ALASKA NATIVE Carol Gore builds affordable housing in her home state as president and CEO of the Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA).

The organization owns and operates 770 affordable units in the region, including seniors housing and rent-to-own properties. CIHA is also behind key community revitalization efforts in Anchorage.

Before joining CIHA as president and CEO, Gore was a vice president for Cook Inlet Region, Inc.

Q: What was the first job you ever had?

A: At the age of 12, I loved playing the accordion—a common instrument in village communities in Alaska. But my family could not afford the lessons, so my music teacher hired me to teach beginning students and to be his bookkeeper. After a year, my teacher asked me to give beginning guitar lessons. I had never played guitar, but he loaned a guitar to me, and within a week I was giving guitar lessons, too. While I loved music, I quickly learned it would be a difficult way to earn a living.

Q: Share with us an interesting fact about housing in Alaska.

A: We don't live in igloos! When Alaska first started building Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) homes, we had to describe carpeting as insulation because HUD thought it was a luxury.

Q: Tell us about a project that you are currently developing.

A: We are building a fourth phase of a scattered-site development as part of a neighborhood revitalization effort in Anchorage's very first neighborhood. This phase includes development of 34 new urbanism-designed, rent-to-own homes on three sites. We say “we buy ugly, and we build beautiful.” This fourth phase brings our investment in this neighborhood to $73 million.

Q: What's the biggest challenge for CIHA this year, and how will you overcome it?

A: We are challenged by the lack of property management and development professionals living in Alaska. We are a large state with a small population—less than 1 million people live in Alaska. We are investing in strategic training for our current staff. We also partnered with a for-profit real estate company.

Q: Besides the usual work papers, what's in your office?

A: The very first family development we built was described as birdhouses. While this was not necessarily intended as a compliment, we chose to accept the description with enthusiasm. So I collect birdhouses and give them as gifts to our partners and peers.

Q: What do you do when you're not working?

A: As a fourth-generation Alaskan, I love to fish. I also love to garden and cook (fish) for my friends.

Q: What's next for Carol Gore and CIHA?

A: In September, I am headed to Harvard to begin the journey through the NeighborWorks program Achieving Excellence in Community Development. This is a performance-driven organizational investment program for executive directors and senior staff in community development.

My participation will result in a performance-driven model that builds on entrepreneurial skills and sustainability. I am excited about this opportunity to work with other community developers throughout the country. My goal is to build a 10-year plan for CIHA, focusing on sustainability and leveraging capacity.