MacKenzie Scott Donates $20 Million to Vermont Housing Trust, Largest in Its History

MacKenzie Scott, a billionaire philanthropist, has donated $20 million to Champlain Housing Trust, Vermont’s largest affordable housing owner and manager.

Yield Giving, Scott’s charitable giving company, approached CHT in February with inquiries about the Burlington group’s mission and programs, according to CEO Michael Monte. The callers stated that they worked with a nonprofit organization in San Francisco but did not specify which one.

After studying CHT’s finances and services, Yield Giving phoned back five months later to inform Monte that the nonprofit housing organization will receive $20 million — the highest donation in CHT’s 40-year history and nearly as much as the group’s yearly operating budget of $27 million.

MacKenzie Scott is the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. Soon after their divorce in 2019, she declared a plan to donate her money, which is estimated to be worth $30 billion, to causes such as education, women’s health, and affordable housing. According to the Associated Press, Scott has donated more than $14 billion to at least 1,600 charities since 2020, with roughly half going to early childhood education and development.

Scott has also given $10 million to Goodwill Northern New England in 2020, $9 million to the Vermont Foodbank in 2020, and $6 million to the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s Community Crisis Action Fund, which serves Vermont and Maine, according to Yield.

CHT, which owns and manages $400 million in real estate, will use the donation to strengthen existing programs. Some of the funds will go toward CHT’s endowment, which is used to fund homeowner education and social workers who help people transition from homelessness to affordable housing – services that have previously been underfunded.

“We were going to either raise money for it or go out and sort of reduce the amount of service work that we’re doing in our properties,” Monte said.

The grant will also assist CHT in expanding its homeownership equity program, which provides down-payment assistance for persons of color statewide through collaboration with similar organizations such as Windham & Windsor Housing Trust in Brattleboro, he added.

“We had talked about doing it statewide, but we weren’t getting very far,” Monte said. “Now we can do that.”

CHT manages rental apartments for over 2,600 families in Chittenden, Franklin, and Grand Isle counties. There are approximately 500 flats planned or under development.

CHT has acquired nine hotels or motels in recent years and is in the process of acquiring a tenth, the Champlain Inn on Shelburne Road in Burlington. Six are earmarked for affordable housing, one for a domestic violence shelter, and one for transitional housing in St. Albans. According to Chris Donnelly, CHT’s director of community relations, two others are being used for the state’s emergency housing general assistance program for those experiencing homelessness.

CHT also offers down payment and mortgage assistance, as well as financial coaching. CHT also has a limited portfolio of community development projects. It owns the Old North End Community Center and hopes to purchase the Winooski O’Brien Community Center, which includes a library, a community health clinic, and other tenants. It is also assisting in the expansion of Feeding Chittenden, a food shelf and meal program centered in Burlington.

“People and neighborhoods need more than housing — they need services, places to gather and connect,” Donnelly said.

The Yield Giving money will assist CHT avoid borrowing money for projects while also strengthening its balance sheet so that it may acquire finance more easily when needed.

Monte stated that Yield was aware of CHT’s work with significant national affordable housing organizations such as NeighborWorks America and the Grounded Solutions Network. Other affordable housing professionals from the United States and Europe visit CHT to learn more about its shared equity program, which assists low-income homebuyers with down payments, and its work converting motels and hotels to permanent affordable housing. According to him, Yield seeks out innovative, high-performing charities with extensive expertise.

“They didn’t just pick us out of a hat; it was a little more complex than that,” Monte said.

Yield’s consultants also spent months studying over the paperwork related with CHT’s complicated mix of real estate development, property management, and lending activities prior to selecting CHT. To create and operate its homes and services, the nonprofit relies on federal low-income housing tax credits, state money handled by the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, energy rebates, and a variety of collaborations.

Donnelly estimated that the group receives between $100 and $150 million per year.CHT is audited 80 times each year and processes 38,000 invoices.With Vermont and national house costs rising, $20 million will not alleviate the region’s housing needs. But it does help, according to Monte.

“We have grown pretty dramatically over the last handful of years,” he said. “This gives us a financial foundation.”

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