Housing Industry Foundation smashes attendance and giving records

Burlingame, Calif. – Philadelphia got a run for its money as the city of brotherly love when a real estate charity’s supporters joined in record numbers to fight Bay Area homelessness last Thursday.

Bighearted apartment owners and their industry partners gathered here at September Summit, the fastest growing event of its kind in the country.

Attendance overwhelmed Burlingame’s Marriott Waterfront and event organizers from the Housing Industry Foundation estimate that proceeds will far surpass last year’s total, which itself was a record for the 22-year old charity. Over 850 people, together representing well over 200 real estate industry companies, were in attendance.

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“We face a growing and shifting homelessness crisis in our communities,” said Colin Gray, a South Bay landlord and current HIF Board president.  The charity comprises a small group of real estate owners and vendors who pay to join its board. The modest structure allows the charity to direct 100% of outside donations to local families in crisis. The key to success for HIF’s program, officials say, rests in its timeliness.

“An unstable housing situation often comes unexpectedly,” Gray said. “We provide a bridge between crisis and self-sufficiency when no other group does.”

In the last eight months, HIF has saved 232 low-wage households from homelessness by paying their rent, utilities – or a security deposit to help them move out of unsafe conditions and into stable housing. The charity operates in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and the grant recipients must demonstrate they are not chronically dependent, but victims of a one-time cash shortfall.
In addition to being HIF’s primary fundraiser, the annual gala has become a magnet for apartment business networking and sells out months in advance. Last night’s installment was a turning point for the charity as its founders paid tribute to Debbie Wade, who served as HIF’s sole employee for nearly 20 years before retiring in February. Attendees were also introduced to Christy, whose family an HIF grant saved from eviction last winter.

While much of the event was lighthearted in nature, attendees’ wallets were anything but light as the average attendee donated $260 cash during an impassioned impromptu fundraiser led by Matt Matteson, an HIF founder. All in, HIF raised over $500,000 – a 41% increase from last year’s event, which itself was its largest ever. This evening’s proceeds could provide emergency grants to over 400 Bay Area families, HIF officials say.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the banquet hall as 2011 grant recipient Christy recounted when HIF saved her from eviction last Christmas. When her employer went bankrupt, the single mother had nothing left for December rent, much less gifts for her two daughters. HIF gave Santa a helping hand through an emergency grant covering Christy’s rent and holiday gifts for her children.