Paul Fate started out by buying parcels of land across central Massachusetts for a self-help housing program in 1976.
It was his first affordable housing job, and it quickly taught him lessons that he’s carried throughout a more-than 35-year career in affordable housing and community development.
“It became clear to me how critical a stable home and community are for people to thrive,” Fate says. “In that first job, I found I loved the work and got hooked early on. I love the combination of being able to be mission driven and business oriented as a social entrepreneur.”
Even earlier, his father, a Protestant minister, had stressed that “the real moral test of any great society is how the most vulnerable are faring.”
Fate has spent his career leading nonprofit organizations.
Since 2007, he has been president and CEO of CommonBond Communities in St. Paul, Minn. During Fate’s watch, the organization has built, preserved, or stabilized nearly 2,500 affordable homes, increasing its portfolio by 50 percent in just more than seven years.
The largest nonprofit provider of affordable homes in the Upper Midwest, CommonBond operates in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and owns a $500 million portfolio of developments with more than 5,500 housing units.
Amid the recession, Fate led the organization’s first capital campaign that exceeded its $21 million goal, raising $30 million in total. The campaign resulted in a nearly $7 million endowment fund for CommonBond’s Advantage Centers, which focus on the stability, advancement, and independence of residents. In addition, Fate oversaw an increase in flexible working capital resources, from $1 million to $16 million, by creating the Housing Investment Fund for real estate development. CommonBond was also able to move into a new headquarters debt free this year.
Fate has made CommonBond one of the gold standards in the industry, according to Tom Bledsoe, president and CEO of the Housing Partnership Network (HPN), a collaborative of the nation’s leading housing nonprofits.
“A great example of his vision and execution abilities is the amazing work he has done improving the literacy and reading outcomes of children in CommonBond Communities through the Advantage Centers,” he says. “They demonstrate his passionate commitment to making affordable housing a gateway and platform that transforms lives and communities.”
In 2013, more than 2,000 children benefitted from the group’s Advantage Services. The overall goal is to bring youths up to, and past, grade level in reading and math. Those participating in Advantage Services have an average annual high school graduation rate of 90 percent.
“I have always seen affordable housing as a means to achieve larger ends,” Fate says. “The ends of better lives for low-income residents and more vibrant communities.”
Earlier in his career, Fate launched and ran the Twin Cities office of the Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) for 11 years, starting in 1988.
During that time, the office, along with affiliate National Equity Fund, financed more than 3,000 housing units and leveraged about $640 million in housing and economic development investments in the Twin Cities.
“Paul was tough minded in getting things done, but he’s also one of the nicest people I’ve known,” says Paul Grogan, president and CEO of LISC at the time. Under Fate’s guidance, the local LISC office became one of the organization’s most productive.
Low-income housing tax credit volume was strong in Minnesota, and when it was particularly busy the company would use outside legal counsel. One day, Fate received a message to call the Chicago attorney working on one of his deals. The young lawyer had an indelible name—Barack Obama. They ended up talking on the phone many times, eventually closing two deals together.
Fate’s leadership has extended well beyond the walls of his own office. He was involved in the Minnesota Homes for All campaign, which recently leveraged $100 million in new state housing infrastructure bonds. He also recently served as co-chair of HPN’s national policy committee.
“What is so special about Paul is that with all he has accomplished, he remains such a humble, earnest guy who shuns the spotlight,” Bledsoe says. “He prefers to keep the focus on the people he serves and the team that he motivates and leads to achieve such impressive results. I really admire that about him. Because he knows the work is too big and important to tackle alone, Paul has been a fabulous partner and collaborator with peers around the country.”
Fate and his wife, Ann, have three children, Bryan, Emily, and Andy.
Fate announced his retirement from CommonBond earlier this year. He looks forward to consulting, teaching, and writing.