HAND members are hard at work across the region addressing the growing housing affordability challenge. “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 have a dialogue with Ernst Valery, Co-managing member of SAA | EVI and member of HAND’s Board of Directors.
Check out our conversation with Ernst here:
HAND: Tell us a little about your journey. How did you land in the affordable housing and community development industry?
EV: I started out developing market rate row homes in Philadelphia – but my background as a planner did not allow the one-for-one exchange and ultimate displacement of low income families – often people of color and immigrants from the very communities that were redlined and starved of resources to sit well as a viable business model. Inclusive development is the opportunity to serve a greater purpose and what the American Dream is really about.
HAND: Why is this work important to you?
EV: If you believe in what our Country stands for – the notion that genius is in every zip-code and we can dream of a better future – fueled by hard work and determination – the foundation of that world view is housing and community – our affordable/ workforce and community development industry! But we can’t stand still – we have to keep innovating and connecting the pieces – as well as broadening our scope beyond bricks and mortar.
HAND: Your latest project is Ministry of Brewing based in Baltimore. Can you provide a little background on how it got started and why you got involved?
EV: The start of Baltimore’s newest brewery began over two decades ago on the campus of Cornell University. David Wendell and I were both on the football team, and the only two players living on north campus, because we lived in multicultural housing: I lived in the International House and David in the Native American program house. Our walks back to north campus after practice revealed a shared value system of maintaining a sense of purpose and identity, strength in diversity and family, while reaching for life-long goals. Thus began a decades-long friendship which now has them opening a craft brewery in the former St. Michael’s Church.
HAND: Can you speak to how it will impact the surrounding community?
EV: Along with great beer, an unmatched atmosphere and a fully-restored historic space, the brewery will feature an educational component aiming to teach under-represented young adults the art & science of microbiology and brewing, opening the door for them to participate not only in this emerging economy, but also in public or private research labs and any business where these skills are valued. This is what it means to look beyond bricks and mortar and push to have a real positive impact on the lives of the people we serve.
HAND: You have extensive experience in affordable housing development as well. Do you believe there is a “secret sauce” to addressing housing affordability?
EV: The secret sauce is first recognizing how we as a society have perfected classism and racism – both conscious and unconscious. A longer conversation is required if that does not immediately make sense to you.
HAND: What advice would you have for emerging leaders in our space who are in the early stages of their careers?
EV:The current model is not perfect and still broken, and we need innovation. Don’t be afraid to speak up when something just does not make sense and be relentless.
HAND: If you weren’t working in this industry, what might you be doing?
EV: I would be an immigration attorney or a journalist in oppressed places. Something that deals with giving people a chance at a better life.