Giving on (More Than) a Prayer

You can take the rock star out of Jersey, but you can’t take Jersey out of the rock star. Along with NBA star Chris Paul, Jon Bon Jovi is the cornerstone investor in a housing fund for the underserved.

You can take the rock star out of Jersey, but you can’t take Jersey out of the rock star. Jon Bon Jovi may be on a tour — his This House Is Not for Sale tour kicked off in Minneapolis in September 2016 and is due to finish in Brazil a year later — but the Sayreville native still has time and money for his home state.

The JBJ Soul Foundation, Bon Jovi and his wife’s nonprofit, is the cornerstone investor in a social impact fund designed to encourage home building in the Garden State. The UBS-operated fund aims to foster housing development along New Jersey’s shoreline and in the communities hit worst by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which caused havoc in many areas of the Northeast seaboard.

Bon Jovi was on a publicity tour in the U.K. in the fall of 2012 when the superstorm made landfall. It hit his home in Red Bank, New Jersey, and the rocker cut short his trip to return and be with his family. He went on to play an active role in the relief effort, and his charity has donated to the recovery.

As time moved on, however, Bon Jovi and his wife came to feel that not enough was being done to help local communities still struggling to rally from the storm. Maria Tanzola, a financial adviser with UBS, began talking with Mimi Box, then JBJSF’s director, and others about what else could be done. “There was a lot of need, and donor fatigue,” says Tanzola. To consider which approaches might be more effective, “I went back to the drawing board.”

What Tanzola came up with was a balanced fund, half equities and half fixed income: The fixed-income portion would invest in bonds and raise capital for home building in key areas of New Jersey, while the equity portion would deliver a reasonable return. The equity portfolio is a sustainable UBS fund; the Calvert Foundation and Community Capital Management are the underlying fixed-income managers. Funds are allocated to affordable housing, small-business development, enterprise development, and urban revitalization.

“Once we identified the solution, the JBJ foundation was prudent and cautious” in its approach, says Tanzola. “They wanted to make sure there was credence to the story. They engaged the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania to do a study and affirm that the strategy will be impactful to rebuild New Jersey.”

The study found that the proposed fund would meet a strong need in the community. JBJ has put up some (it will not disclose how much) investment capital. Tanzola estimates the total capacity of the fund at around $100 million.

Bon Jovi is not the only celebrity to care about where and how Americans live. Real estate mogul Bobby Turner, for example, has used celebrity “ambassadors” for funds he has raised that focus on urban development or low-income housing.

Turner started his own firm — Santa Monica, California–based Turner Impact Capital — in 2014, seeking “profits with a purpose.” Last year he teamed up with actor and activist Eva Longoria to launch a fund for workforce rental housing aimed at middle-income families. Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul recently joined as an investor and ambassador for the fund.

“I’ve been totally committed to philanthropy since I set foot in the NBA,” says Paul, who grew up in North Carolina. “At times it can be just a drop in the bucket. Being part of this fund with Bobby gives an opportunity to have a sustainable solution.” When he first heard about the idea of investing and doing good, Paul says, he was “a little suspicious.” But now, “I’m excited about making changes that you can see.”

Turner raised $254 million for the Turner Multifamily Impact Fund, which is now closed. Institutional investors in the fund include the University of Michigan endowment, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Texas Permanent Land Fund. Turner is looking to buy properties in urban markets around the U.S. and has targeted acquisitions in Washington; Dallas; Austin, Texas; San Antonio; Miami; and Las Vegas.

In addition to affordable housing, the Turner team provides community services and outreach. Turner says he is particularly excited about Paul’s talent for connecting with the kids living in these communities. “Chris’s involvement and his ability to raise awareness of young boys is a really important addition to the fund,” he says.

Turner and Paul have plans to bring other NBA players, and team owners, into subsequent Turner impact investment funds. “We are building a network for collaborators” around the country, says Turner. “The conversation is growing.”