Passionate about affordable housing, innovative, and enterprising are all fitting descriptions for AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE's 2009 Young Leaders.
This year's leaders—all younger than 40—make up a diverse group of for-profit and nonprofit developers, a state housing agency director who's shepherding stimulus funds, a community development specialist at a state and local equity fund, and a green expert from one of the nation's leading affordable housing nonprofits.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE is recognizing these 12 individuals for the outstanding accomplishments they have already achieved and the promise they hold for the future. Nominated by their colleagues, they are difference makers. In all, approximately 45 nominations were received and reviewed before selecting this year's group.
Here you'll read about their accomplishments, how they became involved in the industry, their concerns, and their advice for fostering more young leaders.
A closer look
After seeing the devastating living conditions of migrant farmworkers in the north Florida tomato farming communities, Brooke Boston changed her master's degree plan. She pursued a degree in urban planning with a specialty in housing and community development and has been in the field ever since.
When she started at the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) nine years ago, it was an agency under criticism and investigation.
Boston helped lead the department toward transparency and equity, as well as implementing a reorganization and signifi cant state legislative changes.
“I am proud that I was part of the management team that essentially turned the program around,” she says.
Now TDHCA's deputy executive director for community-based programs and Recovery Act accountability and oversight, her goal is to see all of Texas' housing stimulus funds spent by the deadline.
Dana Bourland, vice president of Enterprise Community Partners' Green Communities, is not just contributing to the creation of affordable housing, but working to make that housing healthier and sustainable.
Since the launch of Green Communities in 2004, Bourland has directed all aspects of the initiative, including training and technical assistance to developers and owners; packaging of financial support for developments; and implementation of a public policy agenda to drive progress at the local, state, and federal levels. She also spearheaded the creation and revision of the Green Communities Criteria, the only national framework for green affordable homes.
“Within five years of working on Enterprise's Green Communities initiative, we have seen a transformation in the affordable housing sector toward rethinking the way we are designing, locating, building, and rehabilitating housing using green methods and materials,” Bourland says.
Green Communities has invested more than $615 million in approximately 14,500 green affordable homes.
Aaron Seybert, community development specialist at Great Lakes Capital Fund in Lansing, Mich., grew up in the affordable housing industry. His father is an affordable housing developer, and Seybert would spend weekends doing yard work at some of the developments.
After an internship fell through before law school, he was hired at Great Lakes for the summer and was asked to stay on full time in the fall. As asset manager, he oversaw a portfolio of more than 70 lowincome housing tax credit projects representing more than $160 million in equity investments while juggling law school.
Seybert also worked with the Michigan Legislature last year to develop and pass critical legislation exempting certain affordable housing developments from the new state business tax.
On the for-profit developer side, two of the young leaders stepped up to the plate by founding their own company to create affordable and mixed-income housing.
Chris N. Papamichael and Matt Schwartz combined their talents to create The Domain Cos. at the beginning of 2004. Schwartz started at The Related Cos. where he worked in several different areas—the structuring and management of tax credit funds, acquisitions, debt and equity products, and finally affordable housing development. Papamichael was a principal at Aris Investments, a New York City firm specializing in turning around distressed multifamily assets.
“My background was entirely market- rate; [Schwartz's] background was entirely affordable,” says Papamichael. “Between the two of us, we can tackle any multifamily project.”
Within five years, Domain has been involved in the development of more than 2,300 units, many of those in New York.
Both graduates of Tulane University, Schwartz and Papamichael also have been helping to lead the redevelopment of New Orleans. Domain has created 483 mixedincome units in three developments— The Preserve, The Crescent Club, and The Meridian—located along the Tulane Avenue corridor.
“We are proud to have played such a significant role in the recovery of New Orleans,” says Schwartz. “Our efforts in New Orleans were at times met with much skepticism, but we are proud to say that all of our projects have proven successful and have positively impacted their immediate neighborhood and recovery in clear and measurable ways.”
Lisa Stephens, regional vice president of Florida-based Pinnacle Housing Group, also has experience in post-Katrina recovery.
Her entry into the affordable housing industry was by accident. She submitted her resume to a property management company who forwarded it on to its development company. She was hired to prepare financing applications for tax credits and has been working with tax credits ever since.
At the time that Katrina hit, Stephens was working on a development in Biloxi, Miss., and saw the devastation firsthand just days after. Last year, she completed one of the first post-Katrina housing developments utilizing Gulf Opportunity Zone tax credits in Mississippi—Pinnacle at Magnolia Pointe in McComb. She is now working on one of the first multifamily developments on the Gulf Coast using Katrina Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds.
“Being able to participate in these revitalization and rebuilding efforts has definitely been one of my top accomplishments,” she says.
Saki S. Middleton, partner of acquisitions and development at Related California, was introduced to affordable housing through a government and community housing course in college and started his career as an associate development project manager at the Bedford Group in 1999.
Within five years of joining Related California as a project manager, he was promoted to partner. He created a new business line there, which focuses on the redevelopment of urban properties with churches throughout California.
Middleton credits Related California. “I was given all the tools necessary that encouraged me to think of new ways to develop affordable housing. The tools provided to me allowed me to turn those ideas into a reality,” he says.
The remaining young leaders are nonprofit developers.
Jennifer Erixon, president of Mercy Housing Colorado and Mercy Housing Southwest, knew she wanted a job where she could make a difference and address the roots of poverty. She also saw the firsthand effects when her parents divorced and her mother was financially limited and forced to move her two daughters into a cramped apartment.
“My interest in affordable housing is driven, in a large degree, by the desire to ensure that women like my mother are not forced to sacrifice their safety or their children's education in order to afford the rent,” Erixon says.
She was hired as a real estate project assistant at Mercy Housing in 1997. She left Mercy in 1999 and went on to work at PNC MultiFamily Capital in Oregon and Capmark Securities, Inc., in Denver. She returned to Mercy in 2007 to head up the Colorado division.
Erixon is responsible for overseeing new Mercy developments in Colorado, Arizona, and Nebraska as well as monitoring the health of a portfolio consisting of more than 2,300 units in 38 properties.
Mercy Housing Colorado recently partnered with Denver's Road Home to create the 66-unit Aromor Apartments, Mercy's first supportive-housing development for formerly homeless in Colorado. “As a fourth generation Denver resident, I'm truly proud that Mercy Housing Colorado was able to repurpose a beautiful historic building as permanent housing for Denver's formerly homeless,” she says.
Richelle “Shelly” Patton, president of Georgia-based PRI Development Services, LLC, was also on a mission to pursue social justice and community service. She moved from her hometown of Los Angeles to Atlanta to work with an urban ministry and oversee a program using volunteers to rehab single-family homes for low-income households. She left that position two years later knowing affordable housing was her calling and pursued a master's degree in city planning from Georgia Tech.
She started at PRI in 1998 and has been instrumental in the development of 21 projects totaling 2,488 units. When she began her position as president of the development division of PRI in 2003, her team was developing 340 units. Under her leadership, that number has grown to more than 1,200 units at 11 properties.
Patton says spearheading the creation of Hope House, a transitional housing community in Atlanta for 70 homeless men with substance abuse addictions, has been the most rewarding project for her. She formed a collaboration of public and private interests, negotiated a complicated ground lease with the city, secured the fi- nancing, oversaw the design and construction, and assisted with support services.
Jonathan Trutt, housing director of Northwest Housing Alternatives, Inc., in Oregon, also has a family experience that motivates his affordable housing work.
“My mom grew up in an affordable development in New York City, and the stability that provided her family undoubtedly contributed to her success,” he says.
Trutt attributes his background as both an asset manager and a housing developer to helping facilitate conversations and stay focused on the long-term view.
Through his efforts, the nonprofit has added 438 units of affordable housing for families, seniors, and people with special needs. Another 181 units are in development. And he supervises oversight of 1,435 units on the asset management side.
Gabriel Torres got his start in the industry during his senior year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo when he participated in a California Coalition for Rural Housing's internship project for diversity in housing. He interned with Peoples Self-Help Housing Corp. and then was offered a full-time position with Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association (CHISPA) in Monterey County, Calif.
Project manager and vice president of operations at CHISPA and Central Coast Residential Builders (CHISPA's construction subsidiary), Torres not only oversees construction of single-family homes and apartments, but he handles the management duties for new developments.
Torres is also active in the community. He coordinated a partnership between CHISPA, the city of Salinas, and Hartnell College Construction Trades program to construct homes on vacant city lots. Under his supervision, they have already completed three homes, giving the college students hands-on construction experience. And he serves on the planning commission in Hollister, where he lives.
The final young leader, Joe Keeper, also is very community-oriented. In addition to being the housing director for Phoenix-based Native American Connections, Inc., where he has worked since December 2002, he serves on Phoenix's Housing and Neighborhoods Committee and Phoenix's Neighborhood Services CDBG Committee.
When Keeper started, the agency had less than 100 housing units. Now, the agency has five residential properties with other properties in development, which has increased its operations and management to 300 housing units.
He also was instrumental in the redevelopment of two of the agency's oldest apartment communities, which have now reopened as affordable rental housing with energy-saving appliances, and in the creation of 10 infill single-family homes for first-time home buyers.
Keeper also displayed leadership efforts in creating a large-scale partnership to co-locate the agency's services with two other nonprofits as a one-stop Native American Community Service Center.
A member of the Cross Lake First Nations Band in Canada, he uses his background to educate others on the merits of developing for the Native populations.
Tax Credit Experts
BROOKE BOSTON, 37
AARON SEYBERT, 28
DANA BOURLAND, 37
The For-Profit Developers
SAKI S. MIDDLETON, 34
CHRIS N. PAPAMICHAEL, 34
MATT SCHWARTZ, 32
LISA STEPHENS, 33
The Nonprofit Developers
JENNIFER ERIXON, 34
JOE KEEPER, 34
GABRIEL BONSE TORRES, 39
RICHELLE “SHELLY” PATTON,37
JONATHAN TRUTT, 38