Archive for category: HAND Member Profiles

Five Minutes With Maia Shanklin Roberts

April 10, 2022
April 10, 2022

The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more.  In this edition, we had a conversation with Maia Shanklin Roberts the Vice President
of Real Estate Development for Preservation of Affordable Housing
. Check out our dialogue below to learn more about the Barry Farms project, her work experience, and her words of wisdom for the next generation of leaders of color!

HAND: Congratulations on your new role at Preservation of Affordable Housing! Are there key takeaways from your experience thus far that you are bringing into your new position? 
MSR: Key takeaways: Engagement of community is essential in a successful affordable housing project. In my role, I am responsible for taking inventory of all of the various stakeholders on the project and discerning how best to utilize their skills/resources for the project. And most importantly, I have to be thoughtful in how to engage marginalized voices in the process because it is these stakeholders that are most impacted by my decisions.

HAND: You have extensive experience in a wide range of complex affordable housing development and real estate transactions – can you tell us about your journey to this point
MSR: I was an affordable housing attorney from 2017 to 2021. When going to law school, I knew that I wanted to do work that could create systemic change in low-income and urban communities. It was the sole purpose of going to law school. I am from DC, where I learned firsthand the realities of the impact divestment had on black and brown communities. Then after graduating college, I came back to DC to work for the Peaceoholics, where I worked with youth in gangs and crews and learned that unless we bring real resources to their communities – there would be no way we could truly curb the violence and other issues that plague our community. That lead me to law… and my desire to work to provide economic resources to my community. I loved it until I realized that I could do more. I could be that designer and bring my skills and talents, and perspective as a black woman from the community into my work. 

HAND: What excites you about your new role? Do you foresee any challenges? 
MSR: Working on affordable housing projects in DC excites me the most. Barry Farm is a major redevelopment, and it is my job to work with my team to imagine and implement a plan that could transform the lives of former residents and the DC natives. That’s huge! Of course, there will be challenges. On top of the challenge of developing a multi-phase project – infrastructure and vertical buildings… we also must address issues like gentrification, protecting former residents’ right to return, systemic poverty, and equity all within the project. 

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability and creating more equitable communities in our region? If so, what do you think that is? What do you think is the largest obstacle?
MSR: Not necessarily secret sauce… I believe you just have to operate with the assumption that your purpose as a developer of affordable housing community is to be the voice for the underserved and marginalized. Therefore, it is your job to increase opportunity for diverse and equitable participation at all levels in the project, and to ensure that you deliver a project with resources and amenities that provide equitable outcomes for the community served. I think the largest obstacle is that what’s “market” is not equitable. And so you constantly have to push this agenda with all stakeholders from your financing partners, to contractors, to national commercial tenants. In all ways, you have to ask on every call/with every decision, what more can be done to be inclusive and maximize opportunity and benefit for those who are not sitting at this table because of systemic racism and marginalization.

HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this space?
MSR: There are not many people in leadership that look like me, and I want to change that. Our work directly affects black and brown communities. We must have more people of color in leadership and working on these transactions to ensure that they are best served.

HAND: Keeping in mind the history of racism and its impacts on housing, how can leaders of color or, more specifically, women leaders of color in the real estate industry move the needle in a different direction?
MSR: Your voice is needed. Don’t allow anyone to take that away from you. I think the most significant barrier is for the myriad of reasons we aren’t seen… I make it my business to be seen. I am passionate about my work and I don’t have any fear of speaking up and being the only one in the room if I have to be.
 

HAND: If you weren’t working in this industry, what might you be doing?
MSR: I would probably be doing similar work… lol, and traveling to warm and sunny destinations with my family.

Five Minutes With Christy Zeitz

March 15, 2022
March 15, 2022

The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In honor of Women’s History Month, we are excited to share this special edition of Five Minutes With. In this edition, we had a conversation with Christy Zeitz the CEO of Fellowship Square. Check out our dialogue below to learn more about Fellowship Square’s farewell tour, Christy’s advice on how to make affordable housing projects work, and her words of wisdom for the next generation of female leaders!

HAND: As CEO of Fellowship Square, you bring extensive leadership experience in management, fundraising, marketing, and program development. Can you tell us about your journey to this point?
CZ: I do my best work when interacting with others, so I’ve always sought opportunities to meet new people, learn from them, and take the next step forward in my career. Along every step along my way to my current position as CEO of Fellowship Square, I’ve proactively learned from others, embraced challenges, and worked hard to attain stretch goals. Those priorities have served me in every position I’ve ever had – across all the organizations I’ve worked with and functions that I’ve had. The guiding focus of my professional life has been to make a measurable difference in the lives of others, and this is truly the most rewarding part of my journey.

 

HAND: What strategic financing and collaboration strategies can you share to ensure that affordable housing providers like Fellowship Square can continue to serve vulnerable residents with dignity over the long term?
CZ: To make affordable housing projects work, it takes smart, creative people working collaboratively. Fellowship Square is one of the leading providers of affordable housing and services to low-income seniors in the region, operating 670 units and serving roughly 800 residents. We’ve put structures in place so that the rental cost is never more than 30% of a resident’s annual income – making our communities some of the most affordable in the region for seniors. The key strategies that underly our work: collaboration, creativity, and openness to new approaches. Whether for the benefit of an owner, investor, residents, or the community as a whole, there are news ideas and options that must be uncovered and teased out in some way. If we go into a project thinking we are going to do it the way we’ve always done affordable housing projects, there will be a missed opportunity somewhere. Openness to new ideas is key. We and other housing nonprofits like us have the unfortunate challenge of competing against the for-profit developers for things like land and construction costs. These costs can be staggering – and create major barriers to building more affordable housing. We must be open to new ways of thinking, new partnerships and the unexpected twists and turns that get our projects done. Sometimes the “right” approach requires writing a new playbook.

 

HAND: Fellowship Square has launched a “farewell tour” of the 1970’s Lake Anne Fellowship House in preparation of moving 300+ residents from the original 50-year-old building to a brand-new state-of-the-art residence across the street. Can you tell us more about this undertaking, why it’s important and any challenges you may foresee?
CZ: Lake Anne Fellowship House, originally built in 1970, was the first senior housing and first affordable housing developed in Reston. Over the past 50+ years, the property has provided housing to more than 1,300 low-income seniors. Yet the building was showing its age and upkeep of the property was exceeding the amount residents pay in rent and the subsidies received from HUD. About seven years ago, our Board decided that the best path forward was to replace the existing 240-unit building with a new facility. 

This is where creativity and openness to new approaches came in. We embarked on a joint venture with Enterprise Community Development with whom we were able to craft a novel solution: instead of relocating the residents temporarily until a new building was built on the existing footprint, we would construct a new building on an underutilized portion of the current site. This would substantially reduce logistical demands as well as the number of relocations our residents would need to make. Under this creatively structured deal, once our residents are moved into the new building this spring, Fellowship Square will demolish the original building, market rate townhouses will be developed, and the land sales proceeds will be reinvested as part of the overall financing package. 

Of course, financing for affordable housing is never simple. The development team needed to secure project based rental vouchers for 100% of the units and create the right mix of financing for such an ambitious goal. In addition to our partnership with ECD, financing also came from diverse arrangements with Virginia Housing and the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, Virginia Community Capital, Low-Income Housing Tax Credit equity provided through Enterprise Housing Credit Investments by Capital One, Enterprise Community Loan Fund, Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority, and, of course, HUD. In fact, much time and effort were expended convincing HUD as to the critical need to preserve the deep subsidies for the existing very low-income residents and making sure they would be eligible to move to the new building so that all residents who wished could be accommodated.

All of this was accomplished. We broke ground in 2020 (in the middle of the pandemic!) and residents will relocate this spring to the newly built Lake Anne House. The property comes with some of the best amenities, services, and environmentally sustainable features. Residents will appreciate its gym, arts room, game room, wellness clinic, beautiful outdoor terraces, wifi throughout the building and more. We will also continue to have a full time Service Coordinator onsite to serve our residents.

But the grand finale is bittersweet – for the residents who have lived at Lake Anne Fellowship House for many years, for long time staff who have worked in that building for years, and for Reston community members who have visited the property, strolled through the hallways, and visited friends and family there. This is a major change, and I know there will be some tears shed. Sometimes it’s hard to say good-bye even when a bright new future lies ahead. We have a ”farewell tour” of programs to communally and collectively celebrate our community, this building, and our memories here as we prepare for the move to the new residence.

 

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability and creating more equitable communities in our region? If so, what do you think that is? What do you think is the largest obstacle?
CZ: There’s no “secret sauce” to housing affordability. In my mind, it’s more like a “Las Vegas buffet” of options, opportunities, considerations, and collaborations – and the plate for each region may be filled quite a bit differently. In the Washington DC Metro area, our housing needs span the spectrum of price points, amenities, services, and financing. The affordability factor is a core fundamental part of supporting the local workforce. As such, creating more affordable housing has to be a community effort – it can’t just be left to the housing advocates to fight for. The community as a whole has to come together to embrace housing affordability for all.  The more collaborators at the table, the more varied our buffet of options and the more success we can have.

The type of affordable housing will vary community to community, but collaboration across organizations will always be key.  For example, very low-income residents, especially those below 30% AMI, require significant subsidies.  Beyond rental assistance, this often includes the need for the provision of services including transportation, healthcare, food assistance, healthcare, mental health services, and more.  This means that affordable housing management must also be able to access public and private resources to augment standard housing management activities.  Fellowship Square accomplishes this by building a deep network of resources within our local community to plug into. Our vulnerable residents can access care managers who can provide or refer the residents to appropriate services in our community. This is important to build and foster.

 

HAND: In March we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. Given your extensive leadership experience, what advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders? What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership, and how have you overcome those barriers?
CZ: Few things make me prouder than to see young women asserting themselves and stepping up when they have an opportunity to lead. There are so many valuable traits and perspectives that we all benefit from when women are in leadership positions. For today’s emerging female leaders, they cannot sit by and wait to be asked to lead – it’s much more important that they seek out and even create those opportunities.

Sometimes the biggest barrier to reaching the next level in our careers is how we hinder ourselves. Whether through self-doubt or even other commitments, it comes down to priorities and having a vision for our own professional futures. Nothing will be handed to us on a silver platter – nor should it. Working hard and getting ahead is where you learn to grind it out and become a true inspirational leader. Leadership comes from experience, it comes from perspective, and those both come from hard work. But hard work that results in great leadership cannot be achieved in the shadows!

Women must always put themselves at the table – and in my experience, there’s always a way to have your voice heard in those circles, whether directly or indirectly. Regardless of someone’s position on a staff flowchart, each individual person can be a leader in some respect. Young women who may feel they aren’t in a position of leadership can still have an important impact on the trajectory of projects, assignments, teams, and workplace culture. Show initiative and you will be rewarded.

As you can tell, I’m very much an optimist. I always believe that what I want to happen can happen, it’s up to me to figure out how to make it happen. And the only thing holding me back is my own ideas of what I can and cannot accomplish. I hope other women can learn from this.

HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this space?
CZ: Working in the affordable housing space is a little like making dreams come true. For too many people today, having a safe, affordable, and stable home can seem out of reach. Being a part of helping to make this dream of housing happen is a daily motivator for me. Nearly every week, I get at least one call from one of our 800+ residents who wants to tell me about what’s going on in their life. They never hesitate to say how thankful they are that they live at Fellowship House. This is what keeps me motivated every day. I am so proud of the work my organization does, and really appreciate the time and effort the Board and staff put into our mission.

 

HAND: If you weren’t working in this industry, what might you be doing?
CZ: I’d be living in the Caribbean, working on my side hustle as a fiction writer…and helping anyone who asked!

 

 

 

Five Minutes With Evelyn Immonen

November 22, 2021
November 22, 2021

The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. This month, in honor of November being American Indian Heritage Month, we are excited to share this special edition of Five Minutes With. In this edition, we had a conversation with Evelyn Immonen, a Program Officer for Enterprise Community Partners’ Rural and Native American Programs. Check out our dialogue below to learn more about the importance of having Native Americans in places of leadership, the recent movement to reauthorize NAHASDA, and advice on how you can help support the continuing of this important work beyond November!

HAND: Can you tell us about Enterprise Community Partner’s Rural and Native American Programs and about how you landed in this space? 
EI: Enterprise Community Partner’s Rural and Native American Programs provides resources, capacity building support, and technical assistance to organizations to help create safe, decent, green, affordable homes in both rural and Native communities. Enterprise is one of several national intermediaries in the affordable housing space, and I joined them from the Housing Assistance Council which focuses exclusively on rural America. I’m proud to see the work Enterprise does in these geographies growing.

HAND: Can you speak on how you approach your work in this space? Also, can you touch on the importance of having Native Americans in positions where they affect the issues facing their communities?
EI: My family has heritage with the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and we have family ties on Standing Rock as well. I have always felt a connection to that history and sought to give back when I went to grad school for public policy. In my career, it wasn’t so important what issue I was working on so long as it was improving Native communities: I had an opportunity to work in affordable housing and now I’m happy to dive deeper into that. There are so many professionals in this sector that are incredibly knowledgeable, especially on the Rural and Native American team. Still, it’s rare to see organizations support Native people who have really been raised on the reservation and in ceremony—but that ought to be their core constituents, since it’s the communities who are most remote and most entrenched in generational poverty that need the greatest resources. There should be more Native Americans in positions where they can make a change simply because we will always hold a flame under the issues and not let anyone off the hook. That’s often what it takes in these spaces. Coastal elitism is quite real and it’s easy to tokenize without doing real work. I hope that I’m able to effectively bridge those two cultures, but at the same time I consider it a great obligation and responsibility.

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to providing both affordable and culturally relevant housing on tribal lands? What do you think is the most significant obstacle?
EI: Well, every housing development on tribal lands should start with the tribe themselves. If not the elected tribal council, then the housing authority they have appointed in their place. This is probably the clearest path to an affordable housing development that’s culturally relevant: by stepping aside to allow leaders from the community make decisions and direct priorities. Tribes are the most likely to be their own developers on their own lands, but even in cases of partnership with another developer, its not only respectful to defer to the tribe, but often they will have access to additional funding or be able to expedite approvals that make the project’s success possible. That leads me to the obstacle, though, because Native tribes are overburdened with many obligations and staff capacity is constantly an issue. Of course, these issues are quite complex and its difficult to make generalizations about all the different circumstances, but I think bringing more resources and assistance to a tribe-directed project is really the secret sauce.

HAND: Last month, in an article you reflected on how the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) has transformed the landscape of Indian Country. Can you discuss the recent movement to reauthorize NAHASDA in both the House Financial Services Committee and Senate, and how the affordable housing community can continue to support the NAHASDA for the next 25 years?
EI: Reauthorizing NAHASDA and funding it in full is absolutely critical. Without authorization, there is nothing holding Congress accountable to funding the program each year, despite the over 40,000 single family and 25,000 rental homes developed over the last 25 years that prove how effective the legislation is. Reauthorization bills would also move the Tribal HUD-VASH program out of demonstration, and restructure HUD to better prioritize Native Housing. There has been legislation introduced to reauthorize NAHASDA in every Congress since it expired in 2013, and this year there is movement in both the House and Senate, but I don’t think it will ever come to fruition without pressure from advocacy organizations.

I’m optimistic to see that NAHASDA was funded at $875 million this last round of appropriations, which is the highest it has ever been. At the same time, if we consider inflation over the years, this still does not set up the program with the same resources it had in the first year of its existence. Now the cost burden of homeownership is rising, the population of Native Americans are rising, and the cost of construction materials post-2020 are rising. Every policy actor who works in the affordable housing space should be applying pressure to our legislators to prioritize NAHASDA.

HAND: Enterprise Community Partners recently completed the first Native Homeownership Learning Communities Cohort (NHLCC). What are some of the lessons learned from this?
EI: While I didn’t get the chance to work with the cohort while it was ongoing, I was really optimistic about what I saw in the Impact Report, which I helped put together. Enterprise’s team has really built up their expertise in homeownership in Indian Country over the years, through the Enhancing and Implementing Native Homeownership curriculum. What was different about NHLCC was that it was not geared just towards one tribe’s homeownership program but worked with 18 different groups for over a year. I think participants really valued the peer-learning component and the chance to learn from more experienced tribes as opposed to disengaged federal agencies. There was also a unique emphasis on collaboration with CDFIs, and groups expressed that they learned more about each other through NHLCC than working together on the same reservation for years. I would recommend checking out the Impact Report for more information, which also includes a profile of each tribal housing organization’s accomplishments over the cohort period.

HAND: What are you most looking forward to at the Rural and Native American Program over the coming months? Are there any projects or programs you are particularly excited about?
EI: I just mentioned Enterprise’s expertise in tribal homeownership, but I’m really looking forward to being a part of expanding our Native expertise into multi-family and rental as well. Enterprise is authoring a Native Developers Guide which will assist developers of multi-family and rental homes on Native land. It’s going to be comprehensive and include every stage of development so that TDHEs, Housing Authorities, and Non-profits have all the information they need in one place. At the same time, I’m excited to make this about more than just one publication and to hopefully have a hands-on, collaborative approach to making sure this is a useable and useful document for tribes.

Enterprise has a lot more on the horizon as well, and our team is continuing to educate the organization as a whole on working with tribes, including through a new Native American Advisory Council that’s forming with other Native nonprofits. We’re also expanding out of the lower 48 with new work in Alaska and Hawaii, so stay tuned!

HAND: We want to help support the continuing of this work beyond November, so what advice would you give someone who doesn’t know where to start and is seeking to make an impact? On the other end of the spectrum, what are some next steps for someone looking to advance the work they’re already doing work in this space
EI: First, you have to know your history, especially working in Native spaces. That doesn’t mean just the history of genocide and displacement, but also the legal history. The law is a living and breathing entity, and Indian Law has a number of complicated twists and turns in the fight for recognition of tribal sovereignty—several of these are covered in this blog post by my colleague Dustin Baird.

Then, its important to make change in your organization so that that history is recognized today. Land acknowledgements are a good way to start doing that, because it sets the intentions of any given meeting to focus on the land, its original inhabitants that still to this day consider it sacred, and our obligations to be good stewards to that land and to each other.

Finally, my advice to anyone currently working with Native communities: if you’ve been to one reservation, you have been to one reservation. Every Native Nation has their own land, treaty, history, culture, and government, and no two are the same. Make no assumptions, stay humble, and show up consistently. We need more of you.

Five Minutes With EagleBank

September 27, 2021
September 27, 2021


Pictured:Rich Devaney and Dara Koller 

The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In the latest edition, we have a conversation with EagleBank‘s Rich Devaney, Senior Vice President and Dara Koller, SVP & Deputy Director. They chatted with us about their extensive experience in the affordable housing and community development industry and how they landed in this space. Rich highlights past challenges, lessons learned, and his advice to emerging leaders seeking to make an impact. Dara shares key takeaways from her experience, what she is bringing into her new role, and other her interest outside of affordable housing. Check out our dialogue below:

HAND: Both of you have extensive experience in the affordable housing and community development industry  – Can you tell us about your professional journey and how you landed in this space?
DK: I have 20 years of industry experience, working in leadership roles at Freddie Mac and agency lenders supporting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac multifamily executions, primarily focused on affordable rental housing executions for both agencies, including new construction and preservation of affordable rental housing properties.  While at Freddie Mac, I was also involved in the development and roll-out of  a few new products supporting the affordable rental housing industry as well.  When I first began working on affordable rental housing transactions, it was not the most well understood or popular asset type in the industry compared to market rate rental housing, but I always believed it was extremely important and I was excited to be part of an industry focused on solving the growing need for affordable rental housing in the U.S.  
RD:  I began my career just after the passing of the CRA legislation and immediately prior to LIHTC legislation being rolled out, working with and for some of the most respected and innovative industry icons in the DC market.  It was an exciting time, fusing the tension between regulatory pressure in the banking industry and innovation and expansion of and in the community development and non-profit sector intent on increasing its impact in significantly underserved neighborhoods.  My focus and vision was grounded in building high-impact community development and affordable housing businesses within and with large institutions (Bank of America, Fannie Mae, top 5 Life Companies) under the rubric of profitability, sustainability and scalability.  My experiences took me through the capital stack and from neighborhoods to national presence.  Throughout, my greatest experience to date was setting up this FHA business within EagleBank, coupling the best of financial strength, innovation and flexibility in its ability to deliver capital within the community it serves. 

HAND: Rich, you launched EagleBank’s FHA Multifamily Lending Division in 2015, in addition to several other investment initiatives for the bank. Can you tell us about one of your largest challenges over the past six years and what you have learned?
RD: Our FHA Multifamily business is a product line that falls squarely within the Bank’s commercial real estate span of lending.  As such, our task was to integrate this business in a collaborative way, not competitive, with the balance sheet lending activity, getting the buy-in from the line lenders and alignment in goals and objectives…..”Enlightened self-interest”.  Having set up multiple businesses over my 35- year career, this one presented unique challenges, including how to integrate.  It took a solid 3 years of repetition, “proving the thesis” and trust building to get to the point where the value chain is clear and tangible.  Presently, every single transaction within the FHA pipeline will touch the Commercial Real Estate balance sheet.  Lesson learned was that you can get buy-in strategically at the highest level, but you must get buy-in tactically where the rubber hits the road with the people who make the business happen. 

HAND: Dara, you are fairly new to the bank – what key takeaway(s) from your experience thus far are you bringing into your new role?
DK:

  • There is a continuing need for safe, decent affordable rental housing and supportive services in our local communities and EagleBank has made a significant contribution to the growth across the Washington D.C. market and in communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic over the last 20 years. EagleBank continues to play an important role in financing affordable multifamily rental housing, which has helped build and maintain safe and economically stable communities which significantly improve the quality of life for its residents. 
  • We have a tremendous opportunity to continue to make a contribution to the local community to provide much needed affordable rental housing through our deep relationships with affordable housing developers and investors, as well as EagleBank’s FHA multifamily business, which allows us to do business anywhere in the U.S. We are a community bank, with national capabilities with our FHA multifamily licenses.  I think that is a powerful combination.
  • My strong affordable housing and multifamily experience will augment EagleBank’s growing FHA multifamily business. In this new role, I will be dedicated to FHA loan originations, business development as well as serving as a resource for the Bank’s focused efforts on affordable rental housing. 

HAND: Rich, do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability and creating more equitable communities in our region? If so, what do you think that is? What do you think is the largest obstacle?
RD: I believe the private financing vehicles and resources are readily accessible and in sufficient amounts to have great impact.  There needs to be, and always has been, focus on equity in the delivery and availability of affordable housing.  One of my greatest mentors emblazoned in my mind “you are what you measure”, so to solve issues related to equity, we need goals, transparency and accountability….period!  My perspective is that the largest obstacles in the production of affordable housing are the public entitlement process, zoning, planning, and permitting.  Some municipalities have processes that take up to 3-5 years which infuses risk, uncertainty and viability to the process. 

HANDRich, what advice would you give to emerging leaders who are seeking to make an impact in this space?
RD: Be flexible – issues are rarely binary choices, every situation is a learning experience – accept set-backs as a gift and surround yourself with diversity – holistically.

HAND: Rich and Dara, what are you most looking forward to over the coming months at EagleBank? Are there any projects or programs that you are particularly excited about?
RD & DK: Furthering the synergies within the Bank, our investment in the Washington Housing Initiative and further coupling our balance sheet and FHA business. 

The FHA Multifamily Group is an emerging contributor to the strategic goals and objectives of the CRE Group and EagleBank. 

EagleBank financed a handful of key affordable housing projects in the Washington D.C market including:

  • More than $81 million in financing to support a key affordable housing project in Bethesda MD, which includes 401 multifamily housing units situated on five separate land parcels.
  • Phase I of Addison Row Apartments, Capital Heights, MD a planned community consisting of a 321 unit multifamily building. The project is currently in lease-up. The community caters to workforce housing needs and in addition to affordability, offers large unit sizes compared to new construction in Washington, D.C. Phase II will add 327 units. 
  • A construction loan used in conjunction with 4% LIHTC to rehabilitate a 60 unit LIHTC affordable community located in the Barry Farms neighborhood of Southeast Washington, DC. After completion, a HUD FHA Section 223(f) refinance application to exit the bank construction loan.
  • A $50 million construction loan for a to-be-built low income housing project above retail space located in the Capital Hill area of Washington, DC. The project will utilize 4% LIHTC and a long-term rental subsidy contract with the DCHFA.
  • EagleBank is currently working on a few notable affordable housing transactions, including the renovation and recapitalization of a project-based Section 8 property located in the Anacostia neighborhood in Southeast Washington DC utilizing 4% LIHTC.

HAND: Rich and Dara, if you weren’t working in this space, what might you be doing?
DK:  I have always been interested in architecture and design, focused on creating and transforming spaces to meet the needs of a building’s occupants and looking for solutions to present and future issues, such as climate change.  Incorporating sustainable and green building design in construction projects is increasingly important to reduce the carbon footprint and use our energy and water resources more efficiently.
RD: I have been consistent in responding to this question when asked over the past 30 years.  I would be dedicating 100% of my time working in programs that focus on disadvantaged youth, focusing on education and financial literacy.  To me, one of the biggest gaps we have racially and socio-economically is knowledge of and access to financial tools, products and services. 

Five Minutes With Suman Sorg

September 27, 2021
September 27, 2021

The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In the latest edition, we have a conversation with Suman Sorg, Founder of A Complete Unknown. Sorg chatted with us about her extensive experience in the architecture and design space and her journey to this point. She tells us the origin and explains why she starting A Complete Unknown. She highlights what separates A Complete Unknown from other architecture firms. Check out our dialogue below:

HAND: You have extensive experience in the architecture and design space – can you tell us about your journey to this point?
SS: For over 26 years I grew my first firm, Sorg Architects, into one of the largest woman-owned architectural firms before its acquisition. During that time I was fortunate to have worked on projects in over 30 countries and was recognized with Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects (AIA). However, when I looked back the most meaningful work that I completed during that time were those that made the most impact on its occupants and the surrounding community. With this realization, I have now channeled my energies into this new non-profit design firm A Complete Unknown.

HAND: Tell us about how A Complete Unknown came to be. What prompted you to start this firm?
SS: With my previous firm, I did a lot of work in underserved communities or for people in need. They weren’t the largest or most glamorous buildings or the ones that made the most money but are the ones that I carry in my heart the most.

When we finished the John & Jill Ker Conway Residences in Washington, D.C., 120-units of permanent supportive housing, I was so touched by meeting the people who moved in and hearing about the impact that having this kind of housing has had on their lives. In fact, the first person to moved into the building was a guitarist in Elvis Presley’s band. After Elvis died, this gentleman joined the army and served in Vietnam. Hooked on heroin, and unable to connect with family, he landed in Washington DC after the war and was homeless ever since. At a computer room in the building, donated in part by my own family foundation which helps residents acquire basic computer skills, the staff was able to help locate his family. The joy on his face to learn that his sister lived just a few blocks away, was indescribable.

Now I want to only do buildings like these and serve communities, people, and nature in need.

HAND: What excites you about your work over the next year? Do you foresee any challenges?
SS: With A Complete Unknown, we hope to make an impact on a wide range of disadvantaged communities focusing on affordable and housing for the unhoused. There is an awareness now, that has been building for quite some time, actually, that empathetic architecture should be the norm. It’s not just what we design but how It impacts the surrounding communities, nature, and animals. The exciting part is seeing how other partners like developers or engineers are also understanding this and more importantly wanting to address this.

As for any challenges, It’s been clear to me in the first 7 months since we officially launched that there is a demand for the type of work we do. However, the big question is how can we get in front of the people who are doing this work such as non-profit developers and community leaders? If we can do that well, we can show them that we are here and are able to help you, right now.

HAND: What factor separates A Complete Unknown from other architecture firms?
SS: As a non-profit Architecture firm, we are driven by our mission which is making a difference through architecture and design in underserved communities worldwide. Therefore, the emphasis we place on equity and social justice is a critical part of what we do. We believe that good design should be accessible to all. Also, being a 501(c)3 organization we are able to pursue grants and to support our client’s philanthropic goals. Our services are offered at a discounted rate depending on the project, thus reducing the soft costs of development and helping more of these projects come to fruition.

HAND: What is one thing you wish you would have known at the beginning of your career?
SS: The act of designing and building is a long process so the relationship between a designer and client is like a marriage. You want a good partner who is going to trust you, have a good dialogue, and you can work with for a long time. We would like to get into a relationship like this with someone who matches our ethos, goals, and mission. It didn’t take me long to figure this out, but it’s especially true when working on projects where the economics are tight like affordable and housing for the homeless.

HAND: What do you think is the largest hurdle when it comes to designing spaces for underserved populations?
SS: Under-represented populations are often overlooked in a variety of ways and so there is often a lack of funding or commitment to these types of developments. When they do get funded they still tend to be underfunded for what needs to be built. This leads to buildings of lesser quality, with compromised programs and less durability. Also, these developments tend not to address the bigger picture. For example, truancy, literacy, and obesity are all issues that affect underserved communities disproportionately but are not addressed as regularly. These are the things that we also consider in every project that we take on.

HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this space?
SS: In architecture school, I never heard about love, compassion, or empathy in our coursework. There is so much opportunity in the collaboration of architects, social workers, and volunteers and we need to promote listening, unselfconscious doing, and modesty in the profession. There is arguably no better sector to work with this perspective than in affordable and housing for the homeless. Being able to work collaboratively about how buildings fit within the context of the community and more importantly how they can serve those in need. That’s how we can make a difference.

With a design approach that is infused with the basic tenets of humanity, such as compassion, love and a pledge to nonviolence towards all – humans, animals and nature; we are searching for an architecture beyond one that does no harm or even withstands harm to one that can undo the harm. In this endeavor I happily find that the outcome and the path to it are both a complete unknown.

HAND: If you weren’t working in this industry, what might you be doing?
SS: Long before I became an architect my grandmother would say she thought I would be a doctor. I liked the idea as I would be doing something that helped people. But when my father met Louis Khan in Ahmedabad while working on the Management Institute and later Corbusier in Chandigarh, he suggested I look into architecture as a major in college. I did, and my artistic side fell in love. Without that guidance, I probably would have become a doctor. I have also painted for many years, so likely I would also be doing more of that.

 

Five Minutes with Professor Anthony Cook

April 6, 2021
April 6, 2021

 

The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In the latest edition, we have a conversation with Georgetown University’s Law Professor Anthony Cook. Cook chatted with us about his journey and how he landed in the community development industry. He explains the origin story of GateBridge, his forthcoming affordable housing community that will provide opportunities for renters to become homeowners and workers to become business owners. He highlights what sets GateBridge apart from other communities. Check out our dialogue below:

HAND: Tell us a bit about your journey. You have a really interesting story and extensive experience in a number of fields – can you speak to how you landed in the community development industry?
AC:I was born in the small rural community of Magnolia, MS.  It was a community of mutual aid associations and relationships that had the church at its core. While none of us called it this at the time, I later came to understand it was, in fact, a community of residents engaged in a practice of community development: building and renovating each others’ houses; borrowing tools and lending expertise and assistance on a wide range of endeavors – from homestead repairs to quilting and canning vegetables, from growing crops, slaughtering hogs, and sharing with those in need to co-parenting and providing employment and enrichment opportunities for children. On the other hand, it was Mississippi, and one of my earliest childhood memories was of a cross being burned across the road in the churchyard – one of many threats against Black churches and communities involved in the civil rights movement and demanding the right to vote and equal rights.  The community came together in many different ways to protect itself against domestic terrorists who intended to undermine democracy and harm our community.  It was a tumultuous time, as are the times in which we live today, but growing up in that community taught me the importance of simultaneously building community through what we now call placemaking and establishing the necessary preconditions for communities and individuals to flourish. These were the laws, policies, structures, and systems that impacted life and opportunities within our communitySo, in many ways, community development, a very rich and textured understanding of the term, is part of my DNA, and I have Magnolia, Mississippi to thank for that.

HAND: Let’s talk about GateBridge. How did it come about?
AC: As a Georgetown law professor, I’ve practiced and taught in the field of community development and affordable housing for many years. I understand the limitations and often contradictory policies around affordable housing for low-income and workforce populations. This work has led me to believe that building more affordable units is a necessary but insufficient solution to our present crisis in affordable housing, particularly as a tool for fighting poverty.  The crisis facing under and disinvested communities are complex and intertwined. Poverty is highly racialized, place-based, genderedand age-concentrated.  These populations need quality housing in a stable and secure environment that furthers health and wellbeing, access to nutritious food, living wage jobs, and home and business ownership opportunities.  All of these are interrelated parts of a larger problem sitting at the intersection of poverty and longstanding structural and systemic racism.  In the future, affordable housing solutions will need to anchor affordable developments with the kind of robust placemaking that expands the capacity of residents and community to tackle these interrelated problems.  GateBridge is a vision of how this can be accomplished – affordable residential units anchored by an incubator for placemaking and the kind of cooperative and community enterprise development needed to build the entrepreneurial capacity of residents to find solutions to problems confronted by their communities.  It was this kind of rich and intentional placemaking and economic ecosystem that made it possible for a kid like me to thrive, despite growing up poor in one of the poorest states in the country.  I believe these communities can do the same for others. 

HAND: What sets GateBridge apart from other communities?
SK: GateBridge is a community of change-makers.  It promotes multifamily limited-equity cooperatives anchored by an incubator for cooperative and other community businesses.  GateBridgebuilds resident and community wealth by providing an opportunity for renters to become homeowners and workers to become business owners.

HAND: What excites you about this community? What challenges do you foresee?
AC: GateBridge Communities center placemaking as an indispensable tool for impacting under and disinvested communities.  Only by building the capacities of residents to plan and execute their own community development can initiatives become sustainable. Sustainability is crucial to any long-term effort to reform structures, systems, and practices in place for generations. The primary challenge for GateBridge is building its balance sheet and finding balance sheet partners that can help expand our capacity to build a portfolio of GateBridge communities in the DMV and region. 

HAND: What is one thing you wish you would have known at the beginning of your career?
AC: I wish I had appreciated then, as I do now, the vital need for legislative reforms in this space.  In many ways, the system creating affordable housing shortages and our present crisis is designed to do exactly what it is doing.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result.  Innovations in the market are possible around the edges, and GateBridge stretches the existing system to its limits, but to scale GateBridge-like innovations requires a different system of financing affordable housing. It requires recalibrating priorities around brick and mortar development on the one hand and human development on the other.  Like GateBridge, the human development component can no longer be an afterthought.  It must be an integral part of development, built into the capital stack and funded with the precision and care of the building itself. 

HAND: As someone who took somewhat of an untraditional route into community development, what do you think is the largest hurdle when it comes to creating and preserving affordable housing across our region?
AC: Access to low cost and less extractive capital is essential.  Federal funding programs like LIHTC make the construction and preservation of affordable housing much more complicated than it needs to be, largely because financing structures based around tax credit incentives serve the interests of an investor class over those of local communities.  Low-interest federal loans channeled through community financial institutions to vetted and approved local developers, preferably those with a strong track record in the community, should cover ninety percent and more of the total cost of qualifying developments.  Revising affordable housing financing structures would go a long way in meeting the demand for affordable and secure housing.  Furthermore, there should be pathways to at least limited equity ownership for residents of multifamily units.  

HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this space? 
AC: Many BIPOC communities have been devastated by a long history of policies originating beyond their communities: urban renewal, investment in suburban growth and the disinvestment in urban centers, redlining, gentrification, and inefficient neo-liberal, supplyside tax credit programs that have benefitted those not residing in under and disinvested communities more than it has benefited those within the communities. The pendulum must swing back in the direction of community-generated affordable housing anchored by the kind of placemaking and community wealth building envisioned by a GateBridge Community. 

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability? If so, what do you think that is?
AC: Community-based access to long-term, low-cost, debt financing that covers at least ninety percent of the costs of producing affordable housing, along with funding for metrics-driven, evidence-based human development supports that improve residents’ quality of life and helps move them to greater self-sufficiency. 

HAND: What is one thing most people don’t know about you? Do you have any hidden talents?
AC: I love traveling, fine dining, music, and stimulating conversation around visionary ideas and the nitty-gritty of bringing them to life.

Five Minutes with Scott Kline

March 18, 2021
March 18, 2021


Scott Kline (President & CEO)

The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry, and more. In the latest edition, we have a conversation with Stratis’ Scott Kline (President & CEO). Kline chatted with us about his extensive work experience in the housing and community development industry. He also highlighted the challenges he foresees for himself as he begins a new chapter of his career. Check out our dialogue below:

HAND: You have extensive experience in the housing/community development industry – can you tell us about your journey to this point?
SK: Sure!  My dad was a small developer down in southern Virginia. Growing up I frequently worked for him on weekends and over summers.  I really enjoyed the real estate development process – starting with nothing (new construction) or a mess (renovation) and transforming it into something new and beautiful.  With the combination of so many disciplines: architecture, construction, law, finance, asset management – it never got boring.  And the smell of construction!!!  When I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to work in the development business in the DC metropolitan area, which proved more difficult than expected.  I started working for a builder of new homes as an accountant, in hopes that I would be able to progress into actual development.  After two years, I realized that was a dead end.  From there I worked as an investment analyst for another large developer, until the Tax Reform Act of 1986 put them out of business and I was without a job.  It was then that I saw an advertisement for a position with responsibilities that included: negotiating for the acquisition of projects, developing scopes of work and financing plans, and project management.  It was for a “nonprofit” organization called AHC  formally known as Arlington Housing Corporation.  Candidly, I didn’t know what a nonprofit developer was, but the job sounded perfect.  The rest is history as they say.  I was hired by John Spencer, the founder of HAND, and I fell in love with mission-oriented real estate development.  I traveled to meetings with John when HAND was first established.  At that time, there was no annual meeting.  We met up with 5 or 6 nonprofits every few months, ate our brown bag lunches, and had informal discussions about the industry and our challenges.  HAND grew from there.  Eventually, when HAND achieved sufficient mass that an Executive Director was hired, I joined the Board and ultimately became the first President that was not John Spencer.  It was a tremendous experience. When John left AHC, I became the Director of Multifamily and coordinated all facets of real estate development, and oversaw asset management.

After eight years at AHC, I joined the National Housing Trust as Vice President. NHT was comprised of three of us at the time, and when I left after more than 23 years, there were 30 employees. Initially,  I worked on policy, development consulting, and assisted with running the organization.  In the year 2000, we started a separate affiliated 501(c)(3) corporation to develop and preserve affordable housing – NHT Communities formally known as NHT Enterprise Preservation Corporation. Added to my responsibilities was establishing and running NHT Communities. The work was similar to what I had done at AHC.  I gained the experience of developing affordable housing all over the country working with a variety of state and local governments. I’m proud of the accomplishments while I was there which included the preservation of more than 8,500 affordable units and incorporated $1 billion of financing.

Also at NHT, I established a separate affiliate energy company that focused on providing sustainable retrofits to existing affordable housing.  Most notably, we developed solar arrays which in total created 11,500 KW of electricity with financial benefits accruing to households of low- and moderate-income families and seniors.

HAND: Tell us about your newest chapter with Stratis. What excites you about your new firm? Do you foresee any challenges?
SK: For the first time in a long time, I’m not responsible for managing the organization, making payroll, and setting office policies that impact the lives of so many.  That’s a relief.  I’m excited about channeling that energy into more project work. I’m also excited about sharing my knowledge and ideas with others.  I’ve always enjoyed teaching. At the same time, I’m still learning.  There is nothing “cookie-cutter” about affordable housing development.  Every project is different and every developer has their own means, methods, and decision-making processes. I’m finding it fascinating to learn about new ways of approaching projects, different financing schemes, and different ways to run a development organization.

I do foresee challenges.  Mostly, I’m used to being the decision-maker.  As a consultant, I advise, providing the best counsel that I can.  But ultimately, decisions are made by my clients.  That takes some getting used to.

One thing I miss is the residents.  At AHC and NHT, I had a fair share of interactions with tenants.  That was informative and rewarding.  I don’t foresee having those kinds of relationships as a consultant.

HAND: What factor separates Stratis from other similar consulting firms?
SK: Me.  I have experience with a variety of financial executions.  In addition to low-income housing tax credits, tax-exempt bonds, multiple credit enhancements, and soft financing from state and local entities, I’ve worked on equity structures that do not involve tax credits, and utilized several HUD programs,  some of which allow for significant changes in rents.  Additionally, I’ve run an affordable housing development organization, so I’m familiar with the types of considerations and issues with which real estate developers are concerned.  In running that organization, I was responsible for all facets of the development, operations, and organizational management.  So regardless of my consulting assignment, I’m not approaching projects simply from the perspective of finance, and getting to a closing.  I’m conscious of other organizational considerations like predevelopment risk, sustainability, asset management, and resident services. 

HAND: What is one thing you wish you would have known at the beginning of your career?
SKThe business of creating affordable housing lacks the structure that is incorporated in some other careers.  For example, accountants receive ongoing training regarding their trade and to some extent, they do task A, then B, then C depending on the engagement.  While the complexity of the work certainly varies, there is some level of structure and predictable progression of the work.  Affordable housing development is anything but.  I’ve worked on projects that take 3 years from start to finish. I’ve worked on projects that take 12 years from start to finish.  Some involve intense local government participation, some involve virtually none.  Some involve intense resident participation, some involve none.  Some involve zoning issues and related processes which vary from one jurisdiction to another.   There isn’t a model or a template.  There isn’t a real estate development checklist that applies to every project.  I wish I had known at the beginning of my career that I would be teaching myself a process and that it would vary greatly from one project to another.  And further, that there is no one right way to do it.  If you provide the housing and turn a profit, you did it one of the right ways, and hopefully, you learn what you might have done differently that would have enhanced the outcome and maybe, just maybe, that knowledge will be beneficial on another project.

HAND: What do you think is the largest hurdle when it comes to creating and preserving affordable housing across our region?
SKBesides money?  More money.

HAND: What is your “why”? What keeps you motivated to continue your work in this space?
SKThe people we serve.  As noted above, I’ve had a fair amount of interaction over the years with the residents our industry serves —  families, elderly, supportive service recipients, homeless.  Their incomes have ranged from zero to low income to moderate-income to market rate.  I remember so many faces of low and very low-income residents as we celebrated their new homes.  The work is hard but at the end of the day, I’ve contributed to improving the quality of life for some individuals, and maybe even given them a platform to move up and create some wealth.

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability? If so, what do you think that is?
SK:Absolutely not.  As noted above, there’s not cookie cutter approach to this work.  Every project is different and there’s not one single model for developing and presering affordable housing.

HAND: If you weren’t working in this space, what might you be doing?
SKHonestly I have no idea.  It’s a question that I’ve pondered.  But I really can’t picture myself doing anything else but this. 

Five Minutes with SC&H Group

November 23, 2020
November 23, 2020

Ron Causey (CEO), Travis Daniel (Director)

The HAND network is hard at work to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry and more. In the latest edition, we have a conversation with SC&H Group‘s Ron Causey (CEO) and Travis Daniel (Director). Causey & Daniel chat with us about the launch of the firm’s Affordable Housing Real Estate Service, which welcomed several team members from Hertzbach & Co. Check out our dialogue below:

HAND: A number of team members from Hertzbach & Co. have joined SC&H Group, launching an affordable housing real estate service at that firm. Can you share more details about this exciting move?
TD: Yes, we are very excited that our entire affordable housing real estate team joined SC&H Group. SC&H is a well-respected firm, and a great fit for our team and our clients – not only with respect to the diversity in services offered but also the company culture. The leadership of this group includes Andrea Hartman, Jeff Kleeman, Debbie Norris and me. Our group will be based in Sparks, MD.
RC: I’ll certainly echo Travis’ sentiments, and add that we are always looking toward the future, identifying new ways to expand our expertise to meet client needs, and reach new clients. In this case, it meant the opportunity to bring in many new team members that deepen our expertise in real estate and development tax issues and broaden our services to this industry. It was a no-brainer for us.

HAND: What is the affordable housing real estate team bring to the SC&H family? What can clients expect in the coming weeks and months?
TD: Our group encompasses a full-service team of tax, assurance and consulting professionals which focus on affordable housing. We have experience with all aspects of a project’s life cycle from pre-construction to exit strategies. We are very excited about the impact this will provide to bolster SC&H’s existing real estate capabilities. Our goal as a result of this transition was to continue to service our clients in the same manner but also expand our service offerings to our clients. With our move to SC&H Group we feel we will be able to meet this goal. Clients should expect to receive the same high level of service with the same group of professionals that have serviced their accounts for years.
RC: At SC&H, we are keenly focused on how we are serving our clients, colleagues, and communities. After spending time with Travis and the team and understanding their vision and values, we knew we were a perfect match. We are excited to welcome a new group of clients to the SC&H family that will continue to be led by a very talented group of professionals that is intimately in touch with their businesses and needs.

HAND: Can you tell us about your professional journey and how you landed in the affordable housing space?
TD: My professional experience started in the tax group at Hertzbach & Co. In that role I worked with many of the firm’s affordable housing clients. As our affordable housing client base grew it allowed me to spend 100% of my time in this space. I enjoyed the complexity of the industry and helping our developer clients meet this critical need.

HAND: What are you most looking forward to over the coming months?
TD: This transition was a long time in the making. I am looking forward to serving our clients from our new platform at SC&H Group and looking forward to expanding our group with several new team members. From a personal standpoint, I was at Hertzbach & Co. for 20 years and built many long-lasting friendships, and I hope to continue this relationship-building from my new home at SC&H. Thus far, everyone has been very welcoming and helpful. From day one, we knew we made the right choice.
RC: This was one of the most attractive parts of this opportunity for us – the ability to bring in folks that were just as passionate about their professional pursuits as their personal relationships. Throughout the process, and since the team has started, it has been clear they are good people who fit right into SC&H’s culture.

HAND: What is the most important takeaway(s) from your experience thus far that you’re bringing into your new role?
TD: I have learned that you can accomplish amazing things if you venture outside of your comfort zone. As a CPA we like our bubbles, but this transaction has helped me to get outside of that bubble. My goal is to continue with this mentality in my new role.
RC: There is no shortage of unique personalities and background at SC&H—it is part of what makes us special and enables us to challenge one another to do great work. We, too, like to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and it is always a positive when your colleagues are self-aware enough to recognize the importance of this.

HAND: What do you think is the largest hurdle when it comes to creating and preserving affordable housing across our region?
TD: The level of need.

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability? If so, what do you think that is?
TD: I am not personally sold on the “secret sauce” concept. From my vantage point I see a lot of people trying to address housing affordability in different ways. It seems every solution is somewhat unique.

HAND: If you weren’t working in this space, what might you be doing?
TD: If I wasn’t a CPA in this space, I would likely still be working in the industry but as a real estate developer.

 

Five Minutes with LaToya Thomas

October 23, 2020
October 23, 2020

The HAND network is working tirelessly to address the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these members and other stakeholders. This informal conversation delves into their recent projects, the affordable housing industry and more. In the latest edition, we chat with a new addition to our team, LaToya Thomas, HAND’s new Housing Indicator Tool Policy Director. Check out our conversation below, and you can learn more about the Housing Indicator Tool here.

HAND: You have extensive experience in the housing and community development industry – can you tell us about the journey you’ve taken to get to this point?
LT: Sure – it’s been a pretty colorful journey, to say the least.  First, for background, I’m trained as an urban planner with a focus in community planning, so that’s the lens under which I have approached my work in the various positions I’ve had over the past 15 years.

The bulk of my career has been spent working either in development or in architecture, and I worked primarily in project management, community engagement, business development, and marketing.  I also had the opportunity to work on projects that ranged from affordable and mixed-income housing to charter schools to public institutions, like libraries.  This background gave me a really unique perspective, as I was able to work on a mix of projects that were “community-serving” while also being able to sit on different sides of the table as these projects came to fruition and understand the many design, financial, and political considerations that are involved.

Now I am nearly 4 years into Brick & Story (sometimes I call it “The Lab”), as a way to blend my professional experience into a platform that can work creatively and in partnership the development community to bring the people we are serving into the conversation in a truly meaningful and intentional way.  Many say we focus on engagement and, while that’s true, we’re really focused on reconnecting people to the built environment and to the steps and processes that impact how the physical fabric of their community looks and feels – particularly because we know that some people have never had the opportunity to be part of the conversation around what happens in their community. 

HAND: Can you tell us about your latest role with HAND? What are you most looking forward to over the coming months?
LT: I am collaborating with the HAND team to support the regional rollout of the Housing Indicator Tool.  Much of my focus will be to provide education around the tool, design and implement activation events for the larger community to understand the tool, and facilitate policy discussions and help to influence policy decisions so that each jurisdiction is investing in appropriate resources and tools to meet their respective goals.

I am really looking forward to the regional dialogue and exchange that is possible and so badly needed around the issues of housing affordability.  I personally believe in the value of shared learning and collaboration when trying to solve problems like this, so I think the HIT presents an opportunity for all of to do so and helps us as a region guide our next steps.

HAND: What is the most important takeaway(s) from your experience thus far that you’re bringing into your new role?
LT: The importance of creative and collaborative partnerships rings loudest here; we often get stuck in our silos within the industry and forget the many different roles we each play in shaping communities, as well as the responsibilities that we have not only to each other as professionals, but also to the larger community of people out there who are impacted by the work we do and decisions we make.  We have a real opportunity to develop a true regional approach to addressing housing affordability at our doorstep if we are all willing to work together to understand what we each need to do to get there.

HAND: What do you think is the largest hurdle when it comes to creating and preserving affordable housing across our region?
LT: The lack of a coordinated regional approach is a major factor; our area is unique because int the District we are bordered by 2 states and 4 major counties, but depending on where you are, the real estate landscape can be like night and day.  Even the understanding of the need for housing affordability across multiple income levels is not consistent across the jurisdictions.  If the region can be thinking about housing collectively – not just from a production side, but also from a financing, subsidy, and policy standpoint – we might be able to tackle our affordability issues and see a bigger impact at the end of the day.

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability? If so, what do you think that is
LT: I’ll name one ingredient in the sauce that I think is key, which is the issue of depressed wages for those who are in need of quality housing the most.  We can’t have an honest conversation about addressing housing affordability if we aren’t prepared to talk about how to pay wages that allow people to move along the housing spectrum, whether that is moving from rental housing to homeownership or moving out of public housing and into an affordable rental or homeownership option.   Housing affordability is not just about providing a roof over someone’s head; it’s also about creating a stable foundation for someone to grow and thrive socially AND economically.

HAND: If you weren’t working in this space, what might you be doing?
LT: Owning and operating a bed-and-breakfast.  I’m all about 1) acquiring real estate and 2) creating cool, interesting, and intimate spaces where people can relax and have a meaningful, hospitable experience. 

Five Minutes with Anne Venezia

May 19, 2020
May 19, 2020

HAND members are hard at work addressing the growing housing affordability challenge across the Capital Region. Five Minutes With is a series highlighting these individuals and organizations within our membership. This informal conversation asks HAND members about their recent projects, the affordable housing industry and more. In the latest edition, we chat with Anne Venezia, Arlington County’s new Housing Director.

In my new role, I also look forward to further collaborating with organizations like HAND and MWCOG to share ideas and problem solve. The need for new approaches at a regional level has never been greater.

Ms. Venezia brings more than 20 years of experience in housing policy and finance.Combined with her deep knowledge of Arlington and strong interpersonal skills, she was the top candidate in a national search. In her new role, Ms. Venezia will direct the Housing Division’s portfolio of financial and development programs and services.

She most recently served six months as the Acting Housing Director and was the Housing Finance Manager for four years prior. Venezia joined Arlington County in 2008 and gained experience delivering strategic financial planning, asset management, multifamily development and acquisitions, and housing policy oversight. Check out our conversation below:


HAND: You have extensive experience in the housing/community development industry – can you tell us about the journey you’ve taken to get to this point?
AV: I started my career in consulting, working on housing policy and disaster recovery at two different firms before entering the public sector. I accepted a position with the Development team in Arlington County’s Housing Division in 2008, underwriting loans to support acquisitions of new affordable units and ramping up my housing finance skills in the process. Following a re-org in 2016, I moved to a newly created Finance and Asset Management team. While managing this team, I oversaw an annual budget of $30 million for housing programs (largely multifamily development) as well as asset management and compliance functions of the County’s more than 8,000 committed affordable units, nearly $400 million in multifamily development loans, and over 200 single-family loans. While much of my background has been on the finance and data side of housing, working directly with families benefitting from these programs — whether in disaster ravaged neighborhoods or onsite at one of the County’s affordable properties — has always had the greatest impression on me, and is a reminder of how important our affordable housing work is to support these households.

HAND: Can you tell us about your latest role? How are you dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 simultaneously?
AV: I served as Acting Housing Director from November 2019 until April 2020 and was offered the permanent Housing Director position at the end of April. Coming into this role during a national pandemic has its challenges – we’re balancing existing programs with new COVID-related relief programs, all while learning new technologies that enable remote work and virtual community engagement. Thankfully, we have a dedicated and hardworking staff that has surpassed expectations in meeting these new demands and we’re looking for opportunities to improve our service delivery that can continue into a post-COVID world.

HAND: What is the most important takeaway(s) from your experience thus far that you’re bringing into your new role?
AV: While metrics can be powerful in demonstrating how impactful a housing program is (or not), the people we’re helping through our programs need to be our central focus. Especially in this new COVID reality—when households are struggling more than ever to pay for basic expenses such as housing, food, and medical care—we need to constantly re-evaluate how we can help and anticipate emerging needs. And, as budgets tighten, evaluating which programs can serve the greatest needs will allow us to support as many households as possible.

HAND: What do you think is the largest hurdle when it comes to creating and preserving affordable housing across our region
AV: While there are many challenges to affordable housing in our region, limited supply and housing types are major drivers of these constraints. Even in the era of COVID, growth continues in our region; having a limited supply of affordable housing types drives up demand and prices for the limited options that do exist. There simply aren’t enough rental options in our region to meet demand, particularly for those households earning less than 60% of area median income (AMI). This results in public sector subsidies being the primary, if not only way for households earning <60% of AMI, to live in Arlington and other high-cost areas of our region.

Further exacerbating the problem is high land values in our region, which disincentivizes production of affordable housing types on these parcels. Land owners wish to maximize returns on their properties; often it’s not economical to build smaller and potentially more affordable housing types, rental or homeownership. Instead, the housing types built on these expensive parcels often are out of reach for most low and moderate-income renters and homeowners.

The good news is we’re in an economically strong region, which can provide us with the resources needed to address these supply challenges.

HAND: What are you most looking forward to over the coming months?
AV: The saying “innovation loves a crisis” gives me hope during this unprecedented time. As a County, we’re challenging ourselves to try new approaches to continue service delivery while staff is largely remote. While we’re faced daily with the devastation of COVID on our low-income communities, these challenges are sparking creativity in our otherwise daily tasks – how can we serve 10 households with a program that typically serves 8? Is it time to resurrect programs that appeared unnecessary years ago but now are relevant again? Can we rethink opportunities for housing affordability in the face of tightening budgets?

Larger economic changes, while challenging to those markets, also may present opportunities for affordable housing. As the real estate market changes due to an increase in remote work, New York City and other urban areas see increased office vacancies as opportunities to re-purpose these spaces for affordable housing. These types of approaches could introduce new options in the DC area as well.

In my new role, I also look forward to further collaborating with organizations like HAND and MWCOG to share ideas and problem solve. The need for new approaches at a regional level has never been greater.

HAND: Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability? If so, what do you think that is?
AV: Affordable housing challenges are complex – there isn’t a single solution that can fully meet the need. However, a multi-pronged approach could go a long way in addressing these challenges:

  • Increased supply and housing types. To meet the needs of our most vulnerable households, we need to diversify our housing stock to enable more types at a range of affordability levels. This includes reevaluating regulations that inhibit supply goals and limit affordable housing types.
  • Regional collaboration. As I shared earlier, organizations such as HAND and MWCOG enable our ability to share ideas and resources. Approaching affordability challenges more holistically will position us to provide greater options across the region.
  • Participation across sectors. This entails consistent and visible support from public agencies as well as resources and ideas from the private and nonprofit sectors. No one sector can solve the affordable housing challenge alone – everyone needs to work together to leverage our skills and resources.
  • Taking risks and trying new things. Addressing the many challenges to affordable housing requires a multi-faceted approach of traditional tools and new solutions. We need to be comfortable with trying things that maybe don’t work as intended and keep trying until an effective formula emerges. And, since affordable housing is part of a constantly evolving economy, we must always revisit our formula; solutions that work today may work differently as job and real estate markets change.

HAND: If you weren’t working in this industry, what might you be doing?
AV: Writing novels in a far-away mountain cabin. My family probably wouldn’t join me in a remote location, however, so I’d probably need to settle for writing in an inspired place closer to Arlington. 😊