Terri Ludwig stepped into a big role this year, becoming president and CEO of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc.
She was named to the top post after serving as the organization's executive vice president and COO since 2009.
Prior to that, she had been president of the Merrill Lynch Community Development Co. and president and CEO of ACCION New York, the largest nonprofit micro-lender in the United States.
She's also a presidential appointee to the Treasury Department's Advisory Board for Community Development and Financial Institutions.
Affordable Housing Finance recently caught up with Ludwig to find out what she's working on, how affordable housing finance is changing, and a little about hometown.
Q: What matters have you been spending the most time on since becoming president and CEO?
A: The economic crisis has urged us to consider serious and thoughtful changes to how we finance affordable housing in this country. This environment has its economic and political realities, but at Enterprise we're thinking strategically about how to get beyond those so that we can meet the incredible demand for affordable homes in healthy communities, both right now and into the future. Our communities need more capital, plain and simple. We've got to figure out how to better harness the market to leverage public and philanthropic investments.
I've been spending time with the Enterprise team as well as our housing and community development partners from all across the country to generate ideas for how to do this. There are a lot of different perspectives out there on how Enterprise and the broader industry can leverage all of our capital to provide not only quality affordable homes, but homes in communities of opportunity near jobs, services, and transit. One thing is clear”“we need to stay nimble and build on our history of innovation to best meet our partners' evolving needs.
Enterprise's people are so dedicated to our mission and critical to our success. I've met with folks in nearly every part of our organization, from Human Resources to our Vulnerable Populations team, who work on tools and strategies to provide safe, healthy homes for seniors and people with special needs. I've been listening to everyone's thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing Enterprise and how we can have an even greater impact going forward.
Q: What changes do you plan to bring to Enterprise?
A: Long term, we are thinking through ways to tackle the issues that low-income communities will face in the next 10 to 20 years. How will we address a near doubling of the seniors population? How do we make sure that working families can live along transit corridors? What policy changes are needed at the local and national levels to ensure continued investment in affordable housing? We're figuring out a path forward that builds on Enterprise's tradition of viewing our local markets as labs for new innovations and then taking those innovations to scale in collaboration with our investors and development partners.
Q: What industry issue is keeping you up at night?
A: Hands down the most important issue keeping me up at night is the budget deficit environment in Washington. The federal government has long been a critical partner in making sure we're providing affordable housing, especially for our most vulnerable people. Congress has already started debating changes to the nation's housing finance system. Aligning our voices and resources to elevate affordable housing on the national agenda is going to be imperative. Housing is not just a market commodity but a foundation for opportunity for all people and all communities.
We have to work with our partners to engage in and influence the national dialogue”“otherwise I'll have many more sleepless nights!
Q: How is the financing and development of affordable housing changing?
A: We're always looking for new ways to drive social change by developing and testing new financial innovations to bring more capital, creativity and flexibility into the community development finance system. One recent example is the Enterprise Community Impact Note, a tool that offers socially motivated investors an investment vehicle to directly support community revitalization.
We're also seeing increased demand for healthier housing that helps protect our environment while keeping costs down for developers, owners, investors, and residents themselves. Through Enterprise Green Communities, we're making every effort to green everything we touch by 2013. Together with our partners, our goal is for the affordable housing industry to be fully green by 2020. We're well on our way to achieving our organizational goal. The industry as a whole is definitely moving toward developing more sustainable, energy- and water-efficient homes for families with low incomes. It's great to see everyone rolling up their sleeves and coming together to share best practices and information so we can collectively deliver the health, economic and environmental benefits that green affordable housing brings.
Q: Share with us a statistic or fact about affordable housing to think about.
A: No household earning the full-year minimum wage can afford a modest apartment at the federal fair market rent anywhere in the United States.
Q: How did you get started in affordable housing and community development?
A: At ACCION, the nation's largest micro-lending nonprofit, I saw the needs of low-income families on a global scale. I could clearly connect their needs with those we have right here in America. ACCION was able to make change here and abroad, and at all of the jobs I've had since, my goals have been to make tangible improvements in communities in need. After ACCION, I moved on to head up the Merrill Lynch Community Development Co. where my team and I were able to commit $2 billion in loans and investments over the course of six years. Now at Enterprise, I'm able to continue to make change by mixing my financing background with community development and affordable housing, and I love it.
Q: What's the best business advice that you've received?
A: To stay focused on the customer. This old adage is especially important in finance so we never lose sight of what's behind the numbers. Here at Enterprise the end users are our residents and partners, so everything I do is motivated by their needs and what's best for our communities.
Q: Tell us a little about your hometown.
A: I grew up in a small, rural town in southern Illinois called Mt. Vernon. My mother was a science teacher who encouraged me to take advanced courses in math and science. This early education gave me the skills and background I needed to do well in finance later in life. I learned my core values from my hometown and my family—what community truly means and how to help others who had difficulties fitting into the mainstream. Small towns are a microcosm of our overall society; they have their own rules, their own distinct social structures, their own particular causes for joy and triumph. I honestly believe I learned the fundamental aspects of community development in that small town. It was a great starting block for what I do now.
Q: What has recently inspired you?
A: I was in the Mississippi Gulf Coast earlier this year at the grand opening for Oak Haven Apartments, a multifamily senior housing development. While I was there I met a decorated World War II veteran who had been displaced due to the hurricanes. He told me that he was about to have open heart surgery, and, while I was talking to him and expressing my concern for his pending operation, he said to me: “Now, I have something to live for,” and he meant his new home. I was truly inspired. There's nothing like hearing firsthand from residents about what their homes mean to them. It keeps me going each and every day.
Q: Besides the usual work items, what's in your office?
A: I'm fortunate to work out of two offices”“one in New York where I live, and another in Columbia, Md., where Jim and Patty Rouse started the organization nearly 30 years ago. I often think about Jim and the huge legacy he left and how humbled I am to carry on the work that he started. I have a lovely piece of art on my wall that captures one of his quotes, “We must believe, because it is true, that people are affected by their environment ”¦ by space and scale, by color and texture, by nature and beauty, and that they can be uplifted, made comfortable, made important.”
Q: What do you like to do when you are not working?
A: I have two children—my son is entering kindergarten and my stepdaughter is starting college this fall. My husband and I recognize that the kids are at opposite ends of the scale in terms of what they need emotionally and educationally, so we spend a lot of time on our family life. They are both really special and bring me great joy.