly skilled, well-paying jobs.

MN-CleanEnergyEconomyProfile-Full-Report-lgLast week, Governor Dayton made two important announcements relating to jobs in the clean energy economy. The first: a new $25 million solar project that will be built on top of the two parking ramps at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport main terminal. The solar power project will be Minnesota’s largest and will generate close to 20% of the airport’s total electricity. Notably, it also will create 250 new jobs.

The Governor’s second announcement was the release of a new Minnesota Clean Energy Economy Profile, the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify the businesses, employment, wages, and investments engaged in the state’s clean energy economy. McKnight supported the report’s development through two foundation programs with interests in fostering a clean energy economy — our Midwest Climate & Energy program focuses on helping the Midwest to address climate change by reducing heat-trapping emissions in all economic sectors, while our Region & Communities program works to increase efficient and sustainable regional metropolitan development with livable communities and opportunities for everyone to thrive. Read the rest of this entry »