Eva Longoria has lent her name to numerous causes: diversity in Hollywood, education, the plight of farm workers and low-income Latina entrepreneurs.
Now the former "Desperate Housewives" star is taking up a cause few would think flashy enough for celebrities: "workforce" housing.
Longoria, 41, recently became an investor in a Turner Impact Capital housing fund that seeks to preserve blue-collar apartment units across the country and ease an affordability crisis that has hit minority communities especially hard.
She will also promote and serve as a spokeswoman for the fund led by Bobby Turner, a prominent Los Angeles financier who had a high-profile partnership with former Lakers star Magic Johnson that invested in shopping malls in neglected areas.
The actress said that while soaring rents aren’t the flashiest issue, the high cost of housing negatively impacts other areas that celebrities have more readily tackled.
“If you are spending 50% of your income on rent, you’re not spending on healthcare, not spending on education, not spending on nutrition and not where it needs to go,” Longoria said. “That directly hits the community I represent.”
Indeed, Longoria’s advocacy for the Latino community, including through the Eva Longoria Foundation, was a major reason Turner said he brought her on -- similar to how Johnson had credibility in the African American community through his development of a theater complex in South Los Angeles.
“Eva not only brings to this partnership the intelligence and wisdom, but she also brings the authenticity to advocate in minority communities,” said Turner, whose fund has attracted other high-profile investors, including hedge fund manager Bill Ackman.
Turner and the former Lakers' star tried to build a similar housing fund in 2008 when Turner was a partner at Los Angeles hedge fund Canyon Partners, but it never got off the ground amid the financial crisis and recession that followed.
Turner left Canyon three years ago to launch Turner Impact Capital, a Santa Monica firm that has another fund involving former tennis star Andre Agassi that invests in urban charter schools .
Longoria and Turner declined to reveal her investment, but Turner said it was “significant and meaningful.” The fund's minimum for institutional investors is $5 million, but it declined to disclose any minimum for individuals.
Nick Nanton, a celebrity branding expert, said workforce housing is definitely below the radar in Hollywood, but the arrival of stars could help open the eyes of the nation’s upper classes to the pressing issue.
“Most people don’t understand if you don’t see it,” he said.
Even so, Longoria is not the first star to get involved in the issue of sky-high rents.
Carly Rae Jepsen -- best known for her hit single “Call Me Maybe” -- performed last year in the home of struggling Los Angeles renters to kick off a national campaign named "Make Room."
Enterprise Community Partners launched the initiative to raise money for renters and raise awareness about the nation's housing crunch. Other musicians who have performed for the campaign include Stephan Jenkins, the lead singer for Third Eye Blind. The concerts are taped and posted to Make Room's website, along with a call for donations.
“Housing isn’t always the sexiest issue,” said Angela Boyd, the managing director of Make Room, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit. “This is a way to break through all of that.”
A major goal for Boyd is to focus the attention of policymakers on the plight of tenants, who are sending a larger share of their income to the landlord.
In 2014, about half of tenants nationwide spent more than 30% of their income on rent — the typical threshold for when a home is considered unaffordable, according to the latest study from Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.
The study pinned the blame on stagnant wages and a surge in the number of Americans who rent, which has grown by nearly 9 million households since 2005 in part because of the foreclosure crisis.
In Los Angeles and Orange counties, where costs are higher and housing construction has lagged behind population growth, the problem is even worse. Nearly 60% of tenants, or 1.3 million households, are living in unaffordable homes. Among them, nearly 730,000 households spent more than half their income on housing.
The Turner Multifamily Impact Fund is trying to turn the tide by acquiring 10,000 units worth $1 billion across the nation. The fund targets mid-level apartment complexes that other investors are eyeing, usually so they can fix them up and increase rents.
Turner said he keeps the rents steady and makes money for investors by improving security and offering other services that keep blue-collar and middle-income workers as long-term tenants. That helps eliminate turnover, a major expense for landlords.
Longoria will try and help achieve that by meeting with tenants to get a better sense at what services might keep them in their units longer.
"You have to go into these neighborhoods to find out what do they need," Longoria said.
To date, the Turner fund has acquired nearly 2,500 units in Maryland, Florida, Texas and Nevada. Projects include a 599-unit garden-style apartment community near Washington, D.C., and a 405-unit complex near Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The acquisitions cost a combined $104 million.
Turner said he’s actively looking for properties in Southern California, but so far hasn’t had any luck.
“Candidly,” Turner said, “it’s very cost prohibitive, particularly in Los Angeles.”