Matt Franklin is president of Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition, one of California's leading nonprofit affordable housing developers.
He stepped into the role last year, but he's no stranger to affordable housing. Prior to joining Mid-Peninsula, Franklin served as executive director of San Francisco's Mayor's Office of Housing, where he coordinated the city's housing policy and oversaw the financing for 3,500 new affordable rental units.
His previous roles include director of California's Department of Housing and Community Development and vice president of emerging markets for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. Franklin also held senior positions at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Q: How did you get into the affordable housing business?
A: I became interested in affordable housing after taking Bill Apgar's “Introduction to Housing, Urban Development and Transportation” class in my first year at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Apgar was co-director of Harvard's Joint Center for Housing studies at the time and was incredibly inspirational in terms of the role safe, decent, affordable housing can play in helping to stabilize and improve people's lives.
Q: What was your big break?
A: My big break was three years later when Bill was appointed federal housing commissioner at the start of the second Clinton/Gore term. He called me in California on the way back from his interview with HUD Secretary Cuomo and said, “I think I'm going to get this job, and I want you to come to D.C. to be my deputy.” Together with Secretary Cuomo, Bill built an incredibly strong team of motivated folks who really took a hard run at reforming and revitalizing HUD.
Q: What will be the biggest challenge for Mid-Peninsula Housing this coming year?
A: MidPen's biggest challenge in 2009 will be to keep building on our strong pipeline of new development deals, in light of generally poor economic conditions and the end of many state Prop. 1C funding programs. We have a strong pipeline of deals right now, but funding is going to be much tighter for the entire industry in 2009.
Q: How does the organization plan to respond to that challenge?
A: We are exploring a number of different strategies to meet this challenge, including new ways to partner with for-profit developers using shallow public subsidies, expanding our focus on developing supportive housing (which continues to have relatively steady funding sources), and taking a fresh look at potentially more efficient acquisition/rehabilitation developments.
Q: What is a move that Mid-Peninsula has made recently that other developers can learn from?
A: We've made a big investment of resources in Bostonpost, a powerful software and data management system for our property management and compliance operations. We are transferring all 85 of our developments onto this platform, which we believe will have a big impact on how we do business.
Q: How are you housing developments changing?
A: We are continuing to see a great variety of development opportunities. Everything from fairly large-scale (125 to 200-plus units) family and seniors developments to smaller infill and special-needs or supportive-housing opportunities. On a more micro level, we are pushing a number of specific amenities on our development sites whenever possible, including very generous and carefully planned community rooms and a variety of critical services spaces including on-site day care, computer labs, and space for kids and/or seniors to play.
Q: Share with us a housing statistic or interesting fact to think about.
A: The state of California has received exactly one HOPE VI grant award in the entire eight years of the Bush administration—a small grant to Yosemite Village, California.
Q: You have a lot of policy experience. What policy do you see making a big difference in the creation of affordable housing?
A: I think the two most critical federal programs to spur more housing production in the future are incremental project-based vouchers and re-funding of the HOPE VI program, or a similar large-scale redevelopment program targeted to older public housing and subsidized housing. I also have no question that the 1.2 million or so public housing units across the country represent the next great preservation crisis in our industry.
Q: What makes you mad?
A: Two things: 1) that the Bush administration has funded our public housing system in a way that is certain to fail. For eight years, they have so dramatically underfunded public housing operating and capital grants that most housing authorities are literally being driven out of business; and, 2) that so many of our leading financial institutions let greed and the drive for profits overwhelm any sense of sound underwriting practices in the private mortgage market. Over the last 20 years we have made tremendous progress in getting capital into underserved communities. We've broken down the old practices of redlining and denying low- and moderate-income communities access to credit. Now the subprime mess is wiping away all of that progress, and I worry that the market and the regulators will overreact and starve these communities of access to capital going forward.
Q: What makes you glad?
A: Spending time with my wife, Tay Via, and my 9-month-old son, Winston.
Q: What's the last book that you read?
A:What is the What by Dave Eggers, an incredible fictional biographical account of one of the lost boys of Sudan.
Q: If you had the afternoon off work, where would we find you?
A: On my road bike somewhere in the hills of San Mateo or Marin counties.
Q: Who would you like to meet?
A: Nelson Mandela and Tina Fey. Mandela to learn how he performed the miraculous feat of a peaceful transformation of South Africa. Tina Fey for her brilliant ability to point out the ridiculous in our political system.
Q: What's next for Mid-Peninsula and Matt Franklin?
A: We intend to become the highest-performing affordable housing organization in the country. For us, that means building a team with the best technical skills and leadership capabilities in the business, and using our mission of serving low- and moderate-income communities as a touchstone for everything we do.