Meet Linda Mandolini, executive director of Eden Housing, Inc., a nonprofit firm that has developed more than 5,000 affordable units in California.

She's held the top post since 2001 after serving Eden as a project developer and director of real estate development. Earlier in her career, she was director of transportation and land use at the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, and she has held various community development positions in Boston.

Mandolini recently served as president of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, and she was recognized as a “woman of distinction” by the East Bay Business Times in 2008.

Q: Why do you work in affordable housing? 

A: I grew up in a family that at various times has probably qualified for every program I work with. My parents were fortunate. They bought the house I grew up in for $14,000, and they still live there. I had access to a safe neighborhood and good schools. Where I lived changed our lives because it offered us stability and opportunity. I believe that my work allows me to provide that same opportunity to others. An affordable home, whether it's an apartment or a single-family house, provides a foundation for successful families and communities.

Q: What was your big break? 

A: It was more of an unexpected detour than a big break. When I was in college, I landed in an internship in Hartford, Conn., that introduced me to the universe of affordable housing. At the time, I was convinced I was going to law school, but that internship introduced me to affordable housing. I never made it to law school and ended up doing some amazingly interesting and impactful work that probably suits my personality much better than being an attorney would have.

Q: What's Eden Housing working on this year?

A: As a 41-year-old organization, Eden owns one of the oldest portfolios in affordable housing. For the past two years, we have been planning an initiative to “green” our portfolio. We hope to launch a major effort in the coming year to reduce our consumption of water and energy and reduce trash across our portfolio. Included in this is the solar retrofitting of 26 properties and a tenant education effort. Beyond that, we recently took on the management of Citizens Housing Corp.'s non-San Francisco portfolio—11 properties in nine jurisdictions—and are considering stepping into those properties as the new managing general partner. We also have 1,000 units in our development pipeline at various stages of entitlement, so we will definitely have a busy 2010.

Q: What industry issue is keeping you up at night? 

A: California's funding for affordable housing. The worries are twofold: First, what do we do to make sure we access Proposition 1C Housing Bond Funds? The challenge of converting commitments into actual funding makes it hard to predict when projects will be able to start construction. And second, what are we going to do about creating a permanent source of funding for affordable housing in California? Proposition 46 and Proposition 1C together provided over $4 billion for affordable housing production in the state. Funding for those programs has been virtually completely committed, and the state's fiscal situation makes it unclear when we will have a successor. Unfortunately, the 9% tax credit program alone cannot meet the production needs of California, so state subsidy has been a critical factor in Eden and our colleagues' ability to produce affordable housing.

Q: Tell us about a favorite amenity or design feature at one of your housing developments. 

A: Perhaps the most popular at all of our developments has been our computer learning centers. However, if I were to single out a special feature at one of our properties, it would have to be the beauty salon at our Eden Issei Terrace seniors housing in Hayward.  Developed in 1980, the project includes a small salon space with retro domed hair dryers. The ladies who live at Eden Issei really enjoy the weekly visit from the stylist who is the mistress of the cut and curl.

Q: What's the best advice that you've received? 

A: Ask for the impossible, you never know, the answer might be yes.

Q: What's your favorite item in your office? 

A: It's not exactly in my office, but I'd have to say that my windows offer me a great view of the gardens at the seniors housing development that is attached to our office. The seniors have planted all sorts of vegetables and flowers, and it is a daily reminder of what great living environments we provide for our residents.

Q: What's on your iPod?

A: 80 gigabytes of eclectic listening ranging from Johnny Cash to Spoon and an Amharic language primer. The latter was loaded on in an overly ambitious attempt to learn the native Ethiopian language before a trip with my brother to Ethiopia to pick up his newly adopted son.

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

A: Riding my bike!