Five Minutes With Susan Ortiz
HAND: The HAND Team is excited to have you on board as the Program Director! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work experience?
Susan: I am excited to join the HAND team as the Program Director. Working for HAND will allow me to grow the foundation I have in the affordable housing space, and I look forward to doing that on a larger, regional scale. My previous role was as the Public Relations Manager for the DC Housing Finance Agency. While in that role, I handled all things communications – advertising, social media, press releases, community and stakeholder outreach, annual reports, presentations, etc. I am a graduate of the University of Virginia (go ‘hoos), where I earned my B.A. in Media Studies, and I earned a master’s degree in journalism from Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.
HAND: What key takeaway(s) from your experience are you bringing into your new role?
Susan: My previous experience allowed me to work with many different stakeholders, from residents to business partners to government officials. One thing I have learned over the years is that it is one thing to talk to all those groups individually, but it is more impactful when you ensure those people are all talking to each other. HAND had been influential in spotlighting how issues – no matter how small or large they may seem to some – can most successfully be overhauled with change at the advocacy and policy levels. I think my communications skills and ability to connect the right people will be essential to planning programs that members will find both informative and actionable.
HAND: What are you most looking forward to over the coming months at HAND? Are there any projects or programs that you are particularly excited about?
Susan: I joined HAND at a really exciting time of year. My second week was the launch of the 2023 Housing Indicator Tool (HIT), so I’m looking forward to how jurisdictions absorb their data and begin to implement changes over the course of the next year. The HIT has the power to show what areas are doing to successfully address the affordable housing supply, and it shows how different actions are replicable throughout the region. Of course, I’m also really excited for the 32nd Annual HAND Honors. This new spin on HAND’s Annual Meeting will be a great opportunity for me, and all the other attendees, to meet key partners in the affordable housing industry.
HAND: As the Program Director, you’ll be overseeing a number of HAND’s programs including our Affinity Groups, training series (such as the Supportive Housing Institute), and our more traditional training and capacity-building programs, among others. What value do you hope that members can gain from HAND’s programming?
Susan: I hope that members feel compelled to take what they learn through HAND’s programs back to their organizations and continue to do the work. More than that, though, I want them to feel supported when trying to put these ideas into action. HAND is all about connecting, coming together to form partnerships. The work doesn’t stop just because the program agenda comes to a close. I want members to use me as a resource as they take the assignment back to their organizations and begin to spin the wheels on how we turn these ideas into a reality.
HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this industry?
Susan: I have always been a firm believer that housing is the root of stability. Growing up, I wanted to be a reporter who covered housing and education because I am very passionate about everyone having fair, easy access to both of those things. Both housing and education are fundamental human rights, and race, class, gender – none of that, should be a barrier to ensuring someone has access to a roof over their head and the opportunity to learn and grow. Since living in Washington, D.C. and now Arlington, it is clear to me that we have a lot of work to do on getting everyone to believe that. And I think it starts with helping everyone truly understand what we even mean when we say, “affordable housing.” That term is so broad, especially throughout this region, that not everyone realizes just how many people are housing insecure. All it takes is one emergency, one missed paycheck for many people to be at risk of losing their homes.
HAND: What might you be doing if you weren’t working in this space?
Susan: My dream job growing up was to be a writer for Saturday Night Live, so in my wildest fantasy that is where I would be. But in general, I would just hope to be doing something that allowed me to write. Maybe in another world, I kept chugging along toward a career in journalism. But I am happy to have ended up where I am so far, and I am really looking forward to where this next chapter with HAND takes me.