Five Minutes With Maia Shanklin Roberts
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.
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