Robin Hood Foundation Real Estate Assistance

Real estate is a critical element for Robin Hood community partners to expand. Yet very few have the expertise needed to lease, buy or build new space in a real estate market as challenging as New York City. Robin Hood’s Real Estate team aims to provide these organizations with what they need—advice, real estate experts and capital funding—to serve even more New Yorkers in need.

— Susan Sack, Managing Director, Real Estate


Currently, 1 in 5 New Yorkers are living in poverty, and even more are relying on the services that our grantees provide to keep them from falling into a life of poverty. And we’ve seen the demand for these services continually increase during these challenging economic times. In the past five years alone, the number of New Yorkers seeking emergency food rose from 1.1 million to 1.4 million, and the number of New Yorkers who slept in a shelter rose from 96,000 to over 110,000. Robin Hood funds 200 of the best poverty-fighting organization in New York, many of whom are ready to expand to meet these increased needs; however, they can’t expand their services without first expanding their space.

Real estate is a governor on even the most well-funded nonprofits. The need to search for space, negotiate leases and oversee real estate projects can distract executive directors and staff from attending to their mission. And because real estate is not the core business, or competency, of the groups we fund, the staffs and boards of these groups rarely possess the necessary expertise to complete such projects successfully. For these reasons, our grantees need our assistance.

Robin Hood has responded by providing help in the form of real estate assistance to our grantees. Simply put, we provide support to our grantees from inception of the capital project to the ribbon cutting ceremony. This can mean helping an organization identify, interview and hire an architect, engineers or real estate brokers.  It can also mean participating in weekly design meetings. And, because we have more than ten years of experience in this field, it also means sharing lessons learned from other grantees that have completed successful real estate projects. 

Because we believe that planning is crucial for a successful capital project, Robin Hood’s involvement starts here. We begin by helping grantees gather good information to help them make sound decisions about real estate. And we do this by helping them hire the right professionals to gather that information. We help grantees identify their options, understand the costs involved, both capital and operating, and minimize risk.  Should an organization rent, buy or build? How much rent can an organization afford? Is it feasible for an organization to raise enough money to build an addition to an existing building? Because we believe so strongly in planning, we provide the early stage funding to get this information. In select cases, we also provide funding for the ultimate real estate project. And sometimes the value we add is in helping an organization scale back or delay a project – that saves time, real money and prevents failure.

Real Estate Assistance in Action

Robin Hood began funding POTS in 1991 when it was still just a small soup kitchen. By 2005, demand for POTS food and social services had grown well beyond its small space. Green beans and peanut butter were stored in a makeshift closet between staff desks on the second floor; pasta and powdered milk were on a shelf between staff desks on the third floor. Overcrowding, inconvenience and lines snaking down the halls became routine. Mothers lugged strollers and shopping carts up narrow staircases to pick up groceries at the tiny second-floor food pantry.

With a $1 million capital grant from Robin Hood, POTS launched a capital campaign to build its new home. And Robin Hood’s support was not only financial. Leading up to the capital campaign, Robin Hood supported strategic planning, assisted with marketing and branding efforts, brought in financial professionals to review and improve their finance infrastructure and processes, and recruited a consultant who drove the successful capital fundraising effort. POTS opened the doors to its brand new home--directly next door to its original building--in late 2011, and Robin Hood’s support continued with a contractor to manage the final stages of construction, and financial support to ensure that the complicated tax credit transaction was processed smoothly and efficiently. The new facility has enabled POTS to triple its programming and storage space, serve more people and offer a broader array of services to its community.