THERESA PARKER has been executive director of the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) since 1997.

Her 33-year career in public service began when she worked as a student assistant in the Department of Benefit Payments. Before stepping into the top post at CalHFA, Parker served as chief deputy for policy at the California Department of Finance and undersecretary for the California Health and Welfare Agency. She was recently recognized with the 2008 National Public Service Award from the American Society for Public Administration and the National Academy of Public Administration.

Q: How did you get started in the affordable housing business?

A: My first exposure to affordable housing issues was as the governor’s representative on the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee and the Debt Limit Allocation Committee. In addition, I served as the director of finance’s representative on the CalHFA board of directors. Those experiences gave me a real sense of the stiff competition and significant challenge to provide affordable housing in California.

Q: What’s new at CalHFA this year?

A: A big challenge right now is trying to deal with the volatility and complexity of the markets. While we have been doing multifamily financing for many years, last year we hired a new director for that division, Bob Deaner. He is moving forward at mach speed to position CalHFA to add value to increase the availability of affordable housing in California. We also recently applied and received contingent approval for, in conjunction with nonprofit community groups, an $8 million grant to dramatically expand foreclosure prevention counseling throughout California. We are also looking at ways we can play a role in helping first-time homebuyers who are facing foreclosure.

Q: How is the agency changing?

A: Given how volatile the market is, we have to look at the relevancy of our products on a weekly basis to see if they can add value to rental or homeownership housing. With a new director of multifamily housing, we can be more aggressive than we have been able to be in recent years. The agency also is stepping up its partnerships with other state agencies and counties to expand supportivehousing opportunities, including housing for people who are mentally ill and homeless.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge for the agency in 2008, and how do you plan to overcome that challenge?

A: The biggest challenge is to find capital and liquidity given the disruption in the credit markets and on Wall Street. We’re having numerous discussions with existing partners and looking to create new partnerships so that we can have capital at interest rates where affordable housing can be developed. In addition, we need to continue to educate investors that affordable housing is a safe investment and furthers a tremendous effort for public-private partnerships.

Q: What’s a recent move that CalHFA made that other housing agencies can learn from?

A: Eighteen months ago, CalHFA helped negotiate an affinity agreement with Fannie Mae that enabled HFAs [to have] a preferred relationship for underwriting terms and rates. This agreement enabled us to provide homebuyers some of the best rates in the mortgage industry, and I think it’s safe to say that many people wouldn’t have been able to purchase homes without it. To date, 26 states have tapped into the financing, and we are working now on pricing and terms for the second nine- to 18-month period.

Q: What impact has the mortgage crisis had on the agency?

A: While the agency doesn’t do subprime loans, the crisis has impacted our ability to raise liquidity and capital. It has forced us to make adjustments on single-family mortgages to reduce loan-to-values to 95 percent and combined loan-to-values to 102 percent. At the moment, the priority for additional liquidity is multifamily loans and restructuring of our existing multifamily debt. We have also joined with the governor and other state agencies to play an active role in preventing foreclosures in California.

Q: What’s on your iPod?

A: An eclectic mix of music—everything from classic to folk, such as Joan Baez, to Irish folk singers.

Q: Who’s your hero and why?

A: My biggest hero and role model was my dad. He was a country doctor who always put his patients first. I grew up with the notion of providing service to your community and people in need.

Q: If you unexpectedly had the day off work, where would we find you?

A: In Portland, Ore., with my grandkids.

Q: What’s next for Theresa Parker?

A: Besides working on my golf game, trying to develop a vision for the next housing affordability product to further affordable housing in California. In California, we are never going to be able to create enough affordable housing given our population growth, so it is an ongoing, never-ending challenge.