LEO and FIRE partner to combat poverty and homelessness through housing studies

Author: Leigh Lynes

The University of Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) and the Fitzgerald Institute for Real Estate (FIRE) have joined forces to focus on moving people out of poverty and homelessness and into permanent, affordable housing. LEO is a research center in the Department of Economics at Notre Dame that conducts impact evaluations of innovative programs that help people move out of poverty, and FIRE is an interdisciplinary University institute that educates and inspires the next generation of real estate professionals while focusing on fundamental questions about how people invest, build, and develop can contribute to the common good. 

According to FIRE Managing Director Jason Arnold, the two teams began meeting in the fall of 2019. “As we learned more about LEO and they learned more about our work, it was clear that we have a shared focus on housing and that by aligning our efforts we could better achieve our respective missions.” 

The LEO/FIRE partnership is aimed at identifying innovative, effective, and scalable supportive housing programs that move people out of poverty. Meeting the housing needs of some our most vulnerable citizens across the United States requires building evidence on how to solve the homelessness crisis. Supportive housing is a solution that combines affordable housing with onsite case management services — which improve housing stability, employment, mental and physical health, and school attendance, and reduce substance abuse — to help formerly homeless people live in a community with stability, autonomy, and dignity. Supportive housing is structured as a tenancy, where residents pay rent and have the same rights as normal renters, and is a permanent housing solution. When successful, supportive housing can jump-start neighborhood renewal, contribute to increased community safety, and stabilize or increase property values over time. 

“Our goal in working together is to recruit and train six to eight nonprofit partners through an established cohort process that will be focused on the supportive housing space, launch research studies of their work in late 2021, build evidence, and disseminate what we learn to providers, policymakers, and philanthropists across the country,” explained LEO Managing Director Heather Reynolds. 

FIRE and LEO are working together to secure initial philanthropic funding to support both the cohort process and research studies. By engaging in rigorous, cutting-edge research, Notre Dame can help nonprofit partners evaluate and build the capacity of supportive and affordable housing and encourage future investment in neighborhoods of need, thereby creating better outcomes for residents who need permanent housing solutions. 

“We couldn’t be more excited to join forces with LEO in advancing the University’s mission​ to cultivate​ ​'​a ​disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice, and oppression that burden the lives of so many,’” said Daniel Kelly, FIRE Faculty Director and professor of law at Notre Dame. “​We are committed to the idea of creating places of lasting value, including dignified housing, for all people, and motivated by our human solidarity and concern for the common good​."​