Credit: Tim Klein
At the MacArthur Foundation, Julia Stasch is responsible for millions of dollars in grants that are helping preserve affordable housing and better explaining housing’s role beyond shelter.
CHICAGO—Developer. Housing commissioner. Grantmaker.
Julia Stasch has been all three during her influential career.
In her roles, she has been an advocate for women and minorities and
a champion for affordable housing.
For the past nine years, she has been vice president of the
program on human and community development at the John D. and
Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. She is responsible for millions
of dollars in grants, including those aimed at increasing access to
Last year, the Foundation awarded $32.5 million to 12 states and
cities to launch innovative projects to preserve more than 70,000
affordable rental units. It is part of
MacArthur's ambitious $150 million Window of
Opportunity initiative to save housing at risk of losing its
Stasch's program awarded $6 million this year
to 13 institutions to explore how affordable housing matters to
children, families, and communities. They were the first awards
under a new $25 million initiative that looks to deepen our
understanding of the importance of housing.
“We think there needs to be a more robust body
of evidence on what really is housing's role in
not only housing outcomes but in outcomes related to educational
attainment, attachment to the job force, health, and family
stability,” Stasch says.
From secretary to president
Stasch began her real estate career as a secretary and one of
the first four employees at the Chicago-based development firm
Stein & Co. in 1977. When she left in 1996, she was president,
and the business had grown to 220 employees.
The firm was responsible for a number of prominent projects in
Chicago, including the Metcalfe Federal Building and the expansion
of McCormick Place, the city's convention
Stasch insisted that women and minorities be part of the
firm's construction workforce. The company had a
policy for contractors to meet affirmative-action goals. As a
result, Stein was known for employing about three times as many
women as the industry average.
Stasch showed early on that she wasn't afraid
to cut her own path. She dropped out of college to join Volunteers
in Service to America and tutor high school dropouts on an Indian
reservation in Arizona.
She eventually returned home to Illinois, where she worked
during the day and took classes at night. It took 10 years, but she
eventually graduated summa cum laude from Loyola University. She
also has a master's degree from the University
of Illinois at Chicago.
After Stein, Stasch held several notable posts, including deputy
administrator of the General Services Administration during the
first Clinton administration.
Stasch also worked in the public sector in Chicago, where she
was at the center of overhauling Chicago's
Prior to joining MacArthur, she served as commissioner of
Chicago's Department of Housing and then as
chief of staff for Mayor Richard M. Daley.
“Julia Stasch has devoted much of her
outstanding career to increasing access to quality, affordable
housing in Chicago,” says Daley. “As
my housing commissioner, she directed the first five-year
affordable housing plan that guided the creation of almost 50,000
units of affordable housing, and set a standard for planning and
accountability that has continued through four subsequent housing
plans. As my chief of staff, she helped oversee the design and
negotiation of the $1.5 billion Plan for Transformation of public
housing in Chicago.”
With Stasch in the lead on behalf of the mayor, the city put
together a transformation program that led to the demolition of the
public housing high-rises that had become unlivable and created new
neighborhoods that would be able to sustain themselves over the
years, says Andrew Mooney, executive director of LISC Chicago.
“She has a unique way of being able to combine
policy and practice,” he says. “Both
policy and practice are better because of her.”