KENNETH D. WADE is the CEO of Neighbor- Works America, a national nonprofit that provides financing, technical assistance, and training for community revitalization efforts.
The group, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, is in the thick of the foreclosure crisis. NeighborWorks is administering a $180 million national mortgage foreclosure mitigation counseling program created by Congress.
The Washington, D.C.-based organization has a network of more than 230 community development organizations across the country.
Wade, who joined NeighborWorks in 1990, reveals NeighborWorks' biggest challenge, his heroes, and what's in his office.
Q: What was your first job?
A: My first full-time permanent job was assistant youth director for the Roxbury-North Dorchester Area Planning Action Council (R-ND APAC). The R-ND APAC was one of the neighborhood offices of Boston's Anti-Poverty Program (Action for Boston Community Development, aka ABCD). As was typical of the anti-poverty programs, ABCD had programs that served all ages and a variety of program areas.
Q: What was your first job in the community development/affordable housing field?
A: My first job in the community development field was as the coordinator of housing and neighborhood development for United South End Settlements, serving the South End/Lower Roxbury neighborhoods of Boston.
Q: What is the biggest challenge that you face this year?
A: The biggest challenge this year is to not be overwhelmed by the foreclosure crisis. Although we started our foreclosure work more than five years ago and have emerged as one of the leading national nonprofit organizations working on the issue, we did not expect that the scale and scope of the problem would become as big as it has
. As a result, we're working extra hard to train more foreclosure counselors, increase the visibility of tools that can help, and forge new partnerships with state and local governments to get the word out as broadly and as frequently as possible that foreclosure can be prevented.
Along those same lines, we're working very hard to counter the erroneous belief that lowincome means high-risk. We know that's not true from the work we've been doing for years, and we have to continually make that point to the industry and policymakers, too.
Q: Give us a sense of the magnitude of the foreclosure problem.
A: At the macro level, the current foreclosure crisis will likely result in the largest loss of home values since the Great Depression and the largest loss of wealth of people of color in the country's history. In addition, the current crisis has the potential to erase a lot of the gains that have been made in the community development field over the last 35 years. While the impact on individuals will be devastating, there will also be a spillover effect on local communities that will last for years.
Q: What is NeighborWorks doing on the multifamily housing front?
A: We are looking to ensure that our affiliates can include more "green" elements in the homes they develop and to ensure existing units already owned are able to weather the current economic downturn. One way that we're hoping to achieve this is through a collaboration with other nonprofits that's called "Strength Matters." We want to help bring uniformity to financial reports and other data that will help investors in this sector to better identify quality projects and ultimately secure more financing.
Q: What is the best move that the organization has recently made that others can learn from?
A: The budget review process that each of our operating divisions goes through is a careful examination of how we're spending money, how we are going to measure the outcomes, and then [how we are going to] do even more to help our affiliates help the people in their communities. The lesson I think that everyone can learn is to not be satisfied with what has worked in the past, but to continually refine what's worked to make it work even better … or, to recognize what is not working and to do something different. That way the organization remains effective and vital for the community.
Q: Who is your hero and why?
A: Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks because they both spearheaded a movement that led to revolutionary change in this country.
Q: Besides the usual work items, what's in your office?
A: l have to admit that I've got a few tokens that underscore my support of Boston sports teams. Even though I moved to D.C. from Boston five years ago, my allegiance is still to the Boston teams (Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics). There are many New York Giants fans at NeighborWorks America, but I remind them that we're still up two to one in championships right now.